“Astronomy is Looking Up”
I stole this quote from the movie Contact (it was on an office door at the VLA). It stuck with me, because of its double meaning and it resonated with how I feel about my life in general.
I’m extremely lucky to have two of the best jobs in the world: being a Dad and learning about the Universe. One job is in the realm of unimaginable distances and timescales, the other is rooted in the here and now (“NOW, Daddy!”). It think it keeps me nicely balanced.
From Whence I Come
Born in Montreal, raised in the Eastern Townships, Quebec, Canada. I was a campus brat at Bishop’s University where my father taught history. I didn’t much care for history (at least not growing up), and slowly became a science geek. Astronomy was always a hobby.
I got my BSc. in physics from Bishop’s, advised by Prof. Lorne Nelson. At the time, Prof. Nelson had just finished a postdoc at MIT and arrived to re-invigorate a languishing physics department. Had it not been for him, I would never have considered attending. But I’m ever thankful I did. Bishop’s kindled my interest in teaching and public outreach.
Next stop: graduate school. Having earned an NSERC post-graduate scholarship, I stayed in Canada for my graduate work and attended the University of Toronto, with visions of becoming a particle physicist. That lasted about 1 semester and then I decided all the big discoveries were being made in Astronomy (solar neutrinos, dark matter, etc), so I joined the UofT Astronomy department. There I found fellow Bishop’s graduate Prof. Charles Dyer (class of ’68), who took me on for my PhD and taught me General Relativity, the vi editor, and how to be a critical scientist.
I took my time in graduate school (7 fun-filled years), but eventually you have to face the real world. I wanted a break from research 24/7, so I took a few years teaching astronomy and physics at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Swarthmore is quite a special place and I enjoyed my time there immensely. I learned a lot from my colleagues about teaching and how to mix it in with research. I even advised some students. Four years later it was time to move on.
That’s when I ended up at the Carnegie Observatories, working with Wendy Freedman. Unlike my graduate research, which was primarily theoretical, I got a chance to work with data, go observing, and answer some really big questions. After 3 years, I was offered a permanent position at Carnegie and have worked here ever since.