Research & Graduate Education

The President’s Commission on Research and Graduate Education was charged with analyzing the state of WPI’s research enterprise and graduate programs and to make recommendations to the president as to how each could be substantially improved. In order to formulate these recommendations the commission analyzed WPI’s research performance over the past 5 year period and compared it to that of other universities that typically rank in the top 50 national institutions. In addition, WPI’s research culture was benchmarked against two peer institutions, RPI and Carnegie Mellon University, and its research infrastructure was surveyed and evaluated. The commission carried out this analysis from January 4, 2005 to October 10, 2005. The commission consisted of the following members:

  • Terri Camesano (Faculty)
  • Rasesh Kotdawala (Graduate student)
  • Franc Lemire (Staff)
  • Christine Lima (Graduate student)
  • Rajib Mallick (Faculty)
  • Grant McGimpsey (Faculty, Chair)
  • Kathy Notarianni (Faculty)
  • Eric Overstrom (Faculty)
  • Helen Shuster (Staff)
  • Diane Strong (Faculty)

 

Through its research and deliberations, the commission has concluded that the level of research activity at WPI must increase significantly beyond its current modest level as measured by research expenditures, scholarly publications and other metrics commonly associated with research. Enhanced research activity is crucial to the survival of WPI as an institution that places the highest possible value on scholarly inquiry and the pursuit of knowledge at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. In this respect, the commission concurs strongly with the Rankings Commission, which concludes that the major impediment to a higher ranking (and all the benefits that accrue to a higher ranking) is the relatively weak state of WPI’s research and graduate programs.

The commission believes that the creation of a thriving research atmosphere is a self-enhancing pursuit that will lead naturally to even greater research activity and success. The commission has identified actions that should be taken to enhance WPI’s research.

These actions, which are summarized in several major recommendations, are intended to help WPI overcome the present drawbacks and weaknesses in its research performance. For each of these recommendations, the commission provides supporting documentation obtained from a variety of internal and external sources and proposes a series of strategies to implement them.

However, the Commission strongly asserts that to achieve substantial improvement in its research enterprise, WPI must articulate a new vision of itself. We note that the commission’s recommendations represent a substantial change in WPI’s mission, rather than only an incremental addition to its current undergraduate mission. Only if WPI adopts a vision of itself as a top 50 national research institution will it be able to significantly increase its level of research activity and the quality and quantity of its research accomplishments.

A Summary of the Recommendations of the Commission

Recommendation 1. Build a faculty with a strong commitment to scholarly research.

Strategy 1. Clearly articulate the expectations for faculty research performance.
Strategy 2. Reorganize the teaching schedule.
Strategy 3. Assign teaching loads that reflect faculty research activity.
Strategy 4. Create new chaired positions in multidisciplinary areas.
Strategy 5. Hire 40 new faculty in targeted areas (see recommendation 4).
Strategy 6. Emulate best practices and culture of peer institutions.

Recommendation 2. Grow the graduate program at the Ph.D. level.

Strategy 1. Endow 200 graduate fellowships exclusively for Ph.D. students.
Strategy 2. Provide competitive 12 month stipends.
Strategy 3. Cost-share 100% graduate tuition on grants paying full overhead.
Strategy 4. Provide enhanced graduate environment.
Strategy 5. Create mechanisms for recognizing graduate student research achievements.
Strategy 6. Promote the graduate program as a crucial component of WPI’s scholarly research.

Recommendation 3. Strengthen the infrastructure supporting research and graduate education.

Strategy 1. Create WPI Office of Research to coordinate and oversee all activities associated with the research enterprise.
Strategy 2. Hire Chief Research Officer.
Strategy 3. Fund growth in library resources and staff.
Strategy 4. Identify research facilities’ needs and invest in creating these facilities.
Strategy 5. Organize academic departments, research institutes and research centers into schools.
Strategy 6. Promote technology transfer.

Recommendation 4. Invest in the growth of targeted research programs.

Target Area 1. Enhanced Healthcare through the Life Sciences and Bioengineering
Target Area 2. Application of Nanoscience to the Development of New Materials
Target Area 3. Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development

 
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