Job Posting

Posting: Dec 20, 2022

Job Title: Director of Astronomy and Research

Reports to: Deputy Director, Head of Science and Education
Salary range: $150,000 plus generous benefits
Status: TBD – while we would prefer to hire a full-time staff member, we are open to considering unique remote/on-site work arrangements that may flex seasonally, yearly, or change over time, as well as shared or joint appointments. 
Application Deadline: Review begins February 10, 2023. 

YERKES FUTURE FOUNDATION and YERKES OBSERVATORY
This position offers a rare opportunity for the right candidate to impact the course of public engagement with science in the United States and make their mark on one of the iconic institutions in the history of astronomy.

Yerkes Observatory is known globally as the birthplace of modern astrophysics and remains the home to the world’s largest refracting telescope. Since 1897, science luminaries who have walked the observatory’s halls include Edwin Hubble, Gerard Kuiper, Carl Sagan, NASA’s first Chief of Astronomy Nancy Grace Roman (after whom NASA’s next space telescope is named), and Nobel prize-winners Albert Einstein and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, among others.

Located on Geneva Lake in Wisconsin in an elaborate Beaux-arts building—roughly an hour each from metro Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison—the Observatory, which was opened to the public for the first time in 2022, is within 75 miles of a population of 11.3 million potential visitors. The site houses two roboticized reflecting telescopes along with the historic Yerkes Refractor, a glass-plate library holding 180,000 astronomical images, and classrooms, offices and outbuildings surrounded by 50 acres of grounds designed by the legendary landscape design firm Olmsted and Olmsted. 

In 2020, the Yerkes Future Foundation assumed long-term stewardship for preserving and restoring the Observatory and its landscape from the University of Chicago. The Wisconsin-based Foundation is currently leading an initial $30M campaign to restore the Observatory and begin building the staff and programs, with additional future fundraising planned for operations, endowment and program growth. A significant portion of the initial $30M goal has already been raised, and restoration and major construction work on the site has been underway since mid-2020.

The goal of the Foundation is to ensure Yerkes continues to advance astronomy and to transform the Observatory and its grounds into a pilgrimage site for science and discovery—an experience unlike any other where science, environment, culture, arts and curiosity cross-pollinate in novel and unique ways. From ongoing astronomical research to outdoor science fiction film festivals, public talks by science luminaries and cultural influencers to school programs and nighttime star parties—Yerkes will be a national leader in growing the public’s understanding of—and engagement with—science.

Working in concert with the Leadership team and the Board, this new position leads the development, planning and execution of our most important and innovative research, science and programming initiatives. 

SEARCH SUMMARY
We are seeking a Director of Astronomy and Research (henceforth, DAR) to join the team at Yerkes Observatory. This leadership role will be responsible for advancing science and research at Yerkes through the development and delivery of science programming that takes creative advantage of existing and future resources at the historic site and builds meaningful relationships with partner institutions and students. 

The DAR will work with the leadership team, staff, and volunteers to develop and execute strategies to advance the astronomy and research mission of Yerkes. They help open doors in their network, cultivate and obtain research grants as needed, envision the future for the suite of telescopes at Yerkes, and create opportunities to maximize student engagement with the astronomy and research program.

While we would strongly prefer to hire a full-time staff member, we are open to considering unique remote/on-site work arrangements that may flex annually, as well as shared or joint appointments. If your consideration of the role hinges on such unique arrangements it will not harm your prospects as a candidate… but please, state so clearly in your cover letter.

POSITION SUMMARY 
The DAR is responsible for developing and serving as the Yerkes “face” for academic partnerships and engagements.

The specific job responsibilities will be shaped in part based on the skills and experience of the successful candidate and will include some combination of the following:

The DAR works to envision, lead, and execute astronomy and research at Yerkes that:

  • produces data and outcomes that meaningfully advance astronomy,
  • maximizes the usefulness of the historic collection of 180,000 glass plate observations,
  • engages students from underrepresented backgrounds,
  • garners financial support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) or other funding organizations as needed, 
  • attracts partner organizations and astronomers,
  • generates attention in the scientific field, and 
  • helps advance a public science program at Yerkes.

Components of the astronomy and research program may function in differing ways—some entirely internal, others in collaboration or partnership with peer organizations, and yet others positioning Yerkes as the organizer/convener of a network. In all cases, our program should advance the candidate’s own research interests, the mission of Yerkes, and ensure the Observatory is building on our 125 year legacy of discovery and excellence.

