Keck TAC Policies and Procedures

UCO Keck TAC Policies and Procedures

Based on UC Observatories Advisory Committee recommendations
Updated March 24, 2021


The TAC process is run from the UCO Director’s office. There are three TACs, Galactic, Nearby Universe and Distant Universe, which makes recommendations to the Director about the allocation of the telescope time. The Chair and TAC members are usually UC faculty. Written guidelines are needed to inform the TAC Chairs and members of their duties and responsibilities. Additionally, guidelines are needed to describe the responsibilities of the UCO administration and staff in overseeing the TAC process.

This is intended to be a “living document” that will be regularly reviewed and updated as needed, in order to optimize the functioning of the TACs. Your input is very welcome. The UCO Director will review these policies each semester when the Keck Call for Proposals is distributed, and make revisions as needed in consultation with the UCOAC.

The person responsible for scheduling UC’s Keck time and overseeing the TACs is the UCO Deputy Director. As described below, communication between the TAC chairs and scheduler is essential to ensure that the telescope schedules reflect the TACs’ intentions to the greatest extent possible.

Duties of the UCO Admin and Scheduler
  1.  The UCO Director will appoint the TAC Chairs and members. These appointments are normally for a three-year term but may be renewed at the discretion of the UCO Director. The TAC Chair for Keck should preferably have served as a TAC member for at least two semesters before being appointed as Chair. Keck TAC Chairs and members can be selected from members of the faculty or research staff at any UC campus or UC-affiliated lab. The criteria for serving as a UC Keck TAC member will be the same as the criteria for eligibility to submit UC Keck proposals as PI.
  2. Each TAC panel should include at most one member of a currently active LMAP proposal.
  3.  For each semester’s TAC meeting, UCO administration and staff will:
    • Provide these TAC Policies and Procedures to TAC Chairs and members, when proposals are assigned to individual TAC members for review. This includes information regarding the grading scale for proposals, and policies regarding conflicts of interest in reviewing proposals. The grading scale and guidelines must be uniform across all three Keck TACs.
    • Arrange the logistics and scheduling of the TAC meetings, after polling the Chairs and members for their scheduling preferences.
    • Allocate proposals between the TACs, in consultation with the TAC Chairs.
    • Provide TAC Chairs and members with information and instructions for using the TAC web site. Distribute the proposals to TAC members via the TAC web site as soon as possible after the submission deadline. For the convenience of TAC members, provide downloadable tar files for the proposals separately.
    • Ensure that the TAC Chairs, TAC members, and UC Keck scheduler are provided with all necessary information each semester regarding currently active LMAP programs, their projected durations, nights requested and allocated (total allocation for the entire project, and nights actually allocated to the project in previous semesters), and any relevant benchmarks or criteria for evaluating the progress of the program. The UCO Director’s Office will maintain a spreadsheet or table with this information, updated each semester.
    • Require UC’s Keck scheduler to attend the TAC meetings, if possible, to ensure that the Keck schedule accurately reflects the TACs’ intentions.
    • Ensure that the scheduler and the TAC Chairs meet or have a telecon to discuss scheduling issues and to merge the recommendations of the TACs soon after the TAC meetings are concluded.
    • Distribute TAC review comments to proposal PIs as soon as possible after the new observing schedule is posted.
    • In proposal calls, provide information to the Keck user community regarding the level of oversubscription for Keck I and II in the most recent semester(s).
Duties of the TAC Chairs
    1.  Service as TAC Chair represents a major commitment of time and effort and should be recognized as such during personnel actions. On behalf of each TAC Chair, the UCO Director may contact the TAC Chair’s home department chair to inform them of the appointment and the fact that this represents a substantial systemwide service activity. Similarly, service as the Keck scheduler represents a major commitment of time and effort and should be considered appropriately during personnel action reviews.
    2. Acceptance of the TAC Chair position implies a commitment to carry out the duties listed below, and to be present for the entire duration of each semester’s TAC meeting. The TAC meeting will be scheduled taking the Chairs’ and members’ scheduling preferences into account.
    3. The TAC Chair is responsible for various organizational tasks before, during, and after the TAC meeting. These duties include the following.

