Astronomy 500: The Sloan Digital Sky Survey
Spring 2009
Wednesdays, 11:30 - 12:20, Astronomy #119
Instructor: Nicole Vogt

This class will focus on key discoveries from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), and on the four key projects which make up the SDSS-III program.

Performance will be judged on the basis of individual seminar presentations, verbal and written work related to the presentations of other students, and short weekly assignments.

You are responsible for reading the Presentation article(s) and websites each week, and for participating actively in discussion of each paper and/or project each week. Your written work also needs to be turned in on time. I emphasize the importance of doing so; it will be critical to maintaining the professional level of our seminar. Hard copies of key papers will be provided on request.

Presenters are expected to create a formal document for each talk, suitable for archiving. You may work in PowerPoint, Keynote, HTML, PDF, or any other common file format. If you are colour-blind, have your background and text colours vetted by an honest friend. Seminar presentations should be created for display with a laptop and projector; check that your laptop and projector of choice work well together a few days before you are going to speak. Make sure that there are no hardware issues, and also check that your colour-scheme and font size allow your slides to be read easily from twenty feet away.

I recommend reading at least one paper mentioned in the Introduction of your article (to establish context and motivation), and at least one paper mentioned in the Conclusions (to understand the implications of the work). Check for previous or later work from the same research group on this topic. Having done so, be sure to integrate this information into your presentation.

Your presentation should discuss the major conclusions of the papers, and place it in the context of its field. Theoretical papers should be examined for connections to actual data, in the form of testable predictions. What are the extended ramifications, if a particular theory is correct? What are the alternatives, if it is incorrect? For observational papers, it may be appropriate to walk through the observational and analysis techniques in detail. If you disagree with a paper, do not hesitate to criticize it!

As a general rule, show figures in your presentation but avoid including large tables of data (the audience cannot read them quickly, and will be far more interested in your conclusions than in the raw numbers). Try to create a figure of your own as part of your presentation, from data within the paper or a relevant connected work. Make sure that all axis labels and legends can be read from a distance (if a figure taken from a paper has too small labels, use text boxes to overwrite larger versions on your slides).

You may assume that your audience has read the paper once for themselves.

Practice your talk several times before you give it, so that you appear polished and can focus on communicating the science rather than reading the slides. Make eye contact with your audience, speak confidently (check that your tone of voice drops at the end of each sentence rather than rising, to communicate certainty rather than hesitation), and don't hesitate to call on members of the audience as appropriate. Remember that you will have spent more time thinking about your topic than anyone else in the room, so you are in the best position to guide the group towards greater insight.

Attendance at seminar is mandatory. Absences may be excused, for (a) a planned trip to a major telescope or a major scientific meeting in which you will play a significant role, or (b) an unplanned bout of diphtheria or other medical incident. Discuss case (a) scenarios with me well ahead of time.