Faculty Research Forum offers community, knowledge for new professors

Written by
Catherine Zandonella, Office of the Dean for Research
Oct. 21, 2019

Where can I find funding to support a new research project? Should we patent our invention? What resources are available to help publish my next book?

These are some of the questions that newly hired faculty members — all of whom conduct research in addition to teaching — ask as they start their research programs at Princeton.

To make the transition easier, Princeton's Office of the Dean for Research has launched a new series of lunchtime events known as the Faculty Research Forum, which aims to provide a venue for exchange of information and community-building among new faculty, experienced faculty and staff experts in research administration.

Over a two-year period, the forum will cover a variety of topics of interest to early career faculty researchers, from how to build a culture of inclusion and diversity to how to manage finances, comply with appropriate regulations, publish one's results, and communicate about those results with the public.

"Princeton is deeply invested in ensuring that our early career faculty members — who are some of the world's most talented researchers and scholars — are successful in creating knowledge for the benefit of humanity," said Dean for Research Pablo Debenedetti, the Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science and professor of chemical and biological engineering. "Through this series, faculty members acquire the information they need to conduct research at Princeton, and they also build a supportive community of peers to sustain them well into the future."

The program is part of the University's increased commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive faculty by providing the training and resources essential for success in academic careers. The University's Faculty Diversity Best Practices, produced by the 2013 Trustee Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity, recommended programming to "ensure that faculty members have the support to develop other skills that might contribute to future success."

“Our goal is to help early-career faculty establish outstanding research and teaching programs, thereby laying the foundation for a long and successful career in the professoriate," said Dean of the Faculty Sanjeev Kulkarni, the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Electrical Engineering. "This new program provides opportunities for junior faculty to learn more about topics such as funding and managing a research program, intellectual property and innovation, and the regulatory environment governing research."

Yet the forum is not merely another orientation program, said Karla Ewalt, associate dean for research and co-creator of the forum. Faculty members meet around a table rather than in a lecture hall. Experienced faculty share how they solved challenges, while senior administrators share their expertise, with plenty of time allotted for asking questions, trading knowledge and getting to know one another.

"One of the factors that contributes to a fruitful working environment is having relationships in place, and knowing that if you call someone, that person will pick up the phone," Ewalt said. "Networks increase success by lowering barriers."

The series helps junior faculty build relationships not only with research staff but also with other faculty across departments, Ewalt said. This can be especially valuable in situations where, given Princeton's relatively small size, a newly hired faculty member may be the only person in the department studying a specific field, or of a certain background.

"We wanted to set up a cohort across the University — a group of peers that all have in common that they are assistant professors at approximately the same stage in their careers," Ewalt said. "This cohort model depends on meeting on a regular basis, and sitting down and having a chat over how things are going."

The sessions also aim to reduce administrative workload, according to Ewalt. Research involves significant oversight, and the Office of the Dean for Research is responsible for a number of administrative tasks such as compliance with research integrity and grants management. In 2018 the Dean for Research led a committee to examine how to reduce the time that faculty spend on administrative tasks, time that could be spent creating knowledge and making discoveries. The findings of the Task Force on Administrative Workload informed the design of the series.

"Knowledge is power," said Elizabeth Adams, director of the Office of Research and Projects Administration, which handles all aspects of external grant funding, and co-creator of the forum. "We’re hoping the Faculty Research Forum will be a powerful tool for junior faculty as they grow and manage research programs, but also a platform for cultivating meaningful relationships, and ultimately reducing administrative burden for junior faculty in getting research done."

Finding funding

At the first faculty research forum, held Oct. 8 for faculty in the sciences and engineering, and Oct. 10 for faculty in the humanities and social sciences, the conversation centered on how to find funding for research.

Assistant professors typically begin their careers at Princeton with University-provided research funding, but eventually must obtain additional funding, often from the government or private foundations. Obtaining these grants, which support everything from supplies to utilities to graduate student stipends and postdoctoral salaries, is highly competitive.

Princeton offers a variety of resources for finding funding from federal agencies, said Adams, who moderated the session. These include online resources offered through the Office of Research and Projects Administration and research development services for large, multi-researcher federal grants offered by the Office of the Dean for Research.

Support for research can also come from foundations and through research collaborations with industry. The staff of Princeton's Corporate Engagement and Foundation Relations team works with faculty to identify opportunities.

"We send about 120 open-call submissions per year from companies and foundations directly to faculty, so the more that we know about what you are working on, the better we can target those opportunities to specific faculty members," said Coleen Burrus, director of Corporate Engagement and Foundation Relations, and a co-organizer of the forum.

For innovative ideas that are not far enough along to qualify for federal funding, the University's Dean for Research Innovation Funds provide awards on a competitive basis for new ideas in the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities, the campus as a lab, and for cross-disciplinary projects and collaborations with industry.

Amaney Jamal, the Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Politics, speaking to the social sciences and humanities faculty members, advised early career researchers to reach out to other faculty or to staff members with questions about funding or other topics. "Never hesitate to ask the questions," Jamal said. "There are a lot of resources available, and everyone is very helpful and will try to piece it together for you."

Assistant professors who attended the session on funding found the first session to be highly valuable.

"As a new faculty looking to establish myself in my field, in addition to building a track record of outstanding research, I know I have to win competitive research awards," said Ludovic Tangpi, assistant professor of operations research and financial engineering. "I learned much from the first session, and am looking forward to the upcoming ones."

"I am very happy about this new initiative," said Flora Champy, assistant professor of French and Italian. "It was not easy for me, as a foreigner coming from a completely different academic culture, to identify and navigate the various resources available for us on campus."

"One of the wonderful things about being a faculty member at Princeton," said Monica Huerta, assistant professor of English and American studies, "is how much the institution has thought about what kinds of support we might need to produce our best scholarship. The Faculty Research Forum is just one such example."

Ewalt noted that while many of the content areas addressed by the forum are administered through the Office of the Dean for Research, the series does not stop at the office's operational boundaries. For example, the session on publication and scholarship will include experts from the Princeton University Library and Princeton University Press. The session on data management will involve experts from the Library and the Office of Information Technology.

Ultimately, the success of the early career faculty benefits the entire university, Ewalt said.

"The faculty have tremendous impact on the experience of Princeton students," Ewalt said. "When faculty members can accomplish their work with minimal administrative workload, they will be in the best position to turn around and devote their energy, pedagogy and enthusiasm to create the best environment for our students."


View main article.