Volume 30, Number 2
May 7, 1999

The Doings of the Department of Astronomy
and the David Dunlap Observatory

COVER PICTURE: Florence Unwin wins Dean's award

See the DOINGS cover story for more.

ISSN 1209-0182
Editors: Brian Beattie & R.F. Garrison
Associate Editor: Tracy Clarke
© Governing Council, University of Toronto, 1999


What a Summer this will be! Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman has agreed to declare Toronto "The Centre of the Universe" for the week of 1-7 July. (Thanks to alumnus and now city politician Blake Kinahan.)

The occasion? A gathering of the three great amateur/professional organizations: The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, The Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and The American Association of Variable Star Observers. According to John Percy (Chair of the Organizing Committee), the combined annual meetings, with the general theme of "Partners in Astronomy," include many components for professional and amateur astronomers, historians of astronomy, and students (graduate, undergraduate and school), as well as the general public.

The occasion is hosted by the Toronto Centre of the RASC and the Department of Astronomy, so John and the committee will be asking for volunteers to help out (in return for free registration). The exposure in the media and among the participants will be good for the hosts, so let's give it a good shot.

Bob Garrison

Cover Story

Nomination for the Dean's Outstanding Staff Award

It is with great pleasure that we, the academic staff of the David Dunlap Observatory, nominate Mrs Florence Unwin, our secretary, for the Dean's Outstanding Administrative Service Award.

Florence, who will retire this year, has been with us since early 1988, and for the last six years has been the sole administrative (as distinct from technical) staff member at the Observatory, located some 25 km north of the St George campus. As such her role has been perhaps unique in the University, requiring as it does extraordinary self-reliance and ability to deal with situations well beyond the requirements of her job responsibilities.

The primary work done by Florence has included the Director's correspondence, managing his appointments diary, answering four telephone lines, and handling all financial matters of the Observatory. Regarding the telephone lines, only in the past month or two has a new system been installed that has relieved Florence from being on the telephone more often than not. One of the lines is a public line that took up much of Florence's time in taking reservations for public nights and school visits at the Observatory (there are some 4000 visitors a year here). Moreover, astronomy having such an enormous public appeal means that the public line also brings many enquiries of the kind "What's the bright light I see in the south-western sky after dark?", "When, precisely to the minute, will the next New Moon occur?", "I hear a comet will soon hit Jupiter. Won't the Earth be devastated?" And not infrequently persons of doubtful mental stability arrive at the Observatory to extol their own pet theories of the universe or to demand access to our facilities. Florence handles all but the most technical or extreme queries. Her tact in dealing with extraordinarily rude or difficult people is legendary.

On the financial front, Florence not only handles all our routine NSERC grants and purchases made therefrom, but is also responsible for managing our endowment funds, both longstanding ones and others newly setup, and associated expenditures. She is also accountable for the money taken in on visitors' nights, and must arrange supplies of postcards and other items sold on those nights. Also, during the many years that we ran an observatory in Chile, Florence was responsible for managing expenditures there, the shipping and customs problems in sending equipment to and fro, collecting fees from astronomers around the world for our having provided service observing in Chile for them, etc, etc.

The Observatory's library is a branch of the Astronomy Department's library, but is nevertheless quite substantial, with new journals and materials arriving daily. It is impossible for Astronomy's sole librarian to maintain daily control over two libraries 25 km apart, so Florence deals with all incoming journals and minor library tasks on a voluntary basis, with the librarian visiting every few weeks to deal with more substantial issues.

Recent years have seen the institution of a Fall public astronomy course at the Observatory. This series of lectures runs over six weeks, each weekly lecture ending with coffee and cakes and informal mingling of the students with the instructor. The provision of refreshments requires that someone besides the instructor be present to make the coffee and clean up afterwards. Florence was entirely willing to take this on, and although she was paid additionally for the work, it did mean that she worked a full day, then went out to buy the refreshments, returned to the Observatory to set up everything (including the outdoors portable lighting system), waited through the lecture, mingled with the visitors, cleaned up, and around 11 pm set off on the 1-hour drive to her home near Barrie.

Years ago there was always an Observatory caretaker who would see to the cleaning of the buildings, in part to the upkeep of the extensive grounds, and meet with electricians, painters, carpenters, etc working on facilities here, including the Director's residence on the property. Now that the University can no longer afford a caretaker, all these tasks are outsourced, and inevitably it is Florence who must forever be calling cleaners, gardeners, snow removal people, and many others about work that should have been done. When night observers leave dirty dishes in the kitchen (which they should not), it will be Florence who next day will do the cleaning up, and from time to time it will be Florence who takes home the Observatory's dish cloths, table cloths, and the like for laundering.

