Postcard from Swindon

Surprisingly I have got time for a quick post this morning after all. I got here to Polaris House before most of the rest of the Astronomy Grants Panel so I’ve got 5 minutes on the wireless to put something up. It turns out that my decision to come on an early morning train yesterday rather than come on Monday evening was the right one. The hotel we had been booked into, The Jury’s Inn, Swindon, was full up on Monday night so several of the panel people (who had been booked in for months) didn’t have the rooms they thought they had and had to go elsewhere for the night. When I checked in yesterday the coachloads of alleged Germans responsible for this debacle had left and I had no trouble. When I got to my room I discovered a bottle of wine which had been left there to apologize for the problems with my reservation on Monday night. Which I never had. I guess incompetence cuts both ways and I’m now a bottle of wine up out of the deal!

Anyway, we got through yesterday’s business reasonably well, although it was a long day and we were all flagging by the end. I guess that’s why they call it Swindon Wilts. We’re just about to commence Day Two so I’ve just got time to put up the following picture. For those of you who’ve never been to Swindon before, I believe this photograph conveys an accurate impression of what it’s like. This is the view through the rain from my hotel window yesterday evening.

13 Responses to “Postcard from Swindon”

  1. “Anyway, we got through yesterday’s business reasonably well, although it was a long day and we were all flagging by the end. ”

    With such long intense days, do you feel that the panel can do proper justice to every grant application? Of course I don’t know how the day works but if you are reviewing something whilst everyone is flagging, are you all giving it your ‘best’. I guess either the day’s workload is structured to avoid that sort of thing, or else there is some method of compensating?

    I don’t intend to besmirch the good intentions of the panel but one has to wonder whether over the course of several long days it is really true that everyone can have a fair crack of the whip even if you all think they can.

    Of course I don’t have an alternative solution to the current process.

    • While we’re on a coffee break let me just say that I do think each grant gets equal treatment. We do stop regularly to keep people fresh and break when it’s clear people are getting tired. In fact we worked about 9am to 6pm yesterday, which I think is reasonable.

      I should also point out that each proposal is visited several times just in case it looks like we may have been excessively hard (or soft). Doing everything together is the best way to ensure consistency of grading, I think. Of course the panel members spend a long time reading the proposals and expert referee comments, as well as doing independent scoring in advance of the meeting, so it’s not as if we come completely cold to the applications.

      No system operated by people can ever be perfect, of course, but we do know how important this process is and we do our best to do it as fairly as possible.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      I think Kav’s point was this, which I found fairly disturbing reading:

  2. Here’s a relevant Economist article about judges decisions, as a function of time of day and time since the last meal break:
    I always think about this in TAC meetings… perhaps awareness of the problem is the first step towards compensating for it!

    • For these reasons it is good to send your proposals in early.

      TACs (and other types of panels) tend to look at proposals in the order of the numbers assigned to them, and secretariats tend to assign these numbers in the order of arrival of the proposals.

      • …a better plan would be for applicants to anticipate that their applications might be read by someone who may be either tired or grumpy (or both) and to therefore try to present them in the clearest and most intelligible way.

        simple things like making sure the project sections are numbered and that these correspond to the numbering on all the attached charts/etc, would go a long way. i’m not going to mention not “overbidding” because i might break the keyboard…


      • I would suggest “reading the guidance” might be a good idea, but fear it may be too daring an innovation for some applicants to cope with.

      • Here’s another radical suggestion. When asking for a PDRA, why not outline what they are actually going to do?

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    Postwar town planners did a lot more damage to English cities than Hitler ever managed.

  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    See also

    Can be had on YouTube also…

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