The Donald and Irene Osterbrock Leadership Program

The Osterbrock Leadership Program: A Unique PhD Training Experience

Vision Statement:  Preparing Astronomers to be Future Leaders

Mission Statement

Support this program with a giftEarning the PhD in Astronomy is a rare chance to develop resourcefulness, creativity, and critical thinking. The Osterbrock Leadership Program is founded on the conviction that the lifelong value of the PhD – to the recipient and to society – will be further enhanced if PhD candidates are exposed to basic principles of leadership and management in addition to their regular research training.  The Osterbrock Leadership Program provides unique training opportunities to the UCSC Astronomy graduate community through a wide variety of educational activities, mentorships with outstanding leaders, and leadership experiences conceived and executed by students themselves.

For information on how to support the Osterbrock Leadership Program and other Departmental initiatives, click here.


Doing a PhD in Astronomy will teach you how to think clearly – but this is not the only skill you will need throughout your career. As a researcher, you may be called on to lead big projects with large teams and multi-million-dollar budgets. As an academic, you may become department chair, or dean, or provost. Beyond academe, astronomers are increasingly serving as leaders in business, education, government, and politics.  In all these roles, you'll need to understand people and organizations, how to motivate and inspire, and how to manage complex endeavors. This constellation of skills and understanding is rarely featured in standard PhD training.

The Osterbrock Leadership Program in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at UCSC is designed to fill this gap. It is named in honor of Donald E. Osterbrock, eminent former Professor of Astronomy at UCSC and skilled mentor of numerous graduate students.  Don Osterbrock pioneered the study of gaseous nebulae and originated the classification scheme for active galactic nuclei. His steady hand on the helm as Lick Observatory director guided the UC astronomical community through the turbulent period when the Keck Telescopes were taking shape. Don was a gifted teacher, and the many doctoral students he advised comprise a significant portion of today’s astronomical leadership. His wife, Irene, worked tirelessly to help establish the UCSC Library's Mary Lea Shane Archives of the Lick Observatory as a world-renowned repository of U.S. astronomical history, for which she was named a Patron of the American Astronomical Society. 

Together the Osterbrocks set a standard for leadership that can inspires students in the PhD today.

If the concept of “astronomer as future leader” resonates with your personal career vision, the Osterbrock Leadership Program can be a vital component of your PhD training.  As far as we know, the OLP is unique – there is no other program like it in in the entire county.  If interested, please contact Program Director Sandra Faber ( and Osterbrock Fellow Viraj Pandya ( to learn more.   

Program Description  

Strong interest has inspired expansion of the Osterbrock Leadership Program (OLP) to all interested PhD students in the Astronomy Department.  Governance has also been changed to permit a major management role by grads themselves. A wide range of programs is now being offered:

Osterbrock leadership activities teach basic leadership concepts and expose grads to examples of outstanding leadership both inside and outside science.  Visits to Osterbrock partner organizations take students outside the “department bubble” and introduce them to PhDs serving in different kinds of leadership positions.  Government and business execs convey the importance of injecting scientific data into policy discussions and the challenges of doing that.   Attendance is supported at numerous external workshops, classes, and seminars where basic principles of leadership are taught.

Osterbrock leadership events stress the importance of PhD leadership training and seek to improve its quality both within the Astronomy Department and more widely in the UCSC community.  In 2016-17 we inaugurated the annual Osterbrock Distinguished Leadership Lecture, which featured Dr. Robert Kirshner, head of Science Programs at the Moore Foundation.  The OLP Lecturer this year will be Rush Holt, former Congressperson and now CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  The annual Mandel Communications Workshops help students improve their presentation skills and communicate with audiences more effectively.

The Osterbrock Mini-Grant projects are the core of the OLP training program.  The projects are designed and proposed by grads themselves to provide them with hands-on leadership training and experiences.  Projects are supported by grants from the OLP Mini-Grants Program, which is organized and run by the Osterbrock Fellows, who staff the OLP Advisory Council.  The Council selects proposals, awards support, and provides oversight and guidance.  PIs report on the results of their project at the end of the year.  Successful PIs and Co-Is are eligible to become Fellows in future years.

A unique hallmark of the Osterbrock program is mentorship by proven leaders.  Three Astronomy faculty serve as Senior Fellows and interface with students daily. The Osterbrock Mentors Circle is composed of external advisors from business, government, science, and education who have expressed interest in sharing their leadership wisdom with aspiring students.  Long-term relationships with the Mentors and Senior Fellows foster friendships that can blossom into life-long bonds.  

Biographies of the current Fellows, Senior Fellows, and Mentors are found on neighboring webpages.