Cycling through the tulip fields

Tulip fields in South Holland, the Netherlands
It’s tulip season in the Netherlands!! So on a sunny day off at the beginning of Easter weekend, we went for an afternoon-long bike ride through the tulip fields (or more generally, bulb fields) in South Holland, a province of the Netherlands. I recommend going in the middle-to-end of April for optimal spectacular sights, but as many guidebooks will tell you, anytime mid-March through mid-May should still yield picturesque views.

Bikes

Bikes in tulip fields
Since I live in Amsterdam, we didn’t want to cycle alllll the way there and THEN cycle around, so we started in Sassenheim, a town between Amsterdam Schiphol airport and Leiden. It costs about €6 on top of the normal train fare to bring your bike. If you’re just visiting and don’t have your own bike, you can rent bikes at the airport or Keukenhof gardens and cycle from there, rent them in town and take them on the train, or if you live in the Netherlands, rent them at train stations with OV-fiets. A cruiser bike or road bike is fine for this trip — no need to have a fancy off-road bike.

The route

Bike route through tulip fields in South Holland, the Netherlands
I consulted these sites to determine the best route for us: Holland Cycling, Tulips in Holland, and The Spinlister Blog. Most of them make use of the bike path network, which has numbered points (knooppunten) with various connecting routes. The route mapped above is 30 km (18.6 mi), which takes about 2 hours without stops. Keep in mind though, you’ll stop frequently to take photos and enjoy the view! I encourage you to use the Fietsknoop app to plan the above route (unfortunately I can’t embed it as a navigable map) or make your own!

At or near each knooppunt, there’s a map showing the local area with connecting paths and points, so you can navigate without needing GPS. In the picture above, the route we took is marked with green lines, and the dark blue lines show the other bicycle routes in the area. In purple between points 44 and 48, I marked the part where we deviated from the nice paths and went on the normal bike path alongside the road. As mentioned above, we started at the train station in Sassenheim, and just went towards the town center until we hit Hoofdstraat, then turned right. That pretty much put us at point 50 (bottom center, marked with a big star).

The route in text: Sassenheim Station > 50 > 58 > 55 > 57 > 38 > 07 > 49 > 40 > 48 > 11 > 44 > towards 06 then turn left at Delftweg to 48 > 47 > 80 > 75 > 74 > 59 > 58 > 56 > 50 > Sassenheim Station.

Cycling through tulip fields!

Hyacinth field in South Holland, the Netherlands
Red and yellow tulips in South Holland, the Netherlands
We improvised a bit (that’s the polite phrasing for “going the wrong way but being fine with it and eventually getting back on track”, right?), but generally stuck to the above route. Go at a comfortable pace, take photos, pull off for a picnic when you feel like it, and don’t forget to literally stop and smell the flowers! There are also a couple cafes throughout the route, and their prices looked reasonable.

Local tips

  • There are other systems of numbered route points that you’ll see on wooden posts as you cycle around. You want to use the green circled numbers that are on small street signs.
  • Bring picnic snacks (cheese, crackers, fruit, etc.) and at least a liter of drinking water.
  • Dutch words that might be useful:
    • bloem(en) = flower(s)
    • bollenvelden = bulb fields, the more accurate name for the tulip fields (since there are daffodils and hyacinths as well)
    • fiets = bike, both the noun and the verb
    • tulp(en) = tulip(s)

Tulip fields without cycling

If cycling isn’t your forte, you can still see much of this route if you take the train from Haarlem to Leiden (about 20 minutes), though be warned that it flashes by pretty quickly. You can also walk through displays of countless varieties of tulips and other bulb flowers at the Keukenhof gardens.

Is seeing the Dutch tulip fields on your bucket list? If you’ve already been, what’s your favourite route?

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Astronomy projects with Google Summer of Code

Google Summer of Code GSoC
Google Summer of Code projects are now open for application! We’re looking for some undergrads to work in python on black hole X-ray analysis code (they don’t need to know any astrophysics in advance): check out our Timelab ideas page. There are also some astronomy projects with the OpenAstronomy umbrella organization.

If you’re mentoring undergrads (or are an undergrad yourself) who particularly like coding, this could be great astro-programming experience for them! Google Summer of Code is a paid internship for people who are enrolled as undergraduate students as of May 4th 2017.

Please encourage your undergrads to apply!! Applications are open until April 3rd. Check out the main GSoC website for more info.

