Research environment thrives at Marquette

Marquette provides a supportive environment for academic research. Photo by Martina Ibanez (angela.ibanez-baldor@marquette.edu)

College can be a busy time. Most students balance their schedules with commitments including class, homework, volunteering, involvement in a student organization and, in many cases, a job.

But students are not the only ones whose planners are bursting to the seams.

In addition to often teaching multiple classes, keeping office hours, attending meetings and engaging in service, it turns out the work life of a professor can be just as hectic as that of a student’s.

But if there’s one commitment professors don’t mind spending a good chunk of time on, it’s time spent on academic research.

Jeffery Drope, an assistant professor of political science at Marquette, said professors value research because it is becoming more and more important to their academic livelihood.

“I think it is important to understand … (Marquette) is an institution that not only values research, but actually requires it of its faculty,” Drope said in an email. “It is a central, and increasing, part of the promotion, tenure and remuneration processes.”

Drope’s own research centers on tobacco use in Africa and the formulation of effective policy limiting smoking in economically-developing African countries, a task he has spent time on since 2008.

“My own research on development policy is motivated by my observations of the fundamental inequalities in the world,” Drope said. “This is also why I was drawn to (Marquette), because this research agenda is highly congruent with Jesuit values and with the values and research interests of so many of my colleagues.”

The correlation between research designed for the good of society and the Jesuit mission of the university inspired Robert Peoples, associate professor of biomedical sciences at Marquette, in his own research.

Robert Peoples studies the effects of alcohol on the human brain at a molecular level, thanks to Marquette's beneficial research environment. Photo courtesy Marquette University.

Peoples’ own research is specific in scope: the effects of alcohol on the human brain at the molecular level. He was recently awarded a $1.3 million grant to continue his research.

“Marquette has provided an extremely supportive environment for my research,” Peoples said. “There is also a spirit of collegiality and collaboration at Marquette that I haven’t found elsewhere.”

It is the growing importance of research in academia and the personal educational ambition of professors that has made research so prevalent among faculty, Drope said.

“The point is almost all of your professors are doing research,” Drope said.

But that is not to say professors place the good of their research above other duties related to education.

“It is a constant balancing among teaching, research and service,” Drope said. “I, and many others, would argue that particularly research and teaching complement each other nicely. My research informs my teaching because on a daily basis in my research I’m thinking about the concepts that I’m teaching, and my teaching informs my research because good students press me to make my logic as clear as possible.”

Collaborating to Succeed

It is the continued institutional emphasis on faculty research and the collaborative efforts it promotes that has many at the university believing Marquette is on the rise when it comes to research.

And the numbers agree.

Vice Provost for Research Jeanne Hossenlopp said that, during the fiscal year of 2010, faculty were awarded a total of $28 million for research, a university record. The amount of dollars awarded by the federal government also increased by 81 percent, something she said Marquette professors worked hard to obtain.

“Some of the increase was due to funds obtained from competing for stimulus funds available due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” Hossenlopp said. “Marquette faculty are demonstrating their commitment to finding support for their research and educational projects, even during times of increasing competition and budgetary restrictions.”

Although the total of external awards for Fiscal Year 2011 dipped to “nearly” $26.5 million, Hossenlopp said it is still a strong indicator of the success of research at Marquette.

Structure and Support

Along with the availability of competitive funds and a fostering environment, some professors point to the infrastructure of the university as another factor in furthering faculty research.

Sheikh Iqbal Ahamed appreciates support from Marquette in his work studying technology to benefit breast cancer patients. Photo courtesy of Marquette University.

Sheikh Iqbal Ahamed, associate professor of mathematics at Marquette, said the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (OSRP) in particular helps faculty in their academic undertakings.

“Our ORSP staff are (all) so supportive,” Ahamed said. “Every small support makes a big difference … because of Marquette’s support  I was able to do my international cancer care project (and) my students and I  have over 100 peer-reviewed publications.”

Ahamed studied the development of phone applications to help breast cancer patients in rural areas stay in touch with physicians.

The resources, academic community and the researchers themselves make Marquette an exceptional place for faculty, Peoples said.

“(Marquette) is a great place to do research,” Peoples said. “In my experience, the research environment at Marquette is unique compared to similar institutions. We may not have the same breadth of research compared to larger institutions, but in particular areas of expertise we’re actually quite strong.”

The university is home to several academic research centers and institutes, including the National Sports Law Institute, the Institute for Urban Environmental Risk Management and the Thermofluid Science and Energy Research Center.

Drope said Marquette is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to faculty research.

“(Marquette) has some truly world-class and/or cutting-edge researchers, (who) make us competitive with some of the country’s best research institutions in a number of areas,” he said.

Team Effort

One thing both Drope and Peoples agree makes the research culture at Marquette so fulfilling and important is the quality of their fellow faculty and student researchers.

“In the last couple of years, I have had some exceptional students with whom I have collaborated on research projects, and we have published several peer-reviewed book chapters,” Drope said.

Peoples said the interaction between students and faculty is an exceptional characteristic of Marquette research.

“The most valuable resource here is people: outstanding faculty, students, and staff,” he said. “I have colleagues at other institutions who are envious of what we have here.”

Amanda Ebbens, a senior in the College of Health Sciences, has volunteered in the biomedical sciences research lab and said working on meaningful research with professors has given her practice for her future career.

“I think it is one of the most fulfilling positions I could ask for,” Ebbens said. “The research that I do is high-impact and I feel that I am able to be personally involved in all aspects.”

Marquette is to be commended for partnering students and professors in research, she said.

“Marquette is very supportive of research,” Ebbens said. “I am grateful that the university has programs like this for their students to have the opportunity to get involved, and gain valuable experience.”

Elizabeth LaRose, senior in the College of Health Sciences, said the nature of her research position allows for greater responsibility and therefore, more valuable experience.

“I will oftentimes work right alongside my supervising professor when doing both experiments and surgeries, which is awesome,” she said. “It demonstrates that research is such a team effort, and everyone (who) is a part of that team is both respected and appreciated.”