Addressing the Problems of our Time

provost-dan-howardWhen I arrived at NMSU in 1988 as an Assistant Professor of Biology, the overarching question we asked about scholarship when hiring new faculty members was, “Can he or she develop an independent research program that addresses important questions and (for the sciences and engineering, at least) attract funding?” For some disciplines, such as history and philosophy, the first part of the question remains paramount in the collective consciousness of search committees. Here, individual scholarship remains the norm and hiring faculty committed to, and capable of, independent investigation is an overriding concern of departments.

In the sciences and engineering, working independently is still highly valued, and individual, principal investigator-initiated research remains important to funding agencies and to disciplines. But increasingly, the questions we are asking within our disciplines are becoming more complex and funding agencies are encouraging us to build research teams capable of addressing problems that cross disciplinary lines. This means that in hiring, we must consider not only whether a faculty member can work independently, but whether that individual complements others at NMSU and will add value as we build interdisciplinary research teams.

Supporting interdisciplinary research will require changes in more than the questions we ask when hiring faculty. We need to encourage conversations among faculty (see my Post from last week), build more open, multi-investigator laboratories, such as those that were incorporated into the renovation of Jett Hall, and we need to invest in pilot interdisciplinary research efforts of NMSU faculty. The first installment of this investment took place recently with the awarding of eight IMPACT mini-grants of about $40,000 each to research teams across the NMSU Las Cruces campus. The competition for these grants was intense – 59 proposals were submitted – a demonstration that the faculty of NMSU understands the importance of interdisciplinary research and is well-poised to contribute to the national effort in this area.

Congratulations to the faculty members associated with the winning grant proposals. I look forward to learning of the results of your research and to your future leadership in addressing some of the most pressing problems of our time.

With all best wishes,


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