June deadline coming up, and other news

The next FT deadline – June 30 – is approaching. These pieces of information may be of interest to potential proposers:

1) Starting in August, FT programs will be merged in with the queue; no more separate FT nights. We have found that we are executing many FT programs outside FT nights anyway, when they fit around regular queue programs, so this is the logical next step. It will also help avoid issues like the first FT block being wiped out by a winter storm, as described in a previous post…

2) All of the top-ranked FT programs have now been completed since observations started in March, and we’re making good progress on the rest. See here for details. If the recent small numbers of proposals continue, then if your proposal receives at least the minimum grade (2.0 on a scale of 0-4; see rule 13), you stand an excellent chance of being accepted and receiving your data.


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The most recent FT proposal deadline passed yesterday (May 31st), and we received just three proposals. As this is below the minimum number required for the program to run in any given month (to ensure that proposals receive a sensible number of reviews; rule 12), the program will not be running this month. PIs have been advised. We’re looking forward to talking with the community at the Future and Science of Gemini meeting in a couple of weeks to find out their views about the FT program. Is there genuinely little demand for a scheme like this? Do people write fewer proposals with little deadline pressure (you can always apply next month) and knowing that extra work (i.e. peer reviews) is involved? Does it matter that the 15B telescope schedule hasn’t yet been defined, so it’s not clear what instruments will be available at what times? Etc….

The first FT deadline fell at the end of January, with programs selected and prepared during February. FT programs have a lifetime of 3 months, so those accepted in the first cycle were active until yesterday (May 31st). Most of those programs were observed in full. The exceptions were FT-4 and FT-6. FT-6 obtained 30% of their data, while FT-4 was an LGS program that could only have been executed on a single night in May, and conditions at that time weren’t good enough for laser operations. It’s been tricky to strike the right balance between accepting programs that can only be completed if the weather and telescope cooperate perfectly and rejecting highly-ranked programs; we’ve probably erred on the side of the former so far, but apparently this has worked reasonably well for most people. As always, FT progress can be seen here.


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April 30 deadline: 8 proposals received

The FT program received 17 proposals in January, 12 in February, and 7 in March. We now have the answer for April: 8 proposals. Does this mean that initial enthusiasm for the program has died down, and 7-8 proposals is the new steady state? Or are we simply experiencing temporary “proposal fatigue” after the recent round of Gemini, ALMA, HST, and numerous other deadlines?

If the FT program isn’t meeting your needs (or if you think it’s great, and don’t want us to change anything!) we’d very much like to hear from you. If you’re going to be at the Future and Science of Gemini meeting in Toronto in June, we will be giving a talk and presenting a poster about the FT program. This will be a good opportunity for you to give us your thoughts, so please keep an eye out for Rachel Mason and Tom Geballe, who will be representing the FT team at the meeting. Your Users’ Committee representatives will also be happy to pass on your feedback.

Just for fun, here are some of the figures we recently made for a report on the FT pilot for the Science and Technology Advisory Committee and the Gemini Board of Directors. Without going into great detail right now, our preliminary conclusions are that:

  1. The review process gives fairly good agreement on the strongest and weakest proposals. Using a clipped (rather than raw) mean score to rank the proposals would (unsurprisingly) give a stronger signal, but it would not have changed the outcome of the selection process so far;
  2. There is no evidence of people unfairly down-grading other proposals in an attempt to promote their own (although subtle patterns would be difficult to detect in the limited data currently available). Where people give low scores, they almost always use the full range.
  3. Expert reviewers are no harsher than non-expert ones. At least, most of the very low scores have been given by people who describe themselves as knowing little about the field. This probably means that proposers should make an effort to make their science accessible to a broad audience.
  4. The minimum score necessary for any proposal to be awarded time, no matter how much time is available, is 2.0. This is a little lower than the mean, so we may consider increasing that threshold in future cycles.



Left: Grade vs rank for the cycle 1 (top), 2 (middle), and 3 (bottom) proposals. The dashed line shows the minimum score that must be achieved for any proposal to be awarded time, regardless of whether it will fit in the available hours. Accepted proposals are shown in green, rejected ones in red.  The green/red points indicate the mean scores (on which the final rankings are based), while the bars show the range of scores received. For comparison we also show “clipped” means and ranges, with the top and bottom scores removed (grey points, filled bars). Filled bars are not visible for proposals 5 and 7 in cycle 1, as all but two reviewers gave them a score of 3 (clipped range = 0). Proposal 12 in cycle 2 withdrew partway through the cycle, having acquired their requested data elsewhere, and the remaining reviewers were instructed to enter a score of 0.

Middle: Grades given by each reviewer in cycles 1 (top) 2 (middle), and 3 (bottom). Red points show each reviewer’s mean grade, and bars show the range of grades assigned. The overall mean is indicated by the blue dotted line in each plot, while the minimum score necessary for a proposal to be awarded time is shown by the dashed grey line.

Right:  Distribution of proposal scores in cycles 1 (top) 2 (middle), and 3 (bottom), separated by reviewer’s self-assessment of their knowledge of the field of each proposal.

