I’m writing this on the train between London and Toronto, on my way to a townhall meeting for the Canadian Astronomical Society’s Mid-Term Review of its Long-Range Plan for Canadian astronomy. (The train is travelling northeast and there is a beautiful sunrise going on, which I am trying to glance at while typing.) The idea of these long-range plans is that the kinds of research facilities that astronomers want—mostly telescopes, but also computing facilities and other such—take a long time and a lot of money to build. We can’t just go hat-in-hand to our funders every time we want to get involved in a new project; there is never enough money and so we need to decide as a community what it is that we want, in what priority order. Astronomers in other countries do this as well (e.g., US astronomy, US planetary science, Australia, France) but to my knowledge this kind of exercise is less common in other scientific fields. Makes sense; astronomers rely on shared infrastructure to a much greater extent than in fields where every PI has their own lab and equipment.
Two Canadian LRP reports have been produced: one in 2000, and one in 2010. The idea of the mid-term review is to take stock of how we are doing with achieving the priorities of the previous plan, and see whether there are new opportunities that need to be considered. Back in December a number of white papers were written by members of the community—generally these are along the lines of ``here is why my favourite science/facility/etc is great and should be funded’’. Now the MTR panel is having meetings with as many Canadian astronomers can come, to discuss the white papers and see what the sense of the community is. In a four-and-a-half time-zone country, having only 3 town hall meetings is arguably inadequate (admittedly there aren’t too many astronomers in the half time zone) but we run things on a pretty bare-bones budget in this country.
Looking at the list of speakers for the meeting I am going to, I have to say that I expect to see a lot of the same faces from previous meetings. So is it worthwhile going? I think so—meetings are still useful for the face-to-face conversations that you just can’t have easily over email or a time-constrained telecon. We can talk about things that we don’t want to write down in case they come back to haunt us later, like our ‘Plan B’ for what happens if our number-one priority project isn’t funded, or what we really think about funding agency X. And, not least, I think building community with colleagues that we don’t see every day, or even every year, is important: it’s hard to advocate for a facility you’re going to share with people you don’t know! We’ll see how the day goes and possibly I’ll report back tonight. In the meantime, if you are reading this soon after I post it, the talks are supposed to be streamed here in case you want to follow along.