Sponsored Research Shows Recent Gains

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Boston College has achieved new milestones in sponsored research during the 1990s, recording significant increases in the number of grant proposals submitted and funded, as well as the dollar amount of awards it has received since the decade began.

But while the trends are impressive, Boston College must develop strategies that ensure long-term success in obtaining external support, says the University's top research administrator. Fortunately, he added, the University appears ready and willing to face the challenges necessary to become a center for high quality research.

"Our research life is very healthy here," said Associate Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Michael Smyer. "Our faculty are doing well, whether funded through public or private sources. This is a year to step back, review our procedures and take a long view of how we as an institution will incorporate research into our overall mission."

For the 1995 fiscal year, which ended in May, 142 faculty submitted 229 proposals, both an 8 percent increase from the previous year. Of these proposals, 156 were awarded grants and contracts for a total of $19,480,273, the highest in University history. In 1990, faculty submitted 168 proposals and received a total of 118 contracts and grant awards totaling $13,696,000.

Smyer noted that many institutions are dealing with concerns about the appropriate balance between teaching and research. While Boston College is enjoying national recognition for its commitment to teaching, he added, these figures indicate that the University community clearly acknowledges the growing importance of research in higher education.

"The fact is, our students demand a research faculty," Smyer said. "Even parents of undergraduates I have talked to feel it is important for BC to be strong in research. We are fortunate in that we have a long tradition of a distinctive undergraduate program. The conversations around campus about research, whether formal or informal, are a very healthy development."

As co-chair of the University Academic Planning Council, Smyer, who joined the University prior to the 1994-95 academic year, has been directly involved in perhaps the most crucial discussion concerning Boston College's research goals. The UAPC included the role of research in its examination of the University's overall academic future and solicited comments from faculty and administrators.

"It was not by accident that the UAPC formed a committee to hold forums and distribute questionnaires on research," Smyer said. "People put a great deal of thought and effort into their comments about where we should be heading and how we should get there."

The final UAPC recommendations will not be released until early next year, although a preliminary draft will be distributed next month. Still, Smyer said, there are already some trends in place which will have lasting benefits for the University's sponsored research. For example, he said, the recent improvements in campus computer technology, especially through the Agora project, constitute a tremendous asset for BC.

"What we need to do is determine how we can explore this technology and what it can do," Smyer said. "To do so, it is quite likely we will have to spend some time and resources on faculty development."

Smyer said he is also encouraged by the growth of cross-disciplinary projects. He pointed to the ongoing Integrated Services Project to aid children at risk and their families, and to the Museum of Art's "Memory and the Middle Ages" exhibition earlier this year as examples of "BC's ability to bring faculty together in ways that reflect our ideals and values" and which were able to attract considerable external support.

In the meantime, Smyer said he is working with the Research Administration and Development offices to strengthen and enhance research-oriented resources for faculty. One area of potential growth, he said, is corporate and foundation support, which currently accounts for about 25 percent of the University's external funding. While much attention has been focused on recent or forthcoming cuts in public sources, he said, finding support from the private sector makes sense.

"It is important to diversify your efforts, no matter what the developments are in Washington," Smyer said. "The challenge here is to find foundations and organizations with priorities which mirror our own and help our faculty form relationships with them."

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