Archive for RAS Club

Dress Codes

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , , , , , , , on January 11, 2013 by telescoper

Just time for a very quick one before I scoot off to London for this month’s Royal Astronomical Society meeting (and subsequent Club dinner).

Today is the last day of “Revision Week” so I had a two-hour revision class this morning. I gave my final proper lecture at Cardiff University before Christmas, in fact, but this morning was the last teaching of any sort I’ll be doing here before I move to Sussex at the end of the month. If any of the students taking The Physics of Fields and Flows happens to read this, then I wish them the best of luck in next week’s examination!

I won’t be able to mark the scripts (and thus find out how well they’ve all done) until I return from a trip to Brighton next week to carry out interviews for three lectureships in astronomy at Sussex recently advertised. I’m looking forward to that, but I think the three days will be just as gruelling for the panel as for the candidates.

There were some sarcastic comments at the start of today’s class about the fact that I was wearing a suit and tie. It reminded me of an old joke: “Q: What do you call a ‹insert name of institution> graduate who’s wearing a suit? A: The Accused.” I think I can guess which institution most Cardiff students would pick as the butt of that one.

In fact the reason I’m wearing a suit today is that there’s a dress code for the RAS Club, which dines at the Athenaeum. It’s not very strict, actually, just jacket-and-tie, but I usually dust off one of my suits for the occasion as I don’t mind dressing up now and again. The only other clubs I’ve been to that operate a dress code have been very different, but I’ll draw a hasty veil over that.

The RAS Club isn’t particularly posh, actually, nor is it as stuffy as people seem to think. This evening is the Parish Dinner at which the Club elects new members. It’s nice to see quite a few youngsters among the candidates, but the election procedure is so dotty it’s impossible to predict who will get in!

Coincidentally, I got an email about the dress code for next week’s interviews. “Smart casual”, apparently. Since I don’t really know what that means I think I’ll wear a suit, which presumably most of the male candidates will too.

It always seems to me rather peculiar, this thing of dressing up for interviews. The default style of dress for academics is “scruffy”, so it’s a bit odd that we all seem to pretend that it’s otherwise for interviews. I suppose it’s just to emphasize that it’s a formal occasion from the point of view of the interview panel, and to show that the candidates are taking it seriously. I don’t really pay much attention to what interviewees wear, other than that if they look like they’ve just been dragged through a hedge one might infer that they’re  a bit too disorganized even to be a member of the academic staff at a University or that they’re not really putting enough effort into the whole thing.

On the other hand, some people feel so uncomfortable in anything other than jeans and a T-shirt that putting on a suit would either be an unbearable ordeal for them or conflict with their self-image in some fundamental way. Neither of these are intended, so if that’s going to be the case for you, just dress as you normally do (but preferably with something reasonably clean).

This is the time of year that many undergraduate students are putting in their applications for PhD places too. I sometimes get asked (and did yesterday, in fact) whether a (male) candidate for a PhD place should wear a suit and tie for the interview. Having conducted interview days for many years at a number of different institutions, my experience is that a small proportion dress formally for PhD interviews than for job interviews. My advice to students asking about this is just to say that they should try to look reasonably presentable, but suit–and-tie are definitely not compulsory. It’s unlikely the staff interviewing you will dress formally, actually…

Anyway, my views may well differ from those of  my readers so here’s a poll.

I realise this post is written from a male perspective, as women’s clothes are a mystery to me. I hope someone can explain through the comments box what the equivalent categories are for female persons?  At least women are spared the choice of whether or not to wear a tie. Is there an equivalent quandary?


Astronomy in Darkness

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2012 by telescoper

Yesterday, being the second Friday of the month, was the day for the Ordinary Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society (followed by dinner at the Athenaeum for members of the RAS Club). Living and working in Cardiff it’s difficult for me to get the specialist RAS Meetings earlier in the day, but if I get myself sufficiently organized I can usually get to Burlington House in time for the 4pm start of the Ordinary Meeting, which is open to the public.

The distressing news we learnt on Thursday about the events of Wednesday night cast a shadow over the proceedings. Given that I was going to dinner afterwards, for which a jacket and tie are obligatory, I went through my collection of (rarely worn) ties, and decided that a black one would be appropriate. When I arrived at Burlington House I was just in time to hear a warm tribute paid by a clearly upset Professor Roger Davies, President of the RAS and Oxford colleague of the late Steve Rawlings. There then followed a minute’s silence in his memory.

The principal reaction to this news amongst the astronomers present was one of disbelief and/or incomprehension. Some  friends and colleagues of Steve clearly knew much more about what had happened than has so far appeared in the press, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to make these public at this stage. We will know the facts soon enough. A colleague also pointed out to me that Steve had spent most of his recent working life as a central figure in the project to build the Square Kilometre Array, which will be the world’s largest radio telescope. He has died just a matter of days before the announcement will be made of where the SKA will actually be built. It’s sobering to think that one can spend so many years working on a project, only for something wholly unforeseen to prevent one seeing it through to completion.

