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Scientists weigh benefits of research at smaller universities

College of Science Dean Pamela Jansma, Department of Physics chair Alex Weiss and chemistry assistant professor Kevin Schug are quoted in a new article in the journal Science about the allure of smaller universities for researchers.

The article, featured in the Sept. 10, 2010 edition of Science, examines the factors which are weighed by deans and faculty members when they decide to pursue a research career at a smaller institution. The article defines UT Arlington as a "mid-size university comprising around 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students and an annual research and development budget of around $52 million."

The article says that smaller universities and colleges have been classified over the years as those that are not "research 1" universities, and then as "doctoral/research universities-extensive." Instead of labels like these, Schug in the article equated smaller colleges and universities to "an old system in football in which you had 1A teams and several 1AA teams - they're a little step down, but they're not division 2 or 3."

Jansma says in the article that one reason researchers come to smaller universities is that "people choose to come if they felt the environment was less stressful in terms of the pressure to raise external funding and publish." Schug had much the same sentiment when he told the journal, "When successful in obtaining grants, it's easier to become a bigger fish in a smaller pond. With success comes respect a little bit earlier, especially in a school our size."

Weiss commented on faculty members' practice of selecting undergraduate students as research assistants "They have a different way of working," Weiss said in the article. "Doctoral students provide a lot of ideas, go to the literature themselves, and contribute to the direction of research - they are not just hands-on. Undergraduates and masters students are mostly doing the research under the direct supervision of the professor - the amount of research done this way is limited."

As such, he added, "at a smaller university, professors tend to go into niches where they're not directly competing with big groups. One can't jump on the bandwagon since one doesn't have the resources to beat out the MITs, Caltechs, and Cornells. You have to pick your research topics carefully."

The article says that "the tools needed for research can also be lacking in smaller research universities, thus further encouraging collaborations. ... [W]hile Schug has mass spectrometry instrumentation in his laboratory, [UT Arlington] currently lacks a core mass spectrometry facility. Core facilities are key infrastructure components, and when they are missing, forward progress in some research areas can be impeded."

"Collaborations are a way for people at smaller places to get around the scale problem," Weiss said in the article.

Science is the world's leading journal of original scientific research, global news, and commentary. Read the complete article at articles/2010_09_10/science.opms.r1000094