July 17, 2006
Experimental particle physics is a very social endeavor. We love to see each other so much that we schedule lots of meetings, from small person-to-person get-togethers to huge conferences. It’s just so much fun to sit in windowless rooms!
One common form of assembly is the Collaboration Meeting. Every collaboration has a Meeting. It occurs with some frequency, which is set by the difficulty of getting everyone together in the same place at once. Mega-international collaborations have them relatively infrequently, sometimes in pretty places on different continents from the actual experiment.
The Collaboration Meeting, as a platonic form, is a forum where all the people involved in an experiment get together, catch up with the latest status of everything, plan for the future, and have a jolly good time too. Papers are approved, votes are taken, decisions of far-reaching import are made. The Collaboration is, for a shining instant, realized as a single entity. Needless to say it’s usually less exciting.
CLEOns, being a gregarious bunch, want to have collaboration meetings all the time, sometimes twice in one month. Where other experiments may have three a year, we had eleven in 2005. Since many of us are on-site here in Ithaca, and most of the remainder are in the northeast or midwest, it’s relatively easy for lots of us to come and take part in the excitement. Our meetings are so frequent, in fact, that the physics groups (e.g. bottomonium or hadronic D decays) meet on the same schedule to review the progress of analyses; we don’t hold with this weekly physics meeting nonsense that CDF engages in — once a month’s good enough.
A frequent CLEO meeting scenario goes like this. You are a poor grad student/postdoc, working hard on your analysis, but distracted as always by other responsibilities. A few months/weeks before a meeting, someone (your advisor/the Analysis Coordinator/a random faculty member from another institution) starts dropping broad hints/threats that it would be really nice if, you know, you could have some numbers ready for a conference two months from now, which means you have to have them approved for public release during the next meeting.
So you work really hard and succeed/fail in getting everything ready. If the first, you give a plenary talk (in principle to the whole collaboration) on your work, where you will promptly be asked lots of questions which you may or may not be prepared to answer. The questions need not actually relate to your work, in which case members of the audience will proceed to have irrelevant arguments while you stand in front of everybody, hiding your distress, wishing you were eating one of those nice donuts they provide in the mornings instead. If you didn’t quite make it to plenary talk level, you go through the same thing, except it’s now a parallel-session physics group talk instead. This will all most likely happen on a Friday.
On Saturday, you come in early in the morning and sit in a large room on the 7th floor of a different building. The power outlets are pretty much all in the back of the room. A continuous strip of tables is set up there, in front of the windows; a long row of people sit here, their backs to the outside, facing the speakers but looking intently at their laptop monitors the entire morning. You will listen to talks on the status of the accelerator, detector, and software (useful) and then be asked to vote on papers you haven’t read, didn’t know existed, but have your name on anyway (er…) Then there will be a lunch featuring ice cream sandwiches, in all probability.
On the whole, collaboration meetings are fun if you’re not presenting anything. If you are, they can be stressful deadlines, just another rung in the infinite ladder of similar-yet-not-identical talks one seems to always be giving on the same topic. But, when they’re over, you get to pay attention to other things again, like blogs.