• IPAC

Summer "Visit" - 2020 - OIRMA

Our regular summer visit to Caltech was hijacked by COVID-19. So we did an online work week instead -- 4 days when all the participants on the team come together to work intensively on the data. Reload to see a different set of quotes.

OIRMA worked July 5-9, 2020. The 5 core team educators attended, plus 6 students.


  • I was most surprised by the students’ ability to keep up (no offense to them). I really felt that students, instructors, and astronomer were all on the same footing and able to contribute and ask questions freely. I had worried about power dynamics in the group, since only one of us does astronomy research professionally, but I was pleasantly surprised at our ability to form a cohesive team so quickly.
  • [student:] Real astronomy is not the enhanced pictures that ordinary people are used to seeing in the news or on the internet, instead it is data. It’s knowing how to manipulate this data to understand what it truly means. It is extracting from these numbers the structure of something that we can barely even see. In essence, astronomy is the ingenuity to turn something that is invisible into something visible. Something that I expected to be a part of scientific research was accessing the data and creating the light curves. Something that I did not expect to be a part of authentic research was the flexibility that was needed to obtain the data that you need.
  • [student:] I did not expect such patient discussions and workflow as part of the research process. Instead, I assumed that we would be put on a structured and inflexible fast-track to results, thinking that to be the most efficient method of results. Instead, the first priority was comprehension and unanimity, no matter how long it took. Looking back, it wasn’t a mistake that we spent the first half of the week learning. That comfort is what prepared us to dive into the workflow and be able to independently process large amounts of data, not rushing.
  • [...]the program creates an in-practice glimpse of what it can be like to work with students in a radically different way from how we do in the standard classroom. Not knowing the answer is a powerful interpersonal equalizer. And that leveling is not an ornamental feature or political nicety, it’s a critical precursor to collaboration in a group of educators and students.
  • [student:] what the group provided was a system of rapid feedback which I could assist with my own insights and receive help from in times of confusion. At parts in the workflow where I might be banging my head against the wall, I could work through the issue with someone else, which was helped greatly by screen sharing. By the end of the week, the group felt like more than a formal convocation of academics to conduct research, and more of a group of enthusiasts who could also joke and engage in tangent discussion, not just work.

Summer "Visit" - 2020 - OIRMA