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President’s Corner

Results from the 2009 community survey

by Richard Anthes, UCAR president

UCAR and NCAR have a number of important ways of obtaining input from the community: program advisory committees, members’ meetings, the President’s Advisory Committee on University Relations, the Board of Trustees, peer reviews, and occasional community surveys. UCAR conducted one such survey in 2000 and another in 2005; we completed the third this past February. The results from these comprehensive (some say too long!) Web-based surveys allow us to look at possible trends in community thinking and opinions. They are also useful to NCAR, which is updating its strategic plan over the next few months.

The 2009 survey contained three parts. The first part consisted of general questions about respondents’ backgrounds. The second part included questions about specific activities involving NCAR, the UCAR Office of Programs (now UCAR Community Programs or UCP—see page 16), education and outreach, communications, and government affairs. The third related to several general issues and challenges facing the community, such as diversity, interdisciplinary research, interactions with the private sector, recruitment of students, balance of research areas, and future directions of UCAR and NCAR.

On the Web

2009 UCAR Community Survey


Compared to the first two surveys, we cast a wider net this time, inviting more than 15,000 people to contribute; of these, 2,215 people (14%) responded. Most of the respondents (59%) were from universities or colleges and most indicated atmospheric science/meteorology as their primary disciplines. However, there was a significant number of respondents from other disciplines such as oceanography, astronomy/solar physics, physics, computer science, engineering, hydrology, and geology/geophysics. Many people provided thoughtful comments; these totaled more than 300 pages of single-spaced text!

A summary of the responses to the quantitative questions is now online (see “On the Web”). We assured the respondents that their replies would be kept confidential, thus the statistical results are given without the comments.

A wide range of opinion

As one might expect from a large and diverse community, comments were all over the map and sometimes contradictory. For example, many supported increased efforts in NCAR’s community modeling activities and support; others said NCAR and the community were spending too much effort on modeling.
As in previous surveys, there was concern about lack of support for instrumentation development.

There was a large amount of support for increased international activities. For example, here is one comment from a European respondent: “I think that providing to the public, data and work developed with public funding is an example of what should be done all over the world, particularly in Europe. . . . Also, your delivery of products is very good. You are the motor that drives research and development, at least in meteorology, all over the world! As a European citizen, I thank you very much for your work.” The commentor concluded by encouraging us to support more international collaborations, to be conducted “in a public and transparent way.”

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 large number of comments indicates that the community has strong interest in UCAR activities and programs and in the issues raised in the survey. In addition, as in the first two surveys, the results strongly demonstrate the interest of the community in a broad UCAR program of science, facilities, education and outreach, and—most importantly—collaborations and a strong visitor program.

Below is a summary of some specific findings. More details, including the wording of questions, can be found on the survey website (see “On the Web”).

Past, present, and future interactions with UCAR

When asked to identify their relationships with UCAR over the past 10 years (Part I, Q5), respondents as a whole indicated active participation in all categories (see Figure 1). The strong response from visitors, collaborators, and users of UCAR software and community models, which outnumbered users of UCAR’s computational and observational facilities (though there were many such respondents as well), confirms the importance of having a broad scientific program at the national center and UCAR programs as well as first-class community facilities.

Results for Part III, Question 7.2

Figure 1. Results for Part I, Question 5: “Please identify your relationship with NCAR over the last 10 years. (Please check all that apply.)” There were 3,017 total responses.

This community interest in a broad UCAR was confirmed in Q7.2 of Part III. When asked what additional or increased areas of service UCAR should consider, there was widespread interest in all of the categories presented (see Figure 2). The community also indicated a strong interest in participating in UCAR activities (Part III Q7.3), as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 2.  Results for Part III, Question 7.2:

Figure 2. Results for Part III, Question 7.2: “What additional or increased areas of service to the community should UCAR consider? (Please check all that apply.)” There were 2,935 total responses.


Figure 3.  Results for Part III, Question 7.3

Figure 3. Results for Part III, Question 7.3: “Which of the following activities would you like to participate in? (Please check all that apply.)” There were 1,984 total responses.

Setting of research priorities (Part III, Q1)

Respondents were asked to rate, on a scale of 1–5 with 5 being highest, both how they thought research priorities should be determined and how they thought the priorities were actually being determined. With respect to the “should” category, many respondents gave a 4 or 5 rating on societal needs (83%), the intuition and interests of individual scientists (65%), and needs and priorities of the funding agencies (30%). However, respondents as a group felt that the actual priorities were determined more by the needs and priorities of the agencies (84%) than by societal needs (37%) or scientists’ interests (59%).

Interdisciplinary research (Part III, Q2)

As in the two previous surveys, respondents said by a wide margin—more than two to one—that the present level and quality of interdisciplinary research at UCAR and NCAR should be increased (638 “yes” vs. 39 “no,” and 306 “same level” or “undecided”). In a reversal of the results found in 2000, the community felt that the academic community, including UCAR, was now organized adequately to support interdisciplinary research (337 “yes” vs. 199 “no” in 2009 compared to 151 “yes” and 177 “no” in 2000). There was a continued perception that the agencies were not organized well to support interdisciplinary research (189 “yes” vs. 356 “no”), though the percentage of “yes” responses increased somewhat since 2000. (See page 5 of this issue for a report on NCAR’s new structure for interdisciplinary research.)

Balance of types of research (Part III, Q4)

Cumulative results from Part II

Figure 4. Cumulative results from Part II on how many people interacted with various NCAR divisions and institutes and UCAR programs. Acronym spellouts can be found here.

For more than two decades, concerns have been expressed about the balance among observational, theoretical, and modeling-based approaches to atmospheric research. This worry usually expresses itself as a sense of insufficient university focus on observational science and perhaps too much emphasis on modeling. The 2009 survey indicates that this concern continues to be fairly widespread, with 50% saying that this is a significant problem and 40% saying that it is a minor problem. However, when asked more generally about the distribution of effort in field research, modeling, theory and laboratory work, 27% agreed that the balance was appropriate, 17% disagreed, and 56% were uncertain.

Relationship among academic, government, and private sectors (Part III, Q5)

The rapid growth of the private sector in meteorology and related fields over the past several decades 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 36% of the respondents said that they personally collaborated 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 (60% rated the quality 4 or 5 on a scale of 1–5), they rated the quality of academic and government interactions with the private sector considerably lower (18% and 24%, respectively).

Equity and diversity (Part III, Q6)

When asked whether the community was making progress toward addressing equity and diversity issues, most (59%) said “yes,” compared to 8% “no” and 33% “not sure.” However, many comments indicated that the progress was too slow and that much more needed to be done. Many institutions identified a variety of ways they were seeking to increase diversity, including the recruitment and maintenance of a diverse faculty, focused recruiting of students, research opportunities for underrepresented groups, and scholarships.

In Part IV of the survey, the community provided much input into individual NCAR and UOP divisions and programs. This feedback has been passed on to the managers 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. We know it took longer to complete 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 in the individual program planning processes.


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