Tuesday, January 19, 2021

JWST doesn't have a problem? Happy to be proven wrong.

I wrote a blog post in 2020 (that's SO last year) about my worry for the JWST. It came partly out of a place of frustration of the past semester. 

The deadline was...not at a great time. But I would be hard pressed to point to a time this academic year that would have been good. Or even okay.

So maybe it partly was a Lucy-with-the-ball problem? Would the deadline be postponed at the last minute? During the semester from hell, we were kinda hoping for it? And there was precedence for this with the last Cycle 1 deadline. So anyone strapped for time/focus/mental energy would think twice about writing a proposal from scratch. 

So there was a timing problem and a hype problem. 

Timing - well 2020. Pandemic. Some light sedition. It's hard to think ahead 1.5 years into the future and about science. Nothing really that the JWST project could have done. Well maybe not announce at the beginning of my semester, expecting a result at the end. Still. Act of Deity kind of situation. 

Hype -- there was some clear group think for a sustained amount of time that sort of hinted at a HUGE oversubscription of JWST in the first call. Big instrument, big science, lots of time already allocated. It made sense. One could point to C28 for Hubble where the rate went to 1:12. Not great for science since it becomes hard to gamble with the time and do something truly new. 

But this (mostly over twitter but also back when talking to people in person. I miss people. And talking science in person), was the hype that built. Not all of it came from non-JWST folks too. So to me, looking from afar (like hinterland afar) started to conclude that this was going to be intense

Part of the hype was a byproduct of JWST project doing its due diligence. No these were not HST proposals, yes you need to do more work upfront. Get on this now now now

So time to adjust the recommendations.

More lead time? If there is nothing else to be done, announcing at the beginning of a typical academic semester and expecting proposals at the end...yeah the call could open earlier. Oh who are we kidding? We know how astronomers work...we've seen the plot. It could work in theory.

Set expectations? Also not something the JWST project was super keen on. What if they low or high balled their oversubscription prediction. Still. 4:1 is fine?

Split phase 1 and 2. Honestly I still don't understand why this decision to combine was made. 

Rolling or mid-cycle proposals. 1.5 years till science operation is a long time. More science might happen. I might actually sleep well for a night (more likely after jan 20 for some reason) and come up with a decent science case. Either call it early cycle 2 or simply adopt the mid-cycle proposals. 

So the news that I am now seeing (still via twitter, still from a lonely hill in the hinterland) is that it was a solid cycle. 30% women PIs (comparable to HST C28) and a nice spread of geography and new users. Whether it included people from all career stages is something I am curious about. Also curious if it was all R1s or if there was a decent spread too. Not all my questions have been answered yet. But I clearly was too pessimistic last time. Hurray. Happy to be wrong. 

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