Discussion#1: Is there a need for an MS degree so tightly focused on astronomy and space science education? Who would benefit from it? What coursework should it include? How could it be promoted?


I'm of mixed mind after having read the article. Before, I would have said Yes! Now I'm not so sure...

I have an MS in Physics and worked at a campus observatory as an undergraduate, then graduate TA and then as an instructor (the title after I got the MS). I had originally planned to use the Physics degree and go on to graduate work (PhD) in astronomy at some western observatory. But I realized that I enjoyed sharing astronomy much more than the research. I was also heavily involved with my local astronomy club. With this background, I was hired to the EPO team for Deep Impact. I learned about the mission and then went out to the clubs and starparties, talked about the mission and encouraged folks to observe the DI target.

Some years ago (2003), there was a conference here in DC Called Conference on Communicating Astronomy to the Public. Out of it came something called the Washington Charter which seeks to have institutions recognize those faculty, staff, employees who may not do traditional research but instead contribute to sharing the science with the public. Many times, scientists at some institutions would "neglect" EPO because they felt that when it was time for their reviews, that they were being "punished" for doing EPO. The Charter hoped to have institutions recognize the contributions of those individuals. The conference series has continued (in fact, it is going on right now in Greece) and the Washington Charter (in its original form and with some revisions) has been endorsed (2005 Progress). Communicating Astronomy to the Public is now an IAU Division with several working groups including one tasked with disseminating the Washington Charter.

The AER: Well, it claims to be the journal for EPO practitioners, but when we submitted an EPO report for Deep Impact, they claimed it didn't fall into their purview.

NASA: Over the last few years, watching the increasing requirements within NASA to report EPO activities and serving on an EPO review board, I'm really starting to get a sense that NASA is trying to take over science education. I think this is the wrong move! We already have a Department of Education. NASA (as well as NSF, NOAO, and other similar science organizations) should work/collaborate with the DOE to improve science education in this country rather than trying to compete with it. I think it would be much easier to get formal EPO materials developed by NASA missions into the classroom and curricula if we worked with the DOE and school boards.

So I'm starting to wonder if perhaps all professions have become too formalized.

And finally to answer the questions... I think that you will find that we will all end up having different requirements for what constitutes required coursework based on our own backgrounds. I certainly think that an undergraduate degree in some science should be required, maybe interning or working at a spaceplace (observatory, planetarium, science museum). I can also see that having an education degree could be useful, but then that knocks me out!! Having an understanding of webstuff (h

[Hmmm, it looks like I didn't finish writing before saving, but I could've sworn that I did. Hmmm, so what was I trying to finish? In fact, I remember writing alot more than what got saved...]

Having an understanding of webstuff (html, newsgroups, listserves) but that's all probably going to be second nature to the next gen of EPOers.

There's also formal ed and informal ed. There's really alot to think about. There's probably more that I originally wrote but I don't remember that chain of thought, so let me go on to...

Update or Why I came back to this page and saw that I hadn't finished the above part

Well, I just got my Nov2007 issue of Discover magazine (with a picture of the full moon on the cover no less!) and that contains a couple of relevant articles like
  • What to Do Before the Asteroid Strikes
  • Did a Comet Cause the Great Flood?
  • Blinded by Science
It's the third one (p26) that I found very interesting in light of this conversation. And again, I'm glad I wrote my opinion before reading the article. It's not quite online yet (they don't have the November stuff posted)... but I'm sure it will be...

And while I was there, I forgot about reading this interview Girl Scouts {Heart} Science in a previous issue.

26 Oct Update

Blinded by Science is a regular feature... I'll try to get the exact name of the article when I get home, but for now, here is a link to the online text (although the one I'm talking about still isn't online)...