This chapter discusses findings, recommended actions, and opportunities over the next 4 years to enhance all stages of careers for scientists and engineers in the solar and space physics community (midterm committee task 7). Career enhancement needs are organized into three categories: (1) the need to enhance funding opportunities for heliophysics scientists; (2) the need to enhance professional training and apprenticeships for instrument development, mission development, project management, software development, and theory; and (3) the need to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the heliophysics community. For this discussion, early-career scientists are defined to be those with less than 10 years’ experience since their Ph.D. While some of the discussion in this chapter pertains to all stages of career development, the committee emphasizes the higher vulnerability for early-career scientists who are at greater risk of leaving the heliophysics community due to low funding and/or limited opportunities for heliophysics research.
The increasing importance of space weather applications presents a new growth opportunity for the heliophysics community (discussed more in this report’s Chapter 4). The National Space Weather Action Plan (OSTP, 2015, 2019) calls for more research to improve the accuracy of space weather forecasts through research-to-operations and operations-to-research efforts at NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). To address those needs and also to support NASA’s new plans for sending astronauts to the Moon in 2024, NASA Heliophysics Division (HPD) has created a new Space Weather Science and Applications (SWxSA) research program. There is much promise that these new opportunities can enhance the heliophysics community, but it is too early to tell how impactful these opportunities will be on heliophysics careers.
The complexity of solar and space physics research is growing: projects tend to increasingly involve large data volumes, require interdisciplinary expertise, and use complementary observational and computational approaches. This complexity involves more researchers in larger projects that then require more time for significant progress. The funding awarded for the typical research grant, while increasing, is insufficient for proposing teams to effectively take on larger and more interdisciplinary problems. The NASA
Heliophysics Science Centers (HSCs) were designed to address this issue. Smaller, linked projects, which would support larger teams on a single grant, may also be a worthwhile approach to consider in order to expand opportunities for complex projects. Another idea could be the implementation of some renewable grants based on previous work, or longer-term grants (4-5 years). These approaches could provide greater stability for scientists and graduate students (whose time in graduate school usually exceeds the 3-year span of the typical grant).
A significant concern is the timescale for evaluation and funding of proposals in some NASA programs. While many programs have been effective in getting proposals reviewed, decisions made, and funds disbursed within 6-8 months after the proposal due date, there are some cases of serious delays. For example, the 2017 Living With a Star (LWS) proposal due date for Step-1 was moved from June 7, 2017 to December 5, 2017, because the result from the previous LWS competition was drastically delayed; the due date for a new competition could not occur before the results of the last one were announced. Such long delays and shifting deadlines have a significant impact on postdocs (who often operate on a 1-2 year time scale) and any individuals who rely on soft money.
Moreover, most NASA programs only allow for one opportunity per year, with applications at specified times that may not line up with the timeline of postdocs and early-career scientists. For example, for a program that has its Step-1 due date in March, a graduate student who is hoping to graduate in May (or during the summer) would likely not be able to apply. This graduate student’s next opportunity to apply would be near the end of the first year of their postdoc, with the outcome known 8 months later, in the second half of the second year of their postdoc. The NSF flexibility on proposal submission without a firm due date for some of their research opportunities has helped significantly. A survey of postdocs and early-career scientists to determine the extent of this problem should be considered, perhaps as part of the demographics survey recommended in this report’s Chapter 6.
