2.3.8 Faculty mentoring: Our program of faculty mentoring has increased in intensity. The Chair meets informally but frequently with new faculty to advise on which courses to teach, the balance between research and service, and applications for external grants and fellowships. Making sure that young faculty are nominated for early-career prizes is a major responsibility. The purpose of mentoring is not only to make our junior faculty successful but also to make them feel that they have found a scientific home at UCSC. A faculty handbook is being written to orient new faculty.
2.3.9 Faculty workload: The Department instructional load policy for ladder faculty is shown in Appendix Ie. We require each UCO faculty to teach one 5-unit/one-quarter course per year and each Department faculty to teach two 5-unit/one-quarter courses. These requirements are strictly enforced except for sabbaticals, Academic Senate service, administrative leaves, and the rare course buyout. Seminars are not substituted for regular courses.
Student FTE versus time at both graduate and undergraduate levels are shown in Appendix IVd.D, and individual course enrollments are shown in Appendix VI.a (to convert student FTE to student course quarters, multiply by roughly 9). Total enrollments have grown by 30% since the last review in 1999-2000, and by 50% over the last decade; increases for undergraduates are 50% larger than for graduates. The workload ratio is defined as the ratio of student FTE taught per total budgeted faculty, including adjuncts and lecturers (see definitions of these quantities in Appendix IVg.D). This also increased, by 20% during the review period, and by 30% over the last decade. The latest value given (in 2005-6) is 10% higher than the mean of the PBSci Division and is 24% above the campus average. This larger-than-average workload ratio reflects the fact that Astronomy enrollments are dominated by large introductory courses for non-scientists, which many students use to satisfy the campus general education “Q” (quantitative) requirement. Because of this, we expect that our total enrollments will grow along with the UCSC student body, which is projected to increase by 30% by 2020, or 17% during the next review period. Applied to our present official allotment of 8.6 academic FTE (see Table 3), we would expect an additional 1.5 FTE based on enrollment alone.
Appendix IVe.D tabulates the number of courses and students taught each year by active ladderfaculty, not counting faculty who are on leave, in administration, or on sabbatical. These measures have remained substantially flat during the review period, with Astronomy’s enrollments per active faculty averaging about 20% higher than the PBSci Division average because of our large introductory courses.
2.3.10 Entrepreneurial efforts: Entrepreneurial efforts are mentioned throughout this document; major ones are collected here for convenience. As noted, the new undergraduate Physics/Astrophysics (ASPH) major grew from 10 to 51 students over the last five years, and the number of registered graduate students grew by nearly 50%. We hired eight excellent new faculty, six of them junior, three of them women, one of them Hispanic, and deepened expertise in all three of our chosen science areas. The Center for Adaptive Optics evolved into one of the most highly regarded NSF Science and Technology Centers, and its education programs have involved participation by a large fraction of Astronomy graduate students. We strengthened ties with EPS and AMS by co-founding the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics and the Center for the Development and Evolution of Planets (CODEP) in 1999-2000 and partnered with them and with Physics to bring UCSC’s first large mini-supercomputer to campus (Pleiades). Ties with Physics strengthened as we helped them hire and retain excellent astrophysics faculty and began to nurture the joint scientific collaboration with GLAST.
Scientifically, we founded and now lead at least seven major research collaborations, including the California-Carnegie Extrasolar Planet Search, the First Galaxies survey, the DEEP2 and AEGIS galaxy surveys, the SAGES globular cluster survey, the SciDAC Computational Astrophysics Consortium for supernovae explosions, and the SEGUE survey on the structure and kinematics of our Galaxy. Noteworthy are several recent telescope and instrumentation projects, such as the Moore Laboratory for Adaptive Optics, the DEIMOS spectrograph at Keck, the Automated Planet-Finder Telescope under construction at Mt. Hamilton, and the Thirty Meter Telescope project, which promises to revolutionize the course of optical astronomy by pioneering ground-based telescopes with ten times the angular resolution of Hubble.
