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Information for Prospective Astronomers and Scientists at Gemini South

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Scientific Life in La Serena

The Gemini Astronomer position is on the tenure-track, and the Gemini Scientist position is on the parallel-track. Both positions have career paths that lead to continuing employment with the Observatory and involve similar support duties. The Scientist position carries a greater expectation for Observatory support, while the Astronomer position has a greater expectation of independent scientific productivity. These positions require a solid commitment to Gemini's mission to teach humanity about the Universe. Gemini's environment and staff structure provides a solid career path for those pursuing either a research- or support-oriented career. Both Astronomer and Scientist positions are equally and highly valued within the Gemini staff structure.

Forty (40) percent of the Astronomer's time is available for their independent astronomical research, and up to thirty (30) percent is available for the parallel-track Scientist. A fraction of the telescope time (10%) at each Gemini telescope is set aside for successful peer-reviewed proposals by Gemini staff members. Personal research budgets for each Astronomer and Scientist provides travel funds to attend conferences and to foster collaborations around the world. In addition, Astronomers are also expected to provide scientific leadership and mentoring to the junior staff.

Collaborations among Gemini colleagues and with colleagues at CTIO are encouraged; a number of staff have already begun intra- and inter-observatory collaborative projects using Gemini data. In fact, diverse research is carried out at Gemini South, including but not limited to

  • Active galaxies
  • Binary stellar systems
  • Brown dwarfs
  • Chemical evolution
  • Circumstellar disks
  • Clusters of galaxies at low- and intermediate-redshifts
  • Galaxy evolution
  • Globular clusters systems in galaxies
  • Dwarf galaxies in field-, group-, and cluster-environments
  • Groups of galaxies at low- and intermediate-redshifts
  • Resolved kinematic and dynamical studies of galaxies
  • Solar system
  • Star formation in the Galaxy
  • Ultraluminous infrared galaxies

The Gemini staff is very collegial and multicultural, with members at both sites representing 22 nationalities at last count. Additional information about the science staff and specific research interests may be obtained here. Formal and informal gatherings by the science staff also help to enrich scientific activity. Scheduled astronomical colloquiua by visitors to the observatories are attended by staff at Gemini, CTIO, and SOAR. We also host a weekly coffee-hour where we are encouraged to discuss openly and informally recent conferences our staff have attended, preprints or papers which have caught our attention, or other noteworthy science topics.

Institutions and observatories in the area include:

Functional Duties

Astronomers and the Scientists are expected to take leading roles in any number of areas relevant to the long-term development of the Observatory. Specific duties for the Astronomer and the Scientist position will vary, depending on the skills and interests of the individual.

Science staff members perform a number of tasks in support of the user community and the telescopes. Each instrument is supported by a small team led by the instrument scientist. The instrument team is responsible for monitoring the performance of their instrument, developing performance enhancements in collaboration with the engineering staff for implementation, maintaining up-to-date documentation, improving observing procedures, and serving as a resource to the entire Gemini user-community.

Science staff also serve as contacts cientists for a number of P.I. programs each semester. The contact scientist is the prime channel through which the P.I. interacts with Gemini Observatory after the Phase 2 process is completed by the P.I.

A number of Gemini staff serve as "queue coordinators". The primaryrole of the queue coordinator is to develop the nightly observing plan for running Gemini's queue observing system. About 95% of all programs at Gemini are executed in queue mode. Each member of the science staff also performs a number of observing shifts or "runs", which total about 15 nights each semester. Observers are responsible for performing and executing observations in the nightly plan. The nightly plan typically involves observations using all of the available instruments (imaging and spectroscopy from optical to mid-infrared wavelengths) at the telescope; switching among multiple instruments in a given night helps to maximize the efficiency of the observing queue.

Daily Life in La Serena

Most of the time is spent and based in La Serena, Chile. La Serena is a popular beach town with a mild climate, modern amenities, and a substantial international astronomical community supporting four nearby observatories. Spanish is the working language in La Serena, although the working language among the science staff at Gemini South is English. However, opportunities for Spanish instruction are plenty. The administrative and technical staff at Gemini South are all bilingual.

The population of La Serena and the neighboring city of Coquimbo now reaches a combined total of about 300,000. The area can be reached with a one-hour flight north from the capital city of Santiago. With a car or by bus the journey on the Panamerican Highway takes 5 to 6 hours.

La Serena, and particularly the office and living campus called "The Recinto" is very family-friendly. The Recinto is a gated community with two playgrounds and an indoor swimming pool, where children are often seen riding bikes and walking between houses on their own. For young children, there is an informal playgroup that meets one afternoon each week, and there are a number of high quality daycare centers ("jardins") in the area from which to choose. It is also relatively easy and inexpensive to hire a "nanna" or housekeeper in your home on a part-time or full-time basis. The Recinto is active with a number of social activities, including barbeques with typical Chilean "choripan", beer, and wine, all as part of the semi-regular "Happy Hour" get-together.

For school-aged children, one can choose from a number of high quality private and public schools. Many expatriate and Chileans send their children to The International School,where elementary school classes are taught in English, while others may choose the German school (Colegio Aleman),the Italian School (Escuela Italiana),or the English school (Colegio Ingles).

For those inclined for outdoor activities, plenty of hiking, off-roading, and camping opportunities can be had in various parts of the Elqui river valley and into the foothills of the Andes. These can all be reached in as little as one hour's drive from La Serena. There is much also to do by the beach and ocean, which offer up opportunities for surfing, wind-surfing, sailing, fishing, sea-kayaking, and scuba-diving.

Gabriela Mistral, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945, is undoubtedly the most famous person to come from the area. She was born in nearby Vicuña (about 60 kilometers east ofLa Serena), and also spent formative years in Monte Grande (about 90 kilometers from La Serena). A number of museums and monuments dedicated to her can be found in the surrounding area.

The following links are provided only for information, and are not intended as endorsements by Gemini, AURA, or the NSF:

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Updated: HL, 2007 Aug 31 (borrowed from H. Schwarz's links page at CTIO)

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