Go West, Young (?) Astronomer
Many bargains must be made in pursuit of an academic career, and chief among them is an openness to a nomadic early-career life in exchange for a better chance at staying permanently put somewhere later. Grad students and postdocs move around. Not only do we travel all over the world sharing and discussing our research, but the relatively short duration of postdocs, and the fact that in astronomy doing at least 2 of them is now the norm, means we regularly pull up roots and dash off to live somewhere else. My friends have collectively done postdocs on all continents, including Antarctica. Including places thousands of miles from friends and family; including places where they can neither read nor speak any of the native languages.
In this context, I am so, so lucky. My first postdoc moved me only a medium distance (across just one ocean), and to a place where I could at least understand the words, even if I didn’t always get every nuance of meaning. At Oxford I made lifelong friends and built great collaborations, and I thought the research itself was pretty good, too.
Turns out NASA agrees with me. Last year I applied for and was awarded an Einstein Fellowship, which is an early-career award lasting 3 years, an independent postdoc that can be taken to any institution in the US. They’re very competitive (I had applied the previous year without success), and I was thrilled to be awarded one at my top-choice host institution. My first day was last week.
Here’s what the 2015 Fellows page has to say about my research plans:
Brooke uses a variety of multi-wavelength data, including highly accurate galaxy morphologies from the Galaxy Zoo project, to research the connection between supermassive black holes and the galaxies that host them. This connection appears to exist over many orders of magnitude in black hole and galaxy mass, but its fundamental origin is still a puzzle. As an Einstein Fellow at the University of California, San Diego, Brooke will investigate supermassive black hole growth in the absence of galaxy mergers, using a rare sample of galaxies which have never had a significant merger yet host growing black holes. These active nuclei, selected because their host galaxies lack the bulges which inevitably result from a galaxy merger, provide powerful leverage to disentangle the complex drivers of black hole growth and determine the origin of observed black hole-galaxy correlations.
During my fellowship I’m planning on moving forward with the research we first published in 2013 investigating bulgeless galaxies with growing black holes. That is: it’s Galaxy Zoo research.
Galaxy Zoo research brought me to Oxford, and now it has brought me to California. UCSD is a great place, and I’ve already made some really excellent scientists. UCSD is also part of the Southern California Center for Galaxy Evolution and has access to some of the world’s best telescopes, so the future is full of potential.
For now, though: I wouldn’t be here, watching sunsets from my office, without your contributions to Galaxy Zoo over the years. Thank you.