Research at UT heightens educational development of students

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DT Spotlight: Role of Research

Editor’s note: In recent months, research at the University has come under the critical eye of individuals and groups, Texans and non-Texans, and in- and outsiders of the higher education community. This is the first part of a five part series to explore different the impact of UT research in a range of disciplines.

UT’s research and new discoveries set it apart as a tier one research university, but that mission has come under attack from groups and individuals including the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Gov. Rick Perry.

According to the University’s website, research brought $644 million to the University and $2.8 billion and 16,000 jobs to the state of Texas.

“Our scientists and scholars, from many disciplines but united in the common purpose of advancing knowledge, made strides toward the future with discoveries in energy, biomedicine, supercomputing and the humanities,” said Juan Sanchez, vice president for research on the website.

Brent Iverson, professor and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry chair, said his research encompasses chemistry and biology. Iverson and his colleagues are working to create proteins that are used to fight cancer and autoimmune disorders.

“We are working on ways of making new treatments more effective and thus less expensive,” Iverson said.

During his freshman year as an undergraduate, Iverson was inspired to become a scientist by his professor who was a renowned researcher. It is not accurate to talk about research and teaching as separate subjects, Iverson said.

“In fact, research at UT is conducted largely by students at all levels and serves as the most important element of their scientific educations,” he added.

The research experience students receive, in addition to classroom instruction, helps them be more prepared to enter the workforce, Iverson said.

Natural sciences junior Radhika Kumar said she has been working to identify properties and potential applications of nanoparticles to replace more expensive metals in industrial applications.

The experiments teach students to get out of their comfort zone and rely on their observations rather than instructions from a piece of paper, Kumar said.

“You use information you have learned in class and interpret it in order to have the best technique for your experiment,” Kumar said.

Richard Vedder, economist from Ohio State University, said in an interview with The Daily Texan last week that some types of research, particularly those in humanities, do not serve society in any meaningful way.

“People [are] writing hundreds of articles about self-esteem,” Vedder said. “[It has] sort of an anti-intellectual quality to it.”

The College of Liberal Arts does research that examines a wide variety of cultures and human behavior, said Dean Randy Diehl.

“Without that, we wouldn’t be a tier one University,” he said.

Esther Raizen, the college’s associate dean for research, said research in humanities is not different from scientific research in its fundamental goal of advancing human knowledge.

“Like in other disciplines, the impact of humanities research is not immediately observable, not guaranteed,” Raizen said.

Professors in the College are engaged in research that spans different cultures, languages and political and social areas, she said.

Associate sociology professor Andres Villarreal is researching the impact skin color bias in Mexico has on a person’s socioeconomic circumstances, educational attainment, occupational status and income, Raizen said.

She said students also develop great academic and research skills by becoming involved in field work. According to a 2010 survey of the student body, students with research experience generally have higher grade point average.

“Students who enter college with lower SAT scores or class rankings show significantly marked improvement if they engage in research,” she said.

Printed on 07/07/2011 as: Faculty emphasizes research as necessity for academic growth