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Astronomy graduate students in other departments

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2.4.11 Astronomy graduate students in other departments: The Astronomy Department interfaces with graduate students in two other departments. The interaction with Physics is close—faculty supervise theses across department lines, and students are free to choose advisors in either department. CfAO also hosts several Engineering students doing technical projects. The existence of CODEP (Center for the Origin and Development of External Planets) ought to create a similar shared community of graduate students between Astronomy and EPS, but this has not yet fully matured, partly because CODEP lacks the resources needed to mount community-building activities. A goal for the future is to build CODEP into a more vibrant research community where graduate students from Astronomy and EPS can meet and forge closer ties.
2.4.12 Recent innovations: Several innovations have been instituted lately to strengthen the Department’s intellectual atmosphere, particularly with the aim of engaging graduate students. Morning coffee is now well attended by students and postdocs (but only some faculty!). Graduate students host the weekly colloquium speaker at lunch at the University Center, and, to prepare for this, they lead a discussion of recent papers by the speaker at Tuesday morning coffee. Grads can also serve as hosts for colloquium visitors, and the Department subsidizes grad lunches and dinners with the speakers. Grads also have a representative at faculty meetings except for confidential discussions of promotions and hiring.
2.4.13 Academic proposals pending for the graduate program: Astronomy has no new proposals pending.
2.4.14 Factors limiting the size of the graduate program: Four factors play a role in setting the size of the graduate program. To compete with other world-class programs, Astronomy needs to provide first-class research opportunities. One limit on the number of grads is therefore faculty research dollars, not the number of Astronomy TAs (excess TAs are now being filled by grads in Physics and EPS). From website data, it appears that graduate student-to-faculty ratios in other leading astronomy departments cluster near 1.7, with excursions up to 2.6. However, all departments at the high end have large partner institutions to help them share the load (e.g., Harvard and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory). UCSC’s ratio of 1.7 is in good balance with the present ability of our faculty to generate GSR support. Thus, increasing the size of the graduate program requires more faculty.
A second factor is the absolute number of students. Our present number of 35-40 students is close to the largest departments elsewhere (Arizona, 45; Berkeley, 40; Harvard, 50; Chicago, 40). By this metric, we could grow by perhaps 10-20% but not much more.
A third factor is the quality of PhD applicants. As noted, we are currently accepting all qualified applicants, so that increasing graduate numbers depends on becoming more attractive. Our outreach efforts next fall will advertise more fully the considerable assets we have, and broadening the research program through a long-wavelength initiative would attract still more students. Conversely, if we fail to engage effectively with long-wavelength astronomy, the number of qualified applicants might actually decline.
The final factor is space. Increasing the number of students and faculty means increasing the total personnel of the department in rough proportion, as postdocs and other support personnel will have to keep pace. Do we have room to expand our total offices by 10-20%? This is analyzed below, and the answer is a qualified yes, provided that anticipated space opening up in the Center for Adaptive Optics is used for new faculty and their affiliated students and postdocs.
2.4.15 Goals for the graduate program during the next review period: In view of the above, our goals for the graduate program are as follows:

  • Attract and fund the most talented graduate students by advertising the program more intensively, attracting more international students, and broadening and enlarging the program with a new initiative in long-wavelength astronomy.

  • Increase the fraction of theory-oriented students.

  • Revamp the graduate curriculum to reflect the skills and interests of new faculty.

  • Expand the number of graduate students by 10-20%, all resources permitting.

  • Improve the research productivity of graduate students by better management of pre-thesis projects and other strategies now under review.

  • Provide second-year students with flexible support options not tied to faculty grants, preferably through endowed fellowships.

  • Curtail the number of students taking more than 6 years to the PhD degree by instituting appropriate facilitating and motivating strategies.

  • Create a more cohesive graduate community between EPS and Astronomy for students and faculty engaged in studying solar system and planet formation.

