Season 4 - Episode 443
Baylor has celebrated substantial growth in research marked by quality, visibility and impact since the 2018 launch of Illuminate. This summer, the University shared metrics that position Baylor to reach R1 benchmarks ahead of schedule—as early as 2024. In this Baylor Connections, Vice Provost for Research Kevin Chambliss unpacks those numbers and shares how the research they represent addresses significant challenges, benefits Baylor students and advances Baylor’s Christian mission.
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more discussing important topics in higher education research and student life. Today, we talking research, I'm Derek Smith and our guest is Dr. Kevin Chambliss, Baylor's vice provost for research. Dr. Chambliss has served as Baylor's vice provost for research since 2019. As the university's chief research officer Chambliss oversees staff from a variety of offices to provide direction and leadership, the university's growing research enterprise. As Baylor pursues R1 research recognition Chambliss and his team have overseen growth in the university's research infrastructure and provided additional services to faculty as well as assisting faculty and identifying obtaining and managing funding needed for research. Since the launch of Illuminate, Baylor's strategic plan, the university has seen sustained growth in a variety of research metrics and is in position to reach R1 recognition by as early as 2024. Lots of exciting things taking place in Baylor research across the university. Excited to talk about that with you today, Dr. Chambliss thanks so much for joining us.
Kevin Chambliss:Well, thanks for having me Derek. I'm glad to be here.
Derek Smith:Well, especially when there's so many good things to, to talk about and we'll talk about metrics and benchmarks and stretch goals and things like that over the next 20 minutes, but let's start off broadly here, as you think about the last couple of years here at Baylor and the research growth that our faculty, students, administration, others have sustained. What are you most proud of or what are you most excited about talking to if you're going to talk to someone from another institution about what's going on here? Well,
Kevin Chambliss:I think just to have experienced, really unprecedented growth in our research enterprise over, over the last three plus years has been really exciting. I mean, Baylor has had incremental growth for a great period of time as, as we've strengthened our research enterprise. But I remember one of the first things that provost Brickhouse noted when she came on campus is she said, we're improving, but we need to change the slope, right? We need to do it faster. And the rate of change in the last two to three years is one of the things that I'm tremendously proud of. And that's really a testament to our faculty, to their students, to the people that write grants and come up with the ideas, and collect the data and write the books and do all the things that makes research successful at an academic institution. The other thing that I'm extremely proud of is just the way that Baylor has sustained that growth through really a very interesting time in history. I mean, a global pandemic, when that happened, there were all kinds of questions about what will the impact be on the research enterprise? And a lot of people were asking me that early on and I said, I really don't know, right? It's unknown. And the fact that we've maintained remarkable growth through the entire pandemic and at the same time, even elevated some projects that really stand out among, among the things we do. One that I would call attention to was really a project that came about because of the pandemic through the Baylor collaborative on hunger and poverty, where they were able to partner with USDA in very short order, take a program called Meals to You that had been piloted and implemented in Texas for a couple of years. And then, and literally a matter of a handful of weeks, expand that to a national scale, not only collect really valuable data in the research arm of food security and the things that go around it, but put meals in the homes of people that needed it in a time of national need. And that that's been something that I'm really proud of.
Derek Smith:As you described that, obviously it's such a great missional fit for a university like Baylor for a project like that, as we think about that vision, that president Livingstone articulated of a preeminent Christian research university. If someone asked you more about that, and if you're given a little bit of a state of the union as to where we are, and in pursuing that goal, what are some of the, how would you describe that?
Kevin Chambliss:Well, I think the project that I just described is one shining example of, of what it made me to be a preeminent Christian research university. I think what we aspire to in that is not to just do research for the sake of, of academic knowledge, but to do research that impacts areas of real need and some of society's greatest challenges. And in that particular example where kids were sent home, many of whom relied on school systems for lunches and food security in a way that nobody expected suddenly have that removed and be able to A, step in and meet that need at a human level. But B, also in a way that it's going to provide invaluable data towards researching problems in food security and forming policy downstream really exemplify what we're after, in being a preeminent Christian research university. It's not easy to always think about how does Christian fits to all aspects of research, right? But I mean, engineering is kind of engineering, no matter how you would look at it, but even as we think about things we want to do in engineering, right? How do you become effective in researching and leading in engineering efforts that that serve needs in third world countries for example. I think there's just a variety of opportunities, a wealth of opportunities for Baylor step into real world problems for their faculty, for their students, to get engaged in it in ways that satisfy criteria for academic research at the highest levels, while still meeting a human need that aligns well with our mission. And I think we're well on our way to doing that.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Kevin Chambliss, Baylor's vice provost for research. And Kevin for people outside of the research world, and I know in working with you, I've learned a lot of terms and concepts that maybe three or four years ago, I didn't know, a lot of people are aware of research is taking place. But when you think about that landscape, trying to grow things like grant funding, research expenditures, could you give people a little bit of a 101 on how hard it is maybe to grow in those areas or what kind of focus it takes to get a whole university aligned in moving that direction?
