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A busy week

Highlights of the October UCAR meetings


by Bob Henson

More than 150 university faculty convened in Boulder the week of 9–13 October for a variety of UCAR governance gatherings. The largest of these was the annual meeting of representatives from each of UCAR's member institutions (which now total 70 with the members' approval of Stony Brook University).

Quinton Williams. (Photo by Bob Henson.)

This year UCAR invited each member to send an early-career professor to the meetings to familiarize him or her with the workings of the institution. As a result, more than 40 of these younger faculty members attended the meetings, as well as UCAR orientation sessions, tours of NCAR and UOP programs, and a luncheon hosted by the NCAR Early Career Scientists Assembly (ECSA).

Below are a few highlights of particular interest to university faculty from the week's many activities. More detailed reports, PowerPoint presentations, and other follow-up materials are available online (see "On the Web").

New trustees elected

Along with voting Stony Brook into the UCAR fold, member representatives elected two new trustees and reelected four others:

• Efi Foufoula-Georgiou, University of Minnesota (new)
• Anne Thompson, Pennsylvania State University (new)
• Steven Rutledge, Colorado State University (reelected)
• Rosina Bierbaum, University of Michigan (reelected)
• Frank Nutter, Reinsurance Association of America (reelected)
• Barbara Feiner, Washington University in St. Louis (reelected)

The UCAR draft strategic plan underwent close scrutiny from the members' representatives. UCAR president Rick Anthes kicked off the discussion with a keynote speech, "UCAR in 2020: A Look Ahead." In breakout sessions, attendees discussed each of the eight goal areas outlined in the plan and explored how UCAR and universities can work together to achieve these goals. The breakout topics included strengthening the UCAR consortium, weather and climate research, observational facilities, information technology, education, administration, diversity, and technology transfer.

The discussions in these sessions will be considered as the strategic plan is finalized over the next several months. "The input from these breakout sessions was excellent and is being used by UCAR senior management in future planning," says Jack Fellows, vice president for corporate affairs.

The members meeting also included regular annual elements, including updates on NSF, NCAR, and UOP activities; reports from several UCAR committees; and renewal of terms for several UCAR member institutions.

Faculty fellows on the increase

At the University Relations Committee meeting on 11 October, NCAR's Maura Hagan updated the group on the Faculty Fellowship Program, which will soon enter a new application cycle. The FFP is designed to support visits by university faculty to NCAR and by NCAR scientists to academia, with the terms ranging from three months to one year. During fiscal year 2006, the FFP provided eight awards: six went to faculty, and two went to NCAR scientists who visited the University of Hawaii and the University of California, Los Angeles. This year the FFP is supporting seven faculty who will visit NCAR between now and September 2007.

Only two years old, the FFP is already drawing several times more requests than its budget can fill, said Hagan. The large number of applicants is also adding to the workload of URC members who help review and select candidates. In the coming year the URC and NCAR's Advanced Study Program (ASP) will monitor the workload and explore ways to streamline the review process.

The next call for FFP applications will be issued in the next few weeks, with a deadline early next year. Watch UCAR Update or check the ASP Web site for details.

A long-term plan for diversity in the atmospheric sciences

Despite good intentions and several noteworthy successes, the proportion of atmospheric scientists from underrepresented groups continues to lag well behind parity. Quinton Williams of Jackson State University presented an ambitious plan for tackling this problem to the UCAR Academic Affiliates meeting on 10 October and the "heads and chairs" meeting on 12 October. (Every other year, the heads of academic departments in atmospheric and Earth science meet in Boulder following the UCAR members meeting. This year more than 50 department heads were on hand for the meeting, which is cosponsored by the American Meteorological Society and American Geophysical Union.)

Presenting statistics on recent Ph.D. recipients and population trends, Williams estimated that to achieve parity by 2026, about 18 African Americans, 21 Hispanic Americans, and 1 American Indian would need to earn a Ph.D. in atmospheric science each year. His proposed 20-year plan to reach that goal involves four roughly consecutive phases:

  • Improved access: establish eight or more new undergraduate programs at colleges and universities that are easily accessible to blacks and Latinos, primarily in the Sun Belt and along the West Coast.

  • Undergraduate level: provide enhanced mathematics preparation and mentoring for motivated undergrads.

  • Graduate level: form a national consortium for diversity in the atmospheric sciences that would support graduate students in their first year, with departments providing aid as students become established. A summer institute in applied mathematics would further strengthen the students' abilities and provide peer-group reinforcement.

  • Improved visibility: ensure that new Ph.D.s hold visible positions in the community to serve as role models for those coming up through the academic ranks.

Williams estimates that the 20-year plan could cost anywhere from $360 million to $1.2 billion, depending mainly on attrition rates. While acknowledging that the price tag is high, Williams said that the presence of concrete goals and the potential to actually achieve true parity could make the project well worth its costs. The heads and chairs declined to pass a resolution keyed to Williams' plan; however, he intends to continue developing it.

Toby Carlson. (Photo by Bob Henson.)

"Without a focused and aggressive plan toward eliminating the lack of diversity, the situation will go unresolved," he explained later. "The community needs to formulate a real plan with measurable objectives to solve the problem. I strongly encourage the atmospheric sciences community to consider this approach. In the end, a plan—not just a long list of disconnected recommendations and programs—is needed."

How to escape the proposal grind?

Elaborating on his article in the May issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Toby Carlson (Pennsylvania State University) discussed the relentless pressure on faculty to write numerous research proposals, despite the fact that only a small percentage have any chance of getting funded. Carlson told of one professor who submitted 33 proposals in one year and a new faculty member who wrote 17 proposals before his first success.

The drive to make research more interdisciplinary could be exacerbating the problem, says Carlson, because it provides an incentive to entrain more authors than ever on a given proposal.

A lively discussion followed among the heads and chairs. "We've got to get away from [the idea that] growth is always good," said Rick Anthes, who stressed the need to focus on the highest-quality, most-needed work rather than simply "more, more, more." Another audience member pointed out that one university's tenure review process only considers five papers per faculty member, a mechanism that could indirectly help reduce the quantity-over-quality problem in proposal writing. Carlson suggested a possible limit of one proposal per investigator per year, though he acknowledged the concept might be unrealistic. Among the other alternatives he suggested: funding agencies could provide a low level of funding to all faculty members, with universities furnishing one graduate student, and universities could stop considering funding level as one of the criteria for tenure and promotion.

"I have no axe to grind," said the recently retired Carlson. "This is on behalf of young faculty members."


On the Web

UCAR October meetings follow-up

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