"A Day in the Life of a Contact Scientist"

Howard Lanning - February 26, 1996

    As a Contact Scientist for Cycle 6, there is a lot to do. We are tasked with the responsibility of providing the scientific interface and assistance to the Principal Investigator, an astronomer who has successfully proposed to do science with the HST and is preparing his/her proposal for submission and final detailed formatting prior to execution. This involves advising the astronomer on the proper or most efficient use of the instrument(s) requested, identifying structural problems which might affect the overall scientific program, and generally acting as an advocate for the astronomer throughout the process of proposal preparation, scheduling, execution, and with the logistics of data analysis. Added to that are various Instrument Scientist duties, in my case acting as Data Quality Assessment Coordinator for the GHRS. All days are busy. There is always a great deal to do. Occasionally we can even manage to get some of our research done. Following is just a sample of one day in the life of this Contact Scientist...

Mondays start off like just about any other day, but often times more chaotic than most, and today is a classic example. I arrived this morning to the usual 60+ email messages including various reports, notices, and problems. It often takes the entire day just to get through the messages because of the diversions and problems one has to deal with from the start. And right off the bat today is email from a PI who has identified a problem with his proposal and needs some help. The first step is to forward the mail to the appropriate individual within the Institute to try and resolve the issue. While waiting for a response, I sketch out a short list of the items that must be done today. While doing so, a call comes in requesting me to attend a meeting tomorrow for a discussion on software related issues to consider for long term improvements, mainly with an effort to provide more input from the scientific side of the fence. Ok, will do. That's two meetings tomorrow already on the schedule.

I continue working my way through the email and come across another proposal problem. This case is a possible duplication of science being done by two different astronomers. Such is not unprecedented since this type of check can't accurately be done until all proposals are received for a given cycle, and as the programs are being worked by the Program Coordinators (PC), or changes occur to certain programs, these things keep popping up. I do some double checking with the target list and formatted list of the affected proposals, then respond to the email providing my comments. Often, in the case of true duplications, we must recommend data to be obtained by one of the scientists be embargoed, i.e. not be allowed to release for publication, until the other executes and is no longer proprietary. This means some science can be on hold for up to a year. Well, that's chewed up a good part of the morning and I still haven't made it all the way through the mail and reports.

Just after finishing the investigation and sending out my comments, I get another call from one of the Instrument Scientists (IS). Turns out we have another proposal which needs to have a more accurate centering sequence put in to prevent the program from failing. After discussing the situation at length with the IS, and getting all my notes together, I talk to the PC, informing her what we need to do. I then call the astronomer who is 2 time zones away to discuss the details and suggest he send in a statement of the problem and scientific justification which I'll append to my summary of the change to be requested. Basically, the centering maneuver will take so much time, that we must ask for an additional orbit to assure success and prevent taking time away from the science exposures. Once the astronomer sends in the memo, I can put everything together and send it out to the rest of the committee which will vote on the change request and then send a recommendation to the Directors Office for consideration.

Well, now I've got 15 minutes to complete my monthly research status report. Done. Now on to reviewing submitted Cycle 6 proposals. I have a stack of Phase II drafts of proposals to review which had been placed on the chair by a PC. These are the detailed submissions including the targets, and all activities including acquisitions, peakups, exposures, calibrations, etc. that the astronomer wants to do. It is the CSs task to verify that the current format of the proposal is acceptable with respect to the science to be obtained, i.e. will the astronomer get what he/she wants, and is the proposal structured to provide an efficient use of the spacecraft? I manage to get through four proposals, talking to the PC on one them, before finally getting to take a short break for a bit to eat. I usually end up eating at my desk through my lunch hour because there's so much to do. But while taking a stroll down the hallway to pick up my mail, I get cornered an asked to attend yet another meeting tomorrow. That's three! Back to the office to put it on my calendar and to send a notice of approval to my PC about the proposals I just finished reviewing.

To get documentation for the latest meeting, the head of the committee indicates I need additional system configuration privileges set up. So email is sent to the system managers. There always seems to be some little thing that hasn't been setup, or is a new feature I need. So, just as with proposal problems, these things pop up from time to time.

Next, I need to determine the status of the GHRS Calibration Plan in order to provide a report to the Data Quality Committee later this week. Off to an impromptu meeting with the calibration Instrument Scientist. From there, I take a short diversion to discuss some Data Quality issues with one of our Data Analysts, since we're trying to put together more details for procedures and products to be delivered to the astronomers.

Upon returning to my office and jotting down my notes, more email to read. It never stops. All day long we get mail coming in. The latest is the change request from the astronomer I talked to earlier in the day. I put together the summary and all details and send it out to the committee for review. It's now 5:30, but I still have 3 more hours to go. Twice a week, while my wife is in class at Johns Hopkins University, I was late putting in about 10-11 hours. I begin the review of the remaining two proposals left by my PC, and a quick review of the material to be discussed at two of our meetings tomorrow. Even though it is late, another Institute Scientist comes in around 7pm to ask questions about another instrument. This time I can't help, but often, I can. Since I used to work in the Planning and Scheduling System as the Lead Operations Astronomer for Proposal Preparation, I had to know something about all the instruments being used. It's training and expertise that often comes in handy.

Around 8:30 I finally finish for the day, and believe it or not, I actually have completed most of the items on the short list of things to do despite all the diversions throughout the day. A rare treat. Still got a couple that won't get done for another two or three days because of the meetings tomorrow, but then, I'll just put them on the next short list for another day.

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