Insights into the AAS Conference from AO Analyst Anna McGilvray


Anna McGilvray has been a research analyst with the Arecibo Observatory (AO) since 2019. She shares how her first experience at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) conference inspired her to work at Arecibo, how her experiences have changed, and what she gained from attending the 240th meeting of the AAS this summer.

Tell us about yourself and your role at the Arecibo Observatory.

My name is Anna McGilvray, and I am a Science Operations Associate (which is like a fancy way of saying I help with observations and data analysis) for two of the three science groups at AO: planetary radar and radio astronomy. Before joining the team at the Arecibo Observatory I had recently graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. I was looking for a job in astronomy that would give me time and experience to help me decide if I would want to go to graduate school. My experience at AO has helped me decide to pursue a career in the field, and I am in the process of applying for graduate school this fall.

How has attending AAS conferences impacted your career?

At my first-ever AAS meeting, AAS 229 in Grapevine TX, I went to a press conference about Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), where I heard a talk about how AO + the European Very Large-Baseline-Interferometry Network (EVN) were able to take a closer looks at the first discovered repeating FRB. This was pretty amazing to me, as I had never really heard about AO or FRBs or even the EVN at that point in my science career - and it totally fascinated me!

I ended up going to another press conference about just AO projects later that day, since it had caught my attention, and that was my introduction to AO. This experience was one of the things that led me to apply years later to work at the observatory, and I am so glad I did!

It felt a little surreal attending AO as a representative of the observatory that so totally inspired me at my very first conference, especially since at that point in my undergrad degree I did not really think I was cut out for research or astronomy as a career!

Is working at the Arecibo Observatory what you expected before you applied?

Not really! But that isn’t a bad thing! I think so many people have this almost glamorized view of AO, since it is so famous both in and outside of Astronomy. I was worried I wouldn’t fit in, that I would not be smart enough to work here, etc.

But as soon as you actually start doing anything it becomes a lot less intimidating than whatever you’ve built up in your head. I think actually getting to work at Arecibo has made me a lot more confident in myself, and a lot more ready to take the next steps of my career.

What was it like to attend an in-person AAS meeting again?

This was the first time since graduating undergrad that I had attended AAS, and it was a different experience approaching it with a more focused point of view, but in a good way. As an undergraduate, I was running from talk to talk just trying to absorb everything I could since I did not really know what I was interested in yet. This time, I was able to focus on subjects that interested me or related to my job - it was nice to have a sense of direction. In addition to that, it was also very invigorating to attend something in-person, after a couple years of being entirely online!

Did you give a presentation at the AAS meeting?

I gave a talk on the 12 meter telescope here at AO, about both current and future science cases! It was my first talk, and I was genuinely very nervous about it! But in the end I think it went well, phew! I am definitely glad to have that experience so that next time is not so nerve-wracking.

Did you meet new scientists and establish new collaborations at the AAS meeting?

I did meet some new people, and got some new ideas for what I might want to do when I start applying for grad school this fall, but I think the most memorable/interesting meetings happened with people I have met over zoom several times, but never in person until this conference! There were several people who I had met remotely, both through my job here at the observatory, and through friends who are also in astronomy who I had never been able to meet with in person.

Which presentations at the 240th AAS were the most memorable?

I think hearing Jocelyn Bell Burnell give a talk was pretty special, and I think it was important to hear her talk about the statistics of international representation by women in astronomy. Hector Arce’s talk on the importance of Arecibo was also very cool to be in person to hear and see the reactions and questions from the auditorium live.

Article written by Dr. Tracy Becker - AO Collaborator / SwRI Research Scientist Contact:
Arecibo Media Contact
Ricardo Correa
Universidad Ana G. Méndez (UAGM)
787-878-2612 ext. 615

Keywords: Conference; Inspiring; Education; Radar;