It would be achievement enough if this were all that Florence had to recommend her. The fact is, however, that she is a warm and cheerful person who not only does what she does willingly, but who is a friend to all around her. Without her, the atmosphere and morale of the Observatory would be immeasurably less. We most strongly recommend her to your consideration for the Dean's Outstanding Administrative Service Award.

Comings and Goings

Barth Netterfield



The Roberta Bondar Planetarium, Seneca College, in North York, recently reopened with planetarium shows for the general public, as well as for school and youth groups.

General Interest

Workshop on Photometric Redshifts and High Redshift Galaxies

Mark Brodwin

I just returned from a conference held at Carnegie in Pasadena on photometric redshift techniques and applications. The local organizing committee was made up of Caltech and Carnegie faculty, including recent Toronto graduate Marcin Sawicki (now a postdoc at Caltech). Ray Carlberg, Howard Yee, Pat Hall and Huan Lin also attended. While there I stayed at the elegant Caltech faculty club, the Athenaeum. This trip was paid for, in part, by the Reinhardt travel fund.

The conference illuminated the virtues and flaws of various techniques, from purely empirical fits using spectroscopic catalogues, through the use of population synthesis models, to the application of priors in Bayesian analyses. The overall impression was that, if applied thoughtfully and with significant attention to both systematic and random errors, the photometric determination of redshift is an extremely powerful technique with important applications in many science areas. In my own thesis I plan to use photometric redshifts to derive the galaxy-galaxy correlation function at redshifts of about 1, as well as to study the evolution of the luminosity function to similar redshifts.


Astronomy Night at the Department of Astronomy

Allen Attard

This year, the Department of Astronomy held its annual Astronomy Night events on the evening of Saturday May 1st. It turned out to be a great night for the occasion as the sky was clear and the temperature remained quite pleasant.

Despite the fact that at least one of the advertisements we placed in a local newspaper wasn't published, we had a very good turnout and even had people lining up outside the door to the building fifteen minutes before we opened for the evening at 8:00 pm. Once inside, visitors had the opportunity to learn how gravitational lenses worked, have their picture taken in the dark with a CCD, take a slide-show tour of the universe, and learn about image processing and the impact that the internet has had on astronomy.

With the weather cooperating, the rooftop 16" and 8" telescopes were both popular stops, as were the Questars and binoculars that we had set up on the balcony of the 15th floor. Visitors were treated to views of Mars, Venus, the moon, and M3 among other things, and many were impressed with the view of Toronto at night that the balcony offers.

Throughout the evening, visitors were able to talk to an enthusiastic group of volunteers and many of these visitors expressed their gratitude at the opportunity to learn about astronomy and have their questions answered by experts who were willing to take the time to explain things to them in a way that they could understand. A couple of people even asked when the next Astronomy Night would be held and were eager to come again.

I would like to extend my gratitude to the following people for volunteering their time to help with the evening and make it the success that it was: Mike Allen, Tom and Susan Bolton, Chris Burns, Christine Clement, Arno Dirks, Paula Ehlers, Torsten Ensslin, Devon Hamilton, Doug Johnstone, Jennifer Karr, Charles Kerton, Lillian Lanca, Rosemary McNaughton, Stefan Mochnacki, John Percy, and Tracy Webb.


Surviving the Postdoc Search

Tracy Clarke and Gabriela Mallen-Ornelas

As many of you know, we went through the job search routine this year, and we though we should share some of our experiences while we still remember them. We hope this will be of use for other people applying for postdocs in the next few years. And if that seems like it's a long way away, in the end we list some things we wish we had done early on in our PhD's!

