For a 43-year-old staff physicist, presenting a poster is not a particularly prestigious task, although it is definitely not a shame either. Posters are normally prepared by students, who thereby get a chance to discuss their work at scientific conferences without the need to demonstrate any rethorical skills in an oral presentation in front of an audience. Despite my middle age, I have never presented a poster before, so I still take it as a welcome addition to my experiences.
The story is the following. I wanted to represent the CMS collaboration at a physics conference: that is something I had never done before, too. During the last fifteen years I have represented my other experiment, CDF, at more than a dozen conferences around the world, but I never spoke on behalf of CMS, and I decided it was due time to start doing it. I made a small list of conferences that interested me, and I applied to give talks there.
Speakers for conference talks (as well as for posters) are assigned by a specific committee in CMS: you need to apply, and they select you based on your contributions to the experiment, your career needs, and other criteria. The committee turned down my application a few times, and at some point I got discouraged: it sort of looked as if they did not love the idea of giving me a talk, or anyway did not consider me worthy enough or in need of the exposure. So, in an attempt to test whether there was some sort of a veto on my name, I included in my applications PIC 2009, where only abstracts for posters had been sent. And I was selected.
The reason why I came up with the idea that there might have been some negative bias against my name has to do with some turbulence connected with my activities in, guess what, this blog. I know enough of the internal mechanisms of big collaborations to claim I am not paranoid if I say it was a legitimate suspicion: besides, from the outside I myself would indeed have some initial doubts on whether somebody who has built his or her own audience on the internet and has the privilege to speak freely about collaboration business -and does it a times, occasionally even managing to piss somebody off- is or is not the best choice to represent the collaboration at an official event. In any case, whether it was just a product of my imagination or not, I was able to apply some PR skills during the last few months, and maybe change the perception of my blog by the leaders of the experiment.
Either way, going to PIC 2009 to present a poster might be well seen as a castigation rather than a prize. Jokes aside, in the end I was asked to present a second poster along with the first, because there was a dearth of candidates willing to travel to Japan for the less-than-exciting job of standing in front of the wall waiting for anybody still not bored to death and unwilling to siege the refreshments table.
My two posters are both about Higgs boson searches at the LHC, with the CMS experiment. One deals with the explicit discussion of three search strategies that have recently been approved by CMS; the second focuses on the statistical issues connected with the combination of the H->WW and H->ZZ channels, and presents expected exclusion limist achievable with one inverse femtobarn of proton-proton collisions (data we might collect in one year at start-up), for two different center-of-mass energies. The caveat is that the considered energies of the approved material I could use for my posters are 14 and 10 TeV, respectively, while recently the LHC management has decided we will start data taking with 3.5 TeV beams, for a total 7 TeV energy.
So in a way, all the results I will be showing are out-dated. However, it means little, since they do not deal with real data anyway: they only discuss the potential of CMS, and an extrapolation down from 10 to 7 TeV is not that hard to perform on the back of an envelope...
I will show my posters in a separate article tomorrow. If you are interested, please drop by!