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Fall 2000


Results from the UCAR survey of the community

Colwell, Leinen visit NCAR

NSF director Rita Colwell (left) and assistant director for geoscience Margaret Leinen (right) were on hand for UCAR/NCAR's 40th anniversary celebration in June. The two toured NCAR's Research Aviation Facility, where they met Al Schanot and RAF director Jeffrey Stith (back row) and scientist Theresa Campos (front center). Colwell and Leinen also held a town meeting for staff, and Colwell gave a public presentation on NSF's polar research. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

From October 1999 through October 2000, UCAR and NCAR celebrated their 40th anniversary. UCAR management, the Board of Trustees, and the UCAR and NCAR directors used this milestone as an opportunity to reflect upon past achievements and to help set the agenda for the institution well into the 21st century.

To that end, this past May we conducted a survey of our constituent communities, with emphasis on the universities. We developed a Web-based survey with four parts:

The response of the community was strong, with 599 people responding—29.2% of the 2,048 people asked. Most of the respondents were from universities, and most indicated atmospheric science/meteorology as their primary discipline. However, a significant number of respondents were from other disciplines such as oceanography, astronomy/solar physics, physics, computer science, and geology/geophysics. Many people provided thoughtful comments; these totaled approximately 3,000, covering 250 pages of single-spaced text!

A summary of the quantitative responses is presented on the Web. To assure confidentiality,the statistical results are reported without the comments. In general, people wrote of their frustrations with graduate student recruitment, the importance of interdisciplinary efforts, and the attendant difficulties in obtaining funding for such efforts. They wrote about the need for student understanding of observations, data sources, and analysis; frustrations with low pay in our field compared to others; and the need for experimental science and basic research as well as directed research.

While I realize that every person who looks at these results may arrive at somewhat different conclusions about what they mean, I would like to offer my personal interpretation of some of the results. First, and most important, the high response rate of nearly 30% and the very large number of comments indicate that the community has strong interest in UCAR activities and programs and in the issues raised in the survey. In addition, the results strongly demonstrate the interest of the community in a broad UCAR program of science, facilities, education, and outreach.

Past, present, and future interactions with UCAR

When asked to identify their relationship with UCAR over the past ten years, respondents indicated strong participation in all categories. The largest number of responses were from (1) users of data sets or data streams, (2) visitors to UCAR, (3) collaborators, (4) users of UCAR software, and (5) users of a community model. The strong showing of visitors, collaborators, and users of UCAR software and community models, which came out ahead of users of UCAR's computational and observational facilities (though these were strong as well), confirms the importance of having a broad scientific program at the national center and UOP as well as first-class community facilities. This community interest in a broad UCAR was confirmed in Part III. When asked what additional or increased areas of service UCAR should consider, respondents showed widespread interest in all of the categories presented. Leading areas were (1) data sets and data streams, (2) educational and/or training materials, (3) community workshops on topics of interest, (4) provision of real-time data to universities, and—tied for fifth and sixth place—instrumentation and community models.

The community also indicated a strong interest in participating in UCAR activities (Part III, Question 7.3). The types of participation cited most were (1) collaboration with UCAR scientists, educators, or other staff; (2) use of community models; participation in (3) UCAR governance activities and (4) educational activities; and (5) use of computational facilities.

Setting of research priorities

In Part III, respondents were asked to rate, on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being highest, how they thought research priorities should be determined and how they thought the priorities actually were being determined. In the "should be" category, respondents ranked societal need and the intuition and interests of individual scientists equally high (3.8) and higher than needs and priorities of the funding agencies (2.7). However, the perception of the respondents was that the actual priorities were determined more by the needs and priorities of the agencies (4.1) than by societal needs (2.8) or scientists' interests (3.3).

Interdisciplinary research

Not surprisingly (although the margin might surprise some), most respondents said that the present level and quality of interdisciplinary research should be increased (376 yes vs. 35 no and 114 undecided). However, the community felt by a relatively narrow margin that the academic community, including UCAR, was not organized adequately to support interdisciplinary research. There was a stronger perception that the agencies were not organized well to support interdisciplinary research.

Quality and quantity of graduate students

As indicated by other surveys and fora (see, for example, my "President's Corner" in the Spring 2000 issue of the UCAR Quarterly there is a widespread concern that the atmospheric sciences do not attract and keep the best and brightest students. This issue received more comments than any other in the survey and will be a subject of intense interest and attention by the UCAR community in upcoming years.

Balance of types of research

For over a decade, the atmospheric science community has expressed concern about the balance of research among observational, theoretical, and modeling science. The concern that there is not enough effort in the universities in observational science was brought up again at the UCAR Forum last year. The survey indicates that this concern is fairly widespread, with 282 saying that it is a significant problem, 181 saying that it is a minor problem, and only 28 judging it to be no problem. However, when asked more generally about the distribution of effort in field research, modeling, theory, and laboratory work, 147 agreed that the balance was appropriate, 124 disagreed, and 233 were uncertain.

Relationship among the academic, government, and private sectors

The rapid growth of the private sector in meteorology and related fields over the past decade has created new challenges and opportunities. These include issues related to commercialization of government-sponsored intellectual property, data rights, and new opportunities for research support. Approximately 33% of the respondents said that they personally were collaborating with the private sector, indicating that there is a significant intersection of the academic and private sector communities. However, the survey suggests that the quality of these interactions could be improved. While respondents rated the quality of academic- government interactions high (3.7 on a scale of 1 to 5), they rated the quality of interactions between the private sector and the academic and government sectors considerably lower (2.5 and 2.6, respectively).

UCAR/NCAR divisions and programs

Finally, the community provided much input into the individual divisions and programs of NCAR and UOP in Part IV of the survey. This input has been given to the senior management of the divisions and programs for their use in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of their programs and for planning for the future.

We express our sincere thanks to the people who took the survey. It took longer than we estimated, and we appreciate the time and thought invested by the respondents. The survey results will be useful in the development of a new NCAR strategic plan and a strategic plan for education and outreach as they unfold over this next year.


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Edited by Carol Rasmussen, carolr@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Wed Dec 13 17:24:16 MST 2000