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ALMA NRAO Student Observing Support Program Financial Overview

by Dong-Chan Kim last modified Apr 25, 2011 by Pat Murphy

Overview of the NRAO Student Observing Support Program

Overview of the NRAO Student Observing Support Program

Program Structure

The NRAO Student Observing Support Program is structured around the following three documents:

  1. Preliminary Funding Proposal,
  2. Final Funding Proposal, and
  3. General Provisions
Users wanted the simplicity of not having the Observing Proposal submissions slowed down by needing (a) to produce detailed budget requests and (b) to seek authorization from administrators at their institutions. Therefore, the "Preliminary Funding Proposal" is be submitted along with the observing proposal. The "Preliminary Funding Proposal" is included in the Proposal Submission Tool. The Observing Proposal, minus the "Preliminary Funding Proposal" would be forwarded to the science referees and the telescope allocation committee (TAC), as usual. The "Preliminary Funding Proposal" would be forwarded to the Student Observing Support Administrator, the individual (or sum of individuals) who oversees the program at the NRAO.

About two months after proposal submission, the science referees, the group of predominantly external scientists who provide the peer review for the Observing Proposals, return their evaluations. These reports would be forwarded to the TAC, which would then meet as usual to award observing time and to issue notifications regarding time requests to proposers. The Student Observing Support Administrator would then convene the Student Observing Support Committee, to evaluate "Preliminary Funding Proposals" associated with the successful time requests. Funding would be awarded by the Student Observing Support Committee, based on rankings from the science referees, comments from the TAC, and information about other awards to the investigator that are related to the Observing Proposal. Notifications regarding all funding requests would be communicated to investigators by the Student Observing Support Administrator. In particular, investigators awarded funding would be asked (a) to download, complete, and return the "Final Funding Proposal"; and (b) to download the "General Provisions" for their reference and for reference by the appropriate administrators at their institutions. The Student Observing Support Administrator would coordinate award activation, disbursement, and deactivation with the awardee institution, usually through communications with the investigator and/or the appropriate institutional administrator.

Program Background

A guiding (and prudent) assumption has been that the NRAO will have a very limited amount of funds to disburse as awards. But the NRAO wishes to assist many investigators through this Student Observing Support Program. Resolving this dilemma is the reason for (a) limiting indirect costs, (b) disallowing tuition, (c) imposing a limit of one funding proposal per observing proposal, (d) imposing a funding cap of $35,000 in active awards per investigator, and (e) usually limiting the award duration to one year. The funding cap for student support is $35,000 to be divided between student stipends and miscellaneous expenses. Regarding stipends, it is considered essential that an award be able to support a graduate student for up to one full year. At the NRAO, the current wage rate for a graduate student is $1850 per month and the current fringe rate is 32%. These rates may differ at other institutions but, used as a guide, imply an annual cost of $29,000 for a graduate student. In addition, we provide an amount of up to $3,000 to offset the cost to the institution of administering the award. These costs are reflected in the funding cap of $32,000 imposed on student stipends. A funding cap of $3,000 is imposed on miscellaneous expenses, for computer hardware and/or student travel to domestic meetings to present acquired data. Domestic meeting locations include those within the U.S. and its territories, within Canada, or within Mexico. Inclusion of the latter two countries is consistent with emerging North American partnerships in radio astronomy, as well as with venues for meetings of the American Astronomical Society. A two year program may well be better suited to supporting a doctoral dissertation with radio astronomy as a focus. So although this initial program is oriented toward a one year program, a request for support of a two year program of observations for a dissertation may be considered. The last four items in the "General Provisions" are the minimum legal words that the NRAO should convey to awardee investigators and institutions, regarding records and access (item 10), nondiscrimination (item 11), behavior of institutions (item 12), inventions (item 13), and copyright (item 14). These words were distilled from the Cooperative Agreement AST-0956545 between the NSF and AUI entitled "Management and Operations of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory", as well as from the general grant provisions applicable to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra XRay Observatory.