  1. The job market is currently getting better. Although this means that chances of getting a postdoc are improving, it also means that you need to put in lots of applications. We submitted around 25 applications each! Although some jobs may seem much more suited to your experience than others, our experience indicates that it is generally a good idea (at least in your first postdoctoral search) to take the shotgun approach and apply for everything that is even remotely possible for you. You never know when that job announcement that was written for you will lose the funding and be retracted (there were several cases of this in this year's round), and you never know, you might just get offered that impossible-to-get position which you thought you didn't even qualify for! We were somewhat surprised that the jobs we thought were the most likely we'd get offered were not always the ones that we got. On the other hand, we did get offers from places we didn't think we'd get when we were sending the applications.
  2. Things generally start happening in the fall of the year before you are planning on graduating. The AAS job register http://www.aas.org/JobRegister/aasjobs.html lists the vast majority of research oriented positions (as well a sampling of other types). These job announcements are updated on the first day of ever month, and it's good to check the register every month starting in September, as the first application deadlines are in October/November. From then on, good positions keep getting advertised 'til at least February/March (we stopped checking). It is important to save or print a copy of ads of interest, since they often get removed from the job register before the application deadlines. It is also a good idea to check ads occasionally to look for updates or go to the the institution's web site. This season there was at least one instance of a job posting mistakenly quoting the deadline as February, and the deadline was later changed to November(!) without any announcement. You can probably expect to spend at least two months of your life applying for postdocs. Although this sounds a bit extreme it seems to be quite common, and we learned some things during the process. Some people apply a year early for the positions that they are really, really interested in (which may or may not come up again the following year).
  3. Start thinking a bit about your proposed postdoc research well before the fall when you submit your first applications. There are several types of research-oriented positions. One is the support scientist, a position that encompasses duties such as writing software for data analysis, advising users and scientific panels of an instrument's capabilities and limitations, etc. Another type of position is a project-oriented postdoctoral position. Generally these positions involve working some fraction of the time on projects developed by the holder of the grant with some time also allocated to independent research of your choosing. The third type of position is an independent research position that allows you the freedom of choosing your own research projects and collaborators.

    For this last type of independent position (which has become very common in recent years), you will have to come up with a research proposal to be done while you are a postdoc. It takes a while to come up with a project, and even longer to turn it into a good well thought-out proposal, so start thinking about it well in advance of your first deadline. If you are an observer, you may also have to tailor your proposal to the facilities in the institution you are applying to; Gabriela found it very useful to have a small-telescope template proposal and a large-telescope template proposal. Oh, and be sure that in the rush to send out proposals, you change XXX in your template to the name of the institution you are applying to in that instance!

  4. Here are the general elements of a job application:
    1. cover letter -- clearly state what job you are applying for, and outline your qualifications for the position. It is a good idea to include a header with all your contact information in one place. Also include the names of your 3 references, as well as your expected PhD completion date and thesis topic. You should also attach a separate sheet with the names and contact information of your 3 references.
    2. cv -- it is a good plan to begin keeping a cv of your accomplishments starting early on. This generally consists of your educational degrees, scholarships and awards, publications, etc.
    3. research experience -- this is a narrative of your most important research accomplishments, as well as experience with data analysis packages, etc. An all-purpose statement can be sent to most places, but for some project-specific jobs, you may want to highlight certain qualifications. This is usually 2 pages in length.
    4. research proposal -- this is your research plan to be done during your postdoc. Most postdoctoral positions don't specify much about the proposal. It is generally agreed that it should not exceed 3 pages since the people who are hiring will be reading of order 100 applications. Cover the important details and when appropriate, you may want to tailor the applications to the facilities available to that particular institution (there is some debate about how much to tailor your application to a given place, since it does take time, and it is not always clear how useful it is. But if, for example, you are applying to Caltech, it is not the best idea to propose a project that uses the telescopes at say, Kitt Peak!) Occasionally a position will require you to write a proposal specific to a project or to fit within the research frame already established at the institution.
    5. reference letters -- consider carefully who will write letters of reference for you. Unless the people making the job decision know you personally, there is very little other information in your application that can really tell them about your potential and interaction skills other than what your referees tell them. You can help out your reference letter writers by giving them addressed envelopes well before the application deadlines, and perhaps politely reminding them when the next batch of applications is due. It is also good to give them a listing of the positions that you are applying for (including addresses and deadlines) and to indicate any special considerations that may be mentioned in the job advertisement. You may want to pick out the positions that you consider your top choices and be sure to let the reference writers know of the importance of these positions to you, as it will help them craft specific letters for these positions. As for who to choose for references, it will in many cases be obvious who knows you and your research well enough to write the letters (note that you generally need three letters). One thing to consider is that a reference from a colleague outside the department will certainly hold a fair bit of weight since it shows that you have already begun to network and connect with other researchers.

