University News

Growing Research
Advancing knowledge and understanding in the service of society

By Christina Paxson / November–December 2022
November 1st, 2022

Over the summer, we announced ambitious plans for growing research activity across all disciplines that will propel Brown to a new level of excellence. By significantly increasing investment in research over the next five to seven years, we have a tremendous opportunity to increase the impact, visibility, and reputation of Brown as a global research university that makes a difference in the lives of families and communities around the world, including in Brown’s home state of Rhode Island.

I’m excited about the opportunities ahead. From treating Alzheimer’s disease and unlocking the mysteries of RNA, to addressing economic inequality and developing sustainable energy solutions, there’s no question that the high-quality research and teaching that Brown produces is needed now more than ever. 

Yet, whenever I share these plans, inevitably someone asks: Won’t placing such a significant emphasis on research detract from Brown’s mission of providing excellent undergraduate education? 

The answer is an emphatic “no.” Education and research are both fundamental to the University’s mission of advancing knowledge and understanding in the service of society. And, they are mutually reinforcing.

This point came through loud and clear when our new Sorensen Family Dean of Engineering, Tejal Desai ’94, gave her Convocation keynote address in September. Tejal, a first-generation American, spoke about how she spent part of her first year at Brown wondering if she could really make it as an engineer. That was until she found a mentor in an engineering faculty member who sparked her interest in research. This gave her the confidence and inspiration to not only thrive as an undergraduate concentrator in engineering, but to go on to an outstanding career as a biomedical engineer, innovator, and academic leader.

To this day, Brown retains a deep commitment to marrying research and education. Brown faculty members know that their involvement in research strengthens their teaching. They also know that some of their best ideas originate from undergraduate students who approach areas of inquiry with fresh eyes and are unafraid to ask probing questions. Involving students in
research makes their work better.

Undergraduates approach areas of inquiry with fresh eyes and are unafraid to ask probing questions.

The research experiences that Brown students have access to are phenomenal. To highlight just one example, in
summer 2022, Brown students went to the Galapagos Islands and worked with a faculty researcher to study how pandemic-mandated restrictions that decreased travel affected the Galapagos archipelago and surrounding marine reserve. One student said that the opportunities for undergraduates to conduct research are what drew her to Brown, and she called the summer project the culmination of her educational experience. Transformational research opportunities like this are what propel students into the best graduate programs and, often, into lifelong careers.

In recent years we’ve seen tremendous growth in the number of undergraduate students engaging in research. This is due, in part, to Brown’s work to ensure that research opportunities are visible and accessible to all students through the BrownConnect Summer and Semester Projects for Research, Internships, and Teaching (SPRINT) Awards, which provide access to funding and are a repository for research opportunities on campus and around the world.

Last year, the SPRINT program provided nearly $4 million in funding to support more than 800 undergraduate students, including nearly 200 first-year students. In Fall 2022, the number of posted faculty research opportunities in the SPRINT program doubled, and 150 students began the year having already received funding for research projects in laboratories, libraries, archaeological digs, field research, and more.

Making major new investments in research will increase the number and further elevate the quality of research opportunities available to Brown students. At the same time, we’ll reinforce innovation in classrooms and attract more world-class faculty and the brightest students to Brown where they can work collaboratively to address the world’s most pressing issues.

I look forward to finalizing these exciting plans and supporting more impactful research at Brown.

Read the November–December 2022 President’s Spread on “Brown’s Dynamic Libraries” here (PDF).

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Related Issue
November–December 2022