Although the old expression publish or perish may be a bit of an exaggeration, the early years on the tenure track can be stressful for young faculty.
One of the most difficult tricks, even for experienced researchers, is the need to balance research and teaching on one side with money raising and other activities on the other, says Pawel Keblinski. Winning this years CAREER Award will free Keblinski to focus on a long-term research area [nanoscale materials] instead of moving from one funded project to another.
For George Xu, a 1999 winner, the CAREER Award allowed him to pursue innovative ideas in the field of environmental and energy engineering that might not have been funded by other agencies.
But money isnt the only stressor in the early years.
Perhaps the most important benefit is the validation of your research program, says Daniel Freedman, this years newest winner. It means that people think that your work is worth supporting. Thats very gratifying, he says.
Since CAREER proposals broadly focus on the investigators vision for future research and education, getting the award gives me confidence that I am going in the right direction, adds 2001 honoree Shekhar Garde.
Financial and psychological support is equally important.
One of the hardest things for a new academic to do at a research university like Rensselaer is to develop a robust research program. These awards take care of that problem. CAREER Award winners are immediately shown respect by both junior and senior faculty members. Consequently, it is easier to develop research collaborations with colleagues because you are immediately perceived as doing quality work, observes Daniel Walczyk 91.
Personally, the CAREER Award has given me more confidence and has further motivated me to excel, says Wilfredo (Freddie) Colon. Professionally, it has provided the resources to pursue the vision I have for my career. As someone once said, Vision without funding is hallucination!
In addition to the CAREER Award, Colon and Walczyk share another remarkable achievement: both have received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).
The Presidential Award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers. These awards are intended to recognize some of the finest scientists and engineers who, while early in their research careers, show exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge during the 21st century, says the program announcement.
Presidential Awards are conferred annually at the White House following recommendations from eight participating national agencies. The National Science Foundation selects its 20 PECASE nominees from its most meritorious CAREER Award winners each year.
From more than 1,600 applicants, Walczyk was awarded one of the 338 CAREER Awards in 1998, and out of those 338 winners, he was named one of 20 NSF-funded PECASE awardees. Two years later, competing against 409 CAREER Award winners, Colon was similarly honored with the 2000 PECASE.
Although they work in very different fieldsWalzcyk is a mechanical engineer who focuses on developing rapid manufacturing methods, while Colon is a biochemist seeking to understand the complexities of protein foldingboth are highly motivated to be excellent teachers.
I was an M.S. student here, Walczyk says, and I loved it. That experience as a Rensselaer student makes me want to be as good a teacher as I can.
Colons background as a minority in his field drives him to serve as a mentor and role model to undergraduate and minority students. For me, teaching goes beyond the classroom and into the lab. Since joining Rensselaer [in 1997], I have always had undergraduates working with me; 18 of them have passed through my lab in the past four years. I consider their training my greatest contribution to teaching.
Opportunities to teach are also important to Julie Stenken, Colons colleague in the chemistry department and 2000 award winner. The excellence of the student body attracted me to RPI. Coming here allowed me to work one-on-one with both graduate and undergraduate students. This would generally be frowned upon at most large research universities, she says.
|Rensselaer Magazine: March 2002|
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