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The Department of Astronomy strives to maintain an inclusive and respectful climate, where all of its members feel valued, encouraged, and supported to achieve their best. We put every effort into ensuring that our environment is free from discrimination, intimidation, humiliation, and hostility. At the same time, we strive to protect scientific debate, constructive criticism, and differing opinions when respectfully delivered and argued.

All academic members of the department are required to abide by the principles of academic honesty, and our code of conduct mirrors the Code of Ethics set forth by the American Astronomical Society ( All new department members should familiarize themselves with the AAS Code of Ethics.

In addition, the University of Massachusetts Amherst has established a Student’s Code of Conduct that details expectations for all students associated with the university.

A recent development at UMass is the institution of a consensual relationship policy.

The principles, ideas, and requirements contained in the documents above hold for all members of the department.

Despite best efforts from all involved, unwanted situations may arise, which may be difficult for students to handle, as often an imbalance of power (e.g., a disagreement between a student and a faculty member) is involved. The next few sections describe how these situations will be handled for a variety of scenarios. For situations not covered by the list below, a student’s best resource is the astronomy graduate program director. If applicable or required, the head of the department will intervene in cases that cannot be handled by the astronomy graduate program director. Beyond the level of the department, additional resources are the director of diversity and inclusion at the UMass Graduate School and the associate dean for operations and graduate programs in the College of Natural Sciences.

What to Do in Case of Trouble

Sexual Misconduct

The graduate program director and the department head are both "Responsible Employees," meaning that they are mandatory reporters; as soon as they learn about a situation that falls under any of the categories listed on the Equal Opportunity and Access website, they need to report the potential incident. Other faculty are not mandatory reporters, so students can feel free to engage in confidential discussions with them. The GPD and the head cannot guarantee students' confidentiality, but both will do their utmost to help students through the situation they are facing.

Conflict with Your Supervisor/Advisor

In rare instances, a student may find themselves at odds with their supervisor/advisor. An example is when a faculty advisor believes the student is underperforming relative to expectations. Situations like this may create tension between the student and the advisor, and possibly anxiety in the student. Depending on the seniority of the student within the program, two courses of action may be available.

Students Not Yet Admitted to PhD Candidacy

(e.g., students working on the First or Second Year Research Project). In such cases, either the student or the faculty should meet with the graduate program director (or the department head, if appropriate) or the student’s General Mentoring Committee in order to find a reasonable solution to the conflict. Depending on the gravity of the tension/disagreement, the graduate program director may elect to involve the Graduate Program Committee, while ensuring the necessary confidentiality for the proceedings. Actions may include talking with the supervisor and helping update performance goals for the student.

In the most extreme cases, the student may be assigned to a new supervisor or to a co-supervisor. To ease anxiety, it should be recognized that a single faculty member has limited decision power over each individual student. As detailed in previous sections, admission to PhD candidacy is the result of a holistic review by the entire graduate faculty, where performance and accomplishments in coursework, journal clubs, research, research presentations, and exams are all considered. The entire graduate faculty vote on the admission to PhD candidacy of each student.

Students Who Have Been Admitted to PhD Candidacy

In the event of conflict, the first recourse for the student is to consult with the Dissertation Thesis Committee and ask them for guidance and course correction as necessary. The Dissertation Thesis Committee remains involved with the student’s scientific well-being and progress from the moment the committee is formed until the student successfully defends their dissertation. The Dissertation Thesis Committee may request that the faculty supervisor/advisor implements updates to the research plan to help the student towards a successful completion of the program. For this reason, it is in the student’s best interest to form a Dissertation Thesis Committee as soon as they are admitted to PhD candidacy. In case the Dissertation Committee is unable to resolve the issue, the same route outlined in point (a) above should be followed.

Intellectual Property/Plagiarism

In the field of astronomy, it is common for junior researchers to take leadership positions in publications if the junior researcher has produced most of the work reported in the paper, even if the original idea for the project is by a senior researcher working closely with the junior researcher. This is the case, for instance, of graduate students working with their advisors. Although not codified or mandatory, the faculty at the Department of Astronomy at the University of Massachusetts tend to follow this established custom.

For publications, all students in the program are expected to abide by the same standards of professional ethical conduct as the faculty. When submitting a paper or report for internal review or external publication, the student implicitly guarantees that the work contained in the report/paper is original and that any text or content reproduced from other papers is properly credited. While our program cannot police every single written scholarly paper produced by members of our department, journals, and online databases today employ very sophisticated programs to verify that the submitted manuscripts abide by common rules of original scholarly publication. Students found in violation of these rules will be first warned, and, in case of repeated behavior, dismissed from the program.