A major thrust for the future is fund-raising and development. Toward that end, we have begun to research opportunities for a major federal research center, in partnership with other UCSC departments and with other northern California institutions. We have developed a large list of potential private donors and have started to cultivate them with activities such as the Halliday Public Lecture, tours at Keck Observatory, and events on Mt. Hamilton. Major funding proposals were submitted to the Campus Comprehensive Campaign and are described under New Initiatives below. The Astronomy units will have our first full-time development assistant starting next year, paid for 50% by UCO and 50% by the campus.
2.3.11 Goals for the research program: We close this section with a list of goals for the faculty and research program for the next review period:
Maintain and expand recent gains in high-performance computing.
Open a research program in long-wavelength astronomy.
Create at least one major new research center and find support for it.
Strengthen research ties between Department and Observatory faculty.
Strengthen collaborations with Physics, EPS, AMS, and CODEP.
2.4 Objectives, overall quality, and direction of the graduate program The graduate program began with the founding of the Astronomy department in 1966; the first PhD was graduated in 1971. The goal of the graduate program is to educate PhDs who will go on to become research astronomers; masters degrees are awarded only to PhD students who request them and to qualified students who leave or are dismissed from the program. Since 1994, only 8 out of 48 graduating PhDs are no longer in astronomy research institutions.
The list of PhDs graduating since 1994-5 is given in Appendix IId, including thesis titles, advisors, the positions they took upon leaving UCSC, any prize fellowships they received, and their present positions. A list of all PhDs in the history of the program and their present employment is at http://www.astro.ucsc.edu/graduate/alumni.html. General information on the graduate program is given in the UCSC course catalog at http://reg.ucsc.edu/catalog/html/programs_courses/astrPS.htm (see also Appendix IIb). Information for new graduate students (the graduate student handbook) is at http://www.astro.ucsc.edu/graduate/newgrad.html (see also Appendix IIa). The degree requirements governing each entering class are stated in the UCSC catalog for the fall of that year; this year’s requirements are at http://www.astro.ucsc.edu/graduate/degree.html. Graduate courses are listed at http://www.astro.ucsc.edu/courses/index.html. Course descriptions may be found at http://www.astro.ucsc.edu/courses/graddesc.html, and course syllabi are at http://www.astro.ucsc.edu/courses/gradcoursewebpages.html (see also Appendix IIc). Graduate student profiles are at http://www.astro.ucsc.edu/graduate/gradresearch.html, and their individual websites are linked through the directory listings at http://natsci2.ucsc.edu/lastro/default.html. Graduate student enrollments and instructors for individual courses going back several years are in Appendix VIa, a summary of all grad course enrollments is in IVc.D, and the number of graduate FTE versus time is summarized in Appendix IVd.D.
2.4.1 Graduate enrollments; time to degree: Individual degrees conferred and thesis titles are given in Appendix IVa.G, and conferred degree totals and enrolled graduate students by year are given in Appendix IVb.G. Since some of the latter quantities are complicated (see definitions in Appendix IVg.D), we also plot in Figure 2 the number of enrolled graduate students in each Fall quarter based on Department records. Student numbers fell in 2001-2003 due to small incoming classes near those years (see Figure 3) but then recovered. Altogether, the number of enrolled PhD students grew by 50% during the review period (1999-2000 to present).
Figure 2: Number of enrolled Astronomy PhD students in each Fall quarter, from Department records. Data for Fall 2007-8 are projected.
Incoming graduate class sizes and later withdrawals are shown in Figure 3. The number of acceptances fluctuates strongly due to random statistics. About fifteen percent of students withdraw without completing the PhD (red bars). Half of these leave because they do not like doing research or do poorly at it; the other half leave for other PhD programs, usually not in astronomy but in some related field. For a target number of 40 students and a 15% dropout rate, we should accept 7.6 new students per year in steady state. The average over the last four years is nearly that.
