Help secure the future of the Iceland and Hawaii Astrobiology Summer Schools!

Hello early-career astrobiologists!

The new institutes recently funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute represent an exciting path for astrobiology, but these new directions challenge the continuation of the Iceland and Hawaii Astrobiology Summer and Winter schools as the institutes leading the efforts were *not* renewed.

Having personally participated in the Iceland 2012 school, I know first hand how great this school was not only in terms of astrobiology education, but to see first hand unique sites of astrobiological relevance, and connect with astrobiologists from across the world.

In an effort to communicate the benefit of these schools to NASA management, it would be wonderful if you could include, below, how the summer schools have benefited you and your career. These messages will be used to seek funding to ensure the continuation of these amazing educational opportunities for early-career astrobiologists.

Thanks for your help!

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I have attended the UHNAI-Nordic 2009 Astrobiology Summer School in Iceland and 2011 Astrobiology Winter School in Hawai'i and I had fantasic experiences. I'm convinced that the NASA Astrobiology Summer and Winter Schools are the best possible program to support early career scientist:
1) These schools were highly interdisciplinary and I've never experienced such a degree of fruitful cross-discipline education and teaching in any other program. I would go as far as to say UHNAI summer and winter schools opened my eyes to many new things and young scientists can take so much from these programs that it makes them invaluable!
2) People who attend UHNAI schools will meet great fellow scientists and stay in touch over decades. UHNAI Summer and Winter Schools catalyze the exchange of people from many different backgrounds. Some new research collaborations have started actually from these summer schools.
3) Wherever you go afterwards, whatever you do, if you participated once you will remember this experience a life long. Although I'm finally not conducting any research in Astrobiology, my experiences at the Summer and Winter schools were a great motivation and I will forever be greatful and supportive to the Astrobiology community worldwide.
Attending the UHNAI Summer and Winter schools convinced me to persue my postdoctoral research in the US at Harvard University, Boston where I did research for the past three years. I'm now an assistant professor in Chemistry at the University of Konstanz, Germany and I will encourage my own students to have a look into the the wonderful field of Astrobiology. I'm also deeply convinced that at some point in the future my own research will be directed again towards Astrobiology. This is a result of the NASA Astrobiology Institute's Summer and Winter Schools.

Already the fact that people who attended these Summer and Winter Schools more than 5-10 years ago stop their busy research, login to this site and write a supportive comment to speak out for continuing this program shows how much NASA Astrobiology Institute's Summer and Winter Schools gave to us and how deeply they influenced the lifes of many young scientists.

I attended the 2012 NAI-Nordic school in Iceland. Of the courses and training programs I have participated in, this program stands out. The program exposed me to the full breadth of the research being conducted in astronomy, planetary science, biology, geology and chemistry with regards to astrobiology. I found this to be immensely valuable as generally I only hear about results from my field (astronomy). For example, in my field astrobiology is generally taken as a subfield of exoplanet research. However, at this school, in both formal lectures and discussions I had with my classmates, I was reminded of the astrobiology potential of our own solar system! From increasingly exotic extremophiles to the prospects of life on Mars, Enceladus and Europa, the school helped me understand a whole new regime for astrobiology. This is just one example of the insights I gained from this school.

Since 2012, I have switched fields from exoplanets to UV prebiotic chemistry. Integral to having the confidence to make this switch was the background I acquired at this program. This program gave me the knowledge to understand and evaluate a research opportunity that has as much to do with molecular biology and geology as it does with astronomy. The fieldwork and team project really helped me solidify my understanding of these diverse fields that were covered in lectures. I am grateful to the NAI-Nordic program for building this background and enabling me to make the connections that enabled this transition. 

I hope funding for this program continues so as to afford future scientists the same opportunity.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the Iceland Summer School in 2009 and the Hawaii Winter School in 2011.  I would describe both of these experiences as transformative.  They had a huge bearing on my dissertation work and my broader career goals.  I have written proposals and conference papers with people that I met at these schools and continue to develop new collaborations with fellow participants who, not being in my field, I would probably not know otherwise.  It goes without saying that without travel support it would not have been possible to attend these schools.  As a past participant I feel strongly that funding these opportunities should be a priority. 

I attended the UH-NAI Winter School in 2014 - which has been to date the the best experience I have ever had. I am 27 Years old - and finishing my masters this coming March (2015). I have spent the last 5 years tailoring my studies around astrobiology and pursuing a related postgraduate project but felt very isolated in Australia. Meeting and networking with all these students from around the globe, I became aware of the potential this career path really had. Meeting such enthusiasitic and passionate young astobiologists has changed the way I see astrobiology, possiblitiltes for my own future and for the field.

