14 Mar 08, 12:09pm, Ilana Feain


I would like to respond to two points:

Firstly to the sentiment that enthusing and motivating future astronomers is
merely a great and laudable side effect but cannot be an important focus of
operating a National Facility. This is a dangerous direction to take. And one
that the Operations Document does not appear to endorse given their explicit
support for "studentship schemes" and "continued practical hands on experience
in observing and data reduction for Students".

We heard only a few weeks ago from the ATNF summer students how important they
viewed the telescopes and how motivated they were to go on to do astronomy PhDs
because of their time at the observatories. Motivation is an essential part of
any career choice. Whilst enthusing future astronomers might well give us all
warm and fuzzy feelings in the pits of our stomachs, it is absolutely an
essential part of recruiting (top) people into astronomy and it is absolutely
the responsibility of the ATNF. If ATNF, as a division of Australiaís only
national science agency, is not enthusing and motivating future radio
astronomers as a matter of policy, then who is? I did not learn the principles
of practical radio astronomy from a University course. I learned them from
dedicated mentors, supervisors, observatory staff and synthesis schools all
based around ATNF who have done a wonderful job in recruiting and retaining
students. ATNF are hoping to lead the way over the next few decades in planning
and building a (multi)billion dollar telescope to solve the big questions in
radio astronomy. It will be precisely these postdocs, PhD students and the next
generation of astronomers (and generation after that) who will actually be
doing the science.

I personally would go further still and argue that ATNF should be motivating,
exciting and educating future scientists. And not just for the benefit of
astronomy, but as means of inspiring astute people into science careers in
general.

Second, in regards to the suggestion that those who remote observe using laptops
are actually sleeping or watching TV or being any less responsible than they
would otherwise be in an SOC or control room. There are some good reasons
already mentioned by Simon and others for not encouraging laptop observing to
be the "typical" observing strategy, but a criticism of complacency is unfair.
The ATCA is inherently safe to use and the only mistakes that usually occur
effect the number of photons you record into a file. If you don't stow in high
winds, the telescopes will stow for you anyway. If you don't stow before a
thunderstorm, there are now multiple redundancies in place to remind you to do
so (and a software stow like the wind stow no doubt could be put in place). The
ATCA is a friendly and easy facility to use and one that prides itself on
having excellent monitoring software (MONICA).

Whether you are sitting in the control room, observerís area, an offsite SOC or
remote observing from one's laptop wherever in the world you happen to be
(particularly if you are Tasso!), observing is inherently safe as long as one
is being attentive and responsible.


>
>Juergen is certainly raising an important issue. But can you put a pricetag on
>teaching a PhD student to take on responsibility by practising with equipment
>worth millions of dollars? We are a research organisation that provides the
>tools and means for astronomers to obtain their data with. If as a side effect
>we manage to enthuse and motivate future astronomers then I personally think
>that is great, and certainly laudable, but it cannot be at the focus of
>operations.
>
>Due to a number of constraints, we cannot offer serviced observations at this
>point, and thus we depend on observers being trained "on the job" and
>super-observers (DA's) to supervise the facilities during off hours. I
>completely understand that emotions are peaking for those who enjoy these
>activities. Most observers, as can easily be seen from the responses on this
>forum, enjoy travelling to the observatories, be it Narrabri or Parkes. But
>what if our operational constraints demand that we streamline operations? Would
>you rather lose the option to travel to the telescope, or some of its key
>functionality (or the telescope altogether!)?
>
>It is no secret that ASKAP and SKA will be operated in a different mode, and I
>see Simon Johnston's point on why should the observer have to travel at all, if
>all they do is sit in a control room in Sydney which is just as remote as their
>home institutions.
>
>I believe you are not paying due respect to the human factors element. When you
>are operating the telescope, you as the observer are in command of a
>tremendously dear asset. If you fail to stow in time when a massive storm is
>coming on, you do run the risk of contributing instrumentally to major damage
>happening. That is why coming to Sydney and sitting in an operations room is a
>good idea: You are in touch with the action. You are reminded that you are
>supposed to be monitoring the telescope, and not writing a paper or waiting for
>the assistance bell to wake you.
>
>Another important HF element is the ability to interact person to person: It has
>been shown time and time again that neither phone nor video conference can
>replace a face to face meeting. We are all people in the end, and obtaining a
>system status caution over a cup of coffee sure beats reading about it in an
>email (which contains dozens of other, non-pertinent information tidbits).
>
>Let's assume for arguments sake that remote controlled passenger airplanes were
>the norm, would you rather have the pilots sit in a designed "ground flight
>deck", or at home with a laptop watching TV?
>
>Cheers
>
>- Balt