Graduate student and astronomy writer


Multimedia Astronomy Communication – Poster Page

This is the page for my poster on  Multimedia Astronomy Communications, presented at AAS229 in Grapevine, TX



Click here to download the poster on Multimedia Astronomy Communications

I’ve already had some fantastic interactions at my poster on astro communication. Here are a few of the things that I’ve talked about:

What is the next step? Where do you go from here?

Well, aside from defending and (hopefully) completing my PhD, I would really love to see some sort of course on communicating astronomy integrated into graduate programs. Communication is integrally linked to astronomy research and an astronomy career. As such, graduate programs and graduate advisors should help their students develop those skills just like they help develop research skills. A course, workshop, or seminar on good communication practices (research papers, grant applications, research presentations, etc) would go a long way towards improving communication within our field.

What does it mean to tell a Simple, Concrete, and Credible story?

Simple, Concrete, and Credible are what I call “must haves” when telling your science story. This means that the main message of your story should be straightforward, unambiguous, and believable. This doesn’t mean that your results have to be definite and unambiguous; nevernevernever misrepresent your science. But, you 100% should ensure that you explain your result in an unambiguous way.

What is the biggest hurdle you had to overcome while working on this?

Granted, this one was asked by one of the poster judges, but it’s a good question nonetheless. The single BIGGEST issue here is that little to no research currently exists on communicating astronomy in an effective way. And I mean, astronomy specifically. There is some research (by some awesome people) on teaching astronomy, but while teaching is a specific form of communication, there are many other types that astronomers deal with that haven’t been addressed.

That being said, there is a lot of research that has been done in other fields, like engineering and medicine. Not to mention all of the communication theory research that has been done in the actual field of communications. The AstroComms poster lists some of the available resources that I hunted down. There are a lot more. The biggest hurdle I faced (and continue to face) is finding the appropriate reference material, figuring out which parts could translate to astronomy, and working out the best way to apply the work to astronomy-specific problems.



This page will soon be updated with comments, notes, and suggestions I received at AAS229. Stay tuned for more information!


UBMS: Week 1

This blog post is a reflection on my first week as a mentor in the UBMS program, the second post in a series that will span the next few weeks. You can read my first blog post in this series that describes the UBMS program and my role within it here.

Last Tuesday was the first day of our program. We had a shortened class period with them since they had other introductory things they needed to complete for the larger UBMS program. We have two students in our astronomy program, a sophomore and a senior, both of whom seemed very excited to be learning about exoplanets. Student A (the senior) has been in the UBMS program twice before this, and worked on projects about cosmic rays and atmospheric emission. My co-mentor and I think that Student A’s background will serve her well this summer.

Student B (the sophomore) is a first-timer in UBMS, but has a great excitement for exoplanets. Student B seems to have done a lot of background reading about exoplanets, and came in with good prior knowledge about the specifics of the research project, but lacking some fundamental background knowledge about astronomy and physics. Making sure that the two students are on the same page all summer will be a challenge, given their different educational levels and previous experience.

One learning activity that I am very excited to introduce to the students is the idea of concept mapping. When you create a concept map, you identify the key topics, ideas, or skills that you have learned (nodes) and specify the connections between each of them. When done right, a concept map is an excellent tool for synthesizing information, gaining a view of the scope of a course, and identifying how seemingly disparate topics fit together. This is something I have never seen done in a physics or astronomy course, where oftentimes topics are presented piecemeal and the “larger picture” is often presented at the end as a “ta da!” moment.

At the end of each of our lessons, Michael and I are having the students create a small concept map for the concepts and skills they learned that day. That is the smaller scale review. Between lessons, Michael and I add their smaller concept maps to the larger, master concept map that we are iteratively building throughout the entire course. At the start of each following lesson, we present to them how what they learned last week has been integrated into a larger concept map. They get a visual representation of how their knowledge base is growing, and of how everything that they’ve learned is connected together towards a larger goal. Not only that, but they get the assurance that everything they will learn is relevant to the course goal, and not just side tangents that interest us.

