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Remember, remember the 5th of December

December 2 2013 , Written by Wing-Fai Thi

When I say “ALMA proposal”, my colleagues respond ironically “good luck”. Not one, not two, but many of them. Strange because luck is probably one the last words you might expect when you talk about science. At first I thought that they actually meant “Godspeed” but God has nothing to do with observing proposal either.

While playing poker instead of working on my proposals (I am not going to work on a Friday evening!), I started to develop an alternative view. Getting ALMA time is like winning at a poker game. Both require a combination of luck, psychology, and strategic thinking.

In Texas hold’hem poker, players share a number of cards, which in combination with the two you have can make a winning hand. In science, ideas are exchanged and discussed among colleagues. There are the common cards. Then you add your own ideas. The luck is that the common ideas and yours can make together a great hand/observing proposal.

You guess your opponents’ hand from their behaviour; this is psychology. In writing proposals, you like to speculate how the committee will judge them; this is psychology as well.

The strategic thinking is to adapt your playing style (proposal style and tone) to win with the limited information you have.

On the 5th of December, we should celebrate the end of the ALMA craziness by making a bonfire.

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