Inspiring Stories – Astrobites
In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Elena González Egea and Joanna Ramasawmy are PhD students at the University of Hertfordshire and part of the Astrobites collaboration. Here they share with us their experiences writing blogs about the latest astronomy research.
Astrobites is a postgraduate student-run blog, featuring short summaries of recent articles in astrophysics literature. It was founded in 2008 by a group of postgrads at Harvard, who wanted to make it easier for students to understand and keep up to date with the latest research in the field. Reading scientific literature is a skill that takes time and practise to learn – we certainly found it overwhelming as we started our PhDs to be confronted with a stack of papers full of dense writing and technical jargon.
Each Astrobites summary is short (around 800 words) and written in a more casual, blog-style tone. We pick out the key messages from a paper and present them in context, relating to other important papers on similar topics and explaining background science, to make exciting results accessible to an audience that goes beyond seasoned researchers: our 40,000 page hits per month are mainly from other students, both postgrad and undergrad, as well as amateur astronomy enthusiasts and former astronomers.
The majority of our posts are literature summaries, but we also occasionally write about other topics that are interesting to us – for example, science policy, careers in astrophysics, or diversity issues. It’s a really useful toolkit for new researchers in astronomy to get to grips with the research environment!
Jo Ramasawmy: I started writing for Astrobites as a personal challenge – I’ve got involved in lots of types of science communication over the course of my PhD, but I’d never written about astrophysics before. It’s been a wonderful experience to be part of the Astrobites collaboration – made up of over 100 current and former writers – and by writing and editing one post per month, it’s been easy to fit in alongside my PhD, and given me confidence in my writing skills. I’ve had the opportunity to present our work at conferences, interview AAS keynote speakers, and meet other PhD students from around the world. When my PhD has been tough, I’ve found motivation and support from the Astrobites community. Receiving comments on the blog, Facebook and Twitter in response to our posts is really great, and it’s really nice to find out that the things I write are appreciated!
Elena González Egea: Despite the many challenges of doing a PhD in astrophysics, one of the things that keeps me passionate about astronomy is outreach. To be able to talk to other people about cool things that happen in space, and to see their excitement after discovering something new is as rewarding (or more!) as making a discovery when doing research. By writing for Astrobitos (Astrobites’ sister blog in Spanish) I can reach more people than by doing talks or planetarium shows, and as the blog is in my mother tongue, my friends and family can also connect with astronomy and understand what I do more easily.
Writing for Astrobitos has also helped me to comprehend what I read, as to write a summary about a peer-review scientific article you really have to know what it says! My writing skills have improved as well, especially the adaptation of technical jargon to everyday language. With respect to personal growth, being part of an international student collaboration such as Astrobites and Astrobitos has been a priceless experience. I have met incredible people and I have become more aware of equality and diversity issues in astronomy. For example, reading and translating the series of posts about the relation between astronomers and indigenous communities, and the discussion in the Astrobites community around these topics has been an enriching and eye-opening experience for me.
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