Semi-annual Report of the CASCA Graduate Student Committee, May 2002 - November 2002

I. Current Membership of the Graduate Student Committee

The current members of the graduate student committee and their university afiliations are:

Michael Reid, Chair (McMaster University)
Kevin Douglas, Secretary (University of Calgary)
Douglas McNeil (Queen's University)
Loic Albert (Université de Montréal)
Brigette Hesman (University of Saskatchewan)
Chris Ryan (York University)
Jason Rowe (University of British Columbia)
Kathleen Labrie (University of Victoria)
Stephanie Plante (Université Laval)
Adam Muzzin (University of Toronto)
Tyler Foster (University of Alberta)
Kevin Brown (St. Mary's University)
Laura Parker (University of Waterloo)

The Graduate Student Committee is pleased to announce that we now have a representative at the University of Waterloo. Laura Parker agreed in October not only to represent UW on the GSC, but also to assist in organizing the 2003 Graduate Student Workshop, to be held at her home institution.

II. Fourth Annual Graduate Student Workshop

On May 11, 2002, the Graduate Student Committee (GSC) held its annual Graduate Student Workshop (GSW) in conjunction with the CASCA 2002 annual meeting. The 2002 GSW, organized in large part by GSC member Kevin Douglas (University of Calgary) was a terrific success. Despite the relatively remote location of the conference (which, our experience tells us, tends to reduce attendance to the GSW), there were about 60 participants in the GSW. The topic of the workshop was \Public Outreach and Education", and the schedule of speakers included John Dickey from the University of Minnesota, Tim Slater from the University of Arizona, delegates from Let's Talk Science, and Ivan Semeniuk from the Discovery Channel. We are very proud that a small, studentrun conference such as the GSW is able to attract international experts in fields such as astronomy education and science journalism to address the Canadian astronomy and astrophysics graduate student population.

As in previous years, generous donations from a number of sources made it possible to offer participation in the GSW free to interested students. We hope to be able to continue this practice in 2003 and beyond.

The GSC would like to thank Kevin Douglas and Tom Landecker for their hard work in organizing and running the 2002 GSW.

III. Plans for the 2003 and 2004 Graduate Student Workshops

Planning for the 2003 GSW at the University of Waterloo is underway. The GSC is soliciting financial support for the GSW from a number of sources. Following the practice found to be successful in the past several years, letters requesting support have been sent to the Department of Physics, the Faculty of Science and Graduate Studies at the University of Waterloo. Very recently, the UW Department of Physics notified the GSC that it will be making a contribution to fund the GSW. The GSC is also hoping to hear soon from the CASCA Board as to the level of financial support it will provide.

The planning for the 2003 GSW is being done by GSC Chair Mike Reid, Laura Parker, and Scott Brooks, all of whom are current or former University of Waterloo students and current residents of the Waterloo area. We are in the process of selecting a venue for the workshop and establishing a list of speakers. We are trying to keep in regular contact with the local organizing committee of the CASCA annual meeting to ensure that the two events are smoothly integrated. As mentioned in our previous annual report, preliminary planning is already underway for the 2004 Graduate Student Workshop. The GSC Chair has been in contact with Samar Safi-Harb at the University of Manitoba in regard to room and hotel bookings for the 2004 GSW.

IV. Graduate Summer Schools in Canada

The idea of having a Canadian graduate summer school in astronomy was raised at the 2001 CASCA annual general meeting by then-chair of the GSC, Brenda Matthews. Between the 2001 and 2002 annual general meetings, the GSC Chair was approached by Michael De Robertis of York University who indicated that his department was considering the possibility of hosting such a summer school. Dr. De Robertis made a brief appearance at the 2002 GSW to speak to the assembled students and assess the level of interest in having a summer school at York. A basic plan for a graduate summer school was outlined, topics were brainstormed, and potential funding model was discussed. (See the GSC's meeting minutes at http://pinks.physics.mcmaster.ca/GSC/ for details).

Since the 2002 GSW, the GSC has heard little more about this issue. Just today (November 14) the GSC chair received a reply from Dr. De Robertis to an inquiry made in September regarding progress on plans for a 2003 summer school. Though funding for a potential summer school is not yet secure, Dr. De Robertis suggested the creation of a scientific organizing/advisory committee. The organizing committee would be responsible for making a concerted and timely effort to bring together the plans for a 2003 summer school and to use those plans to sell the idea to potential sources of funding, such as CITA. The GSC is eager to work with Dr. De Robertis and the rest of the organizing committee on this issue in the near future.

V. NSERC Major Facilities Access Grant

The GSC has participated in several rounds of discussion with HIA regarding the renewal of the NSERC Major Facilities Access Grant. This is the grant from which Canadian graduate students and post-docs pay their travel expenses when they visit Canadian-operated telescopes. The concern has been raised by HIA that this grant is being underutilized. The GSC is concerned that underutilization of this grant represents a decline in visits to major observing facilities by graduate students. We believe that visits to world-class telescopes are an essential part of every astronomy graduate student's education. After polling students at their institutions, the members of the GSC came up with several recommendations as to how the grant could be administered differently in order to ensure that students continue to benefit from the same level of telescope access as they do today. Our suggestions included allowing visits to telescopes to participate in queue observing, allowing the grant to be used to pay for all or part of a student's expenses when travelling to a non-Canadian facility, and opening up the grant to cover expenses for trips by astronomy graduate students to other kinds of facilities (major computing centres, particle accelerators, etc.).

It is our understanding that the application for the renewal of this grant has already been submitted. We would like to thank the HIA for consulting with us on this most important issue and for keeping us informed of developments as they occur.