When Dr. John Gilligan became vice chancellor for research and graduate studies, he knew he had his work cut out for him. The growing recession was making the state’s budget crisis worse, and NC State research gains seemed at risk. RESULTS asked Gilligan to comment after six months in the vice chancellorship.

R: Dr. Gilligan, are you having any fun yet?
Gilligan: Absolutely. These past six months, I’ve discovered so many exciting things happening on campus. Major boosts in faculty and facilities strength over the past several years in computer networking, genomics, bioinformatics, advanced materials, and environmental technologies have positioned us well for the next big things—wireless communications, proteomics, nanotechnology, and biomedical engineering—not to mention new technologies for homeland security. You can see the impact in every area, from agriculture and computer technology, to human health and space flight.

R: Any surprises so far?
Gilligan: Not too many. After 20 years on the faculty at NC State and six years as associate dean for research in the College of Engineering, I know it’s always been a tough world out there for universities where money is concerned. This year is particularly tough, but I’m gratified that the state cuts were not as bad as we feared. So far, we’ve been able to cooperate with the State so the cuts don’t throw us into a downward spiral. Investment in new ideas has a multiplier effect on the future of not only the higher education system, but also economic development. Fortunately, our legislators understood that.

R: How did the legislature’s actions help?
Gilligan: For this year, at least, we’ve been allowed to keep the facilities and administrative [F&A] portion of our grant funds so we can leverage other support for new research programs and reinvest in new facilities and equipment. Likewise, support for enrollment increases and graduate research assistant tuition were left intact. We’re not out of the woods yet, but these three things are the real seed corn for the academic research enterprise. Support for research enhances our educational programs for the future, and in fact, at the graduate level, research is education. If we grind the seed corn, what will we harvest in the years to come?

 
 
R: What are your major goals as vice chancellor?

Gilligan: First, I want to dramatically increase federal research funding to enable us to attack more complex problems and to support more graduate students. And second, I want to make it as easy as possible for faculty and students to do basic discovery without undue administrative burden.

R: How will you go about increasing federal funding?
Gilligan: We already see gradual increases each year. But in order to have a dramatic increase, we need to go after more of the big opportunities in our areas of strength. Nanotechnology is a good example. There are hundreds of millions of federal dollars available, and we’re so good in chemistry, physics, biomaterials, chemical engineering, textiles, and electronic materials, that nanotechnology is a natural for us. We need to initiate working groups in each our major multidisciplinary thrust areas to further increase interactions among faculty and develop ideas for new research centers that showcase our strengths in bigger ways.

R: How can you facilitate the discovery process?
Gilligan: A big potential hassle for our laboratory researchers is the increasingly restrictive federal regulatory climate we are facing as part of the fallout from the War on Terrorism. Congress is attaching more strings to funding, requiring more extensive reporting on who’s using what in our labs, and restricting opportunities for graduate students who are not U.S. citizens. Our staff is taking a systems approach to reducing the regulatory compliance load on our researchers, including interpreting the regulations and communicating with faculty, developing software solutions and centralized reporting support, and making sure our international students are treated fairly. That’s just one example.

R: You've been a big supporter of graduate education. Why is supporting more graduate students so important?
Gilligan:
A research university has a special mission to train the brightest people we have for leadership positions, whether it’s in technology, industry, politics, education, or any other field. Our graduate students are not only laboratory assistants. They are also innovators, collaborators, and teachers while they are here. Our success is measured in the number and quality of graduate students who fulfill their goals and advance their fields. This is the way our country builds and sustains its intellectual strength.

For more information, please visit
www.ncsu.edu/research