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Adam Yurkewicz | USLHC | USA

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On Waiting for Data

I was having a conversation at lunch recently with some people who are anxiously awaiting LHC data.  Okay, everyone wants data to analyze so we can discover the secrets of the universe, but the course of some people’s lives are determined by when, or whether or not, the LHC starts colliding particles, something completely outside their control.

Graduate students in physics typically take about 6 years to get a PhD.  If you take much longer than that, people may ask “what took you so long?” and overlook you for other positions later.  There is also the slight issue of living on a graduate student salary for longer than six years.  So with the LHC delay, many US graduate students (including one from the Stony Brook group I am a part of) who were doing research at the LHC and expecting to use data from the LHC are heading back to Fermilab in Illinois to do research using the Tevatron collider, which is recording data right now.  Most of these people preferred the physics of the LHC, but because of the LHC delays are choosing what is likely to be a quicker way out of graduate school.

Similar problems confront postdocs like me, who are waiting for data to improve our chances of landing another position in the field.  Some postdocs I’ve known, after waiting long enough, have decided to leave the field rather than wait any longer.  And of course there are plenty of non-tenured faculty waiting for data so they can get tenure at universities.

One question we spent quite a lot of time discussing at lunch was “do American students need data to graduate”?  It might seem obvious that you need data to do research but universities in Europe allow their PhD students to graduate using simulated data if no real data ia available.  They can develop calibration or other analysis strategies on simulated data, for example, that are later applied to real data.

Another question is whether this “real data” requirement of American universities will survive as experiments get bigger and bigger and timescales for them get longer and longer.  We didn’t come up with any answers, just more questions to ponder while waiting for data.

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