Community Meeting

There have been plenty of interesting results in talks and posters announced at the UK National Astronomy Meeting. At the same time there has been the looming STFC Community Forum where the plebs - people like me - get to here what the powers-that-be at STFC have to say first hand. I wasn't expecting too much from Keith Mason given his public responses and he lived up to that expectation. I won't go into the whole meeting here as it was twittered and Chris blogged live so check those out.

One question, or rather answer, that particularly caught my attention originated from a solar physics student. He said "As a PhD student in solar physics and one who is, or certainly was, looking at having a long career in this area my question is: why, considering the current climate, should I and other students take the risk of continuing to do research in this area?". This brought a round of applause from the audience. Walter Gear and Mike Bode (great astronomers) said that he should continue because there are some solar space missions coming up (e.g. Zeus) and there is lots of work within Europe on this area.

After a further comment by the PhD student, John Womersley - Director of Science Strategy at STFC - said "You should do this because it is fun, because it is rewarding to you personally, because you enjoy it...". The PhD student interrupted him by saying "That is true but I do need to live as well". John Womersley then responded by saying "Absolutely but, you know, if you cared about money you wouldn't be a scientist at all". I can't quite convey how condescending and insulting I found that response, even though I know it was probably meant to be a sympathetic and humorous one, so I won't try.

Given that we appear to be able to do nothing about the current funding situation I have my own questions for STFC. What is STFC doing now to ensure a good result for particle physics and astronomy in the next Comprehensive Spending Review period in less than three years time? Are they lobbying government explaining why the areas of science they cover are so important or useful? Are they explaining the importance of blue skies research for the long-term benefit of society vs solely focussing on short-term economic gain? Will they tell government about all the great research done on relatively small grants in the UK?
I'm happy to be positive, to help do some of this but I want to know that the person at the top actually cares too. I have the impression that Keith Mason just wants us plebs to do all this for him.

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Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Friday 04th Apr 2008 (00:35 BST) | Permalink
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