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Eating Too Many Nice Dinners… February 7, 2007

Posted by gordonwatts in physics life.

We are deep in the middle of faculty candidate interviews. These things are stressful for everyone — though mostly the candidates, of course! But one nice thing is the dinners. After the candidate gives their big colloquia talk they are taking out to dinner by the department. I know it is going to sound like I’m whining (yes, I am), but doing a nice dinner twice a week is more than I really like. On the other hand, the conversation is great.

These dinners are small and informal — about 6 people usually. The last two I’ve been to have been for the astrophysics candidates. At the first dinner we had, among other things, a huge discussion on what experiment currently on the blocks would be the next Gravity Probe B experiment. The reasons people thought it wasn’t a good experiment weren’t discussed at length at the meeting, but I assume it is because people figured out how to accomplish the same thing much more cheaply (i.e. on the ground instead of in space) and also beat the experiment to its results (Gravity Probe B has not yet released its results and has had a lot of trouble controlling systematics). Everyone had to pony up a guess. This dinner was last week, so I’ve conveniently forgotten the list. But it was a lot of fun.

Last nights dinner hit on another, related topic: Scientific Risk. When we judge grant proposals we often ask “how important is the science?” and “is this project technically feasible for the money requested?” Scientific risk asks the question: given this project will take 20 years to complete, what are the chances that someone else will come up with a clever way to do this experiment more cheaply? I didn’t realize how connected the two topics were until I did a little research on the Gravity Probe B experiment, but given the people were the same I guess it isn’t surprising.

The conversations are, of course, much more broad than what I’ve related here. But these were two things that really stuck in my mind. I think there are 3 more dinners before we are done…



1. Pyracantha - February 8, 2007

You wrote:
“The conversations are, of course, much more broad than what I’ve related here. But these were two things that really suck in my mind…”

I think you probably meant “two things that really STUCK in my mind…”?

2. gordonwatts - February 9, 2007

Ack! Yes, thanks. I’ll fix that! 🙂

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