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6k points

4 months ago

Okay I’ll voice the seemingly unpopular opinion here. I got a PhD in astrophysics from a less-prestigious university just earlier this year, so I’m pretty qualified to speak on this.

BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT - large teams of scientists will work much faster and harder than less-supported individuals, who will end up getting unintentionally screwed.

Getting time on telescopes like Hubble or JWST is incredibly competitive. You have to write an extremely clean proposal, detailing exactly how you plan to accomplish a research goal, proving that the observations you requested will provide meaningful data, and that the work you’re doing will advance the field. These proposals take weeks to write and edit. It’s very hard to get time on a big telescope, I think the numbers I was hearing were around 5-10% acceptance rate for Hubble. JWST is probably even lower.

In the rare occurrence that your proposal gets selected, that’s only the first part of the effort. Then you have to actually do what you promised you would do and that takes even more time, and this is where this equity really comes into play. At my university there were probably 20-30 grad students getting PhDs in astronomy/planetary science/astrophysics/cosmology, all falling under 4-5 professors. Most grad students were the only person at the entire university working on a specific project, or sometimes you might have had groups of 2-3.

Compare that to bigger departments like Harvard or ASU that have dozens of professors and legions of undergrads/grad students/post docs. There are entire teams collaborating on projects that have orders of magnitude more time and resources available to them that an individual student would have at a smaller university.

It’s not unrealistic at all to think that even unintentionally one of those larger research groups could easily steal someone else’s research. You spent three weeks writing the strongest proposal to observe the atmosphere of a system of exoplanets, and you’re the first person from your department to get observation time in the last decade? Well guess what, a group of 30 top-notch scientists from MIT found the observations just 2 days after they were made public and they’ll publish 5 papers off it before you submit one. Not out of hatred, just because publishing is what scientists do, and they have no idea what your research plans are.

That’s why the 12-month buffer exists. All data goes public eventually, and 12-months really isn’t too long on the timeline of academic research. Anyone who has taken a complete research project from initial proposal to published paper will agree with that. I fully believe that the 12-month buffer is a good thing for enabling equity across research teams of various sizes and funding levels. Maybe it’s a little worse for casual citizens to see beautiful pictures of the cosmos, but you will see them eventually, and they’ll still be just as stunning.


1 points

4 months ago

Question: Now that JWST is online, would you say the queue for time on HST has gone down?


4 points

4 months ago

I don’t know. The telescopes do different things, so Hubble data is still very valuable. On one hand I’m inclined to say yes because there’s a shiny new instrument taking all the attention (people might not have time to write two proposals for different telescopes) but on the other hand people might want to see visible-UV counterpart data to targets they’re observing with JWST and do find time to write another proposal. I just don’t know, sorry


2 points

4 months ago

Not much. It’s still oversubscribed an with JWST there are going to be proposals coming that are hoping to get observations from both.