Figure 3: Incoming graduate class sizes by year. Students who withdrew are shown in red. This statistic is potentially incomplete for years 2003 and later.
The interests of our graduate students are heavily weighted toward optical-infrared observations, with only 25% presently in theory. A major goal is to attract more and better theory students by advertising our excellent theory faculty (including the three new theorists Ramirez-Ruiz, Fortney, and Krumholz) and our growing ties with theorists in Physics, AMS, and EPS. A coordinated outreach effort to advertise theory in all four departments is due to start in Fall 2007.
Recent PhD recipients are listed in Appendix IVa.G, and total degrees conferred by year are given in Appendix IVb.G. The rate of PhD production has been low lately, but this is due to the small number of students entering the program 5-6 years ago. It will increase markedly when the large classes of 2003 and 2004 complete their degrees.
Figure 4 shows the distribution of times to degree for all students receiving degrees in 1996 and later. Each bin shows the number graduating from year X to year X+1 in the program. Assuming that the distribution within each year is flat (as records show), the median time to degree is 5.7 years. This number is slightly less than the average time to degree at the last External Review, which was given as six years. The External Review committee thought this was too long, and our faculty and graduate students have been discussing this question. Our feeling is that the recent proliferation of prize postdoctoral fellowships has changed the situation. (A “prize” fellowship is one that permits the incumbent to work on any project they choose, in contrast to the traditional postdoc, who works under the direction of a faculty PI.) The number of such fellowships has grown to the extent that allexcellentstudents should expect to win one directly after the PhD. The quality of this first fellowship has therefore become a key barometer that determines the whole course of a student’s career, and landing one early is key. We need to groom our students better to meet this milestone, and for some students, taking an extra year in grad school to firm up research, publish more papers, and attend conferences is more beneficial than imposing an arbitrary time limit. Indeed, some departments are granting degrees early but keeping their students on for an extra postdoctoral year, which effectively disguises the real time to degree. In view of the intense competition, six years for some students is not excessive, if well used.
That said, there are many students beyond six years in Figure 4 who should not be there, and we intend to try hard to reduce these outcomes through better tracking and incentives. Impediments to student progress are being analyzed, and a report will be ready for the External Review committee next year.
2.4.2 Measures of quality: Our graduate students are among the best at UCSC and are very good by the standards of top-flight departments. Data on the career outcomes of PhD students since 1994 are given in Appendix IId. Among the 42 PhDs graduating from 1996-7 to 2006-7, we had four Hubble Fellows from Astronomy and two from Physics. There were two Chandra Fellows, two IAS Fellows, five Carnegie Fellows, six NSF Fellows, and a total of 28 prize fellowships overall. Nevertheless, there is some cause for concern. An analysis of first positions gained by our students shows that only 25% landed highly prestigious prize fellowships straight out of graduate school, whereas we think 50% would be a more appropriate goal. Moreover, few UCSC graduates are winning permanent ladder-faculty appointments at the most elite institutions. Among the 26 PhDs who graduated in 1994-5 to 1999-00, seven are now professors at second-tier universities but only two are at first-rank institutions (Arizona and Carnegie). By some indicators, then, our graduates are doing well but not superbly. To improve, we need to attract better students and mentor and inspire them more effectively.
Figure 4: Years to PhD degree for all students who received degrees in years 1995-6 to 2006-7.
2.4.3 Graduate recruiting: Data on graduate student applicants are given in Appendix Vb. Averaged over the past four years, we have had ~130 applicants per year and made ~20 offers of full support, of whom 7-8 students elected to come. This number is about right to maintain the size of the program at its current level, but dipping deeper into the applicant pool would mean an unacceptable sacrifice in quality. Separately, we have done a won-lost analysis of our success in attracting graduate students in competition with other departments. In head-to-head matches during 2001-6, we lost 70% of the time against UCB and Caltech but were even with Princeton, Harvard, Arizona, and Chicago. Against all other departments we were overwhelmingly successful, winning nearly 90% of the time. Some of the numbers are small and the applicant pool is weighted towards students who are already predisposed to think we are good. Nevertheless, the numbers are encouraging. The most-often stated reason for students’ going elsewhere is access to a broader research menu than we offer. A second reason is greater access to large telescopes (Caltech). A third but less important reason is better financial support.
