Conversation With The Dean
Celebrating And Investing In Research At SMU
Q.Why is SMU focusing research on issues in health care, immigration
and energy sustainability?
A. Provost Paul Ludden launched planning initiatives on these topics to
involve the faculty in identifying immediate, high-profile research opportunities,
and to develop strategies that SMU can pursue to engage
these issues more broadly and effectively in the future. To advance in
stature as a research university, SMU must engage problems that are
recognized by society as critically important. This is the key to research
success. Important problems capture public attention, and research efforts
to solve them attract federal funding.
The provost and I are in complete agreement on this direction for SMU.
If you listen to the national news on any evening, you are likely to hear
coverage on the crisis in health care, climate change, the impact of immigration
and the escalating price of gas. The key is to identify aspects
of these problems that we can address now with our current resources,
and to plan longer-term strategies that foster growth of research at
SMU in areas that will contribute increasingly to significant solutions.
Q. How will your office help faculty attract more grants and funding
to support their research?
A. The federal government is the largest sponsor of research in the
world, but unfortunately, federal funding for research has not kept pace
with expectations. The intensely competitive nature of this environment
is demonstrated by the fact that success rates for new proposals to
many programs are much less than 20 percent and, in some cases, less
than 10 percent. Clearly, increasing grants and funding is going to be
difficult and slow at first, and growing research at SMU will not be
accomplished by simply writing more proposals.
There are immediate actions that my office will do to help. We will
improve the proposal preparation process with an online proposal routing
and approval process. We will work with the Office of Grants
Accounting to provide timely reporting to researchers on the financial
balances in their projects so that funds are not left unspent when the
project closes. We will provide better information online to faculty on
opportunities and regulations. Lastly, we will expand the Office of
Research Administration to more effectively process proposals, to assist
faculty in matters of compliance on federal regulations and to launch
an effective program of tech transfer.
On a more strategic level, I plan to work with the provost and faculty
to identify areas into which SMU research can expand. Ideally, these
will be areas that build on existing strengths, contribute to the initiatives
established by the provost, and avoid competition head-on with
established programs at other universities in our region.
Q. How does research support teaching?
A. Research informs a faculty memberís teaching, and faculty should
constantly seek new knowledge so they can provide the most up-todate
and accurate information to their students. Many fields, such as
computer science and biology, are evolving so fast that a faculty
member not engaged in research is teaching material that becomes
progressively out of date.
Our research must tackle big problems and engage our students in
their solution. No leading research university is without a vigorous
graduate program, and graduate education is part of the overall educational
experience that the modern American university is expected to
provide. In addition to performing much of the research, graduate
students directly contribute to the education of undergraduates as instructors,
mentors and role models. As we grow research at SMU, I
hope that we successfully reach out to undergraduates, capture their
imaginations and draw them into the excitement encourage dialogue between our faculty and federal funding agencies
that may lead to new funding initiatives, and dialogue with the private
sector that may lead to research partnerships.We need to seek opportunities
for collaboration with other Metroplex universities and utilize
innovative collaborations within SMU that transcend traditional discipline
boundaries. My hope is that this office also will find resources to
fund pilot studies, to enable faculty participation in federal programmatic
planning exercises, and to provide matching funds to increase the
competitiveness of our proposals.