scientists recall time at NSF
Tom Bogdan Al
For ASP’s Al Cooper, the motivation for spending a
year in Washington, D.C., at the National Science Foundation
was to get a str onger sense of nationwide research into
his field of physical meteorology. For ACD’s Chris
Cantrell, it was to learn about managing a broad range of
scientific programs. And for HAO’s Tom Bogdan, it was
the opportunity to take a break from his research and get
a fresh perspective.
The three scientists recently took advantage of an NSF rotation
program, spending one to two years in the nation’s
capital to help administer atmospheric science programs.
They reviewed grant proposals and made funding recommendations,
while finding time to work on personal research and learn
about Washington agencies.
Now back at NCAR, they recently discussed their experiences
with Staff Notes Monthly.
“What better way to recharge than to go someplace
new, have something totally different to do, and meet a new
set of people,” Tom says. “I’d encourage
mid-career scientists to do this.”
The temporary positions are known as “IPAs” because
they are filled under the terms of the Intergovernmental
Personnel Act. By bringing in scientists from across the
community to engage in administrative responsibilities, NSF
ensures it will always have a fresh perspective. Scientists,
for their part,
get a front-row view of the federal funding process.
The scientists continued to get their salaries and benefits
through UCAR, while NSF defrayed additional expenses. Tom
was the first to enroll in the program, arriving in Washington
for his two-year term in late 2001. Al and Chris each began
one-year terms in 2003.
Although the three worked in different NSF program areas,
they took on similar tasks that centered on reviewing hundreds
of grant applications. Chris, for example, handled about
200 proposals a year, each of which had four to five reviews.
Although this meant a lot of paperwork, Chris says, “The
thing that I was pleasantly surprised about is that I spent
quite a bit
of time talking on the telephone to scientists about their
research. I got to know a lot of people at meetings or over
By discussing the grant proposals with both the researchers
who submitted them and those who reviewed them, the NCAR
scientists established relationships with colleagues across
the country. They also stayed abreast of the latest research
“You are looking at proposals from the best people in
leading-edge science,” Al explains. “It was really
a wonderful refresher course in my subject area.”
The IPA appointments enabled the scientists to get a broad
overview of federally funded research. Since NSF is housed
in a single building in Washington, Al, Chris, and Tom crossed
paths with experts in many disciplines, learning about initiatives
in areas ranging from international programs to chemical
oceanography. They met with atmospheric scientists in other
agencies as well, such as NOAA and NASA, and developed a
sharper understanding of the different emphasis that each
agency places on atmospheric research.
The experience helped them gain insights into funding, and
they’re considering holding a seminar at NCAR
for scientists on best practices for proposal writing. They
also said they gained an appreciation in Washington for the
hard work, and scientific insights, of NSF managers.
An IPA appointment is a good move for a scientist who has
worked in the field for 15 to 20 years and is looking to
take a break from daily research, they concluded. It’s
also an important way to serve the larger science community.
“It’s a service function, much like being an editor
of a journal,” Al explains. “I think there’s
value in having it be spread through the community rather than
exclusively in the hands of longtime program officers.”
Another important benefit, the scientists said, is helping
scientists and managers at NSF and NCAR gain a deeper appreciation
of the work at one another’s organizations.
Tom believes the next step could be movement in the other
direction: an NSF scientist taking a sabbatical at NCAR.
During his term in Washington, he discussed that idea at
NSF and found a receptive audience.
“To really complete the two-way interaction, it would
be critical to have one of their people come out here and spend
six months or a year with us,” he says. “And I
think they’re very open to it.”
Also in this issue...
field project: Cool heads prevail during a
complicated study of warm rain
playtime: Parents give high marks to
UCAR Child Care Center
Holland, MMM’s new director
interface to NCL’s graphics library now available
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