The telescopes and astronomy operations of Yerkes are central to the Observatory’s legacy, identity, and reputation—and remain central to its future. The DAR leads the management, operations, and execution of the overall strategy for two reflecting telescopes at Yerkes along with affiliated resources. Completed in 1967, the 24” and 41” have been recently upgraded and can be remotely operated. They are networked and connected to SkyNet for use by students and astronomers around the world. 

The DAR will participate in developing the future astronomy strategy for Yerkes, which may include construction of new astronomical facilities or renovation or expansion of the existing suite of instrumentation and telescopes. The DAR will, in partnership with the Deputy Director, help build high-level, high-functioning partnerships with research organizations, funding entities, universities, other observatories, planetariums and public institutions to further our mission. 

The DAR will lead summer education programs that bring high school, and/or undergraduate students the opportunity to have hands-on experience with the technology at Yerkes. 

The DAR will have time to pursue their own research interests in any area of astronomy or physics. 

The DAR will participate in the care and curation of a collection of 180,000 glass plate images and spectra of the cosmos, taken over 125 years, that are owned by the University of Chicago but stored onsite and administered by the Yerkes Future Foundation.

The DAR shares content and stories about Yerkes telescopes, research and general astronomy with other staff, including feeding content to the social media team.

JOB DUTIES

  • Oversee the strategy for—and day-to-day operations of—the Observatory’s reflecting telescopes, research and astronomy operations. 
  • Provide leadership presence as the public face of astronomy at Yerkes, both onsite and to partner organizations.
  • Establish and lead a credible set of astronomy projects for Yerkes, sourcing the grant funding and partnerships necessary to ensure their viability.
  • Ensure the glass plate collection is preserved and craft programs to maximize their scientific use. 
  • Oversee programs that engage High School and beyond students in astronomical activities, ensuring that opportunities for students from systemically minoritized groups are prioritized and maximized.  
  • Represent the Observatory and their own research at professional meetings and events.
  • Facilitate appropriate publication outcomes for the Observatory.
  • Be an active participant in creating and delivering class-leading programs, exhibits and activities that make astronomy engaging and surprising for people of varied backgrounds.
  • Interact with the public regularly for public programs, tours, donor visits, and the like; often in conjunction with other Yerkes leadership. Some of these programs will take place at night.
  • Monitor and evaluate programs for science quality and standards to ensure the astronomy and research program is of sufficient quality to garner respect in the scientific community.
  • Other duties as required or assigned.

Requirements:

  • An advanced degree in astronomy, science or a field related to the role, or equivalent experience.
  • Prior experience in an organization that translates to the challenges and opportunities at hand.
  • A demonstrable history of—or interest in—leading the creation of a culturally-engaged suite of science programs and educational opportunities for the public.
  • Ability to explain complex science and technical topics to a non-specialist audience in a compelling and engaging way, including experience as a public speaker.  
  • Brings an existing network of professional contacts in astronomy, space exploration, and the sciences broadly.
  • Experience operating astronomical observatories and working with telescopic data. 
  • Ability to be on-site in Williams Bay, WI as required.
  • Desirable characteristics: Creative, adaptable, personable, able to participate with emotional intelligence, has a growth mindset.

Preferred:

  • A PhD in astronomy or equivalent experience, or a terminal degree in another field of science or science education.
  • Research experience at the university, governmental or NGO level and a professional publication record.
  • Experience with grants and public funding streams for science.
  • Demonstrated experience in ground-based astronomical observatory operations and automation, maintenance and use of related software and hardware
  • Significant experience in an institution with a focus on public engagement in the sciences.
  • Prior teaching experience (formal or informal).
  • Familiarity with STEAM education and other contemporary curricular models. 
  • Knowledge of the history of science.

Yerkes offers a robust suite of benefits, including 80% employer-paid health insurance, 100% employer-paid dental and vision insurance, a 401k with a match of employee contributions up to 6% of your salary, employer-subsidized life and long-term disability insurance and access to a range of additional employee-paid insurance and benefits at reasonable cost.

The Yerkes Future Foundation (YFF) is committed to advancing diversity in the sciences and in employment. YFF does not discriminate in its hiring or employment practices. We encourage and actively solicit applications from diverse candidates. Review of applications begins Feb 10, 2023 and the position will remain open until filled.    

HOW TO APPLY
To apply, submit a cover letter along with your CV or resume as PDF files to HR@yerkesobservatory.org.  Please list the position for which you are applying in the subject line of your email, and include your last name as part of each file name (eg, “Williamsresume.pdf” or “Williamscoverletter.pdf”). We thank you for considering a position at Yerkes. 

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Dr. Amanda Bauer
Montgomery Foundation Deputy Director for Yerkes Observatory 
Head of Science and Education