Moldwin et al. (2013) indicate that the number of long-term scientist positions is not keeping pace with the number of Ph.D.s produced. Anecdotally, one hears of young people leaving the field, more so than in the previous decade. This is not necessarily a negative outcome and may indicate that our students have increasing opportunities in other sectors. However, a more deliberate monitoring of the situation is in order. Heliophysics scientists are currently facing some daunting challenges: the prospect of many years of low-selection rates for proposals, low-level funding per research grant, a slow cycle between proposal and availability of funding, in most cases only one opportunity per year to apply to a program, and few opportunities for applying for a permanent research position (e.g., academic faculty position or a government position). The result is that many very promising young researchers may opt to leave the field to find more lucrative employment in other sectors, and that even older researchers may opt to leave the field or retire early. Retention of graduates into academic jobs has been low for years, so it is important that students are advised about non-academic career opportunities, such as through the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the American Astronomical Society (AAS), and the American Physical Society. It is also critical that talent is retained in the heliophysics research community. While the community wants to ensure that sufficient talent is retained to continue to advance the science, it is a mistake to automatically regard scientists leaving academic research for positions that better serve them and their desires as a bad thing. Society as a whole benefits from the application of quantitative analysis to a wide range of productive activity.
On the other hand, student support from NASA seems to be holding steady. The decadal survey expressed a, “strong desire to see NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF) support for solar and space physics maintained at levels as high as those the Graduate Students Researchers Program (GSRP) historically provided.” Graduate student fellowship awards in heliophysics have increased since 2013 (to 23 percent in 2018’s NESSF and 21 percent in 2019 with the newly instated Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science in Technology (FINESST) program), and total funding by NASA has increased slightly
over the past few years. A key to enhancing diversity in the heliophysics community is attracting more students at the undergraduate level and even earlier through science outreach and citizen science projects. At the undergraduate level, the number of NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs in solar and space physics is small—there were only four in 2019, as discussed more in the next subsection.
The committee notes that low selection rates of proposals affect all stages of scientist careers and more so for entry-level researchers. A portfolio of different magnitudes of grants, given comparable award percentages per round, could address some of these concerns while maintaining flexibility and frequency in research opportunities. There is the concern that enhanced success for retention of early-career researchers could inadvertently reduce support for mid-career and senior researchers.
NSF and NASA have supported heliophysics summer schools for the past 18 years, and these have been a cornerstone for professional training for graduate students and postdocs. The Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling (CISM) Space Weather Summer School has been in operation since 2001 at Boston College and then at National Center for Atmospheric Research High Altitude Observatory since 2016. The NASA LWS Heliophysics Summer School at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder has been active since 2006. The NSF REU program supports about 800 summer programs for undergraduate students each year. The goal of the NSF REU program is to have undergraduate students participate in research and consider a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-related career path; however, only four of the 793 REU programs in 2019 were related to heliophysics. Some other training opportunities include student workshops at the annual CEDAR (Couplings, Energetics, and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions), GEM (Geospace Environment Modeling), SHINE (Solar, Heliosphere, and Interplanetary Environment), and SPD conferences, which are mostly hosted by NSF. The education of the heliophysics workforce is an important element for NSF research programs and is also critically important for NASA, NOAA, and other agencies involved in heliophysics research and space weather applications. Most of heliophysics is taught through university physics, astronomy, and atmospheric science departments. Growing the number of heliophysics-related faculty in those departments, and even creating new academic departments specializing in heliophysics, is important for enhancing heliophysics education. Aspects of heliophysics education are also discussed for the DRIVE “Education” element in Section 3.3.5.
Finding 5.2 The NSF and NASA on-going education programs involving heliophysics summer schools, REU programs, and student workshops offer opportunities for exposing graduate and undergraduates to space physics research, as well as hands-on training. There is great potential for attracting more talent to
the heliophysics community by significantly expanding involvement of undergraduate students through more heliophysics-related REU programs and by growing the number of heliophysics-related professors.
The committee also suggests some enhancements in professional training to address some gaps as related to the evolving nature of research tools and the need to attract and train the next generation of instrument scientists and engineers. Two findings related to those enhancements are presented, and the committee encourages NSF, NASA, and the next decadal survey committee to consider these and other ways to enhance the opportunities for more professional training.