We started on Tuesday with introductions for myself and Michael, as well as our two “faculty” (read: postdoc) mentors. We introduced the topic of the course, general expectations, and the like. We introduced the research question and had the students brainstorm what they would need to know to answer this. Having them come up with the course overview reflected the same process that Michael and I went through designing the course, and was a way for them to break down the big task in front of them into manageable pieces. The students appeared to value this exercise, as it gave them a picture of what the next few weeks would be like, and seemed to lessen the intimidation factor learning something new can bring.

When we mentioned to the students that we were having them take their own transit observations, they seemed excited to actually get to go observing (I think their enthusiasm will wane after experiencing the tedium involved). Whenever the weather cooperates, we’ll go observe a transit, and spend the wait time using the other telescope on the roof to look at pretty things like galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters.

We started the course for real last Thursday, with an overview of basic astronomy. We went through from the Solar System, to stars, to galaxies, and the Universe. We introduced the transit method, and did a brief overview of telescopes and CCDs. It was a lot of information for one day, but we assured them that we would go over the more important bits in more detail later. Our hands-on portion of the lesson had them being trained to use the 24″ telescope on the Davey rooftop. Our first potential observing night was only two days away, so they needed to be trained. No hiccups there, and while they really enjoyed getting to work with the telescope themselves (Michael and I kept hands-off), they got their first taste of the tedium of waiting for long exposures. Observing will be an interesting experience.

The first attempt at concept mapping at the end of Thursday’s lesson went alright, though they seemed a little hesitant at first. We pre-selected for them a few nodes they might want to include, and they added many of their own, as well. The connections they made needed a little modification, but overall they did very well at synthesizing the large amount of information we have them that day. Their final concept map for that day was more extensive than we had expected, and I’m very interested to see what they come up with in subsequent lessons.

This blog was supposed to be posted last Friday or Saturday. I realize that being late on your first in a series of blog posts is not a good thing, but it actually highlights one of the lessons I learned last week: always have your lesson plans done before the class starts! My co-mentor, Michael, and I had completed about 80% of of the lesson plans, course material, and project instructions beforehand, but that last 20% is very difficult to complete while you are simultaneously getting ready for class. We have mostly caught up by now, and I have definitely learned my lesson.

Also regarding lesson plans, I have learned that, just like in battle, no plan survives first contact. I am generally a very meticulous and organized person, and my lesson plans are no different. Michael and I created a course outline and a breakdown of the content and skills needed to answer the research question, and from there we created plans for each individual session. The lesson plans are very detailed, given that one of us usually writes them and yet both have to teach from them, and include some lecture, lots of active learning methods, hands-on demos, and actually working with their data. Given that the students are not only working with unfamiliar ideas and extremely exhausted from their intensive program, it’s very hard to predict how long each activity will take. I will have to be very flexible in the coming weeks to ensure that the students learn what they need and get the work done.

Overall, the first week was a bit hectic, but very awesome. Being able to work with interested students in a small group setting is much different than teaching a class of even 20 people, and allows for a more informal and personal approach. I’m excited to see what Week 2 will bring!

Until next week, dear readers.


Mentoring in the UBMS Program: Overview

This summer I decided to take on a new challenge, something that I hope will provide good experience in teaching and mentoring and help me decide if I want to take that sort of path after I defend my dissertation. The Upward Bound Math and Science Program at Penn State has been operating since 2001 and “is designed to strengthen the math and science skills of low-income, first-generation potential college students” (UBMS Website). During the summer session while the undergrads are away, UBMS hosts a Summer STEM Institute on the University Park campus to give students from underprivileged areas of Pennsylvania extra classes in STEM areas, plus classes in useful things like presentation skills, how to write a research paper, how to keep a lab notebook, etc. The students live and work on campus for around 6 weeks to take classes.

