Much of the data analysis and detector development in ALICE are done by the PhD students. These students have just a few years to learn about the ALICE physics, the practical aspects of the computing environment, the technical details of the ALICE detector and subsequently use that knowledge to do their own data analysis or technical project. Most of our hundreds of PhD students succeed to contribute significantly to our experiment while in parallel working on their theses. The PhD thesis is a comprehensive description of the work done, including all the background information needed to understand how the work was done, why it is important and what can be concluded from it.
The thesis award committee expresses the appreciation of the collaboration for this contribution by awarding the two best theses, written and successfully defended by an ALICE member in the preceding year. The first implicit selection of theses happens through the nomination procedure, where the student should get supporting letters from his/her supervisor and a physicist outside their own group. In this way the award committee gets typically twelve nominations each year. During the six years that I have been chair of the thesis committee, I have found that all these nominated theses are of very high quality. Each year I greatly enjoy reading them.
The thesis committee does not take its job lightly. The reference letters help us to understand the background of the student and what the contribution of the student was. However, all members of the thesis committee also read the theses independently and grade them for relevance to the ALICE experimental programme, the excellence of the work done, the results achieved, the innovation in the methods and the didactic quality of the thesis. Reading twelve theses carefully is not a small effort and therefore the committee takes about two months, including the Christmas holidays, to complete this task. Usually the combined grades results in a short list, the best of the best, which is then discussed in a committee meeting in January and from which the two winners are selected.
As the collaboration has evolved from first beam until routinely taking data in 2015, we have also seen the theses evolving. Unfortunately, the number of theses about technical subjects that reach the committee has dropped to less than three in the past years. Therefore two years ago the committee has decided to drop the distinction between the two categories and to award the best one or two overall theses. Perhaps this can be reconsidered once the activities for the upgrades start to result in more technical theses. Personally I greatly appreciate the technical efforts which make the experiment possible.
This year the committee found two theses on the short list that were really close in all the grades. In order to avoid an arbitrary choice for the first and second place, we decided to award them ex-aequo. I really recommend to read the thesis of Simone Schuchmann (Goethe Universität Frankfurt) and that of Andrea Festanti (Università degli studi di Padova). The award ceremony will take place during the Collaboration board meeting in Arpil. During the ceremony Simone and Andrea will highlight the results of their theses in a three minute flash talk. Beside a modest financial contribution, the award consists of a commemorative plaquette. We hope that the award will stimulate the winners to continue their excellent work. From this year on the committee will offer its support for students who want to be nominated for the ’Springer Thesis’. This is an award by Springer, which gives additional publicity to the winners. Of course, Springer makes its own choices but, based on the theses that I have seen in the past years, I am confident that ALICE theses are among the best in physics.