The volume of data delivered by observatories on the ground and in space continues to grow rapidly, often expanding by factors of 1,000 and more from one generation of instrumentation to the next. The rapidly growing data archives with data spanning years or decades now readily enable ensemble studies, along with the traditional, detailed case studies, often through a combination of data from multiple instruments. The development of advanced “numerical laboratories” is an ever more critical component of how we learn about the local cosmos. This is in part because of the need for high-fidelity, first-principle modeling, and in part because the desired physical quantity is often separated from the observables by processes that require cutting-edge forward modeling (such as helioseismic inversions to learn about the Sun, or full heliosphere modeling to understand what energetic neutral atoms tell us about the outer bounds of the heliosphere). Increasingly, machine learning is utilized to extract essential features and trends from large data volumes. Furthermore, other tools such as data visualization and cloud computing are rapidly evolving for scientific analysis with large data sets. The challenge of “big data” also often means the analysis tool is brought to the data rather than the other way around. Training for the use and analysis of big data and associated tools for research could be additional topics for future summer schools and student workshops. By educating and training the solar and space physics community, funding agencies will help create a culture that encourages scientists at all career levels to learn new techniques and maximize their scientific return. Report Chapters 3 and 6 also discuss additional aspects of big data and associated analysis techniques and models. Of special note, this discussion overlaps significantly with the DRIVE “Education” element discussed in Section 3.3.5, and the following Finding 5.3 is collaborative with Recommendation 3.2 in Section 3.3.6.
Finding 5.3 The infrastructure of large data archives and advanced numerical research and analysis tools is a critical element of modern-day science. Professional training about these rapidly evolving tools and modeling techniques is important for the health of heliophysics research programs. The development and maintenance of such tools is given insufficient attention in the development of roadmaps and strategic plans. These infrastructure components, and the teaching of their use, could be discussed on an equal footing with experimental hardware in the planning and budgeting of space- and ground-based observatories.
Involving students with rockets, balloons, and CubeSat experiments has proven to be a positive way to train students as the next-generation workforce for future space missions. Much of this training is done at universities, although there are also several intern opportunities, mostly as summer programs, at NASA centers and in commercial space industry. There is a desire to involve more students in development of space hardware in order to maintain and grow the heliophysics workforce. One approach is to have more partnering between universities and non-university institutions. Some examples of current successful partnerships include the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) San Antonio and University of Texas, San Antonio; SwRI Boulder and University of Colorado, Boulder; Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory and Stanford University; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and University of Maryland; and
Jet Propulsion Laboratory and 13 universities (see https://surp.jpl.nasa.gov/). This committee has identified several barriers to involving more students, which NASA and the next decadal survey committee could address. One barrier for early-career scientists is learning about the management and quality assurance requirements in developing Class D or higher missions for NASA or NOAA. Enhancing training about NASA’s mission standards and requirements (e.g., NPR 8705.4, and NPR 7120.5), and more intern and apprenticeship opportunities for students and postdocs in mission development could help address this barrier. Increases in quality assurance and management requirements, and proposal development costs, even for Small Explorer (SMEX) missions, limit the number of academic institutions that can participate, thus limiting opportunities for graduate students and postdocs to receive hands-on training. Another barrier is related to the low number and frequency of low-cost missions (SMEX, CubeSats). The recent increase in CubeSat science missions, currently at 18 in NASA HPD and at 16 in NSF Geoscience, is significantly helping to address this barrier.
Finding 5.4 Involving students in the development of spaceflight hardware for missions is key to the long-term success of developing the workforce for U.S. space programs. Enhancing the number of partnerships between universities and non-university institutions and further increases in the number and frequency of small satellite missions are example pathways to train more students and early-career scientists and engineers for space missions.