Before the TAC meeting:

      • Work with the Director’s office to populate the TAC with sufficient membership. Membership should consider a balance of subject expertise, campus representation, gender, etc..
      • Assign primary (a secondary is also highly recommended) reviewers for each proposal, paying careful attention to scientific expertise and to potential conflicts of interest.

During the TAC meeting:

      • Manage conflicts of interest by having TAC members leave the room before discussion and abstain from voting on proposals, as necessary.
      • Ensure that the discussion of proposals proceeds efficiently considering the limited time available so that all proposals can be judged fairly.
      • For each proposal, discuss both grade ranking and number of nights recommended. After all proposals have been ranked by grade, the TAC should review the number of nights recommended for each proposal and revise the recommended number of nights as appropriate.
      • After proposals have been graded, lead a discussion regarding any additional information that should be passed along to the scheduler, potentially including a lower grade boundary below which proposals should not be allocated time.
      • It is the primary reviewer’s responsibility (or the secondary if the primary can not) to write the proposal review comments that will be distributed to the PIs, incorporating relevant comments submitted by other TAC members. It is imperative that there be a tight deadline for TAC members to submit their final comments after the meeting has concluded: preferably by the end of the day but in any case no more than a few days after the meeting.
      • If new LMAP proposals are approved, inform the UCO Director regarding the nature of the project, duration, and nights provisionally allocated to the programs.
      • Inform the Director of any other significant changes to allocations or relevant information regarding currently active LMAP programs.
      • Inform the Director of any partnership or institutional ToO time allocated.

After the TAC meeting, the TAC Chair will:

    • Ensure that primary reviewers enter comments into the TAC web site for each proposal.
    • Review the proposal comments to be sent to PIs; edit as needed for fairness, completeness, and accuracy.
    • Participate in a meeting (or telecon) with the other TAC chair and the UC Keck scheduler to discuss issues including nights recommended for proposals; allocations of nights to LMAP programs; possible matching of half-night programs to fill nights, etc. The TAC Chairs and scheduler may opt to include TAC members in this telecon if they feel that there are specific issues that need to be clarified. If they do, then all TAC members should be invited to participate. However, TAC members should be instructed that this is not an opportunity to re-grade or re-rank proposals; the purpose is to clarify details of the TAC’s recommendations to the scheduler.
Duties of the TAC Members
  • TAC members should work with the TAC Chair and UCO Admin to find a time when the TAC meeting can take place.
  • The TAC members should announce their conflicts of interest to the TAC Chair. This should include any project in which they are actively involved, even if they are not explicitly included as co-Is on the proposal itself
  • Upon seeing the list of proposals submitted to their TAC identify to the TAC Chair any proposals on which they have a conflict of interest. The reason for the conflict does not need to be identified but may include: direct competitors, funding partners, etc. As a rule of thumb, if you think you might be conflicted you probably are.
  • Inform the TAC Chair of any times during the TAC meeting when you are likely not going to be able to attend so that the order of discussion can be optimized.
  • Grade the proposals based on the current grading policy, see below.
  • Write a detailed evaluation for any proposal for which you are a primary or secondary based on the criteria given in the grading policy, see below.
  • Write some notes on your grades even if you are not a primary or secondary for use in the discussion and to assist the primary reviewer in their drafting of the final evaluation.
  • Complete the final evaluation within a few days of the TAC meeting so that comments and discussions are still fresh.
Current grading policy

Please format your written evaluations into these four sections:

  1. A brief summary of the proposal’s science goals and strategies
  2. Strengths of the proposal
  3. Minor Weaknesses
  4. Major Weaknesses,

The weaknesses should include both scientific and technical feasibility issues, if any.  The grade scale and grading criteria used by the TACs is described below. Please use as much as possible of the grade range so we can use the spread to differentiate between proposals.

Notice that a “B” grade is “An excellent proposal, certainly worth doing.” So getting a “B” grade from the TAC is still a highly desirable outcome. To get an “A” grade, the proposal must be truly “outstanding” and “highly likely to provide very worthwhile results” that will “quickly have high impact.” A “C” grade is still a “very good proposal with no particular flaws” and will be a “significant contribution to the field.” Please feel free to use minuses and pluses as well.

