How Scientific and Scholarly Discoveries Fuel Academic Excellence
In his role as vice provost for research and academic planning, Thomas Chiles promotes faculty and student inquiry within and across academic disciplines.
Below, the DeLuca Professor of Biology shares how key campaign investments are driving research excellence at Boston College.
1. Why is research vital to the University’s academic mission?
At our core, all BC schools are educating students to be leaders who solve societal problems in a responsible way, and our research actively supports that mission. We have faculty and students investigating renewable energy, designing tools to detect and treat diseases, and leading national discussions on education reform, among other key areas.
2. How does top-caliber research translate to the classroom?
We have seen time and again that the best scholars are often the best teachers. This cuts across disciplines, whether it’s math, political science, chemistry, or history—whenever you have faculty actively engaged in original research, they bring that same passion to the classroom.
To attract the best students, we have to give them access to scholars and teachers who can challenge them and help open doors throughout their careers as well as empower them to conduct their own original thinking and research.
That’s what this is all about: helping our students realize their fullest potential.
3. How do Light the World donors advance research at the Heights?
Our donors have already funded 22 endowed professorships, which positions us to recruit and retain accomplished faculty members.
We’ve also seen campaign donations—of all sizes—go directly to our labs and research centers to support innovative scholarship, including significant support for undergraduate research.
These investments are paying off, with noticeable increases in awards and other recognition for our students, faculty, and the University as a whole.
4. As vice provost for research and academic planning, what are your goals for the coming year?
Our goals for the coming year are simple: First, we want to increase internal seed funding mechanisms to support research across all departments and schools. Second, we hope to foster collaborative research across departments and schools, and to raise awareness, both on-campus and off, of the quality and scope of research being done at BC.
Towards that end, we will host a day-long research symposium each fall, highlighting an annual theme. Next fall’s topic was public health, with faculty and students from the natural sciences presenting alongside those from social work, nursing, arts and sciences, and others doing innovative work on public health.
When you bring faculty together like this in a way that stimulates discussion, then the ideas start to flow and the next thing you know, you have new collaborations, new courses, new publications, and in the end, truly original contributions to the field.
5. What excites you most about conducting research at BC?
If you ask any faculty member on this campus, they will say the reason they like coming to Boston College is that we can carry out original research, and we can do it hand-in-hand with very talented undergraduates.
You can just see the excitement; you can see the pilot light catch and burn. You can see how a discovery, whether it’s in the library doing archival research or in the laboratory, can change someone’s life. It happens all the time, and there is nothing more rewarding. You can’t top that.
6. People naturally think of research in terms of test tubes and lab coats. What other types of research are happening at the Heights?
We have faculty across the University engaged in dynamic research, including Robin Fleming, who recently won a MacArthur Fellowship for her work in medieval history, and Michael Noone, who received a Gramophone Award for his work on early modern music in Spain. We have social science faculty exploring vital policy issues, the School of Social Work’s research into disparities in health care, nursing’s research into infectious diseases and, in education, we have prominent researchers partnering with local school districts and others to improve learning outcomes.