A stellar effort: thanks and farewell to Dr Simon O’Toole of the AAO

Dr Simon O’Toole of the Australian Astronomical Observatory was our curator on @RealScientists this week, talking planets, stars, weird astronomy and science communication. @drsimmo took on some Seriously Big Science Questions during his week, including ‘Is there life in the universe?’ (probably), ‘What the hell is a hot subdwarf?’ (something to do with naked helium cores), ‘Should institutional press officers be put in an institution’ (lest we see more garbage about zombie diamond-core planets with glass rain) and the real biggie, ‘What can you do with a PhD if you no longer want to do science with it?’ (you’ll have to figure that one out for yourselves though). Cataclysmic variables, stellar evolution, neutron capture, money for old roAp, why NASA’s Kepler mission has been made of awesome… yeah it’s been a bit busy here…

Via the always scienceawesome XKCD

Simon also talked about his new scientific life as web and information administrator at the AAO, how realising the permanent, penetrative anxiety that comes with ‘publish or perish’ was making his life in and outside the office unhappy. Science – particularly trying to build a career and a life on ‘soft money’, living from grant-to-grant, hand-to-mouth – asks a lot of the people in it, in many cases disproportionate to the rewards it offers. It’s safe to say the majority of PhD grads aren’t in active research within 10-15 years, either because they’ve left the research world, or it’s left them. Simon talked of the pervasiveness of Imposter Syndrome amongst science types (and others), and how believing that voice which tells you you’re more crap than everyone else – rather than making an honest assessment of your abilities and skillset and using THAT to inform your future career path – is a journey to scientific miserableness. Of course, it’s not necessarily any better to believe the opposite…impostorvsdunningkreuger

Lastly (but most importantly) Simon helped us promote the @RealScientists At The Pub event (OK, tweetup) we’re holding at the Mitre Tavern in the Melbourne CBD in a few Fridays’ time. This is a very informal sort of get-together for the whole RS community – curators, followers, admins, friends and hangers-on. We’ll be holding similar get-togethers in other locations – starting with eastern seaboard Australia since that’s where most of our admins are close to! – in the near future, so come along and say hi. Expect one in Sydney at the end of September; date and location TBA.

Thanks again to Simon for his tremendous week on the account – if you missed anything, catch up on Storify: Part 1 | Part 2. Keep following him at @drsimmo, and keep up with the goings-on at the AAO via their website.

Next week: we head across the Pacific to visit with Michele Weirathmueller, PhD student in oceanography at the University of Washington. (Actually she’s from New Brunswick in Canada, so we’ll need to cross continental north America as well…) Does science, draws comics, is generally awesome. We’ll have an intro post up for her soon, but in the meantime check her website out at http://www.michw.com/.

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