Friday, September 21, 2007

Back home again

I survived my trip to the East Coast to serve on the telescope time allocation committee. It was a surprisingly interesting meeting, though exhausting. But I learned a lot about areas of astronomy where I knew little before, I learned a lot about the entire process of proposing to use telescopes, and I even saw some friends I hadn't seen for a long time.

As I said before, I can't talk very much about what happened. All of my notes and copies of proposals were left behind to be destroyed; all proposed ideas are secret, as are the titles of the proposals and even the other people on the review panel. So, there's not much I can say.

But I can report that I am happy with the professional way in which the entire job is handled. Often, scientists get accused of not even listening to ideas that differ from their own, yet I saw nothing approaching that at this meeting. If we were good friends, co-workers, or die-hard enemies of the author of a proposal, we had to leave the room while it was discussed. That way nobody would even be tempted (or unwittingly) prop up a mediocre proposal or to shoot down an otherwise good proposal.

The only bad thing about the week (and it didn't impact us, just the organizers), was how many astronomers were asked to attend and refused to do so. Sitting on these panels is a bit like jury duty -- it is a community responsibility, but few people really like to do it. Four days of my time went into this (two for travel), and none of my other work got done during that time. Many of those asked are probably legitimately busy -- teaching classes they can't get out of, or at the telescope, or at workshops. But many don't want to do the work, because it can be tedious, boring, and it takes time that could be put to more interesting uses. But, all in all, I had a very good experience. Would I do it again? Almost certainly. But I won't make panel reviews my career.

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