A New Proposal Failure Mode

Before I say this, let me preface my remarks with the statement that I understand the reasoning of the Time Allocation Committtee (TAC), and it's not an insane decision. It's as I predicted; they're worried that the observations are too hard because the targets are faint. My collaborator and I knew this going into the proposal, but thought it was worth a shot.

I just got back the NOAO TAC report for a proposal I wrote for 5 nights on the WIYN 3.5m telescope this year. I know form inside information that this semester, the telescope was not very oversubscribed-- the number of nights requested was only 10% or so more than.the number of nights available As such, I felt optimistic that our proposal would be scheduled, and was surprised when I found out it wasn't.

The report contains these two bits of information:

  • Ranked in the top quartile of all requests on this telescope.
  • Nights Granted: None

Although I've already said I understand the decision, I do have to notice that even the proposals that are (relatively) highly ranked by the committees that read them come out as failures!


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If oversubscription rate was only 1.1:1 then all proposals in the top three quartiles should be approved.
So a rejection only makes sense if the TAC judged the observations impossible - not hard - in which case they should be ranked bottom of fourth quartile.

Or... did you have strong observing constraints, like dark time combined with very good seeing? That could severly oversubscribed even if the telescope is not oversubscribed in the mean.

They didn't elucidate specifically; all they said was that they thought we should resubmit asking to start with lower-resolution "screening" observations.

Probably the internal discussions convinced them that the observations were "too hard," and the zeroed out the nights. The TAC can do that (as Ik now from experience) : zero out the nights regardless of the grade. Thus, you can end up with what I had: first quartile grade but zero nights.


What a let-down! I can hear the head banging from here. Oh wait, that's my head. So, if they think the observations are 'too hard,' do they not think that you are capable of doing them or that the instrument really isn't the right one to use or it would hurt the instrument in some way or everyone would want to use the instrument for hard measurements then or ???? It doesn't make sense.

I just received my fourth rejection for a 'highly' rated proposal - obviously not highly enough. I've read the review comments and basically none of the three reviewers had the same thing to say, so again, no consistent 'advice' to work from. Review comments seem to be something the reviewers come up with after they have decided that they don't like the proposal and need to find a legitimate reason. Some of the comments are off-the-wall, like "where do you expect the students working on this proposal to find jobs?" Gee, same place they do right now (100% placement) and what does that have to do with the proposal science?

In my world, I have to trade no funding for more classes so I can see my fall schedule filling up. I already have two classes with 60+ students each and there will probably be two more added - hopefully a service course with about 30 in it.

By SuzyQueue (not verified) on 06 Jul 2007 #permalink

Having just spent the last few days wondering what to do with ESO feedback that's entirely positive, but that leads to no time, I can fully sympathise. In our case it seems that everybody wants to look at exactly the same patch of sky, damn COSMOS survey.

Thankfully I generally have better luck, and more useful feedback from Gemini. Here's to better luck all round for next time.

I would guess it is probably due to scheduling constraints on the WIYN instruments. There was one semester at NOAO where I and my colleagues had a proposal on the 2.1m telescope (not heavily subscribed at the time). We received an average TAC score of 9/10 - which is about as good as I've ever gotten. But, because we needed a week of dark time, we received no nights. That was maddening.

By John Feldmeier (not verified) on 06 Jul 2007 #permalink

9/10 on the 2.1m is, based on my TAC experience, probably one of the highest ranked proposals.

At least in the extragalactic TAC panels I've been on, very few proposals get higher than 9/10.

Yeah, we were really happy about the score, and did the happy astronomer dance. We then looked at the paper announcements of the time awarded (this was about 3-4 years ago), and you would have seen four astronomers jaws' drop simultaneously. Much swearing ensued.

Also, we were asking for time in the Galactic Pole time, which was heavily oversubscribed, and I think a lot of time was finishing up the infrared component of the NOAO Deep Wide Survey. That hurt us at the time.

By John Feldmeier (not verified) on 07 Jul 2007 #permalink