ASA2016 talk: building a community of tech savvy astronomers

Last week I attended the Astronomical Society of Australia's (ASA) 2016 Annual Scientific Meeting in Sydney. I hadn't been to an ASA conference since my PhD days so I was pretty excited about reconnecting with the whole community and participating in the Society's 50th Anniversary celebrations. Australian astronomy has a long history of ground breaking radio and optical astronomy, especially with respect to to it's unique facilities and world-leading instrumentation, and it was great to be able to reflect on this, alongside some of those who made it all possible.

I'm somewhat disconnected from the community, having only really worked as an astronomer overseas. I do have a lot of great memories of observing at AAO – the UKST, the  40-inch, the AAT, and of Fornax and HIPASS observing at Parkes. While I'm excited about the SKA and its precursor arrays – MWA and ASKAP – as an optical astronomer at heart I'm much more excited about the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). I also have a soft sport for Subaru which I think is an amazing telescope (Suprime–Cam is one helluva camera) and one that Australia really ought to be partnering with, or designing instruments for.

Overall the conference was great and I really got a lot our of it (despite being jet-lagged) The two sessions on Astronomical Facilities were excellent, as were the ANITA and the Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity in Astronomy Chapter meetings. The Governance in Astronomy meeting was equal parts insightful and frustrating (still so many unknowns), although it was great to hear from Anne Green, the Chair of Astronomy Australia Limited's Board, about where they are at. Some of this I already knew, but I was pleased to hear future plans conveyed to the wider community. In terms on science, I only attended a few scientific sessions: IFU studies of galaxies (excellent talks by Andy Green, Nic Scott, Sarah Brough and Enrico Di Teodoro), The High Redshift Universe, Galaxies, and Gravitational Waves (obviously , there is still a lot of excitement around the recent discovery). As this was my third conference in a month it was nice to be able to take it easy, and use the opportunity to catch up with friends from Sydney and Perth that I rarely see outside of Facebook. I also spent sometime in the HPC Room which I think was really useful to have, despite not being well attended.

In the absence of any sort of  "big-data, tools development, data-intensive research" session, my talk on Building a tech savvy community of astronomers was in the Education session (Session 22). Presenting a talk to astronomy educators and communicators was surprisingly refreshing. Having never officially taught astronomy or spent a significant amount of time working on schools-outreach programs, it was a great opportunity to address a different audience. I received a lot of positive feedback, especially from Ron Ekers. I was really pleased about that. He's had such a long, successful career in radio astronomy and is one of AAL's Board of Directors.

So what did I talk about?