As part of the Summer STEM institute, the visiting high school students also get to choose a research project to participate in, complete, and present at the end of the Institute. My role in UBMS this summer is to lead one of the research “labs” with my co-mentor and fellow astronomy grad student, Michael Rodruck. This involved selecting a research question to answer, designing a project aimed at answering it, preparing and executing lesson plans to teach the students background material and guide them through the project, and being an overall mentor to the students in this real-life research experience. Our lab section is a part of the Summer STEM Institute’s Summer Experience in the Eberly College of Science (SEECoS) program.

Michael and I have been training and preparing since mid March to lead this lab section, which only meets twice a week. The research question we devised (under the supervision of our Astro department supervisors Drs. Kate Grier and Jon Trump and UBMS leaders) is How do we detect extra-solar planets using the transit method, and what can we learn about those planets from this method?” We chose the transit method specifically over other detection methods because 1) we can use the rooftop telescopes on Davey Laboratory to measure the transits of exoplanets hands-on (whereas, we cannot use those telescopes to make radial velocity, microlensing, or direct imaging measurements) and 2) we can use the publicly available Kepler light curves to get the students working with all types of planets.

I have also found in my public speaking experience that the transit method is the most widely known exoplanet detection method and is the most straightforward of the methods for novices to grasp. Given the extremely limited timespan in which we get to work with our students (only 10 lessons!), the transit method seemed like the way to go.

This teaching/mentoring experience will have a lot of firsts for me: my first time teaching high schoolers, my first time teaching a course on exoplanets, my first time designing the content for an entire course, my first time applying active learning techniques in the classroom. I decided a that a useful exercise for me would be to chart this experience through a series of blog posts. At the end of each week I will write a blog post reflecting on the experiences of the week, things that went well, things that didn’t, things  learned, things I would do differently next time. I will not be using my students’ real names for privacy reasons.

This will also be the first time I’m writing a blog like this: a live, self-reflection on my teaching experiences. I hope you’ll all stick with me as I stumble my way through the next 5 weeks. It will be an interesting experience, to say the least.


Live-blogging afterthoughts

So, after a few weeks of respite from the marathon blogging session at the Emerging Researchers in Exoplanet Science Symposium hosted at PSU, I thought I would share some thoughts about my experience live-blogging and the comments that I got back about how the live-blogging went for me.

First off, I personally found the experience to be a lot of fun (a little bit of stress), but overall very rewarding for me for a number of reasons. For one, it was great practice at writing science concisely and with purpose, summarizing another scientist’s work, and interpreting it through the lens of a non-expert. This was a good exercise for me since I want to eventually find a career in science journalism. Secondly, it was a good way to make sure that I was paying attention to the conference, to actively listen to the presentations and to internalize the presentations. I certainly learned a lot more and paid attention a lot more than I have at other conferences, simply because it was my job to to do. But now, I think that I’d do something similar even it wasn’t my job because it’s so helpful. Thirdly, it was great to help out the conference participants and the people that weren’t able to participate, to talk to new people about the blog, and get the symposium more recognition on the cyber-waves. So, for those reasons, live-blogging the conference was a very rewarding experience for these and other reasons.

However, when I do this again, I might do some things differently. For ERES, I wrote a three-paragraph minimum for each of the 10 minute science talks given by participants, and following the Q&A of the panels and other featured talks. This was a lot of work. The blog for ERES was formatted more like conference proceedings than a blog, which I (and other OC members) felt was appropriate for this type of conference. Since the blog was coupled with a Twitter feed, the Twitter feed was set up more as the “thoughts and comments and clever paraphrases” format (thanks Natasha Batalha!), and the blog was set up to be more a scientific summary. When I do this again in the future, it is likely that I won’t have an accompanying Twitter feed, so I would probably do less summary and more paraphrasing, thoughts, and comments.

Also, typing that much in such a short time gave me hand cramps! It was hard work, and I might do it differently next time. But it was a really rewarding experience. If you have a proclivity for writing, or are trying to find a way to retain more information at a conference, I suggest live-blogging. It’s just like taking notes, but with more personality, and can be tons of fun!

So…yeah. Those are my thoughts on live-blogging. Now that the live-blogging is done and I have free time again, I will be continuing with semi-regularly submitted blog-posts and other goodies in the future. Thanks for tuning in!

