No doubt, there are as many paths to success as there are successful faculty, but there are common themes running through the CAREER winners stories. One of those themes: success breeds success. Another: no one gets to the top alone.
Winning such a large number of CAREER Awards shows that Rensselaer is doing an excellent job of recruiting top-notch faculty, Peterson says. But recruitment is only part of the story. Support from colleagues and mentors is essential if even the most talented and highly motivated individuals are to achieve lasting success. The large number of award recipients in the past several years is a clear indication that we are doing a good job of hiring very talented and high-quality individuals and also that we are providing these young faculty with the mentoring and resources they need to be successful, Peterson says.
Zhang was initially attracted to Rensselaer by the excellent research team in the physics departmentToh-Ming Lu, Gwo-Ching Wang, Leo Schowalter, Peter Persans, Paul Stoler, and many others. Without help and support from them, and my wife, Wendy, it would be impossible to achieve any award, he says.
Many new faculty are very comfortable in the lab, but less so in the classroom. I was lucky to co-teach with Professor Mike Abbott, clearly one of the best teachers I have known, Garde says. I learned about the pace of lectures, presentation skills, and, more important, ways to make even thermodynamics interesting.
The supportive, collegial atmosphere is very important to Mohammed Zaki, a 2001 winner who does research in computer science and information technology. RPI, being relatively small compared to its peer institutions, allows better one-on-one interaction among the faculty in terms of collaborative research, as well as between faculty and students.
Stenken agrees. I have been to large research universities where very few people know each other. Here, many of us know others in a variety of departments. For me, this is extremely important because knowing what my neighbors do allows me to engage in interesting collaborations.
I was attracted to Rensselaer by the fact that my department [computer science] was so friendly and free of politics, and the fact that RPI was clearly on an upward trajectory, Freedman adds. There is a great enthusiasm about the place. One nice effect of having so many CAREER winners is that it clearly raises the profile of the Institute.
Across campus, junior and senior faculty are engaged in compelling, collaborative, interdisciplinary environments. In the area of nanotechnology alone, CAREER Award winners Keblinski and Garde (2002) as well as Pulickel Ajayan (1998) and Ganapathiraman Ramanath (2000) already are teamed with senior investigators like Jonathan Dordick, Rensselaers Howard P. Isermann 42 Professor of Chemical Engineeringhimself a 1989 NSF Presidential Young Investigator.
There is no questionsuccess breeds success and good people help us attract, develop, and retain more good people, says Peterson. One of the most important ways to keep excellent faculty is to have a stimulating, exciting climate and growing opportunities for excellent people to work at the frontiers of their field with colleagues here and around the world.
Meg Knight is a freelance writer from Ballston Spa, New York.
|Rensselaer Magazine: March 2002|
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