by Virginia Greco. Published: 13 May 2018

During the latest Collaboration Meeting, the ALICE Juniors organized a common visit to the underground facility and the exhibition at point 2. They also discussed other interesting initiatives. 

The ALICE Juniors are a very active community bringing together the members of the Collaboration that are studying for their Bachelor or Master Degree or for their PhD, or that have completed the latter since no more than five years. On the occasion of each ALICE Collaboration Meeting (ALICE week), they organize a ‘Juniors’ Day’, the agenda of which includes talks, discussions and other activities. A session is dedicated to technical presentations by some of the group members, who report on their latest work. The organizers also take care of inviting a speaker external to the Juniors community to address a topic of interest – often a non-technical one. Since the Juniors have representatives with voting rights in the Collaboration Board (CB), they also profit of this gathering to discuss subjects that will be addressed or voted in the following CB meeting. In the evening, they usually have an informal dinner all together at CERN Restaurant 1.

During the latest ALICE week – held in March at CERN – the schedule of the Juniors’ Day included a special activity: the visit to the underground facility and the new ALICE exhibition. In fact, even though they pursue their research on the ALICE experiment, it is not uncommon that students who are not resident at CERN never have the occasion to go underground. This is for a mix of causes: mainly, the fact that the cavern is accessible only for short periods and that many of them come to CERN very rarely – mostly to cover their due quota of shifts in the control room.

Therefore, last March more than twenty Junior members visited the underground experimental facility – a few of them for the first time – as well as the exhibition. Despina Hatzifotiadou guided them together with Markus Zimmermann.[1]This initiative originated from an idea of Grazia Luparello, the former Run Coordinator,’ comments Mike Sas, one of the Juniors’ representatives, together with Erin Gauger and Jeremy Wilkinson. ‘We had a first ‘trial’ in January, during the ALICE mini-week, but only a very few Juniors could join. In March, more people were around because of the Collaboration Meeting, thus the activity was much more successful’.  Because of the good feedback, new visits will be organized during the future ALICE weeks, as long as the cavern is accessible. The next spot will be, of course, next year.

This is just one of the many interesting initiatives that the Juniors put in place. Recently, for example, they have introduced an application for internal messaging based on Mattermost, which is an open source software developed by an US-based company as an alternative to commercial internal messaging applications.

We wanted to have a chatroom where the junior members could communicate in a more casual and fast way than by email,’ explains Jeremy Wilkinson, who followed this project. ‘Users need to be registered at CERN and the access to our space is given by sending them an invitation link.’ Mattermost allows creating various chatrooms and, thus, parallel threads of discussion about different topics. In this way, any member can decide to follow only some chats while ignoring the others; on the contrary, when a mailing list is used for various topics, everybody receives many messages they might not be interested in. This system is also more convenient than teleconferences, because there is no need to find a time spot that fits in everybody’s schedule: any member can intervene in the discussions at any moment and the others can catch up with it as soon as they can or want. ‘In addition,’ Jeremy comments, ‘we have noticed that people can find it difficult to speak up in Vidyo meetings, while they may feel more comfortable in a text chatroom.So, we definitely feel that it can help with inclusion.’

The application was introduced a few months ago and, for the moment, has been used only in specific occasions, such as the ALICE weeks and some voting in which the Junior representatives had to express a preference. ‘We thought of it to connect better the juniors between them, to create the feeling of being part of a friendly community,’ Mike reports. ‘There are already lots of subscribersand we hope to see this space become more active in the near future.’ Whoever of the Juniors needs the invitation link to connect to Mattermost can contact the representatives.

Another useful tool that the Juniors introduced is a Service Task Survey. ALICE PhD students are required to perform a period of service, to contribute to the continuous and correct functioning of the experiment. Thus, a task is assigned to each student, who is supervised by a tutor. ‘We thought of introducing a system to monitor this service procedure and collect feedback from the junior members,’ Mike explains. ‘Therefore, we developed a survey questionnaire for both the students and the supervisors, which will help us know whether the system flows smoothly or there are problems and difficulties we should be aware of and try to solve.’

The answers to the questionnaire can be used by the Management team and the Juniors' Representatives to better inform decisions on how to improve the structure of the Service Task system.

The survey was started in February 2017 and a number of questionnaires have been already collected. ‘Our idea is to look at them every now and then, when a bunch of new ones come in, collect useful data and check if some action has to be done,’ Jeremy concludes.


[1]The Juniors would like to express their thanks to the Spokesperson team for their support in providing the transport for both January and March’s visit.