An astronomer by any other name

Relaxing after a great show. Left to right: me, Tom Denson, Justine Rogers, Rob Brooks, Nalini Joshi.

Relaxing after a great show. Left to right: me, Tom Denson, Justine Rogers, Rob Brooks, Nalini Joshi (credit: Jeremy Belinfante).

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. In that time a lot has happened.

At the end of March this year my contract as the Deputy Gemini Scientist at the Australian Astronomical Observatory ended, and for personal reasons (not least that I wanted to stay where I am), I decided to stop being a researcher. In some ways this was not an easy decision, but it’s one that I don’t regret. The whole publish or perish side of research is one that is not really suited to maintaining my mental health and wellbeing. I’ll elaborate more on that in a future post.

I am now the Web and Information Administrator at the AAO – that’s the official title anyway – and I’m working on rebuilding the Observatory’s old (and very outdated) website using more modern systems. I’m also managing and administering databases and document management systems. We’re looking to become more of a data centre in the future, and I hope to be a part of that too. Web technologies are playing an every increasing part of my life.

I haven’t given up my public outreach activities though, not by a long shot. In fact, this year has been one of the most active years in my career so far. I’m still asked to comment on breaking astronomical stories (for example, on Voyager 1 or measuring the height on Mars). I still visit schools and speak to students about space, stars and planets (definitely worth a future post!). But this year I’ve done a few bigger things.

In May I did something that I had never thought possible: I was part of the Sydney Comedy Festival. On stage. In front of 350 people. And you know what? People laughed, possibly even at my jokes. I spoke at the Nerd Gala (organised by the wonderful Justine from Nerd Nite Sydney) on possibility of life elsewhere in the Universe. It was heaps of fun – one of the best outreach experiences I’ve had. Yet again, this will be the topic for a future post !

This experience lead to something else unexpected, but certainly not unwelcome. I appeared on an episode of Veritasium, titled Do Aliens Exist? For those of you that don’t know, Veritasium is a very popular YouTube channel with over 800,000 subscribers. Derek Muller, who makes every episode, came along to the Nerd Gala, and then contacted me not long after to set up the shoot. Again, heaps of fun. There’s a lot more footage about a lot of stuff that didn’t make the video above; hopefully it will see the light one day!

Last but certainly not least, I was heavily involved in the Russian Meteor event reporting earlier in the year. It all started with an article in The Conversation on the Near Earth Object 2012 DA14 and its Earth flyby in February. Coincidentally, the Russian meteor at Chelyabinsk occurred just days after the article was published. I was asked first to comment, and then to write a follow up article. I have a greater appreciation of journalists’ deadlines and rapidly changing news stories, that’s for sure.

So I’m no longer a research scientist. I now consider myself to be an enabler of science instead: I’m providing the tools for astronomers to do cutting edge research, and inspiring school students and the broader public to become more engaged with science. I think I’m happy with that.


About drsimmo

I'm an astronomer and science communicator, these are my adventures. Views posted are my own.
This entry was posted in Astronomy, Education, General Public, Outreach, Science and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to An astronomer by any other name

  1. John Rombi says:

    Simon, I wish you well in your future endeavours, it’s not easy making a complete change in your career, but I can certainly understand your reasoning behind it.
    I hope you will make a return to The MAS (when time permits) to discuss your new position at The AAO.

  2. fotoeins says:

    Fellow colleague and warrior in arms, you have had and will continue to have my support. “Brothas gotta stick together.” And in the eternally wise words of Han Solo: “laugh it up, fuzzball.” 😉

  3. Roger Powell says:

    Regardless of your position change, Simon, I look forward to your ongoing blog posts! 🙂

  4. Thanks everyone! I hope to post more regularly again in future 🙂

  5. jaksichja says:

    enjoyed reading and watching the vid—thanks for enabling us in astronomy

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