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A Chance to Do Real Research

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A Chance to Do Real Research

By Aaron Price (AAVSO)

Are you interested in doing real science and publishing a research paper?

The Citizen Sky project is about studying the current eclipse of epsilon Aurigae and other variable star phenomena. While data collection is an important part of that, the project is about much more. It needs volunteers to help out in all phases of the scientific method.

If you have ever wanted to get your name in a professional astronomical journal and/or see what it is like to work a professional research project as a peer, then this project is designed for you.

This is an ambitious project. It’s for persons interested in blurring the line between professional and amateur science. These days you don’t need a PhD to be a scientist. The Internet puts the data and the tools at your fingertips. Our goal is to add some training and coordination to that mix in the hope that it will create authentic science.

The Citizen Sky project is run by the AAVSO, which has published a professionally reviewed astronomical journal semiannually since 1975. AAVSO members have contributed thousands of papers to the community over the years (the JAAVSO is searchable through ADS – the main venue astronomers use for literature reviews). We found that members tended to work in collaborations, just like in professional circles. So we designed the Citizen Sky project around collaboration.

We are in the process of forming collaborative research teams to work on individual research projects. You don’t have to work with others, teams-of-one are fine as well. But in general we find that collaboration makes the process easier and more enjoyable.

Each team needs:

  1. A leader
  2. A goal, and
  3. A product.

The leader is the person who drives the team, keeps it alive, etc. This is likely the person who will be primary author on the final publication and needs to be someone with initiative. The goal is an outcome that contributes to science. This is something that everyone on the team can understand and work towards. And the final product is the manifestation of the goal. It can be many things: a research publication, a poster-paper, a conference presentation or even a scientifically accurate illustration. Publication is as important as any other step in the scientific method as that is what turns science into knowledge.

We will provide lots of support to the teams. First, each team will be assigned a professional liaison. This person will act as an advisor to the team to answer questions, provide feedback on your progress and help steer your direction. (However, the liaison will not be a supervisor who will walk you through the project.) Second, we will give the team a private section of the Citizen Sky web site with a discussion forum, wiki and other collaborative resources. Third, we recently posted video from a recent Citizen Sky workshop dedicated to data analysis and scientific paper writing covering topics such as how to choose a research question, how to perform literature reviews, basic statistics, error analysis, light curves and more. We also have written a short data analysis tutorial for the newbie and provide free, open-source data analysis software for those interested in going that route (Java programmers are needed too!). Finally, Citizen Sky staff is on hand to help you through every step of the way. You won’t be alone.

If you are interested, visit www.citizensky.org. It’s a 3-year project funded by the National Science Foundation. The first year was focused on data collection. We are beginning the 2nd year now, which is focused on forming teams and doing research. The third year will be focused on the publication aspect. Below is a video we made using Lite Brite diagrams to describe the project.

Aaron Price has a PhD in math, science, technology and engineering education from Tufts University. He is the Assistant Director of the AAVSO, where he has worked for the AAVSO since 1998. Follow his astronomical humor tweets at @slackastro.


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