    By the way, if you can manage to get your application materials gathered early and ready well before the deadline (two weeks is good) then you can save yourself lots of money on FEDEX packages! It is also a good idea to keep in mind that Christmas time slows the mail down by perhaps a week so be prepared to get your December and early January deadlines in early. Only some institutions sent an e-mail or snail mail letter letting us know they had received our application materials, so it is a good idea to follow-up with at least the most important applications and be sure that the materials have arrived.
  5. When are decisions usually made? The first round of job offers generally happens in the first half of February (this is also the timescale for the announcement of the Hubble Fellowships). Don't worry if you have not heard anything by this date since it is by no means a hard deadline, and the first round of offers often goes to the same small handful of people who obviously cannot take all jobs. Except under special circumstances, no prospective postdoc is asked to make a decision before Feb 15th (the date suggested by the AAS). After February 15th, things start happening really quickly. Institutions begin to move through their short lists offering positions to the next people on the list, and pressuring these people to make a timely decision so that they can still hire one of their top choices even if the first couple of candidates turn them down. We have observed this to be a very stressful time, and it may be useful to know roughly what your preferred places, especially among those that have short-listed you before the post-Feb-15 craze. Also, if you have been made an offer for, say, your #5 position, but you still haven't heard from positions 1 through 4, it is a good idea to contact them, tell them you've been offered another position, and ask them where you may stand in their search. This way you minimize your chances of having to accept position #5, only to be offered position #1 a week later (or to have declined position #5 and not get anything better later, oops!) By contacting the institutions you are also showing that you are specifically interested in their position and, as several people pointed out to us, 'the best way to get a job is to have a job'.
  6. The AAS January meeting. In the middle of the application period is the big January AAS meeting. We found it was extremely useful attend this conference and present a thesis dissertation talk as part of the job-application procedure. This conference has a large job center where you can leave a copy of your complete application package for job hunters to peruse. There is a large center where you can look over the job announcements and there are sign-up sheets attached to the announcements for institutions that have members present for interviewing at the meeting. It is a good idea to sign up for as many interviews as possible during this period since it is far better to interview there in person than by telephone (ask Tracy about her 'evil interviewer questions'). Even if you don't end up taking any of those jobs, it is a really good way to start making contacts with people in your field!
  7. What are interviews like? Well we each had fairly different experiences with this so there is no real outline of what to expect but we can give you an idea of what we encountered.
    Gabriela's interviewers (all 7 of them) were all really nice, and interviews were more like conversations about past research, future research plans, why I was interested in that position in particular, and the setup of the specific postdoc and department. After the first one or two interviews, I actually found it quite interesting and not stressful at all. I found it was helpful to have thought about my possible plans beforehand, but interesting science talk was still the main component of the interview. Some of Tracy's interviews were a bit more structured with the interviewer following a predetermined sequence of questioning, but again, in general, the interviews felt like scientific conversations with colleagues.
  8. Keeping track of the process. While you're being stressed, it can be very useful to consult the rumour pages http://www.astro.utoronto.ca/~hall/jobs.html which will at least keep you informed what stage a given search is in (has the short-list been made, has the first offer been made, and most importantly, has the position been filled?). It is best to take these rumours with caution, though, because the process is often non-linear.

Here are some things that you can do early in your PhD, which will most likely be very helpful when you're looking for a postdoc:

  1. Remember that you will be asked for letters of reference from three people. Talk to a variety of faculty other than your supervisor. It is a LOT better to have letters from people who know you and your work, than from someone who taught you a class, and sees you in the hallway from time to time. And besides, it shows you're outgoing and enthusiastic (rather than perpetually hiding in a little corner).
  2. Start networking early on. Go to conferences and talk about your work, meet people in your field. Suggest colloquium speakers whom you want to meet. It would be excellent if you can make enough outside contacts so that you can have someone from outside U of T write you a letter.
  3. Write papers. This is kind of obvious, and very important. Try to get a paper from your MSc, and from PhD work in progress. If the type of thesis project doesn't lend itself to work-in-progress papers, get some other little project or collaboration so you can have at least a 1st author paper, and a few of nth author papers by the time you're applying for postdocs. The HI-clouds project is one nice way to do this.
  4. Start thinking about ideas for your proposal early on. One of the wacky ideas you had in your 2nd year might just become that amazing research proposal that will land you a Hubble Fellowship.
  5. Keep a good updated cv.

    ... and good job hunting! [eds.]


DDO Web Page Created

Brian Beattie

A new web page that serves the research and public education interests of the observatory went on-line in February. It includes links to the 1.9m telescope schedule, a time application form, technical and general information for research users of DDO as well as information about the observatory's public education program. The DDO home page uses a menu system that can be easily expanded as additional information is added. The preparation and maintenance of the web page is the result of a collaboration between Slavek Rucinski and Brian Beattie.

Although available for only a few short months, the number of "hits" is approaching 40,000. It is already a featured site on web pages hosted by the Town of Richmond Hill and others.

The DDO web page can be viewed at http://ddo.astro.utoronto.ca/ddohome.


