Roles, Ranks & Promotions

All GESTAR II employees are provided access to this document to guide them as they plan their career paths in GESTAR II.

Updated Version 1.1, effective July 1, 2023

1. Introduction

The Goddard Earth Sciences Technology and Research II (GESTAR II) Center is a multi-institutional Cooperative Agreement funded by NASA to partner with Goddard Space Flight Center’s Earth Science Division in advancing Earth science and Goddard’s leadership.  GESTAR II fulfills this responsibility by providing a competitive environment to hire and retain high-quality scientists who are on track to be leaders at NASA, in academia, and/or in industry. GESTAR II exemplifies the power of mentorship, embracing a career development strategy that only a university-led research center can provide. Also, in GESTAR II, early-career researchers and students can build outstanding resumes, preparing them to become the Earth science leaders of tomorrow.

Although it is a multi-institutional consortium, GESTAR II strives to maintain uniformity in all our operations as seamlessly as possible across our member institutions. Thus, the roles, ranks, and promotion process described in this document are designed to ensure fairness across the institutions, while maintaining the highest standards befitting the important role GESTAR II plays in the NASA Earth Science enterprise.

2. Roles and Ranks

The following roles and ranks exist within GESTAR II:

  • Assistant Research Scientist/Engineer – This role reflects a rank parallel to Assistant Professor. Incumbents have a doctorate degree and are qualified to direct the work of others, such as postdocs, grad students, or technicians. While timing will vary, advancement to this rank within GESTAR II corresponds to a body of accomplishments equivalent to at least two years of productive growth as a scholar beyond that expected for the completion of a PhD.
  • Associate Research Scientist/Engineer – This role reflects a rank parallel to Associate Professor. Incumbents have extensive successful scholarly experience, and the ability to propose, develop, and manage small research projects or key parts of large projects. While timing will vary, advancement to this rank within GESTAR II corresponds to a body of accomplishments equivalent to at least six years of productive growth as a scholar beyond that expected for the completion of a PhD.
  • Senior Research Scientist/Engineer – This role reflects a rank parallel to Full Professor. In addition to the qualifications required for Associate Research Scientist/Engineer, incumbents have demonstrated a degree of proficiency sufficient to establish an excellent reputation among regional and national colleagues. They will have demonstrated the ability to contribute to scientific/engineering work through the ability to lead or significantly contribute to the proposal of large projects or many significant complimentary smaller ones. While timing will vary, advancement to this rank within GESTAR II corresponds to a body of accomplishments equivalent to at least ten years of productive growth as a scholar beyond that expected for the completion of a PhD.
  • Research (Assistant/Associate/Full) Professor – To replace the title of Scientist/Engineer with Professor in any of the above roles, the incumbent would have to be affiliated with and teaching in an academic department of their employing University, which may recommend the conferment of the title of Research Assistant Professor, Research Associate Professor, or Research Professor, as the case may be.
  • Visiting Roles – These roles are analogous to the faculty roles above but have shorter-term “visiting” status. Incumbents will sometimes (not always) have primary affiliations with other institutions.
  • Postdoctoral Research Associate – This role is intended for early career researchers who have completed a doctorate and who are growing in their independence in preparation for roles such as Assistant Research Scientist/Engineer, Assistant Professor, or similar roles in any sector (academia, government, industry, non-profit).
  • Research Associate (I/II/III) – This role is reserved for research faculty who do not currently hold a terminal degree (e.g., PhD) in their field. Incumbents are in potentially permanent roles conducting supervised/unsupervised research and often hold a master’s degree. Depending on their job responsibility and years of experience, incumbents can be promoted through Research Associate I, II, and III.
  • Graduate Research Assistant: Postbaccalaureate Research Assistant – Incumbents are in roles meant to last one or two years and are conducting closely mentored research in anticipation of graduate school or some other position which will benefit from this experience as a trainee.
  • ESRA – GESTAR II is supported by UMBC’s Earth & Space Research Administration (ESRA) unit, which manages business activities for GESTAR II and UMBC’s other NASA-oriented centers. Roles within ESRA include the ESRA Director (who reports to the UMBC Vice President for Research & Creative Achievement), Executive Administrative Assistant, Business Manager, Business Specialist, Staffing Specialist, and Administrative Assistant. Unlike the roles described above, these are all staff roles following UMBC classification and promotion criteria, and not governed by the faculty handbook or this GESTAR II promotion document.
  • GESTAR II Director – This position reports to the UMBC Vice President for Research & Creative Achievement, serves as the supervisor of the GESTAR II faculty (analogous to a department chair), serves as the UMBC lead (PI) of the GESTAR II Cooperative Agreement, and coordinates with the ESRA Director regarding their management of the business activities of GESTAR II.