Another factor adversely affecting quality is the small number of international applicants, who tend to be better trained in theory than US students (international enrollees are shown in Appendix Vb). UC fee policies have made it almost impossible to support international students from faculty grants. The situation has improved somewhat recently, but pressure needs to be kept on the UC administration to remove all barriers. We are contemplating more imaginative ways to attract international students, such as creative combinations of TAs and GSRs to support international students, endowed fellowships targeted for international students, and partnering with overseas institutes. An aggressive international component will be part of the graduate advertising campaign this fall.
2.4.4 Graduate diversity: Diversity data on graduate students are presented in Appendix IVc.G. Our population reflects the ethnic and gender makeup of US astronomy and physics undergraduates, which means that we have few minority students but many women. The percentage of women graduate students in our program has been growing since the past review and now stands at almost 50%. Special funding for international students would allow us to further improve diversity by admitting students from Mexico and Latin America. CfAO outreach programs to nearby community colleges with high minority enrollments have begun to pay off in successful graduate student recruitment, though to date these have been in the Engineering School rather than Astronomy. The new Institute of Scientist and Engineer Educators (ISEE) at UCSC will continue this outreach at local Hispanic-serving community colleges.
2.4.5 Path to degree, graduate student support:Graduate students take two years of courses (three per quarter) and must complete at least one research project during the first two years (the First Year Project). After passing a comprehensive Board Review that includes a two-part written Preliminary Exam, review of course evaluations, and performance in research, students look for thesis advisors during their third year with the strongly stated goal of taking the thesis Qualifying Exam and advancing to candidacy by the end of the third year. In practice, this goal is rarely met, and most students take the exam during the fourth or even fifth year. A strong goal is to accelerate this exam.
Full financial support is available for all qualified graduate students. Support data in Appendix Va show that roughly 60% comes from faculty grants, 25% comes from various internal and external fellowships, and TAships account for the remaining 15%. Grads are required to TA for at least one quarter, and one-third of them TA more than that. Typical stipends are $25 K per year for first-year students, rising to $28 K per year in the last years of the thesis. All GSRs are paid 100% time in summer.
First-year graduate students are supported purely on TAs and fellowships, which permits them in principle to choose a First Year Project free of worry about finding a faculty sponsor. In practice, however, projects typically continue into the summer and the second year, at which point faculty support is needed. A major impediment has been negotiating this transition, when students need support but have not yet found a permanent thesis advisor. The Chair has no discretionary funds to solve this problem. A suite of endowed second-year graduate fellowships is a high priority for fund-raising. Innovative strategies to pool faculty support for second-year students are also being considered, and suggestions from the External Review committee are welcome.
2.4.6 Graduate curriculum:Students are required to take a total of thirteen courses, among which six are required: E&M, Physics of Astrophysics (A and B), Stellar Evolution, Galaxies, and Introduction to Research. A wide array of other courses covers stars, planets, high-energy astrophysics, galaxies, the interstellar medium, and observational techniques and instrumentation, including adaptive optics. The current curriculum reflects the interests and tastes of older faculty, several of whom are retiring or are on leave. A redesign is planned for Fall 2008-9, when all junior faculty will have arrived. Thirteen required courses is high compared to other graduate programs and may reduce our students’ focus on research and extend the time to degree. We are considering reducing the number of required courses, and the External Review committee’s perspectives on this are welcome.
