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Quick Fact Cornell’s Young faculty won a total of 10 career development and young investigator awards in FY 2010.

Securing a Future of Excellence

From the Senior Vice Provost for Research

Cornell University Robert Buhrman

Cornell—known for its world-class research and facilities and for leadership in interdisciplinary research, physical sciences, literary theory, genomics, nanotechnology, and many other areas—is positioning its research strategies for continued and expanded excellence.

We intend to remain among the very best in collaborative multidisciplinary research and other areas where we currently excel; we also seek to advance in selected areas, particularly newly emerging ones, where we see distinct opportunities. This means planning for a highly competitive future.

Dollars Matter

Cornell had a robust year in 2010 in competing for sponsored research funding. Due to the one-time 30 percent increase in NIH and NSF funding provided by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, more federal funds were available for research than ever before, and Cornell got a great share. In total, we received $160 million in Recovery Act awards.

Did we get more than our share? We are still in the process of analyzing that question, but we know that in order to pursue world-class research in all the areas in which we seek to lead, we need appropriate funding. Dollars matter. Although Cornell’s Recovery Act funding will have a residual effect for the next several years, this funding windfall was a one-time event. For the near term, we expect to be in a very tight research funding environment, with the most likely prospect of a flat federal budget for university research. So we must ask ourselves, is Cornell becoming more, or less, competitive than our peers in increasing our share of federal and other external funding that will be available? Cornell’s research strategy must consider the highly competitive nature of the future. We must be looking at how to improve our take of the available external research funding as we focus on research strategies and metrics for achieving greater excellence.

Investing in Excellence—New Faculty

When we invest in new faculty, we seek the very best. We aim for faculty who will have exceptionally productive careers at Cornell, with research that will better society and the human condition. We look for new faculty with the clear potential to be “stars” throughout their careers—faculty who can lead in building outstanding collaborative and multidisciplinary research programs, who will take a tradition of excellence to new heights, and who by exemplary leadership will create new areas where Cornell research will shine in coming years.

This means that we recruit new faculty with great care and rigor. As we renew our faculty, we must hire individuals who will publish groundbreaking papers and books; whose innovative research, scholarship, and creativity will launch new areas and gain numerous citations; who show great promise for obtaining top research funding, who will excel at training the next generation of researchers and scholars; and who will win awards and recognition all through their careers. The faculty we have hired and will need to hire over the next five years will define Cornell’s future for the next quarter of a century.

New and Noteworthy

The past year saw many areas of distinction at Cornell and prominent events that will contribute to a distinguished future for Cornell research. I will highlight only a few.


The $11million gift from Fred Young (Cornell Engineering ‘64, MBA ‘66) for a 25-meter submillimeter wave telescope—the Cerro Chajnantar Atacama Telescope (CCAT) in Chile—is a splendid investment in Cornell-led astronomy. The telescope will be the largest and highest of its type in the world, providing unprecedented capability for a broad range of research objectives, including observing galaxy formation and evolution. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2017.

Early Career Faculty

Our newest faculty performed extremely well again this past year. A strong number of them won NSF Faculty Early Career Development awards. A large fraction of our eligible faculty who work in the areas covered by this distinction have now received the award. Three faculty received particularly notable awards this past year: Rachel Bean, Astronomy; Michal Lipson, Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Ruth Ley, Microbiology. Bean received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), one of 100 in the nation. Lipson garnered the MacArthur “Genius” award—one of only 23. Over the past year and a half, Ley won four major national awards to study the microbiome of the human gut, including a Beckman prize, NIH investigator award, and Packard award, amounting to $4 million.

The recognition that our early career faculty are receiving indicates that we do indeed have great strength in our new faculty and that we are renewing our faculty ranks well.

Physical Sciences Building

The new physical sciences building, completed at the end of 2010, will have a big impact on campus, particularly on the departments within this broad field, ranging from chemistry to physics to astronomy. It’s a fantastic building. The atrium attracts students and faculty, studying and interacting. The culture that is developing there will be transformative for the physical sciences, just as the recently completed Duffield and Weill Halls have been for engineering and the life sciences.

A Few More Areas

Biomedical Engineering, which was started as a new College of Engineering department only a few years ago, is on a strong trajectory in research funding and graduate student enrollment. The Faculty of Computing and Information Science is making great strides in the field of information science and moving forward in revitalizing statistics research and education on campus. Several faculty in the social sciences have received prominent recognition and notable research support. In the Department of Government, for example, one faculty member was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (in 2009 two faculty were inducted into the American Philosophical Society), and several early career faculty received awards supporting their research. In the Department of Sociology, another early career faculty member received a significant grant from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency to develop ways of identifying terrorist social networks.

Creating a First-Rate Research Administration and Infrastructure

As we begin to implement the research component of Cornell’s strategic plan, we have been reenvisioning our research infrastructure, starting with a lot of behind-the-scenes work across the campus to address research administration services. This year’s reorganization of the Office of Sponsored Programs into centers of expertise designed to best serve internal researcher and external sponsor needs is beginning to speed completion of industry-sponsored agreements, a longtime challenge. In the Office of Research Integrity and Assurance, we are beginning to see a significant reduction in the time required for protocol review and amendment approval, while strengthening regulatory compliance. By the end of 2011, we plan to realize the first step in our long-term effort to put into place an integrated research administration system that will make it easier for faculty and support staff to prepare proposals and budgets efficiently, and thus allow our faculty to focus as much of their time and energy as possible on the actual research and less on completing paperwork. When fully implemented, the new system will enable Cornell to be much more efficient, reducing the currently high administrative burden on our researchers.

As Excellent as Cornell is...

The research goals and strategies that we set into place and implement today will allow us to build unrivaled programs and ensure continued and expanded preeminence.

Robert A Buhrman
Senior Vice Provost for Research & Vice President for Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property and Research Policy

Our Research Strategy Will Include
  • Renewing our faculty— recruiting aggressively and carefully, with a focus on maintaining and expanding Cornell’s strategic areas of research leadership
  • Recruiting top graduate students and postdocs and educating them to be outstanding leaders of the next generations
  • Leveraging resources and strengthening Cornell’s advantages in state-of-the-art shared facilities and research infrastructure
  • Supporting excellence in research administration staff and systems to reduce burdens on Cornell researchers and enable their success
  • Establishing appropriate metrics for measuring Cornell’s strengths, so that we can strategically deploy our resources to optimize our research assets
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