RESOURCES, RISK, & REWARD


If Charles Darwin had wanted to be comfortable, he never would have taken the voyage on the HMS Beagle
Kim Wallen, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Neuroendocrinology


Join the discussion
What's your opinion of post-tenure review at Emory? Should internal resources such as University Research Committee grants be closed to senior faculty? Can Emory support its faculty without reducing the motivation to push the envelope?

Resources, Risk & Reward
Getting what you need as a faculty member

Balancing Money and Biomedicine
An academic physician's ambivalence
Samuel C. Dudley, Assistant Professor, School of Medicine

I could do some things here that I couldn't do at other established seats of power
Carol Worthman, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Anthropology and director of the Laboratory for Comparative Human Biology

Keeping the Passion and Keeping a Job
Is post-tenure review a faculty development tool or a lurking threat?


Academic Exchange September 1999 Contents Page

The Academic Exchange Say a little about your own work.

Professor Kim Wallen
I'm interested in how hormones during the prenatal period affect the development of male and female characteristics in nonhuman primates. We're doing long-term developmental studies where we can manipulate the hormones that a baby male or female is exposed to during pregnancy and then look at the effects on their behavioral development, cognition, neuroendocrine function, a whole variety of things. [Much of this work is based at Yerkes.] The research I do simply cannot be done without a research grant. Currently, that support is from nimh [National Institutes of Mental Health], but it's also been from NSF [National Science Foundation] and the National Institute of Child Health and Development.

I have a real advantage compared to colleagues at other institutions, because Yerkes provides a basic animal resource whether or not I have a grant. I know my animals are out there, so if I run out of funding there's a limited period of time when the institution can bridge the gap. Essentially, I've always thought my research involves a partnership: the institution provides a basic level of support, and then it's my responsibility to get the support to do the neat things I do. I think it is a really unique model. But the institution didn't say, This is what you've got to do. It was obvious when I came in 1979 that if I didn't get funding, I wasn't going to do the research. Sometimes, people don't see that it really is a partnership. I think Emory is in the unique position to create a different model, but we're not having the discussions that would allow us to articulate that model.

AE
What are the other models that Emory's would stand in contrast to?

KW
In the dominant, "northeastern" model, you get the maximum out of your faculty by making them provide all of their own resources, and therefore they run strictly on their own motivation. When you get a grant, the granting agency pays the institution so-called indirect costs, and those are supposed to cover your office space, electricity, phone, photocopying, mail, and so forth, whereas Emory College has always been very good about providing many of those things, not to mention travel budgets, teaching supplements, and research funds. In places like Harvard, the University of Chicago, or others we recognize as excellent research institutions, if you don't have that indirect, then there aren't funds for those things. Historically, that model has produced world-class laboratories. But the divisive, competitive, backstabbing departmental structures have also come out of that model. I don't know of an institution that has produced cutting-edge laboratories that hasn't had this pressure.

AE
What do you think are the problems with that "partnership" model?

KW
I think the real tension is, How do you provide the minimum resources necessary to be successful without making it easy for people to do the minimum? How do you give support without reducing the motivation, the challenge to push the envelope? For example, Emory has a quite liberal University Research Committee grant program. When I came here twenty years ago, you could get maybe $1,000 out of that program. Now it's $30,000 [in the sciences]. That's competitive with a small grant from NIMH or NIH. You can fund a lot of research with $30,000, and certainly in some areas you can fund an extremely competitive research program on that. That's really remarkable. None of my colleagues elsewhere can go to their institution and get grants of that size with the kind of speeded-up evaluation we have, a relatively simple proposal, not a lot of bureaucratic overhead. It should allow Emory to do truly risky, cutting-edge things that produce great breakthroughs. And there certainly is a bias on the reviewing committees to do that. But I think sometimes it becomes a way of not going out and getting external support.

Probably the biggest area of concern is the more senior faculty who use such support to maintain their research and travel on a much lower level. Yet for young faculty, these internal resources are absolutely essential. So perhaps Emory should develop a model that says, We nurture you for a much longer period, then we gradually wean you from this, so that by the time you're a full professor you really should be able to attract all of those resources and these things should be closed off to full professors. I think Emory faculty members need to be honest about how we go about what we do. To me that means acknowledging that we have a very attractive environment for an academic, but it institutionalizes some issues that the faculty should address. Everybody likes to be comfortable, but if Charles Darwin had wanted to be comfortable, he never would have taken the voyage on the hms Beagle. So if Darwin had been more comfortable, might we have missed out on something really great?