3.  Promotions

3.1 Promotion to Assistant/Associate/Senior Research Scientist/Engineer

3.1.1 General Guidelines 

A. All members of the GESTAR II faculty are encouraged to discuss their professional development in general, including promotion plans, with the GESTAR II Director or an Associate Director of GESTAR II at least on an annual basis. In support of these ongoing conversations, as with all members of faculty at the partner institutions, the GESTAR II faculty are required to update their records on a yearly basis in the Faculty Annual Report system such as Faculty Success. This annual reporting will be proactively coordinated by a designated GESTAR II officer and by ESRA.

B. It will usually take four to six years at a given rank before enough accomplishments have been demonstrated to constitute a promotion (except for Postdoctoral Associates who require a minimum of two years for eligibility to be promoted to Assistant Research Scientist/Engineer if applicable). Accordingly, GESTAR II faculty may request consideration for a promotion no sooner than three years after their last rank promotion or date of hire (unless they were hired after having served in an equivalent rank). Promotion prospects can be discussed informally with the GESTAR II Director or Associate Director at any time.

C. Upon the recommendation of the GESTAR II Director, the final decision to promote an incumbent is made by their employing University’s Provost or President, who draws on input from their respective Vice Presidents for Research or equivalent, the recommendations of the GESTAR II Promotions Committee, and the source materials (CV, personal statement, letters of support) upon which the Committee based their decision.

D. A GESTAR II Promotions Committee will be formed for each university fiscal year (July 1st to June 30th). The Committee members will be recruited by the GESTAR II Director, who will not serve on the Committee. The recruitment will be made in consultation with the GESTAR II Associate Directors. To avoid work overload on the Committee members, it may comprise two or more Subcommittees working on different promotion dossiers. When possible, each Subcommittee will include:

i. Three Research Scientists/Engineers from within GESTAR II, making sure to have a fair representation of the partner institutions.
ii. One or two members of a degree-granting department at UMBC and/or MSU.
iii. Others, as needed, to provide a balance of research perspectives and a manageable workload.

3.1.2  Process

1) The applicant for a promotion provides a detailed CV and a draft personal statement to the GESTAR II Director or Associate Director for initial review.

A. The detailed CV should include:

i. Full educational and professional background.
ii. An exhaustive list of research outputs, including all publications, external presentations, patents, and other scholarly products.
iii. An exhaustive list of projects, hardware, software, and datasets that the candidate developed or played significant roles in their development.
iv. An exhaustive list of administrative roles (e.g., roles supported by NASA tasks; this does not include “professional service,” as described below).
v. An exhaustive list of formal roles in research funding (e.g., as PI, Co-PI, Co-I, or Senior Personnel).
vi. An exhaustive list of supervisory, mentoring, teaching, and outreach activities (e.g., supervising projects at Goddard, serving on PhD committees).
vii. An exhaustive list of professional service roles not falling under the above categories (e.g., serving in a leadership role in a professional society, as a journal editor, organizing a conference).
viii. Any honors (e.g., fellow of a professional society).
ix. Any additional professional accomplishments or products that would provide the committee a more complete picture of the applicant’s readiness for promotion (e.g., non-research activities like writing news releases, outreach activities, etc.).

