Syracuse University’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (OIRA) was recently created through a merger of the Office of Institutional Research and the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment. The streamlined operation, located at 400 Ostrom Avenue, serves all members…
What Makes Syracuse University a Premier Research Institution: An Interview With Duncan Brown, Vice President for Research (Podcast)
Syracuse University has a reputation as a premier research institution, a destination university for faculty and students alike to pursue their ideas and creative activities on a campus that embraces and enhances that research culture.
As vice president for research, Duncan Brown supports and empowers Syracuse’s internationally recognized creative and scholarly excellence, advancing centers and institutes that are global leaders in their fields.
In this role, Brown helps faculty and students pursue research and creative activities across the natural sciences, humanities, engineering, education, arts, social sciences and law fields. Brown also leads the Office of Research and its component units, which serve as the backbone of the University’s research, scholarship and creative support enterprise. Collectively, these efforts help students and faculty expand their knowledge through innovation, creativity and discovery.
Brown, who is in his second year as vice president for research, has been a physics faculty member since 2007 and is an accomplished physics researcher, recognized as an international leader in gravitational-wave astronomy and astrophysics before taking on this latest position.
“The main vision is to empower and amplify and tell the stories of the amazing research that’s happening here and the amazing creative activities that our faculty are pursuing. Faculty really want to do research and creative activities, and they want to engage our students and our students want to be part of this,” says Brown, who also serves as the Charles Brightman Endowed Professor of Physics in the College of Arts and Sciences.
On this “’Cuse Conversation,” Brown elaborates on his vision for the research enterprise at Syracuse University, explains what makes Syracuse a premier research institution, examines the impact of the research being done by faculty and students and reveals where his passion for research came from.
01How would you describe your role as the vice president for research?
One of the things I like about this job is just how varied the responsibilities are. My job is to support the faculty and students who are pursuing their research and creative activities, to make the process as seamless as possible, to help them find new opportunities and to help them pursue their interests. Research and creative activities are essential to the University’s mission. The part of my job that I really love is where that research meets the teaching: my ability to do cutting-edge research in the physics department and then walk downstairs into a lecture theater, tell our students about it and get them involved.
Then there’s programs like SOURCE [Syracuse Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Engagement] that helps students get engaged in research activities. There’s a lot that goes on within the Office of Research to make that happen, from our very dedicated staff who help faculty match their ideas to funding opportunities and pursue their interests all the way to the nuts and bolts of compliance and government regulations.
02What makes Syracuse University stand out as a premier research institution?
If you look at human thriving, emerging technologies and global diversity—the areas in our Academic Strategic Plan—we have internationally recognized strengths in these areas. Our Aging Studies Institute is internationally recognized. We have a high energy physics group that is building one of the critical detectors for the Large Hadron Collider, the most powerful particle accelerator ever built at CERN in Europe. They’re leading an international collaboration in the sciences. In the School of Education, the Center on Disability and Inclusion is world-class, leading the field in disability and inclusion research alongside faculty in the College of Law who work on disability policy and law. Our students can interact with all these strengths.
Our students are the heart of our academic mission. What does it mean to have research excellence at Syracuse? It means faculty doing world-class research and creative activities but bringing our students together and along for those activities.
03What impact is the research being done by our faculty and students having on campus and beyond?
Fundamentally, research is about expanding the frontiers of human knowledge. You can start to get involved in this cutting-edge research even as a first-year student. You’re being taught by people who are pushing the boundaries of human knowledge in so many different areas, and you’re able to sample across the different areas of the University. Then you make this transition from a consumer of knowledge to a producer of knowledge as a graduate student. Typically, you’re probably producing some new knowledge as an undergraduate, but it’s not your primary objective. Your primary goals as an undergraduate are learning new knowledge in that first stage of your training, doing research projects along the way that are generating some new knowledge.
But when you become a graduate student, you’re at the forefront of transitioning between consumers of knowledge and producers of knowledge. Your dissertation is another substantive piece of original research that nobody has ever done before, a creative activity that makes the world a better place. For faculty members, being able to lead and participate in this research creative enterprise is very exciting. And for me, it’s about the excitement of doing this research, enabling everyone to pursue their ideas.
Note: This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.