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Hack Together Day at EWASS 2017

We are pleased to announce a hack day to accompany the special session on astronomy research software at EWASS 2017!!

Hack Together Day is a day to work intensively on projects, individually or in small groups, of interest to the astronomical community. A wide variety of projects will be undertaken, spanning everything from software development to community outreach to scientific research to trying out new analysis tools. We’ll also ask the contributors for SS16 (Developments and Practices in Astronomy Research Software) block 3 to be at the hack day, to help participants install, configure, and use the featured software packages. This information will be shared here once the talk schedule is confirmed.

Hack day or programming experience is not required; newcomers are extremely welcome! Project ideas and participants will be solicited before and during the meeting. Participants can lead or join a project, and should plan on focusing on only one thing.

Hack Together Day will take place on Thursday June 29th from 9:00 to 17:30, with the usual breaks for the plenary session, coffee and lunch.

Please register your attendance using this form so we can ensure enough resources for everyone. You do not need to be contributing an oral or poster presentation to the software session in order to participate in the hack day! For more information, see the EWASS 2017 Hack Together Day page on the AstroBetter wiki.

Get in touch if you have any comments/questions/concerns. We look forward to seeing you in Prague this June!

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EWASS 2017: Developments & Practices in Astronomy Research Software!!

ewass_prague_2017_logo
EXCITING NEWS!! There will be a special session at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS) 2017 on developments and practices in astronomy research software and a hack day!! I’m co-organizing the hack day and a block on different astronomy software packages, where we will have a variety of speakers (invited and contributed) share open-source software packages of interest to a broad portion of the astronomical and space science community.

EWASS is the general meeting for the European Astronomical Society that will be held in Prague, Czech Republic on 26-30 June 2017, hosted this year in partnership with the Czech Astronomical Society. There will be many symposia and special sessions on a variety of research topics, and registration for the meeting will open in December.

UPDATE (25 Jan):

Abstract submission is open for all EWASS 2017 sessions, and here’s a blog post on the hack day with links for registration and more info. The talks will be on June 28 and Hack Together Day #hackEWASS will be on June 29.

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Why donate monthly?

Why donate monthly to organizations
After the US federal election and subsequent strong increase in hate crimes and bullying of minorities (source), I and many others have decided to donate to organizations that protect and fight for human rights, civil liberties, and the environment. When you find the organizations you want to support (see below for a list), you get the option to donate once or donate monthly. Here’s why you should donate monthly.

They get to plan with a stable budget

With monthly donations, the organization can have a stable budget and make longer-term plans, instead of just building up and draining the coffers. This allows it to have paid staff with some semblance of job stability, and to take on projects or actions with a larger scope. It may only be $10-$20 from you each month, but when lots of people do that, it adds up. So you can even donate the same amount as you might do in a one-time lump (usually there’s a minimum donation of $5 or $10), but the way it’s structured is more beneficial for the organization’s planning.

Set it and forget it

Monthly donations are automatic, so they require no extra effort from you, and many organizations take PayPal in addition to credit cards. For me, it’s easier on my own budgeting to donate $15 per month than $180 all at once.

Organizations to support

Jezebel put together a list of organizations. Not on there that I also like: Trans Lifeline and the National Resources Defense Council. Also, local organizations in your community (crisis centers, education reform groups, advocacy groups, etc.).

But this is too many organizations!

Yes, it’s a lot. Pick a few that really speak to you and set up $10-$20 monthly donations. Maybe pick another few and do a one-time donation. You can, for example, donate to Lambda Legal or Planned Parenthood in honor of VP-elect Pence, and he’ll get a certificate stating so!

You can also sign up for email newsletters from organizations to get more involved in their local/state/national actions and campaigns.
Header image source

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What are neutron stars and black holes?

I research neutron stars and black holes, and the extreme environments immediately surrounding them. For a general-audience introduction, I highly recommend the videos by Phil Plait on the Crash Course YouTube channel!

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MSc PAPER ACCEPTED!!!!!

The paper from my MSc research has been accepted for publication in ApJ!!!!!

dancing ron swanson

We simulated pulse profiles from thermonuclear X-ray bursts on the surfaces of accreting neutron stars, and fitted them with an evolutionary optimization algorithm to determine how well we could constrain the masses and radii of the neutron stars! The ADS entry for it is here. We’ll update the arXiv version once the proofs are finished!

