Best Practices for Establishing Part-Time/Term-Limited Supervisory Opportunities


Recommendation (LD-4) stemming from the NASA 2021 Science Workforce Study:

Recommendation: Where possible, create lower/entry-level supervisory roles that are part-time (allowing for simultaneous science work) and time-limited (allowing for development opportunities for multiple people).

Benefit: Over time, allows multiple people to gain leadership experience without completely giving up direct science work. For the organization, expands succession capability by increasing the pool of candidates with leadership experience.

Exploration and Research

An implementation team was formed to explore the following for implementation:

  • Identified obstacles (real or perceived) and incentives for scientists to step into line roles
  • Benchmarked examples of existing supervisory “rotational” programs (JPL, APL, and GSFC)
  • Gained better understanding institutional rules/legal issues that are in place. How to set up details or term appointments (Focused interview with ARC Human Capital Representatives)
  • Considered methods and/or concerns for funding
  • Explored possible recommendations – How to tailor to different organizations? Would it be an SMD or agency-wide program? Or an umbrella set of recommendations on elements of a successful program. Mandatory or a tool for organizations to consider?

Recommendations from Implementation Team

  • Team recommends science organizations establish rotational supervisory opportunities
  • Rotational or temporary experience in supervisory role is valuable to employee and organization
    • Allows for experience with other researchers outside their immediate circle of collaborators
    • Allows for the researcher to have a better understanding of policies and programs within the organization
  • Recommend tailored programs
    • Recommend a flexible frame where the rotational program/experience can be tailored as a shared responsibility – i.e., associate or deputy
    • Participating organization should adapt parameters that work best for them (i.e. duration, percentage of supervisory time, etc.)
    • Key points of contact for existing successful programs can/should be identified (e.g., subcommittee members)
  • Suggested duration - ~12 months
    • Based on surveying various programs, this enables the researcher to experience all aspects of the position
  • Recommend a mentorship component
    • Need to ensure those who participate thrive and be successful
    • Mentorship in balancing in science and line duties is essential
  • Ideal organization to participate
    • One that would benefit from a wider network of scientists with leadership experience
  • Ideal employee to participate
    • Individuals with aspirations/potential in leadership, have demonstrated leadership on smaller activities, those who need exposure to various leadership roles, those with desire toward leadership role of any kind (Principal Investigator, Project Scientist, Instrument Scientist, etc.)
  • Consider new training needs for participants
    • Leadership-focused, supervisory training may need to be expanded for participants

Potential Obstacles for Implementing Recommendation

  • Time away from direct science work – hands on science is the “fun” stuff
  • Potential significant increase in workload
    • Not being able to let go of previous work
  • Funding-
    • Worried that if proposals are not being submitted, there would be a funding gap
    • Worried that there will not full research funding support following a detail. This could have serious effects on employment (seen as “unsuccessful” if full FTE is not supported)
  • Re-entry into technical role after conclusion of detail would be difficult/maybe impossible; losing their technical/scientific edge
  • Reputation
    • Gaps in publications could lead to lack of confidence from HQ program officers
    • Lack of presence at conferences could result in loss of collaboration network

Incentives for Stepping into Supervisory Roles

  • Broaden science perspective
    • Learn new fields outside one’s own discipline
    • Make connections between own work and that of others
    • Increase broad understanding of advocacy
    • Potentially increase opportunities for new collaboration through exposure to new ideas
    • Develop better understanding of context & Center or Agency priorities
  • Develop skills to effectively discuss own work and that of others
    • Learn successful advocacy and appropriate channels for it
  • Develop understanding of overlap between line management and projects/programs
  • Influence priorities through higher level conversations
  • Broaden personal network to include more senior leaders
  • Mentor others
    • Coaching-Professional development of others
    • Opportunity to share own experiences with others
  • Gain experience leading others
    • Lead and influence
    • Conflict resolution
    • Work with people with varying backgrounds and interests
  • Build and coach teams

Benchmarking Results

Table for four column headers: Feature, GSFC, JPL, and APL. There are 5 rows of data with the following headers: approach, funding, responsibility, duration, benefits
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