B. The personal statement is generally 3 – 5 pages long and in narrative form. It should highlight relevant accomplishments since the last promotion or hiring (whichever is the more recent), describing the current state of the applicant’s research portfolio, and the future directions planned. If a significant volume of programmatic duties has limited the applicant’s bandwidth for direct involvement in research, this point should be made explicitly, and these programmatic duties should be described in a commensurate level of detail.

2) The GESTAR II Director reviews the CV and draft personal statement to ensure compliance with the above specifications and provides feedback as appropriate to the applicant. At this stage the Director may consult with the Associate Director representing the candidate’s specific employing institution to ensure consistency with institution-specific promotion guidelines.

3) The applicant provides the GESTAR II Director with the final detailed CV, personal statement, and contact information for at least three references who may or may not be asked to review the dossier. Preferably, at least one suggested reviewer should not be a close collaborator of the applicant.

4) The GESTAR II Director provides the applicant’s materials to the Chair of the appropriate promotion subcommittee (hereafter referred to as the Committee). The Committee may identify additional external reviewers to constitute a final list of reviewers for the promotion dossier, making sure to have a balance between the names provided by the candidate and those independently identified by the Committee. The total number of reviewers depends on the rank: Assistant (0 – 2), Associate (2 – 4), and Senior (4 – 6). The Committee Chair shares the list with the candidate prior to the reviewers being contacted. The candidate acknowledges in writing that (s)he has seen the list of potential external reviewers compiled by the Committee. The candidate may object to any potential reviewer, but the committee is not required to disqualify a potential reviewer based solely on the candidate’s feedback.

5) The GESTAR II Director solicits evaluation letters by sending the candidate’s CV and personal statement with a cover letter providing a brief overview of GESTAR II to the potential reviewers.

6) Upon receipt of a fair number of reviews for the rank under consideration (e.g., 2 or more for Associate, and 4 or more for Senior), the GESTAR II Director forwards these reviews to the Committee Chair who then shares them with the committee members and schedules a meeting (virtual or in person) to discuss the overall promotion package, vote, and generate a written report.

7) The Committee Chair submits the written report summarizing the discussion and vote tally to the GESTAR II Director.

8) The GESTAR II Director provides additional commentary to the Committee’s recommendations either concurring or disagreeing and transmits the full package to the candidate’s employing institution’s Vice President for Research (VPR) or equivalent to complete the promotion process in accordance with institutional promotion guidelines.

9) The VPR or equivalent writes a memo concurring/disagreeing with the Director’s recommendation and forwards the entire promotion package to the Provost’s/President’s Office for a final determination.

10) If a promotion is recommended by the Committee, the Director, and the VPR, and approved by the Provost/President, the home institution issues a new appointment letter with the appropriate title and the new salary.

11) The candidate signs the new appointment letter and celebrates, and the promotion is acknowledged at the next GESTAR II All-Hands meeting.

12) Should promotion not be recommended at any point, the GESTAR II Director has the duty of notifying the candidate and explaining the areas where the candidate should focus to significantly improve their probability of success when applying for promotion the next time.

3.1.3  Timeline

Requests for promotion may be submitted at any time. The promotion process (from the GESTAR II Director receiving the final CV and personal statement to the employing University administration issuing the promotion letter) is expected to take between 4 and 6 months, depending on a variety of factors.

3.2  Promotions in other Categories

  • Research Associate I/II/III – Promotions in this category will be handled internally by the GESTAR II Director and Associate Directors with input from other individuals as needed to ensure fairness and equity. To be considered for promotion under this category, the candidate submits a detailed CV and personal statement to the GESTAR II Director or an Associate Director.
  • Visiting Roles – No promotions are anticipated under this category, as these are typically short-term positions.
  • Graduate Research Assistant: Postbaccalaureate Research Assistant – No promotions are anticipated under this category.