2.4.7 Graduate student research:Graduate students start research in their first year, and the fact that they are fully supported at that time allows them to choose any project they want. The faculty provide a list of possible research projects for incoming graduate students each September. However, additional projects have sometimes been set as requirements in subsequent coursework, so that students have started work on one project only to see it interrupted by another. We have also been slow to recognize that these early projects need to carry funding through the first summer and perhaps the second year as well (see above). Recent discussions have highlighted these issues, and coordination and funding is improving. However, we are still short of the ideal goal in which all students should be free to choose their research topics without worries about faculty funding. Graduate fellowships targeted for second-year students would ease this problem.
2.4.8 Graduate advising, mentoring, and tracking:Each student has a graduate advisor on the faculty. For all third-year and later students, the advisor is the research supervisor; for first- and some second-year students, the advisor is a faculty member assigned to the student on entry. We are now in the second year of a new regime in which each student is required to meet with their advisor once a quarter, which is tracked by making the advisor and student jointly fill out a questionnaire. This program has been more successful in preventing students from falling through the cracks, but mentoring of shy students, particularly in first and second years, is still uneven.
The Board Review at the end of the second year is a critical juncture when students are judged worthy of going on to PhD research. We have recently instituted a provisional pass system whereby marginal students are given one more year to find a supervisor and a thesis topic. Specific milestones are set for these students, and they are tracked more closely during the third year. The system is intended to provide a grace period for students to re-examine their goals and make alternate plans outside of graduate school, if necessary.
All first and second-year students have lengthy interviews with the Chair and the Associate Chair following the Board Review to discuss their performance and highlight issues they need to think about as they complete a thesis and enter the job market. These include a review of personal strengths and weaknesses, the “toolkit” of skills that each student wants to assemble before graduating, effective ways of presenting oneself at conferences and informal gatherings, and strategies to establish a scientific network beyond Santa Cruz in order to set up at least two external letters of recommendation. Individual PhD advisors are also becoming much more aware of the need for these things.
2.4.9 Graduate facilities:Astronomy graduate students need access to world-class telescopes and high-performance computers, and access for most students is satisfactory through their faculty advisors. A chronic problem is sub-standard computer support for first- and second-year students, who must use the “Department network” rather than the “UCO network” if they do not yet have a computer account through a faculty research supervisor. This change was made in 2004 for budgetary reasons because UCO charges were deemed to be too high. The main drawbacks of the new system are the lack of certain software packages (such as DS9) on the Department network and the near-total lack of expert computing consulting available to new students. The problem is one of mismatched expectations—the UCSC campus computing budget, which funds the Department network, provides a general level of computer support that is far lower than the standards of other world-class astronomy departments. We have been working hard to maximize the effectiveness of the meager campus allotment, and services have improved. However, it appears that certain needs can only be supplied by the Observatory, and the continuing free support that they provide, though small, is crucial.
2.4.10 Training of graduate students as future educators:At least three avenues are available for imparting teaching skills to graduate students. First is the standard TA route. The Head TA is a graduate student picked for special skills and interest in teaching, whose duties include organizing a TA workshop for incoming grads. This student also maintains a special website that gives advice on problems likely to be encountered by new TAs. The performance of Astronomy TAs is monitored by reading their TA student evaluations (responsibility of the Department Chair and the Undergraduate Advisor) and by fielding occasional complaints from Astronomy faculty. From this information, we know that Astronomy TAs overall receive high marks from undergraduates. A second training route is the many required talks in courses and a required talk to the Department on the First Year Project. These talks are generally excellent; our students are good speakers. The third and most focused route is participation in the unique science-teaching opportunities offered by the Center for Adaptive Optics. These include an annual Professional Development program, which introduces students to inquiry-based learning for science teaching, and the chance to put these skills to work in outreach activities for science and engineering students at community colleges in the Santa Cruz area and in Hawaii. Two-thirds of our graduate students take advantage of one or more of these CfAO opportunities. These opportunities will continue past 2009 via the Institute for Scientist and Engineer Educators (ISEE).