Astrobites Past: Reimagining the Astro PhD with the Nationwide Osterbrock Management Program (NOLP)


  • The Nationwide Osterbrock Management Program (NOLP) is funded by the AAS; Astrobites can also be funded by the AAS. 
  • The writer of this Astrobite article, Jack Lubin, is a former Fellow of the NOLP and nonetheless at present lively with this system. Moreover, he led the NOLP’s effort to write down and produce the white paper which this Astrobite article is reporting on. His sole intention for penning this Astrobite article is to assist unfold the phrase of the existence of the NOLP’s white paper, in hopes that it’s going to attain a broader viewers. 


The Nationwide Osterbrock Management Program (NOLP), initially began at UC Santa Cruz in 2016, trains astronomy grad college students in each science and management abilities. Funded by the AAS and managed by senior professors, the NOLP has now grown to three “nodes”: UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine, and Columbia College. Every node has 5-8 Fellows in a given yr, however the affect of this system goes far past the Fellows. NOLP challenges and helps its Fellows by way of quite a lot of actions that construct abilities in decision-making, workforce constructing, communication, battle decision, and funds administration. Extra particular info on the NOLP and its Fellows is given on their web site:

Astrobites Report

The Fellows of the NOLP have not too long ago put out a white paper titled “Reimagining the Astro PhD for the twenty first Century”. On this white paper, they lay out a imaginative and prescient for a way astronomy departments can higher assist, empower, and practice their graduate college students for all times and work past faculty. This imaginative and prescient is largely drawn from the experiences of Fellows inside the NOLP and the constructive methods wherein these experiences have helped the Fellows be taught and achieve the sorts of abilities that can serve them in any profession past grad faculty. The concepts behind this white paper had been mentioned at massive with the group at a NOLP hosted splinter session on the 241st AAS Assembly in Seattle, in January 2023. Astrobites coated the lead as much as this splinter session and profiled the NOLP in this earlier put up. In at this time’s Astrobites Past put up, we’ll present a abstract of the NOLP white paper. 

The Fellows start by re-iterating a protracted recognized reality that almost all of people that full a PhD in astronomy is not going to proceed to a profession in astronomy. They argue this isn’t a nasty factor in any respect, mentioning that the exhausting abilities that one learns from incomes a PhD in astronomy, specifically issues like software program growth and statistical strategies, are extremely beneficial in at this time’s fashionable financial system. Astronomy PhD holders are extremely wanted and well-compensated staff in many alternative fields past academia. However, they argue that one factor that present PhD packages are missing is instantly educating their college students the various tender abilities which are equally beneficial in a profession, whatever the area. These embrace abilities that broadly fall underneath the umbrella of management: managing time, managing groups, managing tasks, communication, battle decision, funds balancing, and a lot extra. They conclude their motivation by calling for a larger adoption of formalized schooling of management abilities inside astronomy graduate education schemes.

Subsequent, the Fellows describe how the NOLP has empowered them to be taught and hone these management abilities. Every node has a barely completely different method and programming. First, the UCSC node runs a “mini-grant” program (their web site right here). Fellows (and non-Fellows at UCSC) can apply for as much as $2000 per yr in assist to implement a program or initiative of their very own design. By the thought, design, proposal, and subsequent implementation of their plan, Fellows get real-world expertise in many alternative management abilities. For instance, one Fellow began a program that helps UCSC undergraduate college students from under-represented backgrounds be taught all in regards to the technique of making use of to graduate faculty (any type of grad faculty, not simply astronomy). By this program, undergrads are matched with graduate scholar mentors who assist them with their utility and this system gives financial assist to cowl prices like utility charges. This program has been rewarding on many ranges, for the undergrads, the mentors, the Fellow, and the group. Along with the mini-grants, UCSC Fellows have had alternatives to sit down in on observatory Time Allocation Committees (TACs) to see behind the scenes of how observing proposals get awarded time, plus they’ve met leaders in lots of fields, together with the director of Area Telescope Science Institute and the Mayor of Santa Cruz, to debate management in the actual world.