Diversity of thought, backgrounds, races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations creates an environment that sparks more innovation, stimulates more variety in problem-solving approaches to science challenges, and thus achieves a broader range of creative outcomes. Giving heliophysics scientists an opportunity to succeed and creating a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and safe work environment should be a priority for NASA Heliophysics, NSF, and NOAA. Such an environment will enable the full range of talent to emerge in order to develop the next generation of research and analysis tools. There are a few specific early-career research opportunities provided by NSF and NASA, and broadening activities of workforce development, diversity and inclusion, and science outreach are emerging elements in some opportunities, such as in NASA’s HSCs1 and the former NSF CISM program.2
This committee did not have the resources, nor the expertise, to attempt to evaluate the current state of diversity in the heliophysics community; instead it offers considerations for enhancing diversity and recommends that a new demographics survey of the community be done before the next decadal survey, as discussed in Chapter 6.
Anecdotally, the heliophysics community does not likely reflect the diversity of the U.S. population, as is the case for most other science communities. The benefits of diversity to the community are already evident in its large group of international collaborators. For example, the 2018 science and engineering indicators from the National Science Board show that astonomy in general is the most international field, with more than half of its publications (54 percent) internationally co-authored in 2016 (NSB, 2018). It is clear that the solar and space physics community depends on a continuous, high-quality stream of scientific and engineering talent, and a lack of diversity represents a loss of talent (NRC, 2011).
2 See Boston University, Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling, “An NSF Science and Technology Center Strategic and Implementation Plan,” updated January 2006, http://www.bu.edu/cism/Publications/StrategicPlan.pdf.
Although the present NASA leadership has recognized the problem and has taken some actions, the proposed solutions so far are somewhat ad hoc, and it is not clear if there is a long-term strategy or metrics that can be used to measure progress. The development of a strategic plan for inclusion and diversity at either the NASA HPD or Science Mission Directorate level would be beneficial and be based on current research and include a plan for measuring progress. Some solutions for this problem, as discussed below, include (1) changing the selection methods for awarding mission principal investigators (PIs), proposals, and observing time; (2) increasing efforts in mentoring; and (3) incentivizing activities that increase diversity and inclusion.
Female and minority mission PIs in NASA Heliophysics are severely underrepresented. One concern is that no women or minorities proposed as PI for the SMEX 2016 Announcement of Opportunity (AO). A more positive trend is that there are about a half dozen female mission PIs for CubeSats, rockets, and balloon experiments, and one of the four recent selections for SALMON Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) rideshare missions has a female PI. Is this trend for more female mission PIs a sign of more women in the younger sector of the heliophysics community? Or might the selection criteria for NASA PI-led missions have an unintended effect to bias by race and gender? If so, encouraging, or mandating, apprentice opportunities with well-integrated mentoring and training plans for underrepresented groups as a part of the mission proposals could provide a good way to ensure a larger pool of trained PI candidates for future mission AOs.
Of more general concern, the selection criteria may be biased by race and gender in many areas: selecting proposals (NRC, 2011; Lerback et al., 2017), hiring faculty and staff (Moss-Racusin et al., 2012), awarding observing time (Reid, 2014), selecting which papers to cite and co-authors to include (West et al., 2013; Larivière et al., 2013), determining salaries (Porter and Ivie, 2019) and awarding prizes (Lincoln et al., 2012). For example, only 2 out of 32 (6 percent) of Hale prizes, the highest honor bestowed by the Solar Physics Division (SPD) of the AAS, went to women (AAS, 2019). The prize started in 1978, and the first woman to win the prize was in 2010. To address this, funding agencies could examine and potentially adjust their selection methods for awarding mission PIs, proposals, and observing time. One successful solution for increasing the diversity of proposal awardees and recipients of observing time is the use of dual-anonymous (double-blind) peer reviews (e.g., Urry, 2015). Another example is including the list of authors on a proposal but not specifying who is PI and who are co-investigators. Another solution is to give underrepresented groups visibility in prestigious settings—such as prizes, committees, lectures, and panels—without over-burdening the same few people over and over again.