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Cycle 3 programs accepted; not all time filled

As noted in the previous post, we received seven FT proposals at the end of March. The peer reviews were completed last week, and three of the proposals obtained a score higher than the minimum required to be awarded time (at least 2 on the 0-4 scale). These proposals requested a total of 8 hours, meaning that most of the FT time this month will not be used. We are very curious to see whether demand for FT remains low or whether March’s low subscription rate simply reflects the fact that the deadline coincided with the 15A regular proposal deadline. At the time of writing we have already received two proposals for the April deadline, which is encouraging given that for previous cycles almost all proposals arrived in the 48 hours before each deadline.

The weather on the mountain remains strangely hostile towards the FT program. After the blizzard in March, the first two April nights were affected by clouds and fog. Nonetheless, some progress has been made on programs that can tolerate these kinds of conditions (see here). We have our fingers crossed for the upcoming FT night on Saturday…

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Some progress on FT observations; cycle 3 proposals received.

Despite the first FT block being lost to winter weather, we have been able to make some progress on observations in the FT queue. Four out of 13 programs have been completed, while two others are awaiting second- or third-epoch observations. Short programs and observations that can tolerate sub-optimal conditions and/or bright skies make useful “fillers” on regular queue nights, and last night’s scheduled FT night allowed for some further progress despite the somewhat cloudy skies. FT-9 wins the Fastest Turnaround prize so far, being observed and completed within a few days of the PI preparing the observations.

At the third FT deadline, on March 31, we received seven proposals. This is the minimum required for the program to run (to give a good chance of all proposals being reviewed by 5 or more people). 22 hours were requested, compared to 60 in January and 54 in February. The three available nights are therefore undersubscribed (or subscription factor ~1, allowing for typical weather losses). Any proposal must receive a minimum score of 2.0 (on a 0-4 scale) in order to be accepted, though, so the quality of the approved programs shouldn’t suffer because of the small time request.

We suspect that the small number of proposals is due to the deadline coinciding with the 15B deadline for regular queue proposals. We will of course be very curious to see how many proposals are received at the end of April…

For more information and analysis of the FT program, see the April issue of  GeminiFocus.





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Second set of FT programs accepted

Today, the second set of FT PIs was notified of the outcome of their applications. 12 valid proposals were received at the February 28 deadline, and one of these withdrew from the cycle after unexpectedly obtaining their requested data elsewhere. Six of the remaining proposals were awarded time, including the five top-ranked ones. These proposals were followed by three that obtained a mean score of 2.0 (“Good science – observe if time is available”), which is the minimum necessary to be accepted. One requested 8 hours in good conditions and could not be accommodated, while another had technical problems, so the final one of these proposals was accepted.

Dark time in the first half of the night is now fully accounted for, and demand for good conditions has been high. Potential FT PIs whose science can tolerate sub-optimal conditions and bright skies are especially welcome to apply for the next round (deadline: March 31).

Your correspondent is currently working on analyzing the review data for the first two cycles in order to lay the foundations for a comprehensive report to Gemini’s oversight committees (and, eventually, the user community). More about that next week.

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First FT data obtained!

The skies above Maunakea finally cleared this weekend, allowing a long-awaited return to observing. Although these nights were nominally assigned to normal queue operations, three FT observations were used as convenient fillers. The very short FT-5 program was completed, and the first of three epochs were obtained for FT-2 and FT-3. Starting tonight, the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute is executing their own “mini-queue” at Gemini North, which will take priority over all other observations. The next dedicated FT night is scheduled for April 01.

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First FT observing block hit by blizzard

Continuing a several-week period of poor weather on Manua Kea, we now have blizzard conditions on the mountain. The telescope day crews have left the summit, and in fact even the snow removal crew has left the mountain to wait for the storm to pass. The unusable conditions are forecast to last until Thursday, which is bad news for the first FT observing block, scheduled for Monday – Wednesday this week.

Although there will be no formal compensation for weather losses suffered on the dedicated FT nights, the queue coordinators have been reminded that FT observations can certainly be used to fill gaps in the regular queue on non-FT nights. In the meantime, we have our fingers crossed for April…

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Second cycle’s proposals received

Originally posted on March 02, 2015

At Saturday’s deadline we ended up with 12 valid proposals for the second Fast Turnaround cycle (plus another submitted from a non-participating institution). All but one of them arrived within about 36 hours of the deadline. The mix of proposals is a little different from the first cycle, with the NIR instruments being much more heavily represented than last time (5 proposals requesting GMOS, 4 NIRI, 3 NIFS, and 1 GNIRS). Three proposals were received from Canada, eight from the US, and one from the University of Hawai’i. The total time requested is 54 hours, for an oversubscription factor ~2.5 (given that we expect to allocate roughly 20 hours of the 30 available, accounting for typical weather loss). As for last month, PIs have been quite optimistic about the weather that will prevail on the scheduled FT nights: half of the proposals request clear skies, while all but one require 70%-ile or better seeing. Reviews are now in progress, and the deadline as usual is the 14th of the month.

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Second FT cycle: 1 proposal submitted so far

Originally posted on February 27, 2015

In marked contrast to last month, when 17 valid proposals were submitted, we have so far received only one proposal for cycle 2 (deadline: February 28, 23:59 HST). Will there be a last-minute deluge? Have people been put off by January’s oversubscription? Will the first month prove to be anomalous? The program will only run each month if at least 7 proposals are submitted (Rule 12), so we are very curious to see how many proposals will turn up this time…

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