Thursday, April 20, 2017

What Are You Doing Now?

There is a question that I have been avoiding recently. Every so often, I find myself being asked “So what are you doing now?” (or any variation thereof like: ‘where are you working?’; ‘are you still teaching?’; ‘what astronomy projects are you doing?’). I’ve been avoiding this question not because of its difficulty nor because I find it embarrassing. I have been avoiding this question because I cannot simply put it in a few words. The thing is, I’m doing all sorts of stuff right now that I usually pause and think which to mention, or in which context I am asked before giving a response.

My Past Work
I studied physics and astronomy in college and graduate school because I used to dream of becoming a research astronomer. Heck, I still do. My first job was as a college instructor at the Department of Earth and Space Sciences of Rizal Technological University. Simultaneously, I also held a contractual position in the department as their Scientific Coordinator and Laboratory/Multimedia Assistant. I also spearheaded the formation of the department’s solar research program. I was also very active in the Astronomical League of the Philippines – being a constant lecturer and present in multiple events. I also worked in the Andromeda Mobile Planetarium which went around the Cordilleras for weeks at a time – limiting my time to take up a teaching load for my college classes. These were the few tasks in which (to borrow the university president’s words) I started to ‘create a name’ for myself in the local astronomy community.

Fast Forward Now
As my work with Andromeda was almost over I had a lot of time in my hands that I decided to focus on a number of my close astronomy students to create an environment for them to continue their training and exposure to different astronomy and astro-related tasks. Professional astronomy work is relatively new in the Philippines so there are limited options for growth. This environment for my students became the Guild for Astronomy Innovation and Advancement which focused areas of their development such as: publication, observation, outreach, instrumentation, and research. GAIA also extends its reach to the public by providing citizen science and collaborative opportunities through its Open Research and Collaborative Learning Experience program (ORACLE). I also devoted my time to the Manila Street Astronomers, as one of its co-founders, and created a linkage for GAIA in MSA for their Observation. The MSA is a non-profit collaborative sidewalk astronomy group who goes around different areas to provide free telescope viewing events. Alongside GAIA and MSA, I am currently the adviser for the Philippine Union of Student Organizations for Astronomy (PUSO for Astronomy; puso is the Filipino word for heart), and just recently the National Coordinator for the Philippines of the Astronomers Without Borders.

These collaborative astronomy work is where I spend most of my free time on. All of these are non-profit – and hence enters the paying job. Outside the astronomy scene I am working in Specializing in Modern Interactive Learning Experience (SMILE Group PH). Smile is a STEM/STEAM education company who provides the STEM methodology of teaching through their different programs and classes. They also hold the franchise for international STEM programs such as Engineering for Kids and Challenge Island. My work in Smile involves teaching and curriculum development – especially in robotics where I am currently the lead faculty of. Of course, my love for astronomy and physics won’t drift away as STEM provides for learning across disciplines. We have different astronomy and physics related concepts from space-based robotics to aerospace engineering. I allocate roughly 80-95% of my earning working as a STEM educator to provide for my astronomy work. And because my paid-job is full-time, I squeeze my astronomy work in during coffee breaks, weekends, rest days, and during the night.

Don’t get me wrong, I also take my STEM work seriously. I know I can opt to further my career path by focusing on my professional development like achieving that elusive Ph.D., but the work I’m doing is of equal importance. I believe that in order to develop the local astronomy community we need to provide opportunities and develop our learning culture. We need to inspire learning and thinking beyond traditional means to create solutions and innovations. I believe we need a culture that provides opportunities for everyone regardless of age, status, background, etc. When we develop the learning culture we empower the community. We create learners who create solutions and seek to develop themselves. It may be idealistic to some, and some people in my field may look down on me, but every journey begins with a simple step.

So… to answer the questions vaguely, “I am currently working to make tomorrow better than yesterday. Would you like to join me?”