TMT International Training Program

Project Team Members:  

Austin Barnes, Nicholas McConnell, Lisa Hunter

This project is part of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) Workforce, Education, Public Outreach, and Communication (WEPOC) effort.

Project Description:

ISEE is developing training opportunities and infrastructure to support early-career scientists and engineers involved with the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), a $1.4 billion international facility that will begin operating in the mid-2020s.  The TMT International Observatory (TIO) is a partnership between Canada, China, India, Japan, the University of California, and Caltech.  International teams of scientists and engineers are already defining key science goals and designing astronomical instruments for TMT.  Today’s graduate students and postdocs will lead future campaigns to make breakthrough discoveries with TMT, and develop future generations of instruments.  Professional development led by ISEE will serve to maximize the productivity and impact of these scientific campaigns, fully utilize the expertise and diversity of TMT’s international partnership, and equip young professionals with project design and leadership skills they will employ in a multitude of career paths.

The centerpiece of ISEE’s initial TMT international training program is a weeklong workshop bringing together graduate students and postdocs from all of the partner countries and institutions, and TMT project leaders.  The workshop includes overview talks by TMT leaders on topics such as project management and systems engineering, hands-on activities to engage in authentic engineering practices and instrument design strategies, and tours of local astronomy facilities.  Participants consider how instrument features can be tailored to different science goals, and throughout the workshop gain experience with international teamwork and collaboration by pursuing activities with different sets of peers.  

In December 2016 we held a four-day pilot workshop in Hilo, Hawaii: Preparing TMT Future Science and Technology Leaders.  Thirty-five (35) graduate students and postdocs attended, representing each of the TMT partners plus the University of Hawaii.  In various sessions, participants outlined instrument concepts to address several scientific goals, defined sampling requirements (spatial, temporal, and grayscale) to resolve crucial features in a variety of multi-image datasets, and considered how to compose and coordinate instrument teams with required expertise in astronomy, physics, optics, mechanical, electrical, and software engineering.  Participants embraced the opportunity to work with peers from other nations (as evidenced by groups formed on the last day of the workshop, without specific directions from instructors), and were particularly excited to interact with high-ranking leaders in TIO.  Toward the end of the workshop, participants shared ideas for future iterations of the training program, including near-term opportunities to work on projects supporting TMT, coordinating the workshop and other TMT meetings, and tactics for navigating cultural and technical differences (such as standard software tools used by different partners) on international teams.

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Current Work:

We are extending the TMT Future Science and Technology Leaders workshop to an eight-day agenda, including expanded versions of sessions developed for the pilot workshop in 2016, and new sessions supporting participants to engage in deeper collaborative work.  We will host 44 graduate students and postdocs for the updated workshop at UCSC, on August 22-29, 2017.   Our aim is for research ideas sparked at the workshop to persist afterwards, toward tangible products such as telescope proposals and new collaborative projects.  We will also connect participants’ efforts at the workshop with the themes of the 2017 TMT Science Forum (November, Mysuru, India), so that participants can constructively attend the Forum and build further connections within the TMT collaboration.  

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In addition to refining the workshop each year, ISEE is devising metrics for assessing the long-term efficacy of international collaboration under the TIO umbrella, and the development and advancement of junior engineers and astronomers within the collaboration.  With first light nearly a decade away, TIO benefits from a long baseline to assess and improve policies so as to operate in a manner that fully and equitably supports career advancement.  ISEE is continuing to develop milestones for the Future Leaders training program and is working to integrate early-career professional development with TIO’s existing structures for collaboration, such as International Science Development Teams.  

Funding

This project has been funded by TIO since 2015, with additional funding from University of California Observatories (UCO).  TIO partners have contributed additionally to some participants’ travel.  The project is part of TIO’s Workforce, Education, Public Outreach, and Communication (WEPOC) efforts.