2.5 Objectives, overall quality, and direction of the postdoctoral program
2.5.1 Review of the program: The postdoctoral phase in astronomy has become a critical career stage during which junior scientists solidify key competencies that are difficult to create later in life, when other duties interfere. Since postdocs are still learning, departments need to provide training and mentoring for them much as they do for graduate students. However, by virtue of their added experience and knowledge, postdocs have the extraordinary potential to contribute back to a department by helping to teach and mentor younger students. Indeed, these activities should be an integral part of the training opportunities we provide. The intense research focus of postdocs also enables them to play a leading role in shaping a department’s intellectual community. Finally, a talented pool of postdoctoral fellows adds luster to a department and is a powerful magnet for attracting better postdocs and graduate students and retaining excellent faculty.
The Astronomy Department has made important strides to better integrate our postdocs into the intellectual fabric of our community, but we can and should go farther. Our postdocs now have a designated representative at faculty meetings. A postdoc has been added to the colloquium committee, and postdocs now sign up to host colloquium speakers, as do faculty. They lead a weekly journal club and give at least one talk per month in the Friday Lunchtime Astrophysics Seminar Hour (FLASH). Finally, postdocs are invited to play a larger role in directing student research by supervising undergraduate Senior Theses and graduate First Year Projects (under faculty oversight). These are all fairly recent developments.
As of June 2007, the count of postdocs in Astronomy is 16, down slightly from 18 at the time of the last External Review (but there are now also five temporary junior researchers with various appointments). Ten of the postdocs are male, and six are female. However, 12 are employed on faculty research grants, while only four have prize postdoctoral fellowships on non-PI grants (two Hubble Fellows, one NSF Fellow, and one Swiss National Science Foundation Fellow). We have emphasized the important role that prize postdoctoral fellowships have in setting a department’s intellectual tone, as the freedom to design one’s own research agenda attracts a higher caliber of incumbent. Thus, the relative paucity of prize postdoctoral fellows at UCSC is a concern. In fact, the strongest criticism of the UCSC Astronomy by recent candidates for faculty jobs is the lack of endowed departmental prize postdoctoral fellowshipswe are the only leading astronomy program without them. A further obstacle to observational postdocs per se is UC’s systemwide policy that prevents postdocs (from any campus) from applying directly for Keck time. Perhaps this policy should be revisited.

In view of the importance of postdocs, in our opinion a top priority for new development funds is the creation of 3-6 UCSC endowed prize postdoctoral fellowships. This number would enable the award of 1-2 such positions each year. These fellowships would be a permanent feature of the program and must therefore be supported mainly by campus funds. Ideally, they should be unrestricted as to field, but some could be more targeted depending on the source of funds (e.g., as part of a new computational astrophysics center). Raising the endowment for these postdocs is one of two top-priority items we have submitted for the UCSC Comprehensive Campaign.

2.5.2 Goals for the postdoctoral program during the next review period: During the next eight years it is our aim to:

  • Establish the endowment for 3-6 UCSC prize postdoctoral fellowships.

  • Further integrate postdocs into Department life by encouraging closer faculty mentoring and partnering with faculty in supervising the research of younger students.

2.6 Objectives, overall quality, and direction of the undergraduate program
2.6.1 Overview: The Department’s undergraduate program is in three parts. The bulk of undergraduate teaching is done in large introductory courses for non-scientists, which are used by a large fraction of UCSC undergraduates to meet the campus “Q” (quantitative) requirement. Astronomy is the largest single supplier of Q courses; 40% of all UCSC undergrads take an astronomy Q class.
With regard to training in the discipline, we believe that Physics is the proper undergraduate major for future astronomers, and so we do not offer an Astronomy major per se but instead have partnered with Physics to offer a joint major for professionally oriented students (the Physics/Astrophysics track [ASPH]). Astronomy’s role is to teach the upper- and lower-division astronomy courses needed for the track and to supervise Senior Theses.
We also offer an undergraduate minor for students interested in broadening their exposure to astronomy but without the rigor of the Physics/Astrophysics major (see below).
A list of undergraduate Senior Theses in the Astrophysics track since 2003-4 is given in Appendix IIId, including thesis title, advisor, and the position taken when leaving UCSC. General information on the undergraduate program is given in the UCSC course catalog at (see also Appendix IIIb). The undergraduate Physics handbook is at (see also Appendix IIIa). Course offerings are listed at, and course descriptions may be found at Course syllabi are at (see also Appendix IIIc). Undergraduate enrollments and instructors for individual courses going back several years are in Appendix VIa, a summary of all undergraduate course enrollments is in Appendix IVc.D, and the number of undergraduate student FTE versus year are summarized in Appendix IVd.D.
2.6.2 The lower-division curriculum: The goals of the large introductory courses are to broaden the science horizons of students who are not science-oriented and to increase their familiarity with quantitative data, measurements, and reasoning (“Q” courses). Our most popular course is Astronomy 2, a one-quarter overview of all of astronomy that is taken by ~1,000 students per year (see Appendix IVc.D). Seven other more specialized introductory courses cover specific topics (e.g., stars, solar system, cosmology, history of astronomy), most of which also carry Q designations. Their Q content was reviewed and approved in 2006-7 by the Committee on Educational Policy, and the Department Chair has the responsibility to ensure that a uniform level of rigor is maintained. Syllabi, homework sets, and exams are kept on file in the Department office as a resource to communicate Q standards to new faculty. Altogether, the introductory program for non-science majors reached roughly 1,750 students in 2006-7.
Parallel versions of five introductory courses are given for science majors, the difference being the inclusion of more physics and math, including calculus. These courses also serve as introductory courses for the Physics/Astrophysics major and for the minor. These courses reach another ~100 students annually.
2.6.3 The Physics/Astrophysics major: The Physics/Astrophysics major (ASPH) was instituted in 2001, and enrollments are given in Appendix IVa.U and plotted in Figure 5. This year, there are 51 juniors and seniors enrolled in the program, up from 10 students five years ago. ASPH students now constitute 40% of all Physics majors, which altogether number 140 undergraduates. This makes UCSC one of the largest bachelors physics programs in the nation—despite a very small Physics faculty of only 19.5 FTE. Although Physics is not the subject of this report, it is fair to note this record and express our thanks for having such a successful undergraduate partner.