In astrobiology like all the sciences,  networking is really a key to excel, create new projects and peer review is priceless (not just in the sense of paper reviewing) but in the sense that the colleagues you gain may help critically discuss your ideas, essentially making them better and teaching each other along the way. This field is still up and coming, which is why a program such as this one produces a solid basis for young astrobiologists to network and gain great colleagues.

It would be a detriment if the program were to cease. I can say that first hand without having attended this workshop my path may have found another way. I did not realise the potential that existed and now can pay it forward as undergraduate students approach me pursuing post graduate studies in Astrobiology. 

I participated in the 2012 UHNAI-Nordic Astrobiology Summer School that took place in Iceland. It was one of the most exciting experiences of my career so far. Being part of this summer school has gained me some very good research networks as well as some good friends.

The following year of the summer school, some of us "participants" along with two PIs returned back to Iceland on a re-expedition to explore further on our findings. This trip turned out to be a fruitful experience which resulted in two manucripts at the moment (one in review and the other in writing).

I couldnt thank enough the co-ordinators of this summer school for handing me this wonderful experience in science and in life. I also sincerely hope that this summer school acitvity continues and many more youngsters like me who are in the begining of their research career get a chance to participate, explore and learn.

I participated in the 2012 UHNAI-Nordic Astrobiology Summer School "Water, ice and origin of the life in the Universe" that was held in Iceland. This School provides a great opportunity for earlier-career scientists to meet leading researchers, to attend lectures on different fields, to participate in field trips, and to explore amazing sights around with professionals. The quality of proposed program and organization is on the top level and I would like to thank all lecturers and organizers again. And definitely the opportunity to participate in this School should be given to other students and young researchers.

I would like to add my voice to the chorus of support for the Nordic-NASA Summer School. I attended the 2012 Iceland school “Water, Ice, and the Origin of Life”. This school provided an excellent overview of the current issues related to astrobiology and the diverse fields it encompasses, including astrochemistry, ice physics, the biology of extremophiles, origin of life studies, and the biogeochemical nature of early Earth. The lectures from leading researchers were only one important component of this experience. In addition, we were able to conduct field excursions that involved the sampling of volcanic rocks and glacial ice for microbial activity. Subsequently, we toured the field lab where our samples were processed. I found these experiences incredibly useful as an astronomer who typically does not see how field and lab scientists work. The program was rigorous, our schedules were packed and there was obviously great care in the judicious expenditure of program resources. At the same time, students were treated incredibly well and to my knowledge the student opinions of the school were uniformly positive.

Personally, the program provided me with an excellent opportunity to network with current researchers and future colleagues from universities around the world. I've formed professional relationships that have lead to long-term collaborations. I joined a subset of our summer school cohort in the summer of 2013 to investigate in situ life detection and characterization techniques in Mars analog environments of Iceland, which was science borne out of the field exercises we did as summer school participants. This work has been accepted for publication in the journal Planetary and Space Sciences.

Astrobiologists are attempting to answer the big questions in science that exceed the purview of any one field or discipline. It is therefore crucial that interdisciplinary collaborations are established. I believe programs in the mold of the Nordic-NASA Summer School are excellent ways to achieve this result.

I will just add that the program coordinators Karen Meech and Wolf Geppert were enormously helpful in preparing students for the program ahead of time and ensuring that the school ran smoothly after it began. The dedication these two organizers showed in organizing and managing the program has set a very positive example in my mind.

I would like to join to these comments as participant in one of the Nordic-NASA Summer Schools. I attended the 2012 Iceland school “Water, Ice, and the Origin of Life” and I have only good words about it. I'm currently writing my PhD thesis about paleohabitats on Mars, and as Astrobiologist, the course was really helpful and it enriched me in personal and professional ways. The lectures were outstanding, with high-level professionals and about cutting-edge subjects. It was a privilege to learn from them and have the chance to share opinions and points of view with them and the other students. About the latter, they were an extraordinary group of individuals from very different backgrounds and cultures, and live together was a very rewarding experience for me. And to finish about the human factor I would like to highlight the work of the program coordinators Karen Meech and Wolf Geppert who were very welcoming and helpful during all the process and made a noteworthy effort on the organization of all the activities, both academics and logistics.

But this course not only was about great professionals and good science, but the school also made the most of the location it was held. Iceland is a well-known planetary analogue, and as a specialist in this field I really took advantage on both the lab and fieldwork that was performed there. We were able to visit several interesting locations around the island, as different ages lava flows, hot springs and rifts. To visit any of those fascinating landforms for a student like me would be extremely difficult otherwise, and moreover with a scientific support. So this was very valuable to my and my thesis development.

