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Download The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds

Faculty plays a key role in a university’s reputation, and when it comes to recruiting and recognizing top talent, strategy is crucial. Research mission, expertise gaps and collaboration possibilities are almost as important as finding a researcher with a strong background. Of course, before you can recruit top talent, you need to attract it.

“You have to have a focus, and you have to be able to provide support for that focus,” says Timothy Ratliff, distinguished professor of comparative pathobiology and Robert Wallace Miller director of the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research. “We’re trying to build up a lab sciences program right now, so we’re investing a lot of money and bringing a lot of new faculty and trying to strengthen the base by bringing in people who can really do things. That’s the key of all things, talent.”

Creating an attractive research environment

Recruiting top talent involves a number of factors. It’s important to select people with strong research skills, but it’s also important to support the faculty and help them make the connections they’ll need to truly thrive. Faculty is the foundation of any program, and a good program will attract more great researchers.

Though factors like geography and salary make a difference, researchers also look for a place that they can excel in their field. This is where libraries and research managers can make a significant difference. Researchers need help learning about and accessing resources, and librarians can help faculty integrate into the research community.

“We have seminars from our own faculty so people come to hear what’s going on and that links people together,” Ratliff says. “We have leaders in our center whose function is to interact with our members and bring them together to say ‘hey, you’re working here, you might benefit from this technology or idea.’”

Research mission also plays a role in recruiting faculty. It helps show top talent that you’re supporting their field and that you can run a research program. Ratliff notes that in interviews, top talent will want to learn about the university every bit as much as the university is getting to know the researcher.

They’ll want to know the resources available to them, what the academic community is like and what types of opportunities they’ll have for collaboration and support. In short, they want to know that they’ll be entering a research environment which will help them succeed.

Selecting talent

When deciding which researchers to hire, it’s important to understand the needs of the department and university. Once again, research mission can play a role in this because it helps hone the desired skills and values of the ideal candidate for a position.

It’s not just about finding someone with the strongest background. It’s about finding the person who will contribute the most to your institution. Publications can be a good indicator of this, but top talent should also bring the skills and expertise that will advance the university’s goals and complement existing faculty.

This can also be a factor when evaluating faculty for tenure and promotion. Purdue, for instance, has started to reward its faculty on collaborative interactions in addition to publications. If faculty members can explain their unique contribution to a collaborative project, it increases their promotion prospects. This helps the university reward people who are engaging in and contributing to the school’s goals, whether or not they’ve had significant publications on their own.

“There are three fundamental areas. First they have to recruit outstanding faculty,” says Ratliff. “Two, they have to support those faculty, meaning proper space, equipment and startup funds. Thirdly, they have to really help these faculty settle in and develop collaborations.”

Who are the world's top researchers? Download The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds to learn more.