May  5  G2000: Arno Dirks
May 12  Ramesh Narayan (CfA)  
May 19  G2000: Rob Reid 
May 26  John Kormendy, U Hawaii (joint with CITA) 
June 2  G2000: Mark Brodwin
June 9  Phil Gregory (UBC)
See http://www.astro.utoronto.ca/colloquia.html for updates.

Gleanings from the DDD

Jack Heard's Editorial from Vol. 3, No. 4 (April 28, 1970)

Selected by Don Fernie

The Great Fire of May 16, 1951

It was mid-afternoon of May 16, 1951. Gerry Longworth had been working on the 74-inch telescope, when Barry Gunn (Secretary-Librarian and night assistant) brought over a group of schoolchildren. Gerry went for a coffee and when the demonstration was finished he returned to his work. The generator had been going all the while, but Gerry was now aware of a crackling sound from below and started down the stairs to investigate. As soon as his head was below ceiling level he saw flames shooting from the gutters which carried the wires from the electrical panels to the conduits leading to the observing floor.

At that moment the dome-turning motor began to run and Gerry rushed back upstairs to switch off the generator before the bridge would hit the telescope. He flipped the toggle switch, but nothing happened - the generator still ran and the dome still turned. By this time the lights began going out as fuses began blowing with more and more of the wires, their insulation burned off, sagging and shorting.

Practically falling down the stairs, Gerry dashed behind the panels and groped through the smoke to the master switch in the circuit which brought the AC supply to the dome. Once this was pulled the generator stopped and the immediate danger to the telescope ceased to exist. But, fearing that the flames would work their way up through the conduits to do further damage on the observing floor, Gerry emptied the one fire extinguisher in the dome onto the flames and then raced to the administration building. There he shouted to Barbara Creeper, the Secretary, to phone the fire department, and he and Barry dashed back with another extinguisher each. These doused the flames, but the choking smoke of burned rubber was worse than ever. When the firemen came they entered the dome with smoke masks, made sure the fire was out and opened the windows.

When we could survey the damage it became clear what had happened. Overheating of a hold- down coil had ignited the relatively old rubber insulation. As the wires sagged and crossed the dome-turning motor was energized and the cut-off switch for the generator was shorted out.

The whole dome had to be rewired, of course. This turned out to be big job because, strangely, no wiring diagram existed. It took a team of University electricians a month to rewire - this time with "Flameseal"! The cost was $3000, and the insurance policy did not cover fire damage to electrical wiring and equipment. However, the Comstock Company, which had just previously converted the Observatory from 25 to 60 cycle, accepted one-third responsibility for the faulty hold-down coil, as did the Square D Company, which had rewound this coil under contract, and, for some reason, as did also Ontario Hydro.

It could have been worse. No one but Gerry at that time knew the location of the master switch. (Its extension onto the observing floor was a later precaution.) Had it not been he who was in the dome, the telescope might have been seriously damaged. Furthermore, had the fire started ten minutes earlier with the children in the dome, there might have been panic and injuries.

As it was we lost five weeks observing.


Papers Submitted

2-Feb-1999 to 30-Apr-1999

Clement. C. M. ; Shelton, I. The RR lyrae period-amplitude relation as a clue to the oosterhoff dichotomy. 19-Feb-1999. Preprint No. 99-0127

Clement, C. M.; Goranskij, v. P. The mode change of the RR lyrae variable V79 in M3. 19-Feb-1999. Preprint No. 99-0128

Felder, G.; Kofman, L.; Linde, A. Inflation and preheating in NO models. 28-Apr-1999. Preprint No. 99-0275

Kronberg, P. P. Tests for photon polarization rotation over the longest available propagation paths. 9-Feb-1999. Preprint No. 99-0103

Lin, H.; et al. The CNOC2 field galaxy luminosity function I : a description of luminosity function evolution. 5-Feb-1999. Preprint No. 99-0087

Lu, W.; Rucinski, S. M. Radial velocity studies of close binary stars . I. 31-Mar-1999. Preprint No. 99-0216

Percy, J. R. The universe in the Canadian classroom. 18-Mar-1999. Preprint No. 99-0207

Wade, G. A.; Mathys, G.; North, P. The Ap spectroscopic binary HD 59435 revisited. 14-Apr-1999. Preprint No. 99-0251

Yee, H.K.C.; Lopez-Cruz, O. A quantitative measure of the richness of galaxy clusters. 5-Feb-1999. Preprint No. 99-0086

Yee, H. K. C. Photometric redshift techniques : reliability and applications. 5-Feb-1999. Preprint No. 99-0088