AOSS Strategic Plan

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Strategic Plan: Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences


This started as text but was derailed by the urgency to generate a document that justified TT&T hiring. It became, therefore, a list of ideas and notes.

What is clear is the following.

Hiring is the most important way for setting strategic direction.

Research and Instrumentation are motivators for hiring.

Research and Instrumentation are major sources of funding.

Education is not a motivator for hiring.

Success with the College Business model is important, because that is where hiring slots come from.

But that success begets Education expectations.

Service is important to careers, influences the external environment, but is basically, an intangible.

This is the Strategic Plan for the Atmospheric Oceanic and Space Sciences (AOSS) Department at the University Michigan. This plan is to help guide our future from 2008 - 2013.

The evolution of AOSS will guided by where we want to go and many external factors that we do not control. We can, however, anticipate these externalities and be prepared to respond to them. How the Department actually evolves depends on the decisions we make, our behavior, the external environment, and factors that we cannot anticipate. This strategic plan assumes that the Department will benefit by identifying a set of core activities around which we coordinate activity and investments.

Where we go in five years also depends on where we are today. Since the last strategic plan the Department has hired several new tenure track and research faculty members. These hires were focused around two core activities: space modeling, and climate / climate change. These hires anticipated the retirement and departure of retirement. These hires served to sustain the Department's strengths in space and planetary science and to anchor the atmospheric science assets of the department around climate science. Currently the Department is recruiting a tenure track faculty member whose expertise and activities involves the design, building, and deployment of measurement systems; i.e., an instrumentalist. Decisions on faculty hiring are the most important decisions that the Department makes to guide its evolution.

There are several elements that describe the departments activities. These are Research, Education, Service, and Instrumentation. In addition, it is essential to consider the Business Model of the College of Engineering. The presence of Instrumentation implies that there is significant engineering activity in a department where most of the faculty performs scientific research. The coexistence of the science and engineering activities is part of our culture. We find value in this mix, and we will continue to pursue both science and engineering activities.

The externalities are critical to AOSS. The success on the department is dependent upon research grants, which have come largely from federal agencies. A second important source of funding comes from the state/university and is related to the education mission. There have been significant changes in the external environment, which require explicit attention in the strategic plan.

What becomes clear is that in the department, at the top of the food chain

Back to Main AOSS Contents


Major external factors are those associated with federal research budgets and those associated with the state's education mission. These place a tension on personnel because of the research mission, education mission, and the policy that tenure faculty, responsible for the bulk of research dollars, also carry the bulk of the teaching load.

The external funding environment will likely see budget increases. However, it is important to consider the time scales for federal budgeting and it is important to realize that research budgets are often part of the discretionary budget, and in some agencies, often taxed to meet their day-to-day operations and mission requirements. More importantly, it is likely that much of the increase in federal budgets will not be in the traditional science agencies. CDC, Agricultural, NGS are all seeking climate money. Within the traditional communities NOAA is likely to become the core for climate services. DoE currently has a strong claim on climate research money because of the links to energy. (Remember Bush gave the climate problem to Commerce and Energy. This will not be undone overnight.)

The Decadal Survey will give some substance to NASA Earth science missions. However, the recovery time scale for NASA missions is, at best, long when compared with the early career time scale of new faculty.

Comments on Integrated Document

The tactical goals worry me. First they are number / business oriented, and so they immediately demand to know how they were determined. My first question would be why 5 faculty? (That is quasi-rhetorical.) This brings up the question of the business goals, and puts me in memory of Paul Drake's memo from last May. What is the role of business goals in the department. Perhaps most important, meeting the business goals is what gets us more faculty positions, and faculty positions are core to the strategic goals of the department. The second factor that is linked to the business goals is strongly related to education and the "state" portion of our funding. In our case, this is one of the places where being embedded in CoE has the biggest influence. I had rather see the tactical goals written to address a number of identified positions, and an emphasis on education goals. The identified positions follow later in the document. The education goals need some discussion, but I would favor drawing the masters programs to the forefront and integrating the masters programs more effectively with the undergraduate program.

Where we have the words "... to take maximum advantage of the university-wide interdisciplinary faculty hire initiative to accomplish our goals ... we conflate this document with the current potential hiring exercise. This raises a lot of flags with me ... For example, if we are not successful where does this leave our strategy. To me if we have a strategy, then we can exploit the opportunity offered by the university policy. Next, every department can plan to take maximum advantage, that is opportunistic, not strategic. Third, I think that part of our success will be to contribute far more assertively to the development of the university activities across the department. I would like to see a commitment to this pro-active role in the university environment fleshed out more fully and to have departmental and college buy in. It is my opinion that this will contribute strongly to our success, because it is perhaps through institute and provost level efforts that we can develop the cross-disciplinary activities.

Research faculty: This particular paragraph leaves me cold.We need to give much more weight and consideration to the role of research faculty. First this is inserted in the space part, but research faculty is not only in the space part. Second, clearly, if we are to grow to meet our ambitions there will be the need to use research faculty positions. The expectation of meeting our ambitions through TT&T alone is unrealistic, perhaps not "inappropriate." I think that the role of tenure, research faculty,and lecturers needs to be more fully explored in development of the internal behavior of the department. Perhaps not part of this particular document.

Engineering: Again engineering is here embedded in Space Environment. But engineering is a key attribute of the AOSS culture. There are likely to be new Earth science / climate missions. What Zurbuchen has been pushing is to think of instrumentation to support all sorts of needs for environmental information on the ground. Engineering and/or instrumentation is an element of the department that sits with Research / Education / and Service. This does not recognize the role of Engineering in our culture (and it brings challenges as well), its importance to our research and education mission or where is places us within CoE.

Education: We are facing some major challenges in education. One is that amount of time that is spent on education versus the professional value it seems to get is out of proportion. That is we work hard at it. We are spread too thin with undergraduate and graduate requirements. We have a huge shortage of courses. I could go on. This plan seems to take on more and more students with out evaluation of the impact on curriculum, time, etc., etc. Success goals should be much more focused on the quality of education and jobs that our students are getting.