Schedule May 13, 2011
Future Frontiers in Astrophysics: Suggestions for Young Researchers
Avi Loeb, Harvard CfA

It is common practice among young astrophysicists these days to invest research time conservatively in mainstream ideas that have already been explored extensively in the literature. This tendency is driven by peer pressure and job market prospects, and is occasionally encouraged by senior researchers. Although the same phenomenon existed in past decades, it is alarmingly more prevalent today because a growing fraction of observational and theoretical projects are pursued in large groups with rigid research agendas. In addition, the emergence of a "standard model" in cosmology (albeit with unknown dark components) offers secure "bonds" for a safe investment of research time. In this short essay, which summarizes a banquet lecture at a recent conference, I give examples for both safe and risky topics in astrophysics (which I split into categories of "bonds," "stocks," and "venture capital"), and argue that young researchers should always allocate a small fraction of their academic portfolio to innovative projects with risky but potentially highly profitable returns. In parallel, selection and promotion committees must find new strategies for rewarding candidates with creative thinking.

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