Figure 5: Student enrollments in the undergraduate Physics/Astronomy track (ASPH).

In view of the fact that ASPH enrollments are still climbing, goals for the ASPH major are still developing. We do not yet have a clear idea of what kind of students are seeking us out, or how qualified they are. With such numbers, it is reasonable that many will go on to astronomy graduate school and that a handful will go to distinguished institutions; this is already happening, based on the graduation histories in Appendix IIId. We are therefore actively trying to attract the most promising students in the UC system and have started an elite Freshman Discovery Seminar (Ay 70) for the best incoming students each fall quarter, with enrollment limited to fifteen. The class takes students on field trips to Mt. Hamilton and on tours of several campus astronomy labs. Three Regents Scholars who participated last year declared that Ay70 was the most important formative experience of their freshman year.

The upper-division curriculum for ASPH contains five courses on core topics such as stars, high-energy astrophysics, cosmology, and planets/solar systems (a sixth course, on GR, is taught by Physics). An optional advanced lab is also offered. The other degree requirement is a Senior Thesis, many of which are also directed by Physics faculty. A list of students receiving the degree is in Appendix IVb.U, and Senior Thesis projects are in Appendix IIId. To help ASPH students find faculty supervisors, we have instituted a twice-yearly “Astronomy Research Social,” where faculty, grads, and postdocs present potential research topics. Colleagues from NASA Ames, SLAC, LLNL, and LANL will visit next fall and give tips on how to apply for summer lab internships. The position of Undergraduate Advisor has recently been created to mentor undergraduates and connect them with appropriate faculty. All of these developments are quite recent.
2.6.4 Teaching assistants: In 2006-7, Astronomy employed 29 teaching assistants to service 1865 lower-division students, for a student/TA ratio of 64. 21.5 of these were Astronomy students, and 7.5 came from Physics and Earth and Planetary Sciences. The history of TA allocations from the Division is given in Appendix IVf.D. The target student/TA ratio used by the Division to allocate TAs to Astronomy has hovered near 80, but the Department has historically provided more, which is why the actual student/TA ratio last year was only 64. The Division TA allocation was $120 K, but we spent $151 K (plus another $12 K for graders). The extra $31 K came from carry-forward funds. These will be exhausted after next year, and we will then have to cut back to the Division ratio of 80. This will cause hardship to instructors, but we will still have enough TAs to support all Astronomy graduate students who need TAs, though barely.
2.6.5 Undergraduate teaching quality: The main way that teaching quality is monitored (in all types of classes) is through student evaluations, which are included in each faculty’s promotion file and are read and discussed by peers at promotion time. A teaching appraisal is included in the Chair’s (or UCO Director’s) letter to the Dean, which is provided to the candidate. The Department has a strong teaching ethic, and student evaluations overall are very positive. Indeed, in 2006-7, Adjunct Professor Adriane Steinacker received the UCSC Excellence in Teaching Award. Some faculty are also experimenting with novel techniques such as inquiry-based learning and clicker methodology. One faculty member was referred to the campus Center for Teaching Excellence for coaching to improve lecture presentations, prompted by comments in student evaluations.
2.6.6 Measures of program quality: Undergraduate outcomes in the Physics/Astrophysics track are summarized in Appendix IIId. Nearly half of ASPH Senior-Thesis students are going on to astronomy or physics graduate school, and the other half are in a variety of technical and non-technical positions. In 2004, ASPH student Sloane Wiktorowicz won the Chancellor’s Award for graduating in the top 1% of the class, and in 2006, Aaron Wolf won the Steck Award for best UCSC Senior Thesis.
Other than student evaluations, which are overwhelmingly positive, we do not have metrics to monitor program quality in the large introductory classes.
2.6.7 Gaps in the undergraduate program: Though growth in the undergraduate major has been impressive, access to first-class computer facilities is still evolving. The same problems that affect graduate students on the Department computer network also plague the undergraduates. An undergraduate “computer lounge” was created recently with connections to all computer networks, but access to the UCO network still needs a faculty research account. Undergraduates also require expensive software packages like IDL and Mathematica, and campus financing for these has not yet been worked out. The lounge is also located far away in another building, whereas it should really be centrally located to place undergraduates in close contact with graduate students and faculty. For all of these reasons, the present lounge is an interim solution and needs further improvement.
The second missing element is a first-class undergraduate laboratory. Such labs are the jewel of astronomy bachelors programs elsewhere, but our lab course is optional, and frankly somewhat marginal owing to lack of adequate space, equipment, and technical support. An ideal goal would be to unify the computer lounge and lab space to create a kind of “magnet area” that would be the focus of undergraduate life, as happens in good departments elsewhere. Private funds might be found for lab equipment, but the campus needs to provide space and technical help.
In addition to the Physics/Astrophysics major, the Department also offers an older Astronomy minor. However, the requirements of this degree have now been largely duplicated by the major, and the high rigor of the minor drives away students who wish to go beyond introductory astronomy but do not wish to acquire full pre-professional training. Requirements for the minor will be reviewed and revised in 2007-8.
2.6.8 Proposals pending for new undergraduate programs: None.
2.6.9 Goals for the undergraduate program: Given the relative youth of the undergraduate Physics/Astrophysics major, our goals for the next review period are as follows:

