Astrophysics Department FAQs for the Fall 2020 Semester

Frequently Asked Questions about Fall 2020:
Department of Astrophysical Sciences 

(Last revision: Monday, July 7, 2020 (minor updates))

You will have seen the announcement from the University describing the academic plans for the upcoming academic year.  I draw your attention in particular to Frequently Asked Questions for Undergraduates and for Graduate Students.  Here we address some questions specific to the Astrophysics Department.  As we learn more (and as additional questions come up), we will add to and amend this FAQ.  If you have additional questions, please reach out to:

  • Josh Winn, Director of Graduate Studies
  • Neta Bahcall, Director of Undergraduate Studies
  • Polly Strauss, Academic Program Administrator
  • Michael Strauss, Department Chair
  • Susan Duncan, Department Business Manager

Questions for Everyone

What will happen to Morning Coffee?

  At the moment, the default is to continue as we have been doing over the last few months, namely to hold coffee on-line via zoom. 

What is the plan for weekly seminars and colloquia for the Fall semester?

  We anticipate that these will largely be done on-line, the schedule for which is currently being put together.  The joint IAS/University weekly colloquium will take place at 11 AM on Tuesdays (starting in early September); it will be held largely, if not entirely, on-line.  There will be opportunity for on-line speakers to meet individually with students, researchers and faculty.  As always, all members of the department are encouraged to take part in the seminars.  

Will students, researchers, staff, and faculty be able to use desks and offices in Peyton Hall?

  At the moment, the university continues to give us the guideline that people who can work from home should continue to work from home.  We are hopeful that this situation will change in the future.  When we are allowed to return to Peyton Hall, there will certainly be restrictions to keep the total number of people in the building at any one time small.  We are waiting for guidance from the university's Environmental Health Services as to how many people can safely be seated in Peyton Hall at one time.   That guidance is likely to come over the next few weeks.   With that guidance in hand, we will develop a detailed plan for office use. 

Is there a possibility of access to Peyton Hall this summer?

  At the moment, we are not allowed in Peyton Hall without express permission from Michael Strauss as chair.  The only exceptions are those researchers and administrators who earlier received permission from the University for regular access to carry out critical work: there are only a handful of people in this category in our department. This restriction is in part a consequence of the state-wide rules governing re-opening the economy.  We are currently in Stage 2 of the re-opening.  If and when we get to Stage 3, and we have guidelines from Environmental Health Services about how many people Peyton Hall can safely accommodate (see above),  we are hopeful that we can allow more people into the building.

What about Broadmead? 

  171 Broadmead currently houses Dave McComas' Space Physics laboratories.  They have specific allowance for a small number of people to work in the lab, with appropriate social distancing.  Renovations of the part of 171 Broadmead to house the Rubin Observatory LSST Data Management team has been on-hold because of the pandemic; we are hoping for a construction start in a few months.  

Questions for Undergraduates

Which astro courses will be taught remotely this Fall? 

 The two undergraduate Fall courses: AST 255  “Life in the Universe” and AST 303 “Deciphering the Universe: Research Methods in Astrophysics”  will be taught fully on-line.

What about courses taught in other departments? 

 Contact the professor of the course in question about the logistics for each course. 

Will seniors be able to take graduate courses?

 Yes, with approval of Neta Bahcall and the professor of the course, just as in past years. Check with the course instructor to find out whether it will be taught remotely or only in-person. 

How will I find a mentor for my Junior Paper?

 As in previous years, this will be done in coordination with Neta Bahcall as Director of Undergraduate Studies, based on the interests of each student and availability of mentors.  We anticipate most juniors to be on campus this Fall, and they will be allowed to meet face-to-face with their mentors if the mentors are on campus, subject to social distancing guidelines.  In the Spring, when juniors will be remote, mentoring will take place virtually.

How will I find a mentor for my senior thesis? 

 Again, this will be done in coordination with Neta Bahcall.  Most seniors will be away from campus in the Fall, so their senior thesis work will have to start remotely and be completed in the Spring when they are back on campus.  

What if my JP or senior thesis advisor is unable to come to campus? 

 Some mentors may opt or need to work from home, because of travel restrictions or other reasons.   In this case, mentoring will take place remotely using on-line tools.

How will general advising with Neta Bahcall, Director of Undergraduate Studies, take place?

 Neta Bahcall will meet with all our undergraduates either remotely or in person, as needed -- we will meet with the entire group (online) and individually (either online or in person). 

Could I use the summer of 2021 to complete independent work requirements?

 The department is currently in conversation with the Office of the Dean of the College about what, if any, arrangements might be made for students who want to use next summer to complete a senior thesis or a JP.  Although we can't give you clear answers just yet, please contact Neta Bahcall if you may be interested in this possibility so that we have a general idea of student interest.  

Questions for Graduate students and Post-baccs

Are graduate students required to return to campus or to Peyton Hall? 

 Students are encouraged to return, but not required. Josh Winn and Polly Strauss will be in touch with all graduate students; they are maintaining a master list of the location of each one.  If you anticipate being away from Princeton this Fall, or unable to come to Peyton Hall, please let them know.

What will be the format of graduate courses?

 The two graduate classes, Interstellar Medium and Plasma Astrophysics, are likely to be taught in person, with some participants on-line.  We will update this page with information on the Graduate Seminar when it is available.

I am a teaching assistant. What will my duties be like?

 Consult with your instructor. Since teaching will likely be remote, typical duties will probably be offering electronic office hours, responding to online student questions, grading homework that is submitted digitally, and helping to grade exams.

How will I find a mentor for my semester project?

 As in previous years, a list of possible projects and advisors will be circulated by Josh Winn as Director of Graduate Studies.  Students should contact faculty members directly to learn more.  For students who are unable to come to campus, accommodations will be made to allow research to be done remotely as far as possible.

Where will my desk be? When will I be allowed to work in Peyton Hall?

 At the moment, we are not allowed in Peyton Hall, and are told that all who can work from home should continue to do so (see above).  We are waiting for guidance from the university's Environmental Health Services as to how many people can safely be seated in Peyton Hall at one time.   That guidance is likely to come over the next few weeks.   With that guidance in hand, we will develop a detailed plan for office use in the Fall, including for graduate students. 

Can I get a tablet, monitor, or other gadget to help with remote research or teaching?

 Each graduate student will be ensured a hardware package of an operable laptop, docking station with monitor, and a tablet.   If the student has an office on campus, this hardware will be set up in their individual office.  If the student is primarily working from home, we will do our best to have the package delivered there within University property and security guidelines.

Can I be reimbursed for home office furniture?

 Not by university funds or grants, unfortunately. 

I am working remotely.  Can I use departmental computing resources?

 Yes, although logging in from China is a special case. Leigh Koven (the Department's Computing Support Specialist) is looking into it.

I am a new student working remotely. Can I get my department laptop? 

 We can ship it to you, although as above, China is a special case.  We will update this FAQ once we have clear guidance on this question.  

What if my research advisor is unable to come to campus? 

 Some mentors may opt or need to work from home, because of travel restrictions or other reasons.   In this case, mentoring will take place remotely using on-line tools.

Can my thesis committee meet in person?

 Yes, if everyone is comfortable doing so. Faculty are not required to come to campus, though.  So some of these thesis committee meetings may need to take place partially or entirely on-line.  

I am experiencing Covid-related delays in my research. What should I do?

 Talk to your adviser and Josh as the Director of Graduate Studies.