Also Iceland is a very expensive country with some logistic difficulties. The great organization make possible in such a short period of time to maximize time with a intensive timetable that not only include lot of scientific contents but also some cultural and leisure time. That make the experience much more enjoyable and enriching. So the school was not only a unique academic event, but also a unforgettable lifetime event. I hope funding for this program continues, since it worth every penny. Any field-related future scientists should be able to have the same opportunity that we had.

I write today to support the further funding of the UHNAI-Nordic Schools. I was fortunate enough to have been a participant in the 2012 Summer School in Iceland. The experiences at the school have greatly shaped my career track. Among my company’s projects, Aphelion Innovations LLC, is the development of a high altitude biological sampling system to explore the possibility of life in the upper atmosphere. Positive results could have a profound effect on the habitability of extreme environments. This project was informed through discussions with other attendees of the Nordic School. The value of this school is that it allows scientists and engineers from disparate fields and different nations to connect in person and dream of big ideas. The field expeditions provide a venue for researchers to obtain real life experience in field research, a subject severely lacking in most formal educations.

I believe this high quality program provides high value for its costs, especially due to the international partnerships. I hope to see the program continue to inspire the next generation of astrobiological researchers. 

I attended the 2012 UHNAI-Nordic Astrobiology Summer School in Iceland.  I will second the others on this forum that it was such an incredible experience, and greatly influenced my career as an Astrobiologist. Being an astronomer/geologist by training, I found the Iceland program to be a great interdisciplinary opportunity. The program provided a hands-on approach to learning about biology, the detection of life in extreme environments, and other astrobiology-related topics that I am less familiar with.  This interaction has allowed me to discover how my own work fits into the large world of astrobiology, and has also helped me to better communicate my ideas to colleagues in other astrobiology-related disciplines. 

Iceland is such a unique site for the study of astrobiology, being incredibly geologically and biologically diverse. This program is different from other conferences or summer schools as one of the main emphasis is on the field exploration and research, an invaluable aspect of interdisciplinary learning. I hope that the Astrobiology summer schools in Iceland continue to receive funding so that more young scientists can become aware of the interesting field of astrobiology.

I have had the great pleasure to attend the 2014 UHNAI-Nordic Astrobiology Winter school this passed January, and it was nothing short of incredible. As most of the community knows it's competitive to get into these programs and many many many excellent candidates apply every time the summer or winter schools are offered. It was not my first time applying to one of their programs and I was absolutely elated to participate! To be able to have the natural landscape around us be our classroom on the several field trips gave learning an extra dimension that made all the difference. The knowledge gained at this conference has truly given all of us attendees an incredibly broad, yet in depth, platform to bolster our careers in Astrobiology. One of the most valuable things I came away with is the connections and friends made in the program. As a representative of the SAGANet.org program, I can already say that several of my fellow attendees (and past ones as well) have joined our mentoring cohort, enriching the next gen of astrobiologists. Additionally, I have connected with faculty present at the school in regards to future projects that I might not have met if I wasn't given the chance to attend.

I hope that these programs will be around for future early career astrobiologists to attend, as you can clearly see from the existing comments that this program has truly made an impact on our education, careers, and networking.

I was fortunate enough to attend the 2012 NASA Nordic Astrobiology Summer School in Iceland.  This expedition helped to shape my career aspirations, and started a new international collaboration.

I was a NASA postdoctoral fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2012, and was unsure of what I wanted to do next.  I knew I wanted to continue to work for NASA, but with a chemistry background it was unclear to me how I could best leverage my skills.  The lectures and informal discussions through the Astrobiology Summer School exposed me to scientists and engineers from a variety of backgrounds, many of whom ended up in careers far removed from their original area of study.  I realized that my knowledge of chemistry had a much wider range of applications, and that in fact pursuing work in different fields was advantageous.  On approaching an engineering problem, for example, someone like me might see the problem from an entirely different perspective than a typically trained engineer.  This realization encouraged me to pursue work in different fields, and has opened new opportunities for me as a research scientist at JPL.

The Astrobiology Summer School also fostered a new international collaboration.  Of the 50 participants in the summer school, about 13 of us decided that Iceland was so fascinating from an astrobiology standpoint that we wanted to go back.  Through email and many telecons, we spent the next 9 months planning a return expedition focused on in-field decision making and robotic life detection strategies.  We were able to pull together funding from a variety of sources, and had a very successful expedition.  We have submitted one manuscript for publication in Planetary and Space Science, with another paper in progress.  We also plan a follow-on expedition to coincide with the summer school next year.

The NASA Nordic Astrobiology Summer School has inspired new collaborations and motivated many young scientists that a career in planetary science is not only possible, but one of the most exciting adventures one can embark upon.  I hope it continues to inspire the next generation of planetary scientists as we continue to expand our knowledge of the Universe.

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