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Objective II

Achieve internationally recognized contributions in both fundamental and translational research.

Washington University in St. Louis is a world-class research university, and we are committed to conducting world-class research within engineering.

Being world-class means performing research that has impact, both on fellow researchers advancing the state-of-the-art and on practitioners who leverage research to address significant technical and engineering problems.

Our goals must focus on increasing the amount of truly significant research performed by the faculty and students and on enhancing the impact of that work.

Goal 1: Execute strategic-level investments in targeted research areas in which (i) WashU Engineering is likely to become a significant contributor and leader, and (ii) success will have great impact on important societal and/or technical challenges.

As part of the strategic planning process, seven research thrusts were identified as potential investment domains:

  1. Quantitative Biology & Pharmacology
  2. Mechanobiology
  3. Imaging Sciences & Technology
  4. Clean Energy Systems
  5. Smart Environmental Systems
  6. Nano-scale Engineering
  7. Data Sciences for Humanity

White papers for each of these were developed by the faculty by considering existing strengths and potential large-scale impacts; these proposals include specific road maps to achieve critical mass and research impact on the community. Specific investment categories required for these thrusts are discussed in the remaining goals of this objective.

Goal 2: Invest in growth in the size and stature of the tenured/tenure-track faculty, with a target of 105 faculty in five years and 120 in 10 years.

At 90 tenured/tenure-track faculty members, the size of the faculty is a challenge for both our educational and research goals. The research thrusts listed above each require a critical mass of research talent at the faculty level. Strategic growth means not hiring merely to increase the numbers, but subjecting faculty recruiting to a strategic enablement criteria. Hiring strong mid-career researchers provides visibility and research strength. Additionally, retention is critical to ensure that precious resources invested in faculty growth actually increase the total number and do not merely replace departing faculty.

Goal 3: Develop and support interdisciplinary PhD programs.

The engineering research challenges of the 21st century do not respect departmental boundaries. Interdisciplinary PhD programs provide a strong mechanism to eliminate research silos.

Goal 4: Establish world-class facilities and shared infrastructure to attract leading researchers.

The school already has state-of-the-art facilities for many of the research disciplines — visitors comment often on the quality of the space. We do not, however, have extensive shared instrumentation. Such facilities enable individual PIs to pursue work they could not attempt with only the equipment procured with only their own funding. Similarly, shared computing infrastructure can enable computational analysis and experimentation that are difficult for a single PI to support.

Goal 5: Increase the research volume of the faculty overall, and increase the number of large-scale, multi-PI initiatives.

The research volume per FTE at our aspirational peers is significantly higher than our school. And while volume does not guarantee quality, the correlation is unmistakable and unsurprising: with more students and researchers doing more work, the likelihood of significant findings increases.

Goal 6: Increased visibility in both scientific and thought leadership communities.

Visibility is often key to great research influencing the world. Traditional methods of dissemination of scholarly work are good measures of quality: appearance in certain journals or conferences and citations of those papers are proven hallmarks of research strength. But visibility requires a concerted effort to connect our researchers with the interests of the world.