Feb. 1, 2001
Vol. 20 No. 9

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    Six postdocs in Astronomy, Astrophysics accept faculty positions

    They study deep space, the final frontier, where no person has gone before.

    But when postdoctoral researchers finish their fellowships in the University’s Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics these days, they follow a well-beaten path to faculty positions in higher education. In the last year, six of the department’s postdoctoral researchers have accepted faculty positions at other institutions.

    “We do very well, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Michael Turner, the Bruce & Diana Rauner Professor and Chairman of Astronomy & Astrophysics. “We really are the teacher of teachers; six in a year is pretty good.”

    Postdoctoral fellows are to academia what interns or residents are to a hospital. Those with Ph.D. degrees in science normally work for several years in postdoctoral positions before moving into faculty positions. The department has 40 postdoctoral fellows working with 27 faculty members and 52 graduate students.

    “Without a doubt, the Astronomy & Astrophysics Department at the University is unique: very diverse interests, engaging personnel from undergraduates through tenured faculty, and high visibility due to the influential scientific leadership in the faculty ranks,” said Scott Burles, a former postdoctoral fellow and one of the six new appointees.

    Burles and two other postdoctoral fellows, Daniel Eisenstein and John Loveday, contributed to the Sloan Digital Sky Survey while at Chicago. The Sloan Survey is an international effort to map one quarter of the night sky, determining the positions and brightness of more than 100 million celestial objects.

    Burles has accepted a junior faculty appointment in the physics department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Eisenstein is an assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona. Loveday is a lecturer in physics and astronomy at the University of Sussex.

    Three other fellows, Lloyd Knox, Joe Mohr and Grant Wilson, worked on Chicago research projects involving the cosmic microwave background radiation, the afterglow of the big bang. Knox is now an assistant professor of physics at the University of California, Davis. Mohr is an assistant professor in astronomy and physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Wilson will be an assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

    No fewer than 14 Chicago alumni with doctorates in astronomy & astrophysics also hold faculty positions, Turner said.

    Turner said “good mentors and good scientific projects” led to the recent spate of faculty placements. A competitive pool of postdoctoral applicants also helps; Astronomy & Astrophysics receives more than 200 applications annually.