A careful strategy to select and pursue areas of focus that match our core strengths will be critical to realizing our opportunity for research growth and influence.
4.1 Enhancing and Growing Research
4.2 Core Research Strengths
4.3 New Research Arenas
4.4 Resident Graduate Education
Research, fundamental to a great university, is a public trust. The most significant transformation posited by The Rensselaer Plan is the imperative that Rensselaer create a research portfolio of substantially greater size, quality, prominence, and impact.
Rensselaer has long taken great pride in graduates who are highly prized by employers, have immediate impact, and step up to leadership in technology-based careers. In times of very rapid technological change, our graduates cannot do this unless they are educated in an environment of leading-edge research and innovation. By building research programs, and involving students in research activity, we will preserve and enhance our historic strength in undergraduate education.
Research is a creative process that generates new principles and spawns new technologies. Such technological innovation stokes the engine of economic growth, and connects the university research enterprise to a cycle that catalyzes the development of new industries and supplies a highly educated up-to-date workforce.
Rensselaer will grow from an institution centered on undergraduate education with selected research strengths to a full research university. Rensselaer research in the future will extend over a broad portfolio that puts the Institute in a leadership position both in established fields and in evolving areas of inquiry that hold out great promise and opportunity.
The Rensselaer Plan sets its sights on tier-one ranking among U.S. technological research universities, with a goal of expanding research funding from $40 million to $100 million annually in five years and doubling from 125 to 250, the number of doctorates a year over the next eight to 10 years.
4.1 Enhancing and Growing Research
Greatness demands balance among the range of disciplines that comprise a fully realized technological university. To innovate and to offer the best education, each of Rensselaer’s schools must be excellent in research and recognized in its own right.
Rensselaer will encourage a full range of individual and group scholarly activity. We will make dramatic investments that substantially increase our involvement in two new arenas vital for national well being and growth: information technology and biotechnology. We will add emphasis in areas of core strength with important future trajectories. We will invest in a limited number of additional research focus areas, with priorities established in the performance planning process.
Looking ahead to dramatic growth, we will build on a track record of success in interdisciplinary research and a long history of technological innovation. We will emphasize careful selection of research problems, do research at interdisciplinary intersections, exploit our “low walls,” and build strategic alliances to magnify impact. We will enhance basic research in areas that undergird selected focal areas. We will grow graduate programs associated with research and the education of researchers, and we will improve the infrastructure and resources necessary for research and graduate education.
At the end of the day, Rensselaer will advance a rich research portfolio. To support this portfolio, we will:
- Recruit and support world-class faculty in identified priority areas.
- Review the organization of research centers and programs, and restructure and/or sunset them to ensure excellence and sustainability.
- Reorganize research facilities to increase research productivity, creating infrastructure, staff, and research equipment that support several or many research programs.
- Implement research policies (research staff, facilities management, student support, charge-out, cost sharing, and intellectual property policies) sufficient to the task.
- Provide research and researchers with internal and external visibility, including publications, Web features, alumni seminars, and living campus exhibits designed to capture the imaginations of prospective students, staff, and visitors.
- Exploit research results to drive innovation and entrepreneurship.
- Expand and improve inquiry-based graduate programs as an integral aspect of research planning and delivery.
4.2 Core Research Strengths
An essential component of our strategy to increase prominence in research will lie in identifying areas of existing distinction that represent future growth and broad impact in key research areas. These core strengths represent opportunities for the Institute’s continuing leadership in fields that promise increased significance, new intellectual challenges, and relevance to broad societal and technological needs. In addition, these core strengths link our existing enterprise to new and exciting research arenas.
Three core research strengths on which Rensselaer will build are:
- Microelectronics, photonics, and microsystems technologies.
- Advanced materials and nanotechnology.
- Modeling and simulation of complex systems.
Each core research strength cuts across multiple schools and departments, exemplifies interdisciplinary effort, and holds promise for stimulating the development of new fields of research. Each has achieved distinction. Each serves as a sound foundation for continued progress and deserves priority status for institutional investment.