Kevin Chambliss:Well, I think it really starts with messaging, right? We've had great success really since the launch of our Illuminate plan in growing a lot of the sort of front and center research metrics. I mean, you mentioned research expenditures, research doctoral production is another one. Research staff is another metric that perhaps will unpack a little bit later in the conversation. But I really think the messaging that came from president Livingstone early on and the world needs a Baylor and, and really putting a stake in the ground that we were going to become an R1 institution that we aspire to be a tier one institution and to have excellence in those areas. There's really no substitute for that in terms of rallying broad support, and then to have hired provost Brickhouse shortly thereafter, and have her align with that vision and be rowing the boat in the right direction, has done an immeasurable degree of good in aligning faculty, staff, students across the university in reaching that goal. And so I don't think we can overlook that, right. And the importance of messaging and alignment among leaders. At the same time, I think, deans and department chairs and faculty over time have worked to elevate really just the standards that we hold our faculty to and, and saying what's important, right? Some of the ways that I think you improve a metric is sometimes talk about where your weaknesses are, right. And how do we address those and how do we grow in the areas where historically we've not been strong, focusing on that's not always fun, but when you look at the areas that you need to improve, you recognize your opportunities for growth. And then you're, you're able to rally support around that and address those once deficiencies and turn them into things that are really positive.
Derek Smith:Carnegie is a name that a lot of people recognize. And when we're talking about research rankings, it starts with him. R1 is the highest tier year of research university is in the US as ranked by Carnegie. Then you've got R2, which is where Baylor is and is aspiring to move to R1. I think obviously Baylor people, Baylor fans want to be the best in everything. And in moving towards that, what are some of those things that we're going to talk about here? Research doctors, research expenditures, what do they have to do with where we're trying to get as an institution?
Kevin Chambliss:Well, the Carnegie classification, which is, is now actually not done by the Carnegie Foundation, but is carried out by group at Indiana University is a very algorithmic approach to classifying institutions based on research activity. And really at the highest level, they look at it a little more granular than this. There are three key variables that improve an institution's position along a research trajectory in that classification. And as you've said, those are research expenditures or the amount of money an institution spends in research annually, research doctorates that are produced and so these would be PhD degrees that are decidedly focused in research and then research staff or terminal degree individuals. These could be postdocs, people with a PhD, that the majority of their job on campus is to support and to perform research and to elevate the research enterprise. And so to the extent that we can grow those metrics at Baylor and we've experienced fantastic growth in the last few years, and each of those metrics, we're going to move up in the Carnegie ranking. And as you alluded to earlier, we've done quite a bit of modeling and to the extent that our models are accurate. If we stay on the trajectory that we're on, I think we can be cautiously optimistic that we stand a pretty good chance of moving into that R1 tier of institutions as early as 2024. And I think for most people, certainly myself included, that's probably even ahead of schedule of where we thought we might be, if you'd asked me that question two or three years ago.
Derek Smith:That's fantastic. How can people think, maybe this is an important distinction as we talk about this, there's metrics and numbers that Baylor has to reach, but how is an institution like Baylor and really every institution, I guess, distinct in how they approach it or where they apply that it's not so much a trying to fit in a box, as trying to guide your strengths as an institution to grow towards those numbers. Is that a good way to...
Kevin Chambliss:Oh, I think that's absolutely true, right. I mean it, as we grow the research enterprise at Baylor, while there's certainly opportunities to figure out how do you make decisions that specifically drive those metrics, but you don't want to do it just for the sake of meeting the metrics and getting some classification. You want to find, what are your strengths, what are your goals as an institution, let that guide your decisions. And if you take those steps in the right directions and you grow in the areas where you're strong and where you're missionally aligned, not just in the Christian mission, but just in our larger mission, right? As an educational institution, you're able to do it in a way that that's not just a box checking exercise, but in a way that really grows the fabric of the university broadly defined in very positive directions.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Kevin Chambliss, vice provost for research at Baylor. And let's go inside some of those numbers here because they are impressive. As you said, they have Baylor on pace to reach these metrics earlier ahead of scheduled. So I want us just start with research doctorate's 110 doctorates who are awarded by Baylor in 2016, 2017. Well, over the last fiscal year, that raised to 167. Now I've got a broader goal of 286 in the next few years, but what does a increase of nearly 50% over four years say to you?
