An interview with Dr. Frances Carr

Vermont Cynic: What duties do you perform as the Vice President of Research?Vice President Carr: My official title is Vice President of Research and Graduate studies, so there are three primary areas of responsibility. Find opportunities to support faculty and students – opportunities to conduct research, look at new opportunities for bringing collaborations together, to facilitate that process of seeking funds, but also very much enabling the conduct of research, if you will. And as part of the whole academic culture, we have the oversight responsibilities – all of the policies, human subjects – the ethical conduct of research. So, applying for funds, looking for new opportunities, establishing frameworks to allow more research to happen on campus all fall under that element. So, oversight policies, research enabling – another is to think about research connections to the community. Technology transfer, intellectual property, the idea of supporting entrepreneurial opportunities, so if you’re a student or a faculty member, and you’ve got an idea which you’d like applied – that’s part of research outreach, research enterprise. And the third is the graduate college – development of graduate programs, oversight of the quality of the programs, graduate faculty are part of that whole enterprise as well. And behind all of that is the strategic planning and financial support for all of that.Cynic: What would you say that is the most exciting research field on campus right now?Carr: I think I could say there’s a lot. Faculty across the campus are engaged in research and scholarship. I mean, it’s just part of who they are – you become a faculty member because you’re trying to understand, you’re acquiring knowledge to figure out how to solve problems – to understand who we are and how to improve the quality of our lives, and that’s who we are as faculty members. That’s basically part of every discipline – it doesn’t matter whether it’s the creative arts, or the sciences – I couldn’t pick one, and say that it’s more important than any other.Cynic: Do you think that’s a common misconception when people hear the word “research”?Carr: Yep, I think it’s very common for people to associate for people to associate research with someone in a white coat in a laboratory environment. So people think about it as physical science, and it’s not – it’s research, scholarship, and creative activities.Cynic: What are some contributions that UVM has made to the scientific and academic community?Carr: We have a tremendous amount of research that goes on in the broadly defined sciences. We have a cancer center, we have the Vermont Lung Center, we have people in the biological sciences, we have faculty who are doing research in water quality, who are looking at the interface between the impacts of changes in the environment, and how that impacts the quality of our water here – what are we going to do? One of the unique qualities of the University of Vermont is that we have such a breadth of scholarship on this campus in close proximity, so we can do a lot of trans-disciplinary, integrative research and problem-solving, which brings folks together from different disciplines. If we’re doing something that unique as an institution, and having a large impact on research, it’s the fact that we’re bringing together the different disciplines. The other thing I’d share that I think is really exciting about UVM is that it has a public service component to its mission, and we really embrace it. We have the Vermont Research Partnership, where we’re doing education research with the community; we have the Vermont Child Health Improvement Program (VCHIP,) taking integrative approaches to improving early childhood development. So we take that quite seriously – we have an integrated community on campus, and we work well together to problem-solve in the larger community.Cynic: Why would you say it’s important for undergraduates to take an interest in research?Carr: It’s understanding the impact that you have on the world around you, and understanding what that’s all about, and how to answer questions, and how to define – how do you define a set of issues that you want to address? How do you say, “what information is someone providing to me, and how do I know it’s real or right and correct?” If you understand how to set up a research question, and you know how to test a hypothesis, you know how to the validity of answers. That doesn’t mean that you have to conduct research as your life’s vocation and career, but you understand how to gather information and hypothesize.Cynic: Do you read the Cynic?Carr: I have – I don’t read it regularly, but I have definitely read the Cynic.Cynic: Anything you would change about it?Carr: You know, what I do appreciate is when you spend some time delving into specific issues, and I’d like to see a lot of that, because I think it’s good for students to be thinking about the context of where they are. I think it’s very good, so when you go into a situation that you’re able to bring a different perspective and analyze whatever topic it may be.Cynic: If you had a choice to keep your current job with the University with no salary but otherwise be financially stable, or be able to work for a high salary in a private research environment, which would you choose?Carr: I’ve made the choice.Cynic: You have – and why did you make that choice?Carr: Because that’s what I do. And that’s absolutely the case – if I didn’t like what I did…I can’t imagine – I don’t have an answer to that. I have to do what I love to do, and I feel that I have worked hard to pursue one part of who I am, which is as a scientist. And I love it, and I love the process of discovery. The path that I chose had nothing to do with science, never has. If it had, I would have taken any number of opportunities to move into the private sector, and I didn’t. I have been at universities, and I worked for the government for 12 years. I’m here because I just want to make a difference in life, so I’m trying to enable others to explore new areas.