Nurturing Early Careers

January 5, 2003

Mary Ann Travis

One commodity that a junior faculty member needs is time. Time to conduct research, set up a lab, do fieldwork, scour archives, run the numbers. Time to write journal articles. Time to go to academic conferences. It takes time to establish a research career.

Well-respected and established researchers John Clements, professor and chair of microbiology and immunology, Gary McPherson, professor of chemistry and associate dean of the liberal arts and sciences faculty; Prescott Deininger, professor of environmental health and associate director of the Tulane Cancer Center; and Jiang He, assistant professor of epidemiology, all know the value of time to a research career.

The four joined as co-principal investigators for a Wall Fund projectthe Tulane University Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineersdesigned to provide junior faculty members with release time from teaching or clinical responsibilities and with other support such as supplies, equipment and travel funds in order to increase the likelihood of young faculty members' success.

Announced by President Scott Cowen last spring, the award has been endowed with a $500,000 grant from the Wall Fund, which supports strategic planning initiatives. The award's importance goes beyond the support of new faculty members, says Clements.

"It reinforces the importance of research at Tulane University." The award is a universitywide initiative open to faculty members from all campuses, which is good, says Clements, who is in the School of Medicine. "Because I think we need to continue to reinforce that we are one university and not separate entities."

For Tulane to compete in the arena of first-class research universities, it's crucial that "faculty members, particularly junior faculty members, have sufficient time available to conduct research," says Clements. Among the ranks of its junior faculty members, Tulane has researchers who have the potential to be "true scientific leaders in the next decade," says Clements.

The Tulane University Presidential Early Career Award will allow Tulane to recognize and nurture these promising researchers as it fulfills its research mission. The Wall Fund grant should be viewed as "seed corn," says Clements. "It's an opportunity to grow." Clements expects to be working diligently with Yvette Jones, senior vice president for external affairs, and others to raise more funds to increase the award's endowment.

"This may be just the beginning," says Clements. "If this is successful, and I expect that it will be, then we should be able to build a more substantial endowment, which can provide for either larger awards or additional scholars in different areas."

Chairs of academic departments and directors of centers and institutes will identify for the award stellar young faculty members, who must have completed graduate school or postdoctoral work no more than three years prior to their hiring at Tulane and not yet have had their third-year review. With the endorsement of their respective deans, the applicants' nominations will be submitted to a selection committee comprised of senior Tulane researchers appointed by the deans of the schools of engineering, medicine, public health and tropical medicine and the Faculty of the Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The committee will determine the top three applicants and then submit the nominations of the three candidates to Cowen for the final selection. Cowen will make the ultimate choice of the first award recipient in late spring 2003, and the award will be in effect by the fall. The award will last three years, with one recipient the first year, two the second year and three the third year, with three ongoing award recipients in subsequent years.

By the end of the three-year award cycles, Clements anticipates that the recipients will be vital, integrated members of the Tulane community, eager to stay at the university and better prepared to shoulder a full load of academic responsibilities. Plus, they will have made significant strides in their research and received competitively awarded research grants.

"That's how we build from the ground up," he says. The award's purpose is to remove one of the barriers in the research efforts of junior faculty members. "It's aimed at targeting our superior incoming faculty and helping them through the initial hurdles to success," says Clements.

Many outstanding young faculty members come to Tulane with much promise. Fresh from postdoctoral work and graduate school, they need acknowledgment and encouragement, which the award will provide.

Gary McPherson says, "This is a way of recognizing really good junior people. We want to recognize the strongest people we have." McPherson has the future in mind. He says, "I have a belief that the junior people are the future of this university. We want to hire the best and keep the best."

Mary Ann Travis can be reached at

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000