Kevin Chambliss:Well, I think it says a couple of things, right? One, it says that we've put more focus in our graduate education enterprise, on terminal degrees that have a distinct research component to what they're doing and inherently, I think that's good for the fabric of the university, right? One, you might say, well, it's just graduate education, but actually a trickle down effect in that. As you create more opportunities for graduate students, you at the same time create more opportunities to involve undergraduates in that same research and looking at those same problems and really creating a continuum of education from a college freshman, to a defending PhD student where everybody gets involved along the way, and the fact that we've grown that says that we've hired well. It says that we've recruited students well. And it says that we've been intentional in our commitment to growing the footprint of research at Baylor
Derek Smith:I know you had a research group here at Baylor, and as you're in this leadership role, you served as a professor here for a long time. A lot of your long time colleagues are here and in talking to them, one thing that's interesting, was interesting to me talking about graduate students is hearing undergraduate students describe the positive impact of having a lab group. Let's just say yourself or Brian Brooks or whomever where an undergraduate student can look up to someone who's maybe four or five years down the line from them. And that person can take a leadership role, but is also closer in age to them and they can work through problems together. Then they've got the professor, they can go to it really almost casts a vision like you might see, in any business or a church, where we've got people of all ages walking the, the same path who have kind of different wisdom to impart.
Kevin Chambliss:Well, I think that's true. And I mean, the diversity of thought, even in thought maturity, I think adds to the innovation that can happen in that environment. But from my own experience, even all the way back as an undergrad, I was involved in undergraduate research and being able to look at that person that as you say is four or five years older than you, it gives you an idea of what your career could look like in the next phase, right? And if you're that person four or five years above an undergrad, perhaps you're looking to a postdoc and you're seeing I can still see where the trajectory of my career can grow to that level and postdocs looking at faculty. So it not only makes the problems real and provides for a really dynamic environment that that's rich in relationship building and rich in ideas, but also gives a really clear picture to someone from day one, what a career in this area can look like. And that's something that frankly is probably difficult to discern just from classroom learning.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Kevin Chambliss and let's look at another area of growth research expenditures, 29.4 million in 2017 to 47 million in 2021, external research expenditures currently growing at 28%. What about those numbers really leaps out at you?
Kevin Chambliss:Well, I think one of the most obvious things that it says is that we're really beginning to put our money where our mouth is in terms of what our vision is, what our goal is, the numbers you quoted. They are a combination of dollars that we bring in externally and spend on research as well as dollars that the university is spending on research to prime the pump, so to speak. And in that way, better enable our faculty to go after external dollars. 28%, if you had asked me, when I, when I stepped into this role, if we could sustain 28% growth in research expenditures over a multi-year period, which we've done at this point, I would've probably been skeptical, right? I think 28 percent is really impressive number and thrilled that we're growing at that rate. But at the same time, it says that the metrics are moving in the right direction and we're going to need to continue to prime the pump. And we're going to need to continue to get more external dollars. When we started down this road, I mentioned earlier, sometimes focusing on areas where you haven't been as strong and strengthening those, research expenditures is one at Baylor that, that stood out as, even as we were planning Illuminate. Baylor faculty for a long period of time, have been outstanding in publishing their work and getting things out there. But as you compared our publication metrics with universities, with similar publication metrics, research expenditures we were always behind, and the fact that we're growing at the rate, we're growing says that, I think people have heard that message they've bought into the idea that, Hey, we really need to improve in this metric as faculty members, we can do our part to help bring money into the university. And in that way, grow the vision in ways that mature institutions do, and not just rely on internal dollars to support the activities that we want to further.
Derek Smith:This next one may be one that to might be most tangible to people, because you can imagine that competitive environment of getting grant fundings, but at Baylor has gone from 11 million in awarded research dollars in 2017 to more than 27 million in 2021. So that's a 16 million jump in the last few years. So, what does that mean to you about the job, our faculty are doing and how does the institutions approach to this help aid that as well?
Kevin Chambliss:Well, it's really just again, unbelievable growth and a real testament to this, the hard work that our faculty and their students and the people that are involved in all of the research endeavors we have at Baylor have done over the last four years. And I mean, to have gone through this global pandemic at a time when faculty frankly were probably asked to do more than they've ever done in their life in terms of, on a dime switching from in person to online instruction and now back to students on campus and in person and dealing with all the things at home that, that we've all dealt with through a pandemic. To have gone through that and still experience this kind of growth in dollars coming into the university, just can't praise our faculty enough for the job that they've done and meeting that challenge
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Kevin Chambliss, Baylor's vice provost for research. And you mentioned that that we're ahead of schedule. How have some of those stretched goals come together to help push Baylor in, move Baylor in this direction and exceed those goals that you're talking about?
