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August 2000

Tim Killeen: First impressions

Tim Killeen. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Tim Killeen became NCAR director on 1 July. Below are a few of his thoughts on his initial experiences.

Now that I have officially been on the job for a few weeks, I am a little less likely to be found with a bemused look on my face, as if thinking, Toto, we're not in Michigan anymore. Having grown up in (old) South Wales, though, I am finding it strangely difficult to get accustomed to the idea that the mountains are to the west and not to the north—does anyone else have this problem? Well, I expect that this and other transitional anxieties will soon pass. Boulder is a wonderful place and NCAR a great institution and, between you and me, the Welsh mountains are underperformers. What I mostly want to say is that my wife, Roberta [Johnson, UCAR and HAO], and I are both very grateful for the warmth of the welcome to Boulder and, particularly, for the very many expressions of positivism and optimism about the future that have been shared with us.

These first few weeks have been full of activities and excitement, from the Bubble and Balloon Festival of the 40th anniversary celebration to the NCAR scientific staff retreat, as well as the visits of senior NSF officials, including the director, deputy director, and associate director for geosciences. I have attended at least six scientific retreats of one sort or another (many in beautiful settings) and sat in on several of the community workshops that seem to be in more-or-less continuous session at both the Mesa and Foothills locations. I have met the postdocs and SOARS students and many other NCAR employees. I hope to get to know you all soon. The overall impression—and one that is hard to resist—is of NCAR being a marvelous hotbed of scientific and technical innovation and exchange.

After attending these events, hearing NSF and other sponsors talk about NCAR, and listening to the concerns of many of the NCAR staff, I am more convinced than ever that our future is extremely promising. NCAR occupies 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 and ones in which the funding base is likely to increase. NCAR clearly has the human capital and the scientific and technological infrastructure to help set the national and international agenda and continue to make major contributions in understanding the earth as a system, as well as the human relationship with this system.

The NCAR division directors met with me and the other members of the UCAR President's Council in a planning retreat on 14–15 June in Vail, immediately following the annual NCAR scientific staff meeting in Longmont on 13 June. I would like to give a brief report of these discussions, with much more detail shortly forthcoming. Perhaps the most important outcome is that the NCAR leadership team is committed to the development of a new strategic plan that will adopt the theme tentatively labeled "NCAR as an Integrator." This strategic plan will be developed over the next six to eight months. I hope that many of you will participate directly in the process by bringing your ideas, plans, and writing skills to the effort. The term "integrator" is used to imply three subthemes:

(1) an expansion of the intellectual envelope to include more interdisciplinary and crossdisciplinary research (e.g., the marriage of the geosciences and computer sciences) and to integrate research and education,

(2) the development of new partnerships (and the nurturing of existing ones) with the universities and other public and private institutions, and

(3) a commitment to the development of a world-class, diverse, highly capable work force capable of both creating and using scientific knowledge about the physical world.

In developing the updated NCAR strategic plan, new scientific initiatives will be mapped into the national strategy, such as those described in the recent report NSF Geosciences Beyond 2000. A mix of enhancements to the ongoing program and new content will be considered and evaluated. One good building block for the NCAR plan already exists: the Strategic Plan for High Performance Simulation published in May. Please take a look at this if you have not yet done so. It provides a good example of the forward-looking tone that I hope will imbue the more complete document. This plan is meant to be a living document: one that reflects the scientific challenges and societal imperatives of our times without departing from NCAR's traditional emphasis on fundamental quantitative research in the atmospheric and related sciences.

I have asked ESIG director Bob Harriss to join me and Walt Dabberdt in the NCAR Director's Office as associate director for planning for the next year. [Bob will continue as ESIG director, with Linda Mearns as deputy director.] Bob will assume an oversight responsibility for the plan's development. Many of the ideas already put forward are very exciting. They include, but are not limited to, topics such as the following:

If you do not see your favorite topic in this list, please contact me or any member of the NCAR Directors' Committee. Now is a good time to think deeply about the future scientific trajectory of NCAR, and your thoughts and active participation in the process are most welcome.

The strategic plan will not be limited to an exposition of scientific priorities but will also look carefully at human resource and education/outreach questions. In mid-July, for example, NCAR was visited by a committee of senior women scientists from the American Physical Society. They met with a broad cross section of NCAR scientific staff, both male and female, and have made several very valuable recommendations concerning the work climate at NCAR, demographics, and career path policies. [More on the recommendations will appear in a future issue of Staff Notes Monthly.] These and other recommendations will be carefully considered in the context of the strategic plan as we work collectively to make NCAR as fine an institution as it can possibly be. As this discussion matures, I will share more details with you. A significant step in this process will be another retreat (yet another!)—this one with the NSF program officers and the NCAR directors, scheduled for the early fall. By that time, we hope to have more concrete ideas to bring to the table.

Best regards,


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Last revised: Fri Aug 11 15:01:08 MDT 2000