Director’s Blog 7/30/19

Director’s Blog July 30, 2019
by  Ian Billick, PhD

RMBL has hired Dr. Ian Breckheimer to develop spatial products for use by scientists. Breckheimer brings a rangeof experiences, including machine learning techniques, operating drones, and working with big data (e.g., generated through remote sensing and social media) that will be important to these efforts. This position is one of the investments identified in RMBL’s strategic plan, which you can find online

As we raise funds we will continue to implement that plan, including upgrading facilities (e.g., construction of the new cabin), enabling collaboration, making RMBL more data rich, and translating our research to the larger world. Hopefully everyone will benefit in a meaningful way from these broad-based investments.

RMBL’s Board is overseeing major decisions involving implementation of the strategic plan, given uncertainty with both fundraising and North Village. The decision to move forward now with this part of the strategic plan was approved by the Board at its July meeting. Breckheimer has provided significant intellectual contributions to an NSF proposal on how to create those products (pending review) and we hope NSF funding will support some, or all, of this position. The timing was such, and hiring people to live in Gunnison Basin is challenging enough, that we needed to move forward in the absence of knowing the outcome of NSF funding. In the absence of NSF support, this position will be supported through a private donation we have received in support of our Strategic Plan.

We will be cross-training Breckheimer to assist RMBL’s Science Director, Dr. Jennifer Reithel, with research administration. It has been an important goal to have another PhD scientist beyond Reithel (or her husband), who understands study designs, management of research plans, and getting permission for research sites. We anticipate that the breakdown of Breckheimer’s position will be roughly 50% RMBL-driven data products in support of the community, 25% research driven by Breckheimer (creating synergies with RMBL’s spatial ecology program), and 25% administration.

We recognize that this is a new model for how we support research. We will be looking for your guidance as we work with Breckheimer to set his priorities, manage attribution (e.g., under what circumstances is the contribution enough to justify co-authorship), and ensure that his fundamental role is to support RMBL’s scientific community. This is a three-year position, based upon the timeline involved in generating the data products. As we approach the end, we will evaluate the community’s needs going forward, our financial situation, and how the position is working. I, as well as RMBL’s Board, are actively thinking about how to evaluate the investments we are making (e.g., staff, equipment, housing upgrades, land acquisitions, etc.), both tactically and strategically. We would appreciate any thoughts you have, both in terms of the process and outcomes by which we should evaluate investments.

Please feel free to reach out to me with thoughts, comments, or suggestions. We are excited to move forward with this part of the strategic plan! We are very excited to have Ian as part of the RMBL team! Please join us in welcoming him aboard and in making him successful as we find innovative ways to support field science.