Listening Tour Common Questions: If We Are Now a Research University How Am I (The Faculty) Supposed To Start Doing Research?
By Ricardo Azziz | May 28, 2013
Lately, I have had the pleasure of meeting with the many different departments and faculty that make up our new university, in what I call a ‘listening tour’. It has and continues to be both enlightening and instructive.
There are a few questions that I hear repeatedly, and today I would like to try and briefly address one of the more common questions…If we are now a Research University how am I (the faculty member) supposed to start doing research?
In responding to this important question we need to first remind ourselves that we are now a research university because, in addition to the seminal charge of transmitting knowledge to current and future generations, our mission and a significant portion of our effort is also dedicated to creating new knowledge — through scholarship, research and discovery.
And we must also recognize that being a ‘research’ university does not mean that we do not focus on education. In fact, we are a university because we first and foremost educate and train the future generations of our nation and the world. But, it’s not about doing research first and education second, it’s about both transmitting and developing new knowledge.
And lastly we must recognize that research universities are critical drivers of not only an educated and thoughtful citizenship, but also of our country’s innovation competitiveness. Investment in research and development (R&D) in the US was 2.9% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), recently matching the previous record set at the height of the space race (see The America that works and Brainbox nation), with much of this research being conducted or initiated at our research universities. In fact, the US is home to 27 of the 30 universities that publish the most-cited scientific research (so there is also strong competition within). In short, one of our nation’s greatest advantages, our inventiveness, is solidly driven by its research universities… which is why being part of this critical and elite group of universities is important not only to GRU, but to the nation.
However, there may be at least two misunderstandings… One, that henceforth all faculty are supposed to do research… and the other, what is research?
The answer that I give to the first question is… No, not all faculty have to do research. In fact, at most research universities only a fraction of the faculty is actively involved in any significant amount of research. A university’s primary mission is always educating, training, and imparting knowledge. At most research universities, including GRU, less than 20% of all faculty do any significant amount of research, the remainder dedicated primarily to education and training (in or out of the clinical arena). Research may be a part of our mission, but great universities require great teachers.
Each college Dean, working with their Chairs and faculty, will need to determine how his or her college will meet the research mission of the university. Will all departments be required to do research… or just a few? Will specific research units (centers, etc.) that transcend departments and that are primarily focused on research need to be created (see Organizational Units)? And within particular departments tasked with doing research, do they create the expectation (and provide the necessary resources) for all their faculty to do research, or better still, designate, recruit and support selected faculty to do research (selected based on merit, experience, topical priorities, etc.)?
And should Chairs create a separate unit or division within their departments dedicated to fostering research, either by redirecting existing talent or by bringing new talent onboard, that the remainder of the faculty can collaborate with and participate in? Or do they prefer instead to create a pool of resources (time, staff and monies) aimed to support research efforts that faculty compete for?
How will colleges identify faculty who will be meeting the research mission and how will college faculty help make this determination? How will faculty help designate, recruit and support these selected faculty? And how will we leverage the research expertise and resources already present across the greater university, ensuring maximum collaboration and synergy?
In essence, there are a multitude of questions that need answering and, more importantly, myriad ways that faculty and academic leaders can warranty the university is meeting its research mission while ensuring we are providing the best educational experience possible … All the while remembering that research in a university clearly enhances the learning of its students, as much pedagogical research reminds us that teachers who are active researchers and scholars are often the best educators.
But how should we define scholarship and research, and for that matter discovery and innovation?
While I recognize that this is a question that merits much more space than this brief blog can afford, let me try and present a few generalities.
Firstly, all university faculty are (or should be) scholars, essentially meaning they are recognized specialists in their particular branch of knowledge and, in turn, are lifelong students of their respective field of discipline. It is clear that we expect all university faculty to not only keep up with developments in their field but to also be recognized ‘experts’ in their field. Because the teaching (education & training) of our students at the university level demands it.
And research? Research is one part of scholarship. There are many ways of defining research, but one that I prefer is that research is the systematic and formal work or process undertaken to increase humanity’s knowledge and the use of this knowledge to devise new solutions to old or emerging problems. Although we generally speak of scientific research (i.e. inquiry following the principles of the scientific method as espoused by Francis Bacon and John Stuart Mills, among others), it will be essential as a broader university that we recognize that research may follow somewhat different approaches and principles in the humanities and in arts.
But lots of questions remain that our university, as are many others, will have to struggle with and better define. What is the difference between research, innovation and discovery? Research is often defined as turning dollars into discovery, whereas innovation turns discovery into dollars. And for example, if faculty in the College of Education is developing iBooks or apps that are selling on iTunes, would that be considered scholarship or research? It would be a form of independent scholarly activity we definitely want to encourage, but more importantly it is an example of leveraging the intellectual and technical capital of the university to drive innovation and economic growth. To be effective as a research university we need more of both!
Finally, we must recognize that research success in a university doesn’t happen randomly. In fact, I believe we must meet a few conditions for this to happen within the ecosystem of academia:
- Faculty need and deserve clarity around the university’s expectations: Of the Provost and SVP for Research for the Deans, of the Deans for their Chairs, and of the Chairs for their collective and individual faculty. And most importantly of faculty for themselves. Who should be doing research? Why? How? And expectations around research and scholarship should be consistent with the Promotion & Tenure (P&T) guidelines approved by the Faculty Senate earlier this year, which recognizes that university faculty should be great teachers and not all faculty will be researchers.
- Faculty need dedicated time and resources if they are to succeed in doing research and innovation: While we recognize that not all faculty will do any significant amount of research, we also must recognize that doing research requires significant effort and dedication. The development of successful (and competitive) research and innovation must be supported through the appropriate allotment of indispensible staff and core support.
- Research should be relevant and impactful: Nobody wants to spend effort and time on irrelevant and unimportant questions or issues. Recognition of relevance and impact is most commonly (but not always) measured thru peer or external review and recognition. This recognition often occurs when a venue to publish and publicize the researcher’s findings is provided. And recognition is also granted in the form of monetary awards to support the research in question. Which is why obtaining external funding is so critical to research, although understanding, of course, that the sources and amounts of that support vary greatly across disciplines. External funding not only provides important support to the researcher and the institution, but is also an important measure of the degree to which the research is found to be relevant and impactful by peers and external agencies.
In concluding, we should remember that just because our university is now classified as a ‘research’ university, and its mission includes research, not all faculty will or should be expected to do research. But if they are, both academic leaders and faculty should be clear about their expectations and there should be the willingness and ability to provide the necessary time and resources. And we must be focused only on doing research that is relevant, impactful, and recognized.
Next week another common question that I have heard during my listening tours… If we are supposed to grow, how do we do it if there is no money?