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Bard alumni career profile

Photo: Me with my senior project poster at Bard in May 2011.

Photo: Me with my senior project poster at Bard in May 2011.

Mine is the latest featured career profile on the Bard College Career Development Office website! You can read it (and others) here!

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PyAstro17 applications are open!

The Python in Astronomy logo is based on the Python Logo, an SDO AIA 17.1nm EUV image courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams and this image of the Horsehead nebula which is used courtesy of ESA.
Applications to participate in the Python in Astronomy 2017 workshop are open until December 9th! The workshop will be held on May 8-12, 2017 at the Lorentz Center in Leiden, the Netherlands. Some travel funding will be available if needed, and participant selection will be done with the goal of growing the Python in Astronomy community. All career levels and Python skill levels are welcome to apply.

I’ve been to the previous two Python in Astronomy workshops. At the first meeting, I was a beginner in terms of contributing to open-source python astronomy projects (like, had never done a GitHub pull request, and didn’t know anything about packaging software), but I learned a ton and loved getting involved with a wonderful community! At the second meeting I was able to take a more active participation role, and I co-lead a tutorial on git and GitHub. And I’m now on the Scientific Organizing Committee for this one!

You can learn more on the workshop website! The application form is here. Get in touch with me or other SOC members if you have questions!

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Applying for an astro PhD with an MSc

write thesis phd comics
Since application season is upon us, here’s some thoughts on applying for a PhD for those who have/will have an MSc.

Are you sure?

It seems a bit basic, but the first thing to think about is why you want to do a PhD in astro. It’s hard by design, and ~90% of people with astro PhDs don’t end up in tenured academic positions. I don’t know if that’s what your aim is, but it’s good to know regardless. So think about whether it will be worth it for you given your goals. There are still plenty of valid reasons to do a PhD in astro when you know you won’t end up as an academic, so just think about it.

What do you want?

The next thing to think about is what kind of research you want to do, and take inspiration from what parts of your MSc you’ve enjoyed or found the most interesting. Theory? Data/observations? Experimental lab astro? Instrumentation? Also consider what topics you find most interesting, and which aspects of them you like. This is probably going to be related to your MSc topic, but if you want to shift fields, now is probably the best time to do it.

Where do you want to be?

Then, one of the bigger things to consider is which continent you want to be on. Each country has their own academic system and way of doing things, though there are some similarities. Keep in mind that some systems are harder to get into if you’re not a citizen or permanent resident. For example, it’s not possible for non-UK citizens to get UK funding to do a PhD there, so you’d need to bring in your own external funds like an NSERC, Marie Curie, Rhodes, or Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

Who’s hiring?

Keep an eye on the AAS job register, “Pre-doctoral/Graduate Positions” section (scroll down). Not all jobs will be listed yet. For example, Amsterdam usually has a few PhD positions available, and they start advertising these at the end of October. For Canadian and American universities, they typically won’t advertise on there, so you’ll want to look through department websites and see what the different professors do. When you find someone whose research sounds like it’d be a good fit, email them to ask if they are looking to take on a new PhD student. Another place to look for potential advisors is in the author list of papers you find interesting! Again, do your homework and read up on them before emailing them. Check out the AstroBetter wiki for lists of programs and advice on applications. But once you have an idea of what you want to do and generally where you want to do it, ask the profs in your current place if they know which places have people doing that kind of research.

For the US, many places still require the GRE and Physics GRE (but not all!), so there’s that hurdle to get over, and you’ll want to email the department chair of grad studies/admissions to ask if they’ll accept your MSc courses.

Tips on the PhD application itself

You will typically need 3 letters of recommendation. Ask your letter writers now if they feel comfortable writing you a strong letter of recommendation. Yes, use the adjective “strong” in there. If you won’t have a letter from your MSc supervisor, you need to have a really good reason, and have another letter writer explain why that’s the case. For my applications I had letters from my MSc supervisor, another professor in the department who I knew pretty well and had taken a class with, and my undergraduate mentor. Get your letter writers lined up now, and when you know where you want to apply, give them the deadlines and the details. Email them a 2-weeks-before reminder, 1-week-before reminder, and a 2-days-before reminder. Also, if there are any discrepancies in your record, explain it to a letter writer and ask them to include it.

Once you’ve written a draft of the research statement that most places ask for, have a PhD/postdoc and your advisor iterate feedback with you on it. It seriously makes it better.

Good luck and have fun!

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