Opinion

Letters to the Editor—May 11, 2020

Physics 13, 77
This week’s letters include a message from an eight-month denizen of the South Pole, a student in Rwanda, and a researcher in Ireland.

Physics and APS News are sharing letters from physicists about their experiences during the pandemic.

An Expert at Isolating

I am a “winterover” for the IceCube neutrino experiment at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Along with about 40 other people, I’m here for eight months over the winter season, and a big part of the hiring and training process was mental preparation for the long stretch of isolation. For me, the biggest hurdles in isolation are boredom and loneliness. Down here, the internet is on less than half the time, so having something to do when I'm bored is very important. I prepared by bringing several longish projects: I enjoy coding and decided to learn some new programming libraries and analysis techniques. I have multiple different projects so that if I’m not interested in one, I can focus on the others. As for isolation, I have been keeping online contact with many people up north. Talking to old friends and hearing how they are doing mostly fills the need for human contact. The hardest part was missing the holidays with family and friends. Having a phone call on those days was essential.

Good luck up North.

John Hardin is a researcher at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica.

Quicker Publication, or Not?

The office of the prime minister of Rwanda announced the first lockdown associated with the pandemic on 21 March. Since then, students who are in my doctoral program have continued to work at their homes because their work mainly consists of reading and writing. During the lockdown, they submitted research to journals for review and publication. Because of the lockdown around the world, they thought that reviewers would have more time to comment on manuscripts, and that this feedback would be communicated more quickly than ever before. Is that a misconception?

Ndihokubwayo Kizito is a Ph.D. student in physics education in the African Center of Excellence for Innovative Teaching and Learning Mathematics and Science (ACEITLMS) at the University of Rwanda-College of Education (URCE).

The April Meeting Goes Virtual

I recently attended the APS Virtual April Meeting, the first of what I'm sure will be many virtual conferences this summer. It was a good template for other large virtual meetings.

In addition to the video feed for a talk, there was a text box where participants could ask questions and discuss the presentation. This feature worked well and mimicked the experience at an actual talk. (In the Division of Gravitational Physics (DGRAV), we also had a Slack channel for post-talk discussion.) There were fewer issues with clashing talks in parallel sessions—you could simply pause one talk to watch another. Unfortunately, many of the pre-recorded talks weren’t integrated into the live sessions. Perhaps in the future they could be, with the speaker available for questions via phone or text.

Of course, what’s missing is the discussion and networking that occurs between talks, and over coffee breaks, lunches, and dinners. This activity probably cannot be completely replaced in a virtual setting. But it would be good to come up with ways to somehow facilitate it.

Virtual attendance at live talks has always seemed like an afterthought, but the April Meeting showed that it can work. Incorporating it into face-to-face meetings in the future would be great. That way, those who cannot travel because of teaching, family, or other reasons can still contribute.

Niels Warburton is a Royal Society–Science Foundation Ireland University Research Fellow at University College Dublin, Ireland. He gave his first virtual seminar a few weeks ago.


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