Kevin Chambliss:Well, annually, what we've done, we've sort of, again, done a modeling exercise, looked at historical growth, looked at where we want to be on the horizon, really have set annually, pretty aggressive goals for growth and all the important research metrics we've talked about today. We've also set a stretch goal every year, that's been even more ambitious. And so far every year we've met our goal. And in many cases exceeded the stretch goal. I think we've not only set those at my level, actually, president Livingstone starts and has those goals in her metrics and then they translate down to the provost. They translate down to me, we then parse them out among the different academic units, and we share those goals with deans and they then share them with departments. And again, I think that messaging, the consistent messaging and creating buy-in throughout the organization, rather than just putting a burden on a limited number of people of, "Hey, this is your goal to meet," has really had a dramatic impact in our ability to improve in a very short period of time.
Derek Smith:As we talk about this, there's another area to discuss, and that's how this impacts our, our students, we've talked about graduate students undergraduate, but in what ways does this research focus impact our students right now and in the future?
Kevin Chambliss:Well, I think the biggest thing I could say there, and again, I'm speaking from my own experience, the more mature our research enterprise gets the more that engine churns, the more opportunities there are for students to step in and play pivotal roles in the success that we're having at Baylor. But at the same time gain, gain real world education, right? Experiential learning opportunities. It's no longer just a textbook, right? You're now taking what you learn in the classroom. You're applying it in the real world. And I think the fact that we're seeing increased funding says that we're increasingly focusing our efforts on some of the most important problems facing the nation today. And I think for students to have the opportunity to work on those problems, to help craft solutions to those problems firsthand while they're still getting their college education or their graduate education, is really what being a research university's all about.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Kevin Chambliss and as we head into the final few minutes on the program here, you mentioned we're getting closer to a finish line, at least in terms of being, having the hitting those metrics for R1. How close could you say we are at this point? I mean, I know there's always variables, but to what extent can we say this is where we think we are.
Kevin Chambliss:Well, the way the Carnegie classification work is there's always going to be about 130 institutions that are R1. There's always going to be about 130 institutions that are R2. And in 2018, when we launched the Illuminate plan, Baylor was kind of squarely in the middle of R2 universities. At this point, Carnegie's not released their classification that we expect later this year, but we expect to be among the elite R2 institutions at that time. We don't expect to be R1 yet, but we expect to be pretty close to the demarcation between those institutions. And I'm hesitant to give you any sort of quantitative number, but we're going to be on the precipice of what's there. And if our growth continues at the rate we've been growing, maybe by the next time Carnegie puts something out in 2024, we would expect to be among the lower tier of F1 universities.
Derek Smith:That's fantastic.
Kevin Chambliss:That's an exciting thing to say out loud. And I look forward of seeing it come to fruition.
Derek Smith:Yeah. So they don't release that annually, that's every three years.
Kevin Chambliss:It's every three years.
Derek Smith:Every three years. Well, you've said to you, and not just you, but to Dr. Brickhouse and president Livingston and others talk about that idea that as we get to R1, one of these days. That's not a finish line. I know it's a moment we'll celebrate, but that's not where we stop. Once we get there, what can we look forward to after that goal? What does that launch us towards next?
Kevin Chambliss:Well, I think president Livingstone said early on, it wasn't just about R1. It was sort of the R1 tier one conversation, right? And I think Baylor truly aspires to be among the nation's thought leaders, right? In solving some of our toughest problems, I think we want to be an institution that undergraduate students from across the country, see as a high profile institution to spend their time and their dollars with, and to get their education. And I really believe what R1 designation will do is it will firmly give us a seat at the table for national conversations. What we do with that seat is what's next. Right? And I look forward to the day that we can reach R1 status and Dean Larry Lyon has actually said, maybe that will mark the end of the beginning, so to speak. Baylor's been on this trajectory, if you go all the way back to vision 2012 for a couple of decades saying, we want a seat at the table. R1 will give us the seat at the table and then the next phase of our growth is how do we, once we have that seat, use it as a way to provide our unique voice as a Christian research university in some of the most important conversations that take part in our country and impact things across the globe as we move forward.
Derek Smith:Well, that's very exciting, a lot to look forward to, and certainly a lot to celebrate now that our faculty have done, our students have done and in your office as well. So thanks for taking the time to visit with us and to paint that picture today.
Kevin Chambliss:Well, thanks for having me, Derek.
Derek Smith:You're great to visit. Dr. Kevin Chambliss Baylor's vice provost for research, our guest today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. You can hear this and other programs online at Baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.