  • Improve undergraduate laboratory and computing facilities, supported partly by campus resources and partly by private fund-raising.

  • Attract high-quality undergrads by offering special programs for talented freshmen.

  • Revise and streamline requirements for the minor so that it services students with a wider range of interests and backgrounds.

  • Place a significant number of ASPH majors in high-ranking graduate programs.

  • Increase access to undergrad research opportunities at UCSC, LLNL, LBL, SLAC, and LANL.

2.7 Administrative resources
2.7.1 Department budget: Appendix If gives three types of budget summaries. Appendix If.1 shows coarsely binned fund totals going back three years with starting balances, expenditures for that year, and carry-forwards. Appendix If.2 covers the last 11 years and shows income versus expenditures by year with a somewhat finer division into categories. This is the most useful table for showing trends in the operating budget with time. Appendix If.3 provides a detailed look at expenses in 2006-7.
The available funds to run the academic program consist of the operating budget (which has hovered in the high thirty-thousand dollar range since 1998-99), plus roughly $10 K per year from opportunity funds (the Department’s share of grant overhead), plus $3 K for instructional equipment (mainly student computers), plus $3 K in “reward funds” for teaching summer session classes, for total annual cash revenues of roughly $58 K (faculty recruitment costs are paid for separately.) Aside from some tiny gift and endowment income, these are the total cash resources available to the Chair. Their amount has increased by less than 5% since 1999-00 (see Appendix If.2), and their real purchasing power has declined by 15% based on the Consumer Price Index.
This cash budget does not pay for office staff, who are discussed separately below. It does cover all supplies, xeroxing, instructional materials, printing charges, administrative phones, equipment and computer purchases, new furniture, half the cost of space renovations, extra compensation for lecturers beyond that covered by the Division, half of the colloquium budget (the other half comes from UCO), the Department’s contributions to faculty start-up packages, social events and retreats, student subsidies for colloquium lunches and dinners, a large fraction of meeting and workshop costs, a fraction of web development costs, graduate student recruitment costs, and the salary of the Undergraduate Advisor. Many of these categories are new within the last two years. Stepped-up fund-raising activities in connection with the new development assistant will be a further drain. This budget is not large enough, and we ran a deficit of roughly $15 K in FY2006.
The worst problems with the budget are (1) the lack of any margin to deal with unplanned events (such as a grad student whose funding falls through or a class that suddenly loses an instructor) and (2) the inability to reward, encourage, or support new activities. Unlike many other leading astronomy departments, the UCSC Department has virtually no endowment or gift income because such funds have always gone to UCO. To change this, the current Chair is contributing both Chair’s stipend and summer salary to found an endowment. These gifts continue a long tradition of personal contributions by Chairs to the Department budget, a tradition called “saintly” by the last External Review committee. We do not wish to imply that Astronomy is any worse off than other departments at UCSC—all departments have such tiny budgets. That said, $15 K more is needed just to cover current costs, with an additional $20 K for emergencies and some discretionary money for the Chair.
2.7.2 Department staffing: The campus funds two FTE in the Department office, the Department Administrator plus one assistant. Travel, purchasing, and grant administration are provided gratis for all faculty by the UCO Business Office, which we estimate to be the equivalent of three more FTE; these are not paid for by campus funds. An additional 0.25 FTE comes from Information and Technical Services for the website and the Department computer network. We also include 0.5 FTE from Physics for our share of their Undergraduate Advisor. The total staff comes to 5.75 FTE, of whom 2.75 are paid out of campus funds, 3 come from the Observatory, and only two work directly for the Chair.
