Below is a survey and a short statement pertaining to a letter which has lead to fervent discussion amongst much of the astronomy community over the past week. The letter was sent to the graduate students at “a well known astronomy department” several weeks ago and was then anonymously posted to tumblr earlier this week. Presented as an assessment of the progress of the graduate students from several faculty members, the letter touched on several aspects of the graduate experience, in particular what the writer considered to be reasonable expectations for students during their time of study. The contents of the e-mail have caused significant controversy, as have several very strong comments made in response. Although this post was shown to all of the astrobites authors before publication, I take full responsibility for its contents.
As you all know, Astrobites is written by astronomy graduate students at a wide range of institutions. As such, we take this letter and the subsequent reaction on the internet very seriously, and many of us have spent time personally reflecting on the broader issues raised (e.g. see Elizabeth’s recent post). Although the debate has become heated at times, we do believe that the overarching discussions about academic and graduate student life which have stemmed from this letter are healthy – and it is a testament to the field of astronomy that they have begun. We also believe that with all of you — representing a wide range of astronomy enthusiasts — as our audience we have a unique opportunity to take the “pulse” of the broader astronomy community on this issue. We are particularity interested to see whether opinions vary throughout different academic generations. As such, we have compiled a short survey at the link below which we encourage you all to complete. We would find your feedback extremely valuable and will share some of the results as well as a few more of our widely ranging personal opinions in a future post.
You can access the survey here.
Finally, there is something we would like to address to our prospective graduate student readers. One of the main goals of Astrobites is to expose interested undergraduates to both the academic literature and to the graduate student experience. As such, we cannot completely ignore the fact that both this letter and the reactions published on the internet have the potential to influence some students’ decisions pertaining to whether or not to attend graduate school, and where to go. We therefore emphasize that any potential graduate student should consult a wide range of sources when making those life decisions. Don’t base your decisions on hearsay and don’t assume that the opinion of one is necessarily the opinion of all. Instead, get first hand information: e-mail graduate students, e-mail faculty, e-mail the Astrobites authors, visit departments, and ultimately make your own call about the atmosphere in academia, or in a given department, and whether it is right for you.
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