Subsequent, the Columbia College Fellows run an analogous mini-grant program however lean closely into their New York Metropolis neighborhoods (their web site right here). Fellows there have created an outreach program to deliver astronomy to an area youngsters’s most cancers hospital. One other organized a lecture sequence titled “Science Coverage for Scientists” the place they introduced in audio system from throughout town and opened the doorways to everybody on the college. A 3rd developed a coding summer time camp for native under-represented youngsters. They’ve additionally integrated professors from the Columbia Enterprise College to placed on seminars on management.  

Lastly, the UC Irvine node runs a bit in another way. There, Fellows lead, handle, and function the Physics and Astronomy Neighborhood Excellence (PACE) program (their web site right here). Initially based by and for phys/astro grad college students, PACE runs a number of streams of programming,  all centered round serving to new grad college students acclimate to grad faculty. The Fellows arrange a peer-mentoring program, matching new college students to extra skilled ones and inspiring the pairs to fulfill up and talk about life in grad faculty. Equally, PACE units out to “train the issues that nobody teaches you” by way of a workshop sequence the place the Fellows (and the mentors) lead classes like “what to search for in a possible advisor”, “the right way to construct your mentor map”, “how funding works”, and extra. By working PACE, the NOLP Fellows achieve invaluable expertise of main a program. 

The white paper ends with an inventory of motion gadgets that professors, division heads, and deans can implement to assist their grad packages actively train these sorts of management abilities alongside the essential analysis abilities. These motion gadgets had been drawn closely from the NOLP program actions. They embrace 4 key factors, quoted right here:

  • Create and outline positions inside the division governance which are particularly for graduate college students. These ought to be official roles inside the division. These positions are meant to offer college students with real possession of a program/concept by way of which they’re empowered to be taught abilities related to challenge, workforce, and time administration, communication and preparation, and basic management.
  • Develop, actively handle, and fund a peer mentoring program among the many graduate college students, just like the PACE program at UCI. Peer mentorship has been proven to foster group, in addition to enhance the speed at which college students take part in division actions and packages. That participation naturally results in taking up management roles inside packages, which in flip develops the management abilities which are so essential to success past grad faculty. However moreover, the position of a peer mentorship program chief can and ought to be a present grad scholar(s) who can in flip sharpen their very own management abilities by way of the administration of this system.
  • Allocate funds to develop a mini-grant program much like those hosted at UCSC and Columbia nodes.
  • Actively assist and promote non-academic paths to college students. By publicity to different paths, college students are empowered with info to pursue the areas which are most attention-grabbing to them and picture the methods wherein their astronomy abilities may be utilized past academia.

The right way to become involved

First, you possibly can learn the white paper in full at this hyperlink:

If you’re a present graduate scholar, learn the white paper and take into consideration how your division helps management growth and alternatives for gaining management expertise. Speak to your fellow cohorts about these concepts. Take into account sending the white paper to considered one of your professors and/or division leaders, and take a look at speaking to them about how the division may implement a few of these concepts. 

If you’re an aspiring or making use of graduate scholar, learn the white paper and ask professors at your potential establishments what their departments are doing to assist management alternatives and expertise. Speak to the grad college students, too. 

If you’re a professor or division head, learn the white paper and speak to your colleagues about these concepts. Ask yourselves if there are extra or higher methods your division can assist grad college students in management alternatives. 

Lastly, in case you are concerned with studying extra in regards to the NOLP, or speaking to the NOLP program managers, look by way of their web site and think about reaching out. The NOLP is actively trying to develop. 

Astrobite edited by Sahil Hegde, Ali Crisp, Archana Aravindan

Featured picture credit score: NOLP

About Jack Lubin

Jack obtained his PhD in astrophysics from UC Irvine and is now a postdoc at UCLA. His analysis focuses on exoplanet detection and characterization, primarily utilizing the Radial Velocity technique. He enjoys speaking science and encourages everybody to be an observer of the world round them.

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