This staff is the same as we had at the last review, which the previous External Review committee called too small by half, and workloads have increased since then. For comparison, the UC Irvine Physics department has a staff of 22 FTE for a department with 46 faculty, the UC Berkeley Astronomy department has a staff of 9 for a faculty of 16, and Princeton Astronomy has a staff of 8 for a faculty of 16. These are ratios of about two to one. Our staffing level of 5.75 for 23 faculty is clearly too small, and many important jobs are getting done poorly or not at all. For example, we have no paid help to assist with astronomy classroom demonstrations, audio-visual materials, or laboratory demonstrations, despite the fact that we teach more Q classes than any other department on campus—all of this work is done by faculty. There is no permanent position of Undergraduate Advisor despite the many students now seeking research projects in the Physics/Astrophysics major. The Department Administrator needs trained assistants to maintain the Department website and academic, budgetary, and alumni records. A technical writer is needed to assist faculty in preparing major grant proposals and to write an outreach newsletter. A visualization expert is needed to assist faculty in producing high-quality images and movies, which are becoming increasingly de rigeur to communicate and publish scientific work. Adding these FTE would roughly double the Department staff, in agreement with the External Review committee’s appraisal and with actual staffing levels in other departments. The full-time development staff person to be added next year will help, but even then the campus will supply only 50%.

Besides TAs (which were discussed in Section 2.6.4), the final component of the budget is Temporary Academic Staff (TAS), who are non-ladder lecturers and adjunct professors teaching classes for which ladder faculty are not available. For the last two years, TAS staff have taught 30% of the lower-division undergraduate enrollments. The quality of teaching by Astronomy TAS staff is excellent according to student evaluations. The Division funding history for TASs is given in Appendix IVf.D. The dollar amount has declined by roughly one-third since 1999-00, and we ran a deficit in this category last year of $8 K, or 25%. Our need for TASs may decline in future as more faculty are hired. However, right now, TAS lecturers are an important part of the Department’s instructional program, and support provided by the Division does not cover their cost.

To summarize, through 2006-7, the cash budget of the Astronomy Department declined by roughly 15% in purchasing power since the last External Review, and the TAS budget declined by one-third. The TA budget kept pace with enrollments but is not large enough to cover Astronomy’s preferred student/TA ratio. In dollars, the 2006-7 budget was $58 K in cash, $31 K for TASs, $16 K for graders, and $120 K for TAs, for a total resource budget of $225 K. Deficits were $15 K in cash, $8 K for TASs, and $30 K for TAs, for a total deficit of $53 K, or 24% overall. Looking forward, we can handle part of this by cutting back to the Division standard of 80 students per TA, and the TAS deficit may resolve automatically as more faculty are hired. However, strategies to deal with the cash deficit are not immediately apparent. Our already small Department staff also remained constant since the last External Review despite a large workload increase.
A consequence of the small-staff, low-budget policy for departments at UCSC is that few faculty want to be department chairs, and leadership at the department level is weak. The previous External Review committee also mentioned this problem. The net result is that UCSC spends a large amount on faculty salaries but does not offer enough support to reap the full benefit of those salaries. In our opinion, campus funding streams need to be rebalanced to maximize overall campus productivity.

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