4.3 New Research Arenas:
Information Technology and Biotechnology
As an early and integral component of our strategy to enhance position and distinction, we will focus investment in two Institutewide research arenas: information technology (IT) and biotechnology.
All research and technology indicators suggest that biotechnology and information technology, coupled with the convergence of microsystems and nanotechnologies, are closely aligned with global and societal priorities, and primary drivers of economic growth. They will dominate the future.
Biotechnology is already transforming health care and agriculture, and opening up enormous possibilities for sustainable resource management. IT is the driving force in every industry today, transforming many of them and enabling new areas of research, such as the human genome, and enterprise, such as e-business. Both IT and biotechnology are challenging and transforming the world’s underlying social, economic, and political structures.
Biotechnology and information technology are pervasive in their influence and increasingly dependent on core disciplines such as mathematics, materials, and microelectronics. Rather than Rensselaer moving toward these fields, they are moving toward us. A careful strategy to select and pursue areas of focus that match our core strengths will be critical to realizing our opportunity for research growth and influence.
We will exploit important niches in IT and biotechnology. Based on existing building blocks of excellence, working at interdisciplinary intersections, and making carefully selected new investments in faculty and infrastructure, we will achieve research leadership in very selective focal areas within IT and biotechnology.
We will follow this process:
- Appoint internal and external task forces to define a small number (most likely, three) of focal areas within IT and within biotechnology. The selection will be based on the identification of important issues and on converging technical themes that build on existing Rensselaer strengths.
- Within each focal area, create a strategy that involves both existing and new faculty. Build or create strengths in basic undergirding areas. We will forge linkages between Rensselaer research projects and programs with other academic institutions, medical centers, state and federal laboratories, and private-sector concerns who offer complementary interests, expertise, staff, and specialized facilities.
- Within each focal area, assemble a critical mass of people who create “constellations” of world-class faculty, staff, and students. A typical constellation will include a senior faculty member and two junior faculty in key areas needed to energize the focal area at Rensselaer. We anticipate a total of six constellations (likely three in each research arena), all or most of whom will be new hires.
- Seek endowment support for “constellation” faculty salaries plus current support for faculty start-up and early-term operating costs for approximately three years. New fund-raising efforts and internal redirection and restructuring will provide the needed support.
- Construct specialized research facilities and provide necessary equipment for the focal areas. A new biotechnology and interdisciplinary studies facility will be a necessity in order to create the appropriate synergy among biotechnology, nanotechnology, and microsystems research.
- Expand research and doctoral programs in undergirding disciplines, and create new interdisciplinary graduate programs as required.
4.4 Resident Graduate Education
Because research is the engine that drives most graduate programs and provides their intellectual grounding, dramatic growth in research requires an equally dramatic expansion in inquiry-based graduate programs leading to research-based master’s and doctoral degrees. We will:
- Double the production of doctorates awarded over the next eight to 10 years.
- Develop a highly effective enrollment management program for graduate programs, including market research, marketing, relationship-building, admission, orientation, support, and retention activities.
- Enhance student selectivity and quality, ensuring consistency across all graduate programs. Recruit a larger number of excellent students from a national base, as well as the best international students.
- Provide both disciplinary and interdisciplinary doctoral opportunities aligned with areas of research growth.
- Offer a relatively small number of carefully selected residential professional master’s programs in sync with the intellectual, research, and education goals of the sponsoring school. We will recruit the very best of our undergraduates interested in professional careers to complete their master’s-level professional education at Rensselaer.
- Extend interactive learning across graduate programs. Our distinctive interactive pedagogies allow us to bring studio- and team-based learning to our graduate students.
- Pay systematic attention to the quality of the lives of graduate students, providing an engaging student experience and seamless student service as described in 3.4 and 3.5.
- Create housing options on and off campus for graduate students.
- Examine structure, pricing, and financing of all graduate programs.