Staff and Visitor Balance

It is important for an organization to continually assess the makeup and career paths of its staff. This self-reflection allows the institution to assess whether there is an appropriate balance and breadth of staff to support its strategic science and service objectives. In particular, NCAR must always assess whether its interactions with the university community are strong in order to fulfill its role as a national center and advance our science and societal applications.

Job categories selected for either a survey, focus group, or both were project scientists (PS), associate scientists (AS), engineers (software, network, mechanical, electrical, facilities, and system administrators) and administrators (administrative assistants and administrators). The balance of staff appears to vary depending on the source of funding, and external funding has become increasingly important in shaping the fabric of NCAR. There appears to be a consensus that base-funded scientific support positions have declined within the past ten years and have been increasingly tied to large projects instead of individual scientists. The number of ASs has increased slightly, with the source of funding (NSF base versus non-NSF) remaining unchanged for the past four years. Project Scientists are funded mainly from external sources and tied to specific projects. They are generally not support scientists, but they often contribute to large projects. If “support” is defined as contributing either to individual scientists or to large projects, then it is clear that the support for science has increased; however much of the increase has been externally funded.

The science goals in the NCAR Strategic Plan emphasize large projects, both in the imperatives and frontiers (the two focuses of the plan). Although research by individuals will continue to contribute fundamentally to the goals of NCAR, it is likely in five to ten years that NCAR will have most of its scientific staff contributing a significant fraction of their time to large projects. NCAR should primarily be engaged in activities beyond the scope of individual universities. In this scenario, it is likely that the importance of project scientists, associate scientists, and engineers will increase. The need for effective project management will also grow, leading to increasing managerial demands on scientists, a larger role for project scientists in management, and/or an expanded job class of project managers. In the first two cases, there will be increased emphasis on individuals who can do both management and cutting-edge research and development. If the job class of project manager is expanded, the job matrix needs to be publicized so that NCAR can seek highly skilled project managers for large projects, where their dedicated skills are most needed.

There is a concern that there are too few faculty visitors who come for more than six months and return to their university within two years. This important class of visitors should be increased and funded out of the NSF base budget. These are the visitors most likely to form long-term relationships with NCAR staff and programs and maintain ongoing collaborations once they return to their universities, thereby enriching NCAR-university interactions. Figure 8 includes a wide variety of people who are classified as visitors, including some retirees from UCAR and other institutions, some employees of other institutions who reside at NCAR for indefinite periods, and many students. The WMP Committee had a difficult time tracking these types of visitors and recommends that a better accounting of visitors of all types be kept in the future.

Conclusion: NCAR must be proactive in attracting people with skills to contribute to and lead large projects, must recognize the various manifestations of leadership skills in evaluation and promotion or reclassification, and must state explicitly what those valued skills are. The advent of larger, more complex projects will necessitate continued hiring of project managers, higher-level engineers, project scientists, and associate scientists. The advancement of community facilities will require increases in a variety of technical job categories.

NCAR must also increase the number of long-term faculty visitors. These appointments often lead to sustained collaborations and bring needed expertise to NCAR as well as a valuable outside perspective on research and technical issues.