Departmental activities

This is a reference page for Graduate student information.


What the handbook says

The Department has a regular schedule of activities in which graduate student involvement is strongly encouraged. Briefly, these include:

  • Colloquia: Once per week during the academic terms, the Department sponsors a Colloquium, usually by a visiting scientist, on Wednesday afternoon. As these reports on current research in our field are an integral part of a graduate education, graduate student attendance is expected. The Department normally hosts a lunch for students only with the speaker each week (at a local restaurant or with order-in food in the library); one student must pay each week and present the receipt for reimbursement to the Department office. Physics Colloquia on Monday afternoons are also frequently on topics of interest and attendance is encouraged.
  • Pizza Lunch: Once a week, currently on Tuesdays, we meet to talk informally about our own research over lunch. Students are strongly encouraged to attend and to participate; each month, a pair of students is assigned to organize each Tuesday’s events.
  • Jounal Club: In good years we have graduate students organize a weekly journal club. Several department members, usually 2 or 3, discuss a recent interesting paper of their choice.
  • Astrofest: As noted above, one (Fri)day in September is set aside for this annual gathering of the Department in which all students, faculty, and post docs present brief (5-minute) research reports. All students are expected to participate; student co-organizers are needed each year.
  • Astrofeast (following astrofest) is optional (but usually tasty).
  • Bishop lecture: The Department has one endowed lectureship each year, the Jeffery Bishop Lecture, named in order of a popular Department lecturer who was tragically killed in a jogging accident. The event consists of a colloquium followed by a reception and a Department-wide dinner. Participation by all students is strongly encouraged.
  • Public Outreach: The Department runs a variety of public outreach activities including family days (and nights), lectures, and telescopic viewing from the roof (and, on special occassions such as cometary apparitions, etc., from other City locations). Students interested in participating in these important public activities are encouraged to do so; in many cases, remuneration in the form of additional compensation is forthcoming. Some Department members also participate in the Project ASTRO program in central New Jersey which works to bring astronomers (amateurs and professionals) into public schools; information is available from Prof. Crotts.

Additional information

To keep lunch with the colloquium speaker from becoming too large, there is an unofficial limit set at 8 students. If there are more than 8 students expressing interest in lunch, priority should go to those who work in the same field as the speaker, and then those who have not been to lunch in a while. First year students are strongly encouraged to attend colloquium lunch as a way of introducing themselves to astronomers from outside of Columbia. It is tradition to ask the speaker about some topic of research unrelated to their presentation in the afternoon. If you do go to speaker lunch, it is advisable to make sure you know who the speaker is, where they are from, and to read the abstract for their talk. I have had a few awkward lunches in the past, and it makes Columbia look bad if the graduate students are unprepared.

Pizza lunch has become a very central event to the department and over the years the formality of the presentations has steadily increased with occasional attempts by certain members of the faculty to bring back informal formats. The current "rules" are that presenters should avoid power-point presentations and should focus on one or two interesting results or puzzles from your research. Students and faculty who return from conferences are usually asked to detail interesting happenings.

Astrofest is generally organized by the third-years in the department who are responsible for organizing the schedule, collecting the presentations, purchasing and arranging for delivery or pickup of the food, and setting up/taking down the venue (which is traditionally the astronomy library).

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