-Kim Cartier, aka “AstroLady”

Emerging Researchers in Exoplanet Science Live-Blogging

Hello all!

Tomorrow begins a new adventure for me…live -blogging a scientific conference. The Emerging Researchers in Exoplanet Science Symposium (ERES) is a peer-led science symposium for early career scientists interested in exoplanets and exoplanet-related fields.

As part of the science outreach effort for the symposium, I will be live-blogging the events of the symposium on the ERES website, and posting duplicates here. The blog posts will have summaries of talks and career topic panels.

So, stay tuned, and I will see you tomorrow!

Best Practices for Effective Poster Design

You’re probably (hopefully!) at this blog post because you followed the QR code or link found on the meta-poster entitled “Best Practices for Effective Poster Design.” Well done on being hip to the new technological trends and welcome to the website and blog of Kimberly Cartier (me!). If you’re here because you are a regular reader…kudos to you!

This post includes a PDF of the meta-poster, some more good poster practices and suggestions, sources used in the meta-poster, and additional places to find good material for how to make posters.  The original QR code you used should always take you to the most recent version of this post. Feel free to download a copy of the poster for yourself and distribute to your colleagues and students.

Thanks, and stay tuned!

Note: this post will soon be updated with more comments and suggestions gathered at the AAS227 meeting. Stay tuned!

Note: after the poster session at the 2015 ERES, I have added a section to the bottom of this page containing some of the feedback I got at the conference. There were some really good suggestions and comments! So, taking those into account, I wrote down some things that I would modify about the poster, or comments I got about specific things. If I talked to you about this at ERES and your comment is not on here, leave me a message and I will include it! Thanks to everyone who commented at ERES, I had a great time discussing this with all of you.    -Kim

Note: I also hope to soon have a video of my poster pop to put on here. I had a lot of fun doing the poster pop, and I recommend that people learn how to do them. You can read more about poster pops on my post about them.

Download a PDF of the poster here: Best Practices for Effective Poster Design

Additional good poster practices not found on the meta-poster:

  1. Put a picture of the lead author on the poster. This will help people find you at the conference to talk about  your poster if you’re not standing at your poster when they visit. Make sure that the picture is professional (so, probably not your social media profile picture) and that you’re the only one in it.
    • Note: this was the most controversial part of my poster, based on my experiences at ERES. This was the question I was asked the most. If you are uncomfortable having your face on your poster, then don’t do it. If you are uncomfortable about your poster, it will be noticeable in your oral pitch. However, if this is something you are comfortable doing, having a picture on there can only help with the networking process.
  2. Make sure that there is a contact email address on the poster somewhere. That way, people can contact you after the presentation with questions, comments, or suggestions.
  3. A nitpicky detail that will make your poster look really clean is to make sure that everything within one section is aligned along the tops and along the sides. For example, in the top section of the meta-poster, there are two clearly defined “columns” in the section. The left column has the top text box and the table. The text box and table are aligned on the left to form a straight line. The top text box in the right “column” is aligned along the same horizontal line as the text in the left “column.” Small things like this make your poster look very clean.
  4. Everyone knows to cite text or results that are found in publications. Many people forget to also put citations on figures that are found in publications. Whether or not you are the author of that paper, if the figure is published in a refereed journal it is technically copyrighted, and needs to be cited.
  5. Regarding citations: having citations of the format [Author, et al. (year)] all over your poster is distracting and takes up a lot of space. Use superscripted numbered citations like “cited text[1]” with a numbered reference list at the end to save space.
  6. Some people find that having a reference list on the poster itself to be a waste of space and not completely necessary. I say that it depends greatly on the type of poster you are presenting and where you are presenting. If it’s a research poster that presents a lot of content from published sources, it’s good to have a list of where it all comes from, especially if you’re presenting at a scientific conference where you might run in to someone who wrote the content you are citing. In that case, I recommend the citation format described in #5 to conserve space. If there is mostly original content on the poster, you can more easily justify having your sources elsewhere, like on a website, or even on a separate piece of paper that you tack on next to your poster. Be sure that if you do this that the location of your references is easily found (like having a big honking QR code on your poster). Whatever you choose, always, always cite all of your sources. A plagiarized poster is most definitely not a good poster!
  7. The Layar App is one of the newest ways to augment your poster with additional content. It is, as the name suggests, a way to virtually layer your poster with additional information that can be read by the Layar app on your smartphone or tablet (they call it “Augmented Reality”). This is a great way to show things like the simulation movies that your simulation snapshots come from, alternate plots, links and references, or even just additional content that is in that section. I have not yet used it myself, but have seen it used at AAS a few times and it is really cool.
  8. Before you take your poster to a printer (or even before you start designing your poster) be sure to double check the poster guidelines for your conference. Then, make sure you set the page size for your poster designing program to the right size — and it may be different for each poster!
  9. Tip about printing: printing your poster can be expensive, so shop around. At PSU, the cheapest printer to be found is the Engineering Copy Center. If you don’t have access to that, keep in mind your options for printing are flexible. There is always the classic flat print poster on regular poster paper, but those can be flimsy and may not hold up well to travel or to multiple uses. Glossy photo paper looks really nice, but it much more expensive. Fabric printing is gaining popularity: the quality is nice, the price is reasonable, and the fabric travels really well (you can fold it in your suitcase instead of using a poster tube!). A good compromise if you don’t want to do fabric is to print on regular poster paper and then have it laminated for glossiness and durability. Laminating a poster is often cheaper than printing on glossy photo paper.

