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Monica Dunford | USLHC | USA

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Organizing Fairness

Once, a very long time ago, I made the personal resolution that my job would never require making or looking at charts like this

I thought. Physics, that is the complete opposite of practical. That is perfect.

Yet, even in Physics, management tasks are necessary. And I have clearly failed in this resolution. Because I have to deal with charts like this all the time.

The surprising thing is that once you start making organizational charts like this, you can really get into them. I mean, I have had hours of conversations with people about whether or not this line should be dashed versus solid. Or do we call it a ‘shift’ versus a ‘task’? Or should we name this ‘Data-Quality Validation’ or ‘Detector-Quality Assessment’? These are very important questions.

Life in high-energy physics is in many ways just like any other job. There are the things that everyone wants to do. Like discover Supersymmetry and win the Nobel Prize. And there are the things that nobody wants to do but are absolutely necessary to be done. Like spending hours and hours in the control room making sure the detector is working properly.

And in this field, we believe very strongly that every person must do his/her fair share of the dirty work.

Therefore to monitor ‘fairness’ within ATLAS, my all-time favorite acronym was created: OTSMOU.

This stands for ‘Operation Task Sharing and Maintenance and Operation Update’. If you have no idea what that means, you are not alone. No one else on ATLAS does either.

I love OTSMOU, I really do. Because it offers such an excellent anthropological insight into the inner working of physicist’s mind. The purpose of OTSMOU is to ensure that there is an even distribution of dirty work (or more politely service work) for all physicists. In other words, no one gets to eat the cake without having helped set-up for the party first. It sounds like a simple task in principle, but it has been attacked with the same statistical methods and precision as searches for new physics. Different jobs and people have different weights. We have ‘tasks’ versus ‘privileges’. We have charts (like above) to display how the different tasks fit into the ‘big picture’. We have graphs and distributions to plot all the results (by funding agency even).

Fairness, like so many other aspects in life, is one of those things which theoretically is so simple to understand and yet requires very complicated software to actually achieve.



4 Responses to “Organizing Fairness”

  1. MP Lockwood says:

    Ha. As an art school grad I have worked in plenty of temp jobs where I am basically revising and re-revising powerpoint/Visio/etc. charts like this based on some peoples’ whims. Trust me, I have spent DAYS changing solid lines to dashed lines and back again, and back again, and again…

  2. Mike says:

    “And there are the things that nobody wants to do but are absolutely necessary to be done. Like spending hours and hours in the control room making sure the detector is working properly.”

    Getting the detector to work properly is the best part of my day.

    Just trying to keep people out of the control room, Monica?

  3. But who was the one who "really" did the work? says:

    What drives me crazy is when people outside of particle physics take our alphabetical author lists to task. “Who wrote the paper?” they ask. “Sure, all the grunt work is necessary, but why should someone who wrote calibration code be considered an author on a paper about the physics result?”

    But thinking about “the paper”… The other thing that drives me crazy (and perhaps fits better with Monica’s post) is when people waste time YEARS ahead of the paper being published arguing over the org chart that determines the publication path for the paper. Should the final decision about publication be made by the physics review committee or the scientific oversight board? And should the convener of the topic working group who attends the meetings of the scientific oversight board be allowed to vote?

    Apologies to any collaboration that actually happens to have a (sob) SOB. The names were intended to be merely representative.

  4. geez says:

    After reading your post, I was amused to immediately come across this small passage from Stanislaw Ulam regarding life at Los Alamos:

    “This spirit of team work must have been characteristic of life in the nineteenth century and was what made the great industrial empires possible. One of its humorous side effects in Los Alamos was a fascination with organizational charts. At meetings, theoretical talks were interesting enough to the audience, but whenever an organizational chart was displayed, I could feel the whole audience come to life with pleasure at seeing something concrete and definite.”

    Plus ça change…

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