UCAR > Communications > UCAR Quarterly > Spring 2001 Search

Spring 2001

by Tim Killeen, NCAR director

Tim Killeen. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

When UCAR president Rick Anthes asked me to write a guest editorial for the UCAR Quarterly, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share with the readership some of the things I feel most excited by after ten months as the new NCAR director.

The time has flown by, and there is much to report on. I will never forget the intensity of my first few weeks in Boulder. After 23 years at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, I arrived just in time to participate in UCAR and NCAR's 40th anniversary celebrations. My main role was to sound coherent while talking with visiting dignitaries and local TV crews—and to learn as many names as possible in a short time. The celebrations reinforced my sense of an organization with a proud heritage, a wonderful setting, and an incredible future.

Coming to NCAR from the external academic world, I was very fortunate to have former director Bob Serafin's help as I got my "sea legs." In June 2000, Bob joined me at a three-day retreat in Vail where the nine NCAR division directors, Rick Anthes, UCAR vice presidents Jack Fellows and Katy Schmoll, and I discussed our priorities for the upcoming year.

The directors' retreat was a very useful kickoff meeting for me, since we established the basic agenda that I have followed ever since. At this meeting, we decided to begin developing a new strategic plan for NCAR. We decided that the theme of the new plan would be "NCAR as an Integrator," reflecting our sense of the increasing importance of interdisciplinary studies of the earth system. The evolution of the new plan can be followed on the Web.

At the retreat, we also discussed ways to implement the (then) newly developed strategic plan for high-performance simulation. We agreed to make efforts in education and outreach an integral component of the new strategic plan (a UCAR-wide plan for education and outreach is now almost complete). And we agreed on a renewed institution-wide commitment to the goals of increasing the diversity of people and ideas at NCAR while providing a supportive environment for the professional development of all staff (see, for example, the new UCAR/NCAR staff mentoring guidelines.

Finally, and resoundingly, the directors renewed NCAR's strong commitment to excellence in service to the broad university community, including the provision of world-class computational and observational infrastructure for multifaceted research on geoscience topics.

Since that meeting, I have been fortunate to visit about one UCAR member university a month, hearing first hand the concerns of the faculty and students and sharing news of NCAR's scientific progress and plans. At these sessions, I always describe my excitement at leading an institution with a major role to play in three concurrent, intermeshed revolutions. These are:

To make the kind of progress that society demands in the face of these opportunities and challenges, I believe that we must focus intently on

It seems to me that these priorities are completely consistent with the roles of NCAR and UCAR in both supporting and leading the broad research community in studies of the atmosphere and related systems.

I have recently found it very instructive to look back at the seminal 1959 advocacy document that led to NCAR's foundation: the so-called Blue Book. It is clear that the founders of NCAR felt strongly that a national center—if well provided with observational, computational, and human infrastructure and capital—could enable the university community to better address the complex, global-scale, interdisciplinary problems related to the atmosphere, the earth system, and the human relationship with that system. The Blue Book vision (articulated several years before Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, which many people think started the environmental movement) is still very relevant and offers excellent advice on how to proceed.

One of the most significant challenges that NCAR has faced in the past decade is how to preserve and extend its capabilities in the face of eroding buying power due to a series of subinflationary annual budgets. A symptom of this challenge has been a demographic shift toward more senior-scientific staff. One of the accomplishments of which I am most proud is a result of our direct attack on this worrying demographic imbalance. With strong leadership and tangible support from Rick Anthes, we have been able to make offers at the entry level (Scientist I) to ten young scientists. We plan on a multiyear program of hiring at this early-career level. Having attended the interviews for most of these superb young scientists, and having reviewed the very rigorous recruitment process (ably led by Al Cooper, director of NCAR's Advanced Study Program), I believe that NCAR is in for a tremendous pulse of new vitality.

The scientific strategic planning process has been led by Bob Harriss, director of NCAR's Environmental and Societal Impacts Group. The process has featured a grassroots approach to the definition and refinement of scientific ideas and objectives. Many, if not most, of NCAR's scientists have been directly involved, and many new ideas, building on our core capabilities in basic research, have emerged. While the process is still not complete, it appears that NCAR and its university partners strongly support developing new thrust areas in the biogeosciences, data assimilation, water cycle science, climate and weather assessment science, software engineering and visualization, comparative studies in planetary atmospheres, large-scope earth-system models, and new instrumentation. Some of these new ideas were discussed during a two-day meeting with NSF's program officers at their headquarters in October 2000, and they have also been exposed at meetings of UCAR's Management Committee, Board of Trustees, and University Relations Committee. We have just heard that our fiscal year 2001 budget from NSF provides sufficient support to get some of these new thrust areas going. I am particularly pleased at the convergence between our strategic planning concepts and the interests and expertise of our new junior scientists.

We are developing all sorts of metrics to better describe NCAR's role and contributions to the UCAR family of universities and beyond. A set of reports describing scientific accomplishments for the year 2000 can be found on the Web. Please take a look if you have not already done so; the report is a testament to the strong university partnerships that drive our science.

So life remains very busy, though I must admit pausing from time to time to savor the view of Boulder's Flatirons mountains from my office window. I feel very lucky. After ten months on the job, I am more convinced than ever that the future for our field is extremely promising. NCAR and its university partners occupy a unique scientific niche with strengths in the geosciences, social sciences, education, and information/

computer sciences. These are all areas of increasing importance to society. NCAR has the human capital and the scientific and technological infrastructure to help set the national and international agendas and continue to make major contributions in understanding the earth as a system, as well as the human relationship with this system. And I feel that I have a personal contribution to make at NCAR's helm. What more could one ask of a job?

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UCAR > Communications > UCAR Quarterly > Spring 2001 Search

Edited by Carol Rasmussen, carolr@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Thu Jun 21 18:56:13 MDT 2001