The ideas and content contained in the “Good Poster Poster” were compiled from many sources. A lot of the ideas were contributed by the first and second sources in this list. The other sources listed here are also good places to look for examples of good and bad poster designs.

  1. AstroWright’s “Make Award Winning Posters”: Much of the text was contributed by Ming Zhao (with contributions from Jason Wright), and contains examples of award winning posters by Ming and by Sharon Wang as well.
  2. Kathryn Tonsey’s “How to create a poster that graphically communicates your message”: This page by the Chair of Biology and the University of Miami is a good source for how to communicate to different types of audiences and how to layout your poster effectively. Bonus: there are both good and bad examples for each of the themes she talks about.
  3. AstroBetter’s on Presentation Skills: A compilation of a number of other sources for good presentation skills for both oral presentations and poster design and presentation.
  4. Credit for the headshot on the poster goes to 2015 Meadow Lane Photography.
  5. Bonus: can create beautiful and functional plots using the most up-to-date exoplanet catalogs. If you want to make plots that use current exoplanet information (like the ones on the poster!) but don’t want to have to download and compile all of the data yourself, this is the place to go.


Based on my conversations at the ERES poster session, here are some thoughts on what I, and others, thinks would make this poster even better:

  1. Use an even higher resolution graphic for the large PSU logo at the top. The current one still shows up a little blurry when printed full-scale, which is not a good poster practice!
  2. If I were to make a research poster with this design (and indeed, I have), I would use much fewer words than what is on this representation of the poster. The meta-poster, as it is, is meant to be an education and outreach poster, containing educational concepts. Some of those concepts are very difficult to put in an effective graphic, and so were left as words. A confusing or ineffectual graphic is just a waste of space, I say, so I left them as words. For a science poster, you should aim for many fewer words and use more graphics instead.
  3. The organization within the third blue box can be a bit confusing, especially on the right-hand side. There are two separate ideas (using high-quality graphics and choosing appropriate colors and symbols) that don’t really relate to each other well. I would add a light horizontal division line, or more whitespace, between the two to better delineate them.
  4. In the table in the top box, the dots in the bullet points are pretty close to the vertical table lines. If I had more space, I would separate the two more.
  5. If this were a science poster instead of an education poster, I would not use a graphic in the style of a pie chart to demonstrate that point. In a science poster, I would use a histogram instead. However, many non-academic people are more familiar with a pie chart, so I chose that format for this education-based poster.

If I talked to you at ERES about the poster and you have more comments, please feel free to leave me a message! I will happily add your comments to this post for others to comment on.



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