Anyway, the meeting included an interesting talk by Tom Kitching of the University of Edinburgh who talked about recent results from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Lensing Survey (CHFTLenS). The same project was the subject of a press release because the results were presented earlier in the week at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin, Texas. I haven’t got time to go into the technicalities of this study – which exploits the phenomenon of weak gravitational lensing to reconstruct the distribution of unseen (dark) matter in the Universe through its gravitational effect on light from background sources – but Tom Kitching actually contributed a guest post to this blog some time ago which will give you some background.

In the talk he presented one of the first dark matter maps obtained from this survey, in which the bright colours represent regions of high dark matter density

Getting maps like this is no easy process, so this is mightily impressive work, but what struck me is that it doesn’t look very filamentary. In other words, the dark matter appears to reside predominantly in isolated blobs with not much hint of the complicated network of filaments we call the Cosmic Web. That’s a very subjective judgement, of course, and it will be necessary to study the properties of maps like this in considerable detail in order to see whether they really match the predictions of cosmological theory.

After the meeting, and a glass of wine in Burlington House, I toddled off to the Athenaeum for an extremely nice dinner. It being the Parish meeting of the RAS Club, afterwards we went through a number of items of Club business, including the election of four new members.

Life  goes on, as does astronomy, even in darkness.

The Club Guest

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 15, 2010 by telescoper

Yesterday I went, as I do from time to time, to the Royal Astronomical Society’s monthly meeting and thence to the RAS Club for dinner. This was the last such meeting before the summer hiatus – they resume in October – and also incorporated the Society’s Annual General Meeting at which new officers are elected, amongst them the new President.  Andy Fabian was the outgoing President, having completed his two-year tour of duty, and he was replaced by Roger Davies.

It was also revealed at this meeting that next year’s National Astronomy Meeting would be in Llandudno. Usually this event is organized by a university and is held in a university town. This year it was in Glasgow, for example. However, the University of Sheffield has pulled out of organizing the 2011 NAM and no other was willing to take on the considerable task of organizing it at such short notice. It was therefore decided to break with tradition and hold the event not on a university campus but at a holiday resort. I’ve never been to Llandudno, but I think it could be great for us astronomers here in Wales to have the Principality host NAM. I suspect, however, that it wasn’t regional politics, but economics, that held sway in reaching the decision. Llandudno is perhaps a bit cheaper than most English seaside towns. I can already hear some of my English colleagues starting to whinge about how difficult it will be to get there, but we’ll see. I just hope I can persuade them to hold it outside Cardiff’s teaching term otherwise I won’t be able to  go even if it is in Wales.

It was interesting to learn about all these developments, and the subsequent Open Meeting was not without interest either. We had talks about volcanic ash (topical, that one), martian meteorites, high-altitude balloon flights and stellar disks. A mixed bag of talks, but all of them very enjoyable.

However, this meeting turned out to be remarkable for a completely different reason. At the end of one of the lectures in the open meeting, a strange woman entered the lecture theatre, walked down the aisle and took a seat in the front row. In fact she first tried to sit in Roger Davies’ seat – he was standing in order to supervise the question-and-answers at the end of the talk – but he asked her to move. Finding a free seat a bit further along,  she removed her hat and  proceeded to brush her hair ostentatiously. As the other talks went on she appeared to pay very little attention to them, preferring instead to look around the room.  I had never seen her before, but open meetings like this often attract visitors and in any case acting a bit strangely is by no means inconsistent with being an astronomer.

The Mystery Guest

After the meeting closed I went for a glass of wine to Burlington House and then to the Athenaeum. There was quite a crowd there and as usual we all had a glass of wine before sitting down. It was only when we started to eat that I realised that this mysterious lady (left) was actually sitting at another table. Since the RAS Club is for members (and their guests) only, I assumed she was with one of the invited speakers at the meeting who, as is usual in such cases, had been invited to the club afterwards as a club guest.

I thought nothing more about this until I saw the Club Treasurer, Margaret Penston, looking a bit agitated,  go to her table and ask The Mystery Guest a question. I couldn’t hear what. Our visitor then stood up, announced she had to be going and left quickly before anyone could do anything about it. It turned out she wasn’t anyone’s guest at all, but had just latched onto a group of people leaving for the club, each of whom assumed one of the others knew her. It being England, nobody asked her who she was or what she was doing there. I have no idea who she was or why she had decided to attach herself to the RAS Club that evening.

All this was hilarious enough but, after she’d gone, it emerged that she had paid for her dinner by “borrowing” money from a genuine club guest, an American astronomer who happened to be sitting next to her and to whom she had introduced herself as the “Contessa” of something or other. Our American friend may have thought it was all an elaborate practical joke, but he was clearly completely dumbfounded by the episode. The Club had a whip round to pay him back the money he had lent her.

On top of all this, some other members of the Club  then pointed out that she had done something  similar on at least three  previous occasions, in locations ranging from Paris to London. Why none of her previous victims had identified her yesterday and drawn attention to her past history I have no idea. If they had she would have been removed earlier.

If the relatively small gathering we had on Friday could furnish three previous examples of this kind of behaviour, then it seems likely that it’s part of a pattern. However, it doesn’t seem likely that she makes her living doing this sort of thing because she’s only  “borrowed” amounts from £5 to £70. Perhaps astronomers aren’t the best choice of target.

I wonder if anyone reading this blog recognizes her and can shed light on her curious behaviour?