TAC Grading criteria:

  1. Outstanding proposal, makes use of the Keck in a powerful way, highly likely to provide very worthwhile results that will relatively quickly have high impact on a forefront field.
  2. An excellent proposal, certainly worth doing, makes excellent use of the unique capabilities of the Keck Observatory, but is not so urgent or immediately compelling as one getting an A.
  3. A very good proposal with no particular flaws, will be a significant contribution to the field, but in itself unlikely to lead to major insights that will have a dramatic impact on the field and is not particularly urgent to do.
  4. Serious flaws (technical or scientific) render it questionable whether this should be done.
  5. Should not be given time. Reasons could be poor science, does not require Keck, already done and published, definitely beyond the ability of the instruments and telescope, wrong semester.

Granting time to programs:

Top ranked proposals generally should be allocated the requested time. If the TAC feels that the time is not well justified, e.g. inflated for poor conditions without a compelling argument why this is needed or exposure times not well documented, the TAC may reduce the time allocated. This should be reflected both in the letter grade and well documented in the TAC comments to the PI. For proposals with lower rankings, the TAC may consider allocating less time than the PI requested, e.g. give a small amount of time for a program to prove it is feasible. This should not be common as it will result in fewer completed programs, fewer publications and generally lower productivity for the telescope.

Evaluating new LMAP proposals:

Large Multi-Year Project (LMAP) programs are UC observing projects with well-defined scientific objectives that require a large number of nights to bring to completion (normally 10 or more nights per semester). The UC LMAP program allows projects extending for more than one semester to be carried out with multi-year approval from the beginning. LMAPs should generally be directed toward obtaining a high quality, coherent, homogeneous data set that will allow scientific questions of major importance to be addressed in a thorough, systematic manner. Please consult for current policies regarding LMAPs. The LMAP should not be open ended but have a well justified number of nights to bring the project to completion. The LMAP generally should involve a fairly large group of UC collaborators but these need not all be UC nor do they need to be distributed across multiple campuses.

Evaluating continuing LMAP proposals:

The evaluation of a continuation request for an LMAP is done differently than a normal new proposal. These proposals have already been judged on their scientific merit by a previous TAC and thus need only be judged in a pass/fail basis on the update provided. For purposes of entry into the system please use either an A or F. Feedback on the LMAP status should be based on the updates, e.g. showing data is being reduced and analyzed, progress on publications, changes in personnel etc. A TAC may recommend that the Director remove an LMAP status from a program even if the TAC recommends that time be granted.

Proposals by PIs who are also involved in a LMAP:

Every Keck proposal now must contain section 2.5 “LMAP Membership” (see A PI must declare if they are a key member of an active LMAP, ie. if they are listed in the LMAP Management Plan. A brief distinction between the purpose of this proposal and the LMAP should be made. The purpose of this is to avoid PIs double dipping by conducting more LMAP science through a regular proposal. As stated in the LMAP instructions ( “it is expected that all or most of the Keck observing time requests of the PI and those Co-Is with major involvement in the program, as outlined in the management plan, will be devoted to the LMAP during semesters when the LMAP observations are being done.” It will be the TACs responsibility to determine if a request by an LMAP key member is overlapping with the LMAP science or if the request is excessive given their role in the LMAP. Example: a key member with a small (but vital) role within the LMAP could submit a proposal in an unrelated field requesting slightly below average number of nights should not be an issue. Example: a large fraction of the key members are submitting proposals for an above average numbers of nights would be disqualifying.

Common questions or issues:

  • A proposal is not required to disclose if other telescope time is being sought through any other Keck partners.   The TAC should evaluate proposals without consideration if the proposal’s team has access to other sources of Keck time.
  • A proposal should list the amount of time required to complete the project on the cover sheet.  The TAC may assume that all of that time will come from future UC proposals unless explicitly declared otherwise in the proposal or coversheet.
  • Is a proposal allowed to inflate their proposal to compensate for bad weather? Since the weather losses at Keck are typically low and rare, the PIs should request for only the time they need to complete their experiment. The TAC is encouraged to be sympathetic to programs that were not able to complete their programs in future periods (although not beyond the original scope). However, if the PI has a compelling argument about why they must inflate their request by the weather losses (such as sharing the weather losses across several programs in a mini-queue) then the TAC will consider the merits of such an argument.