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Junior faculty win National Science Foundation, Army Research Office awards

| Friday, January 23, 2015

NationalScienceFoundation_WebErin Rice | The Observer
A record number of eight junior faculty from the University of Notre Dame won Early Career Awards (CAREER) from the National Science Foundation (NSF), and two faculty members won the Young Investigator Program (YIP) Award from the Army Research Office, according to a University press release.

According to the NSF’s website, the organization provides approximately $220 million per year to approximately 600 scholars who “exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations according to the National Science Foundation,” according to the NSF website.

YIP Awards are given to outstanding researchers in the fields of science and engineering, according to the press release.

At least two faculty members have been recognized for the CAREER Award in each of the past five years, the press release said. The recent spike is due to an influx of young talent at Notre Dame, associate professor of mathematics and CAREER award recipient Gábor Székelyhidi said.

“If you looked at all the faculty when I first came here — then, I think there was only one other non-tenured person,”Székelyhidi said. “The faculty was generally older. There was a huge gap in hiring. Then a couple of years ago, [the University] started hiring younger faculty, so then you’ll be more likely to get grants specifically designed for them. There’s just more people, at least, for the math department.”

Diogo Bolster, an assistant professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering and earth science, also received a CAREER award. He said aggressive hiring despite the economic downturn and initiatives from the University to prepare faculty for research helped sponsor success of the junior faculty.

“One of the things you have to remember here was that we were at the peak of the recession,” Bolster said. “I remember the first time I applied for a job. I applied for 36 jobs, and I got almost 30 letters back saying the jobs were just canceled because of the recession, and Notre Dame was one of the only schools that interviewed me.”

Bolster said the resources the University offers to junior faculty also contributed to his recognition.

“The Office of Research hired a couple of consultants that helped junior faculty write proposals,” he said. “Most of us, the first few proposals we wrote aren’t very good … and I have had active mentoring in that from consultants that the University hired. . . . Resources like that have been very helpful to me. Those two things have been what worked for me, and I have seen similar things from other young faculty.”

Jill Lany, assistant professor of psychology and another recipient of a CAREER award, said the awards help fund outreach to more graduate students, undergraduates and scholars from different universities or institutions who want to participate in research.

“One of the things that’s really great about the grant is that it provides funds for my case to support graduate students,” Lany said. “I can really add to the pool of talented students that we train in psychology and also have funds to bring in visiting scholars and building bridges in the intellectual community. … That is really important and is the heart of what we do as scientists.”


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