Updates on the NASA Hubble Fellowship Program

Paul J. Green

One of the premier postdoctoral fellowships in astrophysics, the NASA Hubble Fellowship Program (NHFP) awards 24 postdoctoral prize fellowships annually. Each fellowship is funded for up to three years, allowing early career scientists to pursue independent research of their own design at the U.S. host institution of their choice. The NHFP has three “flavors”—Einstein, Hubble, and Sagan—that reflect different science themes and echo the legacy of the three formerly separate programs. There are three corresponding leads: Andy Fruchter at STScI for the Hubble, Dawn Gelino at NExScI for the Sagan, and myself at the CXC for the Einstein. Cooperatively, we administer the NHFP application and selection process, organize symposia, and guide overall science policies.

Selecting the 2023 NHFP Fellows

We received 457 complete applications by the application deadline in early November 2022. These applications were reviewed by a selection panel composed of 54 reviewers across 7 topical panels, who met virtually from Jan 17–25 2023. Evaluation of applications was guided by our rubric, with criteria posted on the web as part of the Announcement of Opportunity in September 2022. The rubric requires evaluation in 3 major categories: Proposed Research, Leadership Potential, and Preparation & Past Research, with specific evaluation considerations outlined for each. In addition, with the intention of diversifying the selected Fellows, every reviewer is allotted three “Golden Buzzers” that they can award to applicants at each grading stage at their own discretion. Golden Buzzers provide bonus points to recognize important factors beyond the three primary criteria, particularly for those applicants who have demonstrated “perseverance and determination along a path that may have been more difficult than usual.”

The slate of new 2023 NHFP Fellows was announced on April 4. Bios and photos of the 24 new Fellows show encouraging diversity along a number of axes and, as always, present a broad palette of frontier astrophysical research topics. Their host institutions include not only the usual coastal suspects but also others spanning the country: e.g., Georgia Tech, The Ohio State University, Wayne State University, CU Boulder, and Duke University.

The NHFP Leads have begun providing regular orientation sessions for new NHFP fellows. Orientation includes introductions to the Science Leads, Grants personnel at STScI, the NHFP Program Scientist at NASA HQ, and the fellows themselves. Budgeting information and a policy overview are offered, and fellows' initiatives are discussed.

Fellows' Initiatives

NHFP Fellows are developing some admirable initiatives outside the scope and purview of the NHFP itself. Fellows have pioneered an NHFP Mentoring and Outreach working group that makes public resources for applicants, including examples of previous NHFP applications, information on fellow-led postdoc application workshops, and a request form for feedback from current and former fellows on prospective fellows' application materials.

Last year, a number of fellows initiated a graduate student mentorship program. Mentors—current and former postdoctoral fellows—provide professional and academic support and advice to astronomy-related researchers who are planning to write their first postdoc applications. This program may particularly benefit those graduate students lacking access to the resources and connections that many prize-fellowship recipients have benefited from. The fellows' goal with this program is to improve the diversity of independent prize fellowship recipients, which have traditionally served as a key stepping stone to leadership positions in astronomy.

The initiative seeks late-stage PhD students and recent graduates of any nationality who are navigating the postdoctoral application process this Fall. Selected participants will each be matched with a prize fellow, who will guide them through the application process and offer them career advice.

NHFP Symposia

The first in-person NHFP Symposium since the pandemic was held September 12–16, 2022 at STScI. The agenda was developed by an SOC including the NHFP Leads along with six fellows. Besides a plethora of fascinating and engaging science presentations, non-science sessions included a discussion of policies with the STScI Grants group, a Career Panel organized largely by the fellows, and interesting discussions on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion led by Sharron Gatling, STScI’s Diversity Officer. Finally, during the Open Mic session—where (just about) anything goes—we heard about fellows' photography and art, simple setups for outreach videos, and the invaluable taylorswift Python package by Megan Mansfield, which can be used to optimize song selection according to a specific mood. Yours truly described a new website called Sensing the Dynamic Universe that offers sonified lightcurves and spectra of time variable objects to educate the public about time domain astrophysics, with special emphasis on accessibility for the blind or visually impaired.

The 2023 NHFP symposium will be held in Cambridge, MA on September 18–22. Fellows will gather at the Harvard Student Organization Center at Hilles, just across the street from the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian. About 70 fellows will present their research on everything from exoplanet atmospheres to simulated supernova explosions to instruments for direct dark matter detection. The science sessions are open to the public and will be available for remote streaming; viewing information will be posted to the symposium website. Who knows what might happen at the Open Mic!

This article was prepared by Paul J. Green with input from Andy Fruchter, Dawn Gelino, Erika Holmbeck, and Patricia M. Knezek.