Astronomy is all about looking outward; discovering and piecing together exactly what makes up our Universe. And let's face it, there's a really big Universe out there and in cosmic terms it can make us feel pretty insignificant.
But this July, that changed a little. During the annual scientific meeting of the Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA), held at the University of Adelaide, I organised a session that encouraged astronomers to turn their focus inwards.
Astronomers spend time sharing their personal experiences and expertise.
Source: Museum Victoria
Yes, something strange was going on in this lecture theatre - we called it "Speed Meet a Mentor". The idea was to shuffle through as many conversations as time allowed, so attendees were asked to just use the seats near each aisle for easy mobility.
As the organiser of the event, I was amazed that once people had taken a seat and were paired off, the conversations just started to flow. I had put together a list of conversation starters, which seemed to do the trick. There was no reason to fear that people wouldn't know where to begin - in the end, I didn't even need to explain how it was going to work!
"Speed Meet a Mentor" was an idea that came out of a highly successful workshop organised by the ASA's Women in Astronomy Chapter. The workshop was designed to highlight issues faced by women during their career. But in turn, it generated discussions and ideas that could benefit the whole astronomical community, like this one.
The event was very successful with around 70 people attending. Many of the mentors signed up early, while there was a flood of students at the last minute. The feedback was positive: it was fun and worthwhile. Many even said they would have liked it to have gone longer than the 45 minutes we had stolen from the day's lunch break.
I know the importance of mentoring and am passionate about providing opportunities for people to develop and further their careers by gaining insights from others. I hope that this little experiment may have sparked some new possibilities for learning from each other.
And I must say, many thanks to the Museum's own Dr Andi who has been running such events for many years and offered some much appreciated advice and expertise. It was fun to see my impromptu idea become a reality.