Positive mentoring has had an extraordinarily positive impact on increasing diversity and retaining talent. The solar and space physics decadal survey (NRC, 2013) recommended programs that specifically target enhancing diversity, such as the NSF Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences program. This program focuses on REUs and financial aid. NSF has several other programs to enhance diversity, including Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (INCLUDES), NSF’s ADVANCE (Organizational Change for Gender Equity in STEM Academic Professions), NSF’s Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Program, NSF’s Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, and now-defunct programs like CISM. The committee recommends strengthening these programs and emulating their core principles in other programs.
The recently started NASA IMAP mission provides a positive example of desirable, proactive inclusion in its Student Collaboration and Future Heliophysics Leaders programs (McComas et al., 2018). This PI-led Solar-Terrestrial Probes mission is integrating, as part of its overall mission plan, opportunities for real-world, hands-on participation for earlier-career team members from diverse backgrounds. In a similar vein, NSF’s review of its science and technology centers found that CISM had the most successful diversity program of the 11 centers reviewed (Chubin et al., 2010). These illustrate several ways that heliophysics major research and technology projects have made meaningful strides toward addressing the demographic
challenges of STEM fields while maintaining their emphasis on achieving their scientific and technical goals. Using these examples as models for designing and defining future programs is one relatively straightforward way to make progress.
Incentivizing activities that increase inclusion and diversity remains important, as does making sure that these incentives are properly rewarded. The new mentoring and diversity components required in NASA’s HSC 2019 proposals have good potential for increasing the diversity within the centers, as well as providing additional training opportunities. Best practices learned from the HSCs over the next couple of years could guide future proposal opportunities to further incentivize more diversity in the heliophysics community. Diversity is also discussed in this report’s Chapter 3 as part of the DRIVE Realize element and as part of Recommendation 3.2.
It is unclear how NASA measures diversity and inclusion. Some solicitations have begun to include positive language about assembling a diverse team. It would be helpful for future solicitations to specify the types of diversity sought, what the proposal evaluation criteria concerning diversity are, and how diversity is evaluated over the course of a project.
The committee recommends that the next solar and space physics decadal survey include a State of the Professional Panel, similar to the Astro2020 decadal survey. As discussed more in this report’s Chapter 6, the solar and space physics community could partner with the American Institute of Physics Statistical Research Center to collect and report demographic and climate data specific to solar and space physics (a similar undertaking was recommended by Rudolph et al.  for the astronomy community). It is also important to note that solar and space physicists can identify with more than one underrepresented group. The committee also suggests computing statistics about intersectionality instead of, for example, computing statistics for underrepresented minorities and women separately (Bowleg, 2012). The heliophysics community can also learn about diversity from other similar science discipline surveys, such as the Planetary Workforce Survey (2011) (Rathbun, 2017).
Finding 5.5 Increasing the participation and inclusion of individuals of different genders, races, cultures, and ages in positions of leadership roles in heliophysics (e.g., mission PIs) and for recognition (e.g., honors, awards) would better reflect today’s societal makeup. It has been shown that women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields face consistent bias in proposal selections, hiring, salaries, observing time awards, paper citations, and prizes and awards. It is critical to better track the demographics of the heliophysics community in order to assess the effectiveness of programs that seek to increase the diversity of its membership.
Recommendation 5.1: NASA, NSF, and NOAA should develop strategic plans for the heliophysics community with goals and metrics to improve the diversity of race, gender, age, and country of origin. The next decadal survey should include a State of the Profession Panel, similar to the Astro2020 decadal survey. The State of the Profession Panel should have in advance the demographics/diversity survey data recommended in this report’s Recommendation 6.2.
Some potential solutions for the diversity problem include
- Adjusting the evaluation and selection methods for awarding proposals and observing time, such as dual anonymous reviews;
- Incentivizing or requiring activities that increase diversity and inclusion, such as mentoring and apprenticeships to create a broader pool of possible mission and project PIs and reaching out to minority-serving universities to establish partnerships and recruit students;
- Encouraging review panels, workshops, conferences, and other meetings to adopt explicit codes of conduct to remind all involved to respect civil, inclusive conduct in these activities.
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