23 April 2020

The National Osterbrock Leadership Program

Announcement of Opportunity

The AAS and the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, are collaborating to expand UCSC’s Donald and Irene Osterbrock Leadership Program (OLP) to additional universities and other institutions with graduate programs in the astronomical sciences that wish to commit to the training of graduate students in science leadership.

A generous gift to the AAS from the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation has enabled a pilot program, to be jointly coordinated by the AAS and UCSC, that will provide matching funds of up to $20,000 annually to each of two to five “nodes” to create their own programs to train future leaders in our field. We especially thank foundation president Patricia Gruber for her efforts and commitment to this project.

For departments with limited resources, smaller-scale programs and/or collaborations with other similar departments are encouraged. The final number of nodes will be determined by the AAS selection committee based on the strength of the proposals received and the availability of local core funds. The planned duration of the pilot program is four years, and core funds provided to each program by the university or other institution will be matched one-to-one from the AAS, up to $20,000 per year per proposal; these matching funds may not be used to pay overhead or other indirect costs.

Formal leadership training of graduate students is almost nonexistent in the United States, and the enthusiastic response of students to the UCSC program over the last six years has revealed its potential. The goal of the Gruber gift is to facilitate the creation of programs similar to the UCSC OLP on a national level that will have a major impact on the development of US science leadership. Representing a new dimension for any department, such a program, if successful, should attract a broader, more diverse spectrum of capable students who wish to develop skills that will benefit their work in every aspect of science.

Irene and Don OsterbrockThe name of the new AAS/UCSC program is the National Osterbrock Leadership Program (NOLP). Like the OLP itself, It is named in honor of Donald E. Osterbrock (1924-2007), eminent former Professor of Astronomy at UCSC, and his wife Irene Hansen Osterbrock (1926-2019), who helped establish the UCSC Library’s Mary Lea Shane Archives at Lick Observatory as a world-renowned repository of US astronomical history. Don Osterbrock received the AAS’s highest honor, the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, in 1991, and Irene was named a Patron of the AAS in 2011.

US universities and other organizations with graduate programs in the astronomical sciences (for example, in departments of astronomy and astrophysics, physics and astronomy, and Earth and planetary science) are invited to apply to the NOLP. Detailed proposal guidelines are described below. Proposers should review current UCSC OLP activities, but every proposing institution is free to design its own program, and innovations are encouraged.

New nodes will be selected by a committee appointed by the AAS Board of Trustees. UCSC will serve as an advisor to the AAS and will share advice and experience with all potential applicants. For the benefit of the wider astronomical community, at the end of the four-year pilot program all nodes including UCSC will jointly write a report describing best practices and lessons learned.

Proposal Requirements

The proposed activities should enable each student in the program to develop a personal familiarity with good leadership, including decision-making skills, communication skills, team building, and mentoring. Participants should come to appreciate the value of good leadership at all levels, from one-on-one personal interactions to large groups. Actual opportunities to put leadership skills into practice are essential, following the example of the OLP mini-grant projects at UCSC:

UCSC Osterbrock Mini-Grant Program Summaries by Year

Students should also learn about the many leadership opportunities inside and outside of academia that will be available to them by virtue of their earning a PhD in astronomy or astrophysics, and therefore how enhancing their PhD with leadership training now can facilitate their future success.

In addition, proposed programs should conform to the following specific guidelines:

  • A single faculty member who is responsible for managing the program should be designated as head of the program.
  • Programs or collaborations with more than approximately 25 graduate students should aim to designate 4-6 graduate students as NOLP Fellows each year. Programs or collaborations with fewer than 25 students should aim for 2-4 NOLP Fellows annually.
  • Proposals need to support, and budget for, the following two activities annually, which will be organized and coordinated by the UCSC OLP for all nodes:
    1. Send each NOLP Fellow at least once to a national science policy planning committee or a telescope allocation committee (TAC) meeting, where they will serve as non-participating observers. Examples include TAC panel meetings for the Hubble and/or Webb space telescopes at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) or other suitable national-level meetings. For more information, please email Bob Williams.
    2. Send at least one NOLP Fellow per year to attend and co-lead the annual NOLP workshop training session, to be scheduled at one of the semiannual AAS meetings. Attendance by participating faculty is also encouraged.
  • Metrics that will be used to gauge success at the end of the pilot program should be described.

Each proposal should include the following in a single PDF file:

  1. A description of proposed activities, not to exceed two pages.
  2. The approximate total budget projected across the four program years; this should comprise your local core funds and an equal amount of matching AAS funds. Note that matching funds are to be given directly to nodes/departments and may not be used to pay indirect costs (e.g., overhead).
  3. Letters of commitment from all participating organizations providing core funding. This is the basis by which matching funds in support of the program, up to $20,000 annually per proposal, will be determined.

Attach your PDF to our NOLP Node Proposal form by 23 October 2020 (extended from the original deadline of 1 October). Note that the form, hosted on the AAS Grants-and-Prizes Portal on the OpenWater Awards website, requires you to log in with your AAS membership credentials. If you need help finding those, contact our Membership Services team at 202-328-2010 or membership@aas.org. (If you're not a member of the AAS, you can create a new account on the AAS OpenWater site and log in that way.)

NOLP Node Proposal Form


The timeline to initiate the National Osterbrock Leadership Program is as follows:

  • 23 April 2020: Release of this Announcement of Opportunity (AO) to the astronomical community.
  • 24 June 2020: Virtual webinar/Q&A session with AAS and UCSC representatives to answer queries from potential proposers. Video (on YouTube) | Presentation (PDF)
  • 23 October 2020: Deadline for proposals to the AAS; extended from 1 October.
  • November 2020: AAS selection committee evaluates proposals.
  • 1 December 2020: Proposers are notified of the selection committee’s decision.
  • 1 January 2021: NOLP funds are made available by the AAS to successful proposers.

Through this novel collaboration, the AAS and the UCSC aim to facilitate an activity that we believe is crucial to the long-term development of the astronomical sciences on the national and international levels. We are hopeful that institutions responding to this opportunity will introduce valuable new concepts for leadership training and that the nodes working together will create a new norm for the PhD in astronomy, astrophysics, or related disciplines. We further hope that the this new mode for graduate training will spread to other sciences and will further enhance the stature of US graduate education in the eyes of the world.

If you have any questions not already answered above, please email nolp@aas.org.