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The October meetings

Library access, NSF grants among hot topics

by Bob Henson

For more than 100 university faculty, early autumn means a quick trip to Boulder for the annual meeting of UCAR members. As was the case in 2006, this year's meeting, held 9–10 October, included early-career faculty invited by the two member representatives from each campus. Twenty-six young professors came to Boulder, many for the first time, to attend the meeting and network with their NCAR peers at a lunch hosted by the Early Career Scientists Assembly.

New members, affiliates, trustees

Members voted in the University of Delaware as UCAR's 71st member institution. Also added to the fold, through approval by the Membership Committee, were two new academic affiliates: Denver's Metropolitan State University and Central Michigan University. In addition, two institutions have joined the International Affiliates Program: Al Azhar University, Egypt, and the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. View complete lists for each membership category.

Three new and three returning trustees were elected:

  • Steven Ackerman, University of Wisconsin–Madison (new)
  • Kerry Cook, Cornell University (new)
  • Rana Fine, University of Miami (reelected)
  • Dennis Hartmann, University of Washington (new)
  • Shirley Malcom, American Association for the Advancement of Science (reelected)
  • Robert Palmer, consultant and former Congressional staffer (reelected)

Members also approved a name change for the former University Relations Committee (URC), which is now the President's Advisory Committee on University Relations (PACUR). As explained by outgoing URC chair Kerry Cook, the new name is meant to more accurately reflect the committee's stated mission to act "as an advisory committee to the President." The group's primary duties remain as before (see PACUR report below).

In their annual reports, UCAR president Richard Anthes, NCAR director Tim Killeen, and UOP director Jack Fellows covered a wide range of ongoing and planned activities. Written summaries and PowerPoint versions are available online at the meeting follow-up site. Members also received advance copies of the 2007 UCAR Highlights report, which was mailed to UCAR Quarterly subscribers in October.

Breakout sessions gave the members and NCAR scientists a chance to discuss six topics of keen community interest:

  • Earth system modeling
  • Computational resource
  • Observing systems
  • Diversity initiatives
  • Atmospheric science and climate literacy
  • Community library resources

Summaries of the breakout groups, which were presented near the close of the meeting, are available at the follow-up site noted above (or see "On the Web").

NSF funding: More applicants, fewer grants

Clifford Jacobs (NSF) shared results from a major study of NSF's proposal and award management mechanisms. Released in August, the study notes that "many researchers are dismayed that it has become more difficult to get funded by NSF." The study verified this observation and attributed it to more applicants as well as more proposals per applicant. NSF's average proposal funding rate (or success rate) dropped from 30% in fiscal year 2000 to 21% in FY06, despite an increase of nearly 44% in the NSF budget. In the Division of Atmospheric Sciences, the success rate dropped from 53% in FY99 to 38% in FY06. However, a 2007 survey of grant applicants found that about half believed that 10% or fewer of all NSF proposals were successful. Jacobs noted that most of NSF's 44% budget increase has gone into increasing award size, which leaves little room to accommodate the growing number of proposals submitted to the foundation.

As a consequence of the increased number of proposals, said Jacobs, "NSF's peer review system is overstressed." Some 50% more proposals are being examined by a pool of reviewers that has grown by only about 15%. The study found no evidence of a decline in the quality of proposals submitted or awarded, or in the timeliness of review. However, it appears that a number of highly fundable proposals are now being revised and resubmitted multiple times before eventual approval. The study recommends a variety of options to help break this decline-revise-resubmit cycle. It also calls for improved communications with internal and external communities.

Academic affiliates: the high cost of scholarship

How can modestly funded colleges and universities maintain access to increasingly expensive journals and search tools? UCAR academic affiliates wrestled with that topic at their breakfast meeting on 9 October. Joining them was Mary Marlino, the new director of the NCAR Library (see related article). Costs have precluded extending the journal and database access available to NCAR scientists and visitors to the broader UCAR community. However, the evolution of the business model for electronic publishing could soon make the question moot. For example, Google Scholar—now freely available in beta mode—can search and compile abstracts with some of the same functionality as other tools that libraries pay for. The group discussed options with Marlino and agreed to monitor developments within the NCAR Library and in the larger world of scholarly publishing.

The academic affiliates also discussed how to improve outreach to the community colleges that send many undergraduates to their own departments. "Sometimes there's a rude awakening when they see a level of physics and mathematics that they weren't quite expecting," said committee chair Richard Clark (Millersville University) of the incoming students. Affiliates plan to continue exploring the topic, perhaps in conjunction with PACUR.

PACUR: New name, same role

In its first meeting under a new name, the former University Relations Committee also discussed interactions with community colleges. Members expressed interest in workshops, field trips, and other activities that might help prepare students at community colleges for upper-level geoscience courses and get them excited about research opportunities. Similar issues exist at tribal colleges, which are "community-centered to the nth degree," according to UCAR's Raj Pandya. Forging links from these colleges to government programs as well as entities like UCAR takes time and care, Pandya told the group.

PACUR also heard a report from the subcommittee that reviews NCAR proposals for funding outside the center's core NSF support. This mechanism exists to ensure that NCAR doesn't compete unfairly with universities. Subcommittee chair S.T. Wu (University of Alabama at Huntsville) reported that the proposals reviewed by the subcommittee complied with the criteria developed for NCAR and UOP scientists to follow in their submissions, and that, while there were questions regarding a few of the proposals, NCAR and UOP administration were very responsive to the subcommittee's concerns, and all questions had been resolved.

Part of PACUR's mission is to help plan the annual members meetings. Committee members held a post-mortem on the 2007 meetings to discuss what worked and what could have been better. Among other things, they agreed that there could have been more time for unstructured discussion earlier in the meeting. PACUR decided to hold a forum before the 2008 meeting to foster stronger communication between PACUR and the members and affiliates. They also discussed the idea of a "reverse open house" for next year's meeting, through which the universities would highlight their own research in order to foster stronger interactions and collaborations among universities, NCAR, and UOP.

On the Web

Follow-up site for 2007 UCAR October meetings
(includes presentations and reports)


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