I-HOW: IAU Hands-On Workshops

Call for proposals to hold a workshop in 2022:

The IAU calls for applications for workshops under the IAU Hands-On Workshops (I-HOW) initiative.

Proposals to organise one of these workshops should be submitted using the application form provided for that (see link below) by email to one of the members of the I-HOW Steering Committee (see list of members below).

The deadline for applications is 31 January 2022
(application form wordpdf)


Vast amounts of astronomical data are currently available in archives scattered around the world, for instance in the archives of telescopes run by big consortia, like ESO, NSF’s NOIRLab, NRAO, ALMA, ATCA, LOFAR, etc., or space missions developed by NASA and ESA, or by national space agencies like JAXA, ISRO, etc.

The IAU Hands-On Workshops (I-HOW) is an initiative to train young scientists in developing countries in accessing, analysing and using those data for their research projects.

These ‘capacity building’ workshops will raise awareness of scientists in developing countries on the availability of astronomical data from ground-based telescopes and space missions that can be used to solve specific astronomical problems, will provide the seeds to open up and expand research in those countries into new horizons, and will foster international collaboration between young scientists in the developing countries and established staff members in developed ones. 

Past experience shows that there are hidden troves in the science archives of big telescopes, and that data in those archives often have not been exploited fully by the PI’s of those observations. By expanding the community that uses these instruments, these workshops will also enhance the scientific impact of those astronomical facilities, thereby benefiting the institutions who built them.

The proposal is to carry out about 2 of these workshops per year, covering different areas of astronomical research/instruments/wavelength ranges in each workshop. The exact number of workshops per year depends on the budget that the IAU has available for this programme, the number of requests from the community to hold them, and the availability of lecturers.

Character and format of the workshops

  • The workshops are organized loosely on wavelength domains and/or analysis techniques, and any ground- or space-based astronomical instruments or facilities can be the target of the workshop. Because of the complexity of current instruments, an ideal workshop deals with a well-defined but limited group of instruments, preferably with complementary capabilities in the given wavelength domain. It is difficult to give an exact maximum, but proposers should keep in mind that the goal is that students learn in depth the details on how to use (some of) the instruments in the workshop, and not cover a large number of instruments and techniques superficially.
  • The scientific topics of a workshop will be driven by the availability of data in the archives of the proposed ground- or space-based instruments. The astronomical part of the workshops will be driven by the science topics enabled by those data.
  • Workshops last 2-weeks and are eminently practical, with 50% or more of the time devoted to teaching how to install and use the analysis tools relevant for the instruments addressed in the workshop. The hands-on sessions will be supervised by lecturers with experience in the use of those instruments and the associated analysis software.
  • The other half (or less) of the workshop will consist of classical lectures on astronomical topics, software and relevant instruments, connected to the techniques/instruments/wavelength range that are part of the hands-on sessions. It is also often good to include a lecture on writing observing proposals for the facilities involved where this is appropriate.
  • Given the experience with covid-19 in 2020-2021, we do not discard a priori the possibility of proposing for an online workshop. But, given the importance of the interaction between lecturers and students, not just during the lectures themselves but also informally during lunches, dinners and other social activities, we strongly promote having in-person rather than online workshops as much as possible. In any case, proposers are encouraged to provide a short contingency plan for a hybrid or fully online workshop in case the situation would not allow having all participants attending in person.
  • The ideal lecturers are scientists working on the wavelength domain of the workshop, who have a practical knowledge of the techniques and software used to analyse the kind of data that the workshop is about. Instrument scientists directly involved in the design of an instrument or the analysis software for that instrument are particularly good candidates for this.  We aim at having about 10 lecturers per workshop. To ensure the continuity and quality of the workshops, the IAU encourages proposers to have a more or less fixed core of 3 or 4 lecturers for each topic offered. Together with the I-HOW member responsible for the workshop, the main local organizers will select the other lecturers. Local researchers may act as lecturers. There should be a proper gender, age and nationality balance among the lecturers.
    IMPORTANT: To ensure the interaction with the students and to be able to supervise their projects during the whole workshophe, the selected lecturers are expected to stay for the full duration of the workshop.
  • The number of participants (so-called students) should be 30-40. This number is driven by the number of lecturers, between 8 and 10, such that each lecturer supervises between 3 and 4 students for the 2-weeks period. The target participants are PhD students, postdocs, and young staff members willing to learn how to analyse data, use a new technique, or learn to deal with a wavelength domain in which they have not worked before. It is expected that the workshop will assist participants in improving the quality of their research. Advanced master students may be allowed to participate. Students will be selected in a competitive manner on the basis of their CV and other application material. A small minority of more senior scientists may also participate in these workshops provided there is a clear justification about the potential benefits to their host institution/country.
  • About half of the participants may come from the host country (given that this country will provide about 50% of the funds; see below), and the other 50% will be selected from applicants from countries in the same region of the world. If there is significant interest from candidates from other parts of the world, there should be a proposal to organise a similar workshop in that region of the world at a later time.
  • Each student will work under the supervision of one of the lecturers who will act as project advisor for the duration of the workshop. Collaborative projects among two or more students are possible. The students will give a poster or an oral presentation of their results on the last afternoon of the workshop. We expect that this project will be the seed for subsequent collaborative research between the students and the lecturer who supervised the student’s project.
  • A computer laboratory with good internet access and large enough to provide a dedicated computer for each student should be available. It is desirable that the lecturing facilities are separate from this laboratory. If deemed appropriate and feasible, instead of using computers provided by the venue, the students may bring and use their own laptops.
  • All of the participants, both the lecturing team and the students, should be accommodated in the same hotel or guesthouse so as to maximise the benefits of casual interactions and to build up good friendly contacts. The accommodation needs to be of a suitable standard to attract good lecturers from a range of backgrounds to stay for the duration of the workshop.
  • There will be no registration fee. On the contrary, all participants, lecturers and students, should be offered free board and lodging, and travel grants should be available for those, particularly the more junior students who cannot obtain support from their home institutions. The objective should be to prevent highly-qualified applicants from being unable to attend for financial reasons. All lecturers will receive full travel costs; experience shows that national and international agencies will often offer to cover this cost for their staff or other lecturers describing their missions.
  • All applicants must apply and pass through an objective, independent selection process for which an international panel will be set up. This selection should be based on scientific merit, taking fully into account the likelihood that long-term research will result from attendance at the workshop.  There should be a proper gender, age and nationality balance among the participants.
  • Every effort should be made to build an atmosphere in which the lecturing team and the students can establish a positive and collaborative bond, such that guidance and technical advice is provided even after the students have returned home and, perhaps, also to set up collaborative research projects. It is often the case that these arise naturally from the projects.
  • The I-HOW Steering Committee expects to receive a report at the end of the workshop, including a copy of the final program, highlights of the workshop, a group (and other) photo(s), etc., plus a detailed financial report.
  • The proposed workshop is expected to meet some general guidelines (see below). The IAU will provide half of the funding for the workshop and the host country will provide the other half. Workshops will be selected on a competitive basis considering the needs of the community to access or develop the use of specific archives, the science case for the workshop, and a serious financial commitment from the proposers to cover their part of the funding.

