Archive for April 21, 2011

Astronomy Look-alikes, No. 56

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 21, 2011 by telescoper

It’s been mentioned by quite a few people that Professor Iwan Williams (formerly of Queen Mary, University of London, now retired) bears something of a resemblance to Chief Inspector Morse (formerly of Thames Valley C.I.D.)…

Inspector Morse

Iwan Williams

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Community Matters

Posted in Education, Science Politics with tags , , on April 21, 2011 by telescoper

Well, here I am back in sunny Cardiff after a pleasant journey back from Llandudno and a very enjoyable and productive National Astronomy Meeting. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved at the Royal Astronomical Society in putting the programme together and doing a huge amount of work behind the scenes. The staff at the Venue Cymru in Llandudno were very friendly as well as highly professional and well organised, and everything seems to run exceptionally smoothly.

Oh, and I shouldn’t forget the conference dinner on Tuesday night, which ended with a serenade from the magnificent Maelgwyn Male Voice Choir. It was fitting to have the chance to experience a fine Welsh tradition, and I thought they were wonderful to listen to.

Anyway, I might get a bit of time over the Easter break to comment on some things that struck me over the course of the past week but for today – because I’m quite tired after the journey (and several late nights at NAM) – I thought I’d just comment a bit further on the first session I attended, on Monday evening, attended by various representatives of STFC, at which John Womersley gave a presentation about the status of various projects in the existing astronomy programme and prospects for the future. It was clear from that presentation that there are many challenges ahead, but I was relieved that the atmosphere of the meeting wasn’t anything like as confrontational as on many previous occasions. This process of reconciliation will no doubt take futher steps forward when the new Chief Executive takes over next year.

Drinking in the bar much later in the evening with a number of senior figures from diverse branches of astronomy the issue arose of the now notorious petition that George Efstathiou blogged about in a guest post some time ago. Two things are now clear about this initiative. One is that it caused deep ructions within the astronomical community, with a number of senior figures vociferously both for and against it – even within the same department. When I revealed that I had signed it myself, a few of the assembled company expressed their views in forthright language about why I had been wrong, but I have to say without much coherence in the actual logic.

The other thing that emerged during the STFC session was an explicit acknowledgment that the petition had, in one particular respect, made a very big difference, namely that the criteria for the appointment of the next Chief Executive of STFC specifically took into account some of the comments made in it.

Anyway, the point of raising the dreaded petition is not to rake over this whole business but simply to try to put it to rest. We need to move on, and should be trying to heal any wounds that it may inadvertantly have caused. There are definitive signs that the STFC Executive is now really starting to listen, so now there’s a chance to really engage with them through the channels they are opening up rather than having to resort to extreme measures such as George’s petition.

Oh, and I’ll just remind anyone who is interested in the vacancy at the top of STFC that the deadline for applications is April 28th….

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