Early Career Einsteins, Hubbles, and Sagans: The NASA Hubble Fellowship Program
Paul J. Green
The NASA Hubble Fellowship Program (NHFP) awards postdoctoral prize fellowships of up to three years, for early career scientists to pursue independent research of their own design, at the U.S. host institution of their choice. Highlights of the NHFP calendar include the announcement of opportunity, the application deadline, the selection review, the press release announcing the newly-selected Fellows, and the NHFP Fellows Symposium. The application and selection process, symposia and overall science policies for the NHFP are guided cooperatively by three leads – Andy Fruchter at STScI for the Hubble, Dawn Gelino at NExScI for the Sagan, and myself at CXC for the Einstein. Katey Alatalo is a Deputy Lead at STScI.
For 2021 NHFP Fellowships, the call for applications came out September 8, 2021, and we received 406 complete applications by the deadline of November 5, 2021. Reference letters were due a week later.
The 2021 selection review was held virtually, involving 7 topical science panels, each with 7 reviewers and a Chair. In the initial round, reviewers read and grade a subset of the applications in their panel, as well as some from other science panels, to ensure that the science proposals resonate beyond each specific topical area. Those preliminary grades are used to reduce panelists reading load for the review. During the review, the resulting Discuss List of several dozen applications are reviewed and graded by all reviewers. A subset of those are passed along to a Merging Panel, at which point the Leads assign by consensus a flavor (Einstein, Hubble or Sagan) to each candidate based on the proposed research. The Merging Panel Chair then guides the final discussion and ranking by all the topical panel Chairs.
Once the Merging Panel has ranked all those applicants promoted to them by the topical panels, the selection review is complete, and the Leads apply a standard set of rules to determine initial host institution assignments, based on rank. We send that ranked list of applicants to the Selection Officer (STScI Director Ken Sembach) for review. After approval by the Selection Officer, we send out emails with our sincere regrets to about 90% of applicants, a waitlist advisory to about 5%, and initial offers to 24 applicants, with the AAS-mandated deadline of February 15 for a decision. In the meantime, offerees sometimes modify their requested host institution, and we try to accommodate unless it is filled; there is a maximum of two new NHFP fellows per host per year, and five total.
The 2021 NHFP fellows represent show strong diversity in their backgrounds and in their Scientific interests. A press release about the 2021 NHFP Fellows was posted on March 31st as NASA Awards Prize Postdoctoral Fellowships for 2021. Photos and brief bios of all the new Fellows are available at NASA Hubble Fellowship Program 2021 Fellows.
The annual NHFP Symposium was held remotely due to the pandemic, with sessions from Monday-Friday September 21-25, 2020, broadly grouped by science category, and the program designed by a SOC including both Leads and Fellows. Non-science sessions included the introductions by Paul Hertz, Ken Sembach and the NHFP Leads, as well as a session on NHFP Benefits and Policies, and another on Equity and Inclusion. Finally, an Open Mic session at the end allowed for fellows to present a good variety of non-science topics that spanned performances, presentations on mentoring, outreach, and quarantine cooking!
Just as in so many other arenas, this past year has called NHFP Fellows to reveal a remarkable combination of dedication, courage, flexibility, and empathy. We fervently hope that the burden of the pandemic continues to lighten, and we look forward to appreciating one another in person in the near future!
Each year in this Chandra newsletter article, we like to highlight a small and semi-random handful of science results from current fellows:
- Were you looking for light Dark Matter? Carlos Blanco (2020 NHFP Einstein Fellow at Princeton) finds that crystal organic scintillators are sensitive to the dark matter daily modulation. For a particularly popular and available scintillator, trans-Stilbene, the detected daily modulation amplitude is up to 60% of the total rate, which is on the same scale or larger than the annual modulation for WIMP-nuclear scattering. Furthermore, using the timing information of a modulating signal, they show very strong statistical discovery potential, even in the presence of a non-negligible background rate (https://arxiv.org/abs/2103.08601).
- Hsin-Yu Chen (2020 NHFP Einstein Fellow at MIT) has some concerning news for those of us hoping to nail down the Hubble Constant using gravitational wave sources from LIGO-VIRGO. As she reports in Phys Rev Letters 125, 201301, systematic uncertainties in the viewing angle of binary neutron star inspirals appear to be more significant than the known dominant systematic uncertainty for standard sirens, the ≤2% gravitational-wave calibration uncertainty. While the current tension in Hubble Constant measurements is about 9%, this previously unappreciated effect could make it tougher to resolve.