Procedure and selection criteria for workshops

Proposers should complete and return by email (see below)  the application form on this link (word, pdf). Invitations to submit workshop proposals may be initiated by members of the I-HOW Steering Committee (SC; see list of members below). It is advisable to contact the member of the SC closest to the area of the workshop before submitting the proposal. This person will help prepare the proposal so that it satisfies all the criteria for selection, therefore increasing the chance that the proposal is selected.

The I-HOW SC is responsible for operating the program, and proposals may be submitted to any of the members of the SC. One of the members of the SC will be assigned to work with the proposers on each proposal if it is accepted.

The criteria for selection include the following topics (not all of these will be applicable in every case, but they still give an idea about what will be looked for in a proposal):

  • Science is within IAU remit.
  • Proposed instruments/facilities host data archives.
  • Instruments/facilities involved are current and operational.
  • Instruments/facilities involved are producing exciting results.
  • Instruments/facilities have open programs for observing proposals.
  • Accessibility of data through open, public archives.
  • Availability of free software for analysis.
  • The archives are supported by a help desk.
  • The workshop has a regional character.
  • Host could act as a potential hub for the scientific community in nearby countries (also through funds to prospective students outside the host country).
  • Likelihood that the workshop can further foster scientific research in the host country/region with the targeted instruments/facilities.
  • Likelihood that the workshop will strengthen across-country links within the region.
  • Size of the community in the region and/or host country that would profit from the workshop.
  • Availability of potential workshop participants in the host country (e.g., MSc, PhD students, postdocs, young staff members).
  • Availability of the necessary facilities of the venue (e.g., internet bandwidth, computers for students that do not bring their own laptops, audio-visual facilities, etc.).
  • Potential for host country funding.
  • Host country funds may be used to support applicants from other countries.
  • Host country does not refuse entry/visa requests solely on the basis of nationality.
  • Possible funding from international sources (e.g., national or international agencies like NASA, ESA, ESO, etc. may be willing to fund the travelcosts of one or two of their scientists to act as lecturers).
  • Relationship of the topic of the workshop to host country or regional projects/initiatives/science policy.

One of the goals of the workshops is to teach students to download the data and install the software so that they can use them when returning to their host countries. It is therefore very important that the data and software that are needed for the workshop are freely available. Workshops in which students need to buy a license to use the software are in principle not eligible.

If the proposal is pre-selected by the SC, there will be a visit to the host country by the responsible SC member to meet with the proposers and make detailed plans and formulate the necessary agreement, including the financial agreement, with the IAU. These will then be submitted to the SC for approval.

The usual lead time from the moment a proposal is submitted until the workshop takes place is about 1 year. This period is necessary to allow for the evaluation and ranking of the proposals, for holding a pre-workshop site visit by the vice-chair in charge of the workshop to establish that the facilities are adequate for the workshop, for announcing the workshop to potential candidates in the area of the world where the workshop will take place, and for selecting the participants.

Composition of the I-HOW Steering Committee

Mariano Mendez, University of Groningen (NL); X-ray astronomy; black holes/neutron stars

Bradley Frank, South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (ZA); radio interferometry; galaxy evolution and dark matter
Matteo Guainazzi, European Space Agency (EU); X-ray instrumentation; active galactic nuclei
Violette Impellizzeri, Leiden University (NL); millimeter interferometry; supermassive black holes
Heidi Korhonen, European Southern Observatory (EU); optical/Infrared instrumen- tation; stars
Themiya Nanayakkara, Swinburne University of Technology (AU); Infrared spectroscopy; extragalactic astrophysics

Applications may be sent by email to any of the members listed above.


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