Empowering Research Faculty: Georgia Tech’s Strategic Plan

Georgia Tech launched an initiative to recognize and develop its research faculty, who comprise 60% of the nearly 4,400 total faculty currently employed at the Institute.
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Georgia Tech is supporting career growth for its research faculty, who do critical work at the heart of the research enterprise.

The word faculty is often synonymous with tenure-track professors — the individuals who teach courses and run major labs with their surnames in the title. But while groundbreaking discoveries regularly happen at Georgia Tech, the people doing the day-in, day-out research aren’t always visible.

Research faculty are non-tenure track faculty who carry out crucial research in labs, centers, and departments across campus. They are the lifeblood of research enterprises at major universities like Georgia Tech, but their work often occurs behind the scenes.

To support these essential employees, Georgia Tech launched an initiative to recognize and develop research faculty, who comprise 60% of the nearly 4,400 total faculty currently employed at the Institute. It is part of the second phase of Research Next, the strategic plan for Georgia Tech’s research enterprise.  

Maribeth Coleman, interim assistant vice provost for Research Faculty, and Michelle Rinehart, vice provost for Faculty, were appointed as co-chairs of a Research Next implementation team tasked with finding ways to recognize, support, and retain research faculty. Building on years of effort and collaboration with campus partners, the group took on several projects to improve the research faculty experience and environment at Georgia Tech.  

“Research faculty are critical members of the Georgia Tech community, and their contributions to our billion-dollar research enterprise and the state’s economic development cannot be overstated,” Rinehart said. “We wanted to understand what it’s like for research faculty as they come on board at Georgia Tech, what the hiring process is like, and how we as an Institute can more effectively mentor and develop research faculty in terms of advancing in their careers.”

At the outset, the implementation team identified and examined several facets of the research faculty experience. They reviewed policies in the faculty handbook, giving special attention to existing guidance for promotion and career growth for research faculty.

Promotion guidelines are generally clear for tenure-track faculty. Research faculty, on the other hand, are often not actively encouraged to seek promotion, and may not even know that promotion is an option, according to Rinehart and Coleman. One issue is that funding for research faculty often comes from external research dollars. At least nine months of a tenure-track faculty member’s salary, however, comes from the state budget.

“When you’re constantly having to bring in all of your own salary, as research faculty do, it can be a stressful experience,” Coleman said. “It can also mean you’re more isolated, because you’re focused on bringing in those research dollars that will help you keep your position. But we want research faculty to know that we want them to build their careers here.”

To address these issues, the team developed reference materials and workshops for research faculty seeking promotion. The workshops are offered on a regular basis, and resources and recordings are available on the Georgia Tech faculty website. The team also created educational materials for promotion committees, often composed of tenure-track faculty who are unfamiliar with the research faculty experience.  

“We saw a need for better consistency across campus with regards to guidance for research faculty promotion committees,” Rinehart said. “Tenure-track faculty need guidance on not just how to properly hire research faculty, but also in how to mentor and retain them.”

According to Coleman and Rinehart, the implementation team’s most significant achievement was the launch of a research faculty mentoring network. The mentoring network connects junior research faculty mentees with senior research faculty mentors who have grown their careers at Georgia Tech.

“When new tenure-track faculty arrive, they are usually assigned a mentor within their School or department, but that method doesn’t generally work for research faculty,” Coleman said. “There may not be a large research faculty community in their unit, and research faculty roles and responsibilities vary significantly from person to person. For this reason, the mentoring network is meant to foster cross-pollination and build community across units.”

The mentoring network is a collaboration with MentorTech, a program run by Georgia Tech Professional Education. The program is ongoing, and enrollment is always open. 

To foster inclusivity and belonging, the team established an orientation program for research faculty, modeled after the tenure-track faculty orientation. The Provost’s Office hosted the inaugural research faculty orientation in Fall 2023. Because research faculty are hired throughout the year, the team decided the orientation should take place semiannually. The second orientation took place on March 13. 

In addition to the workshops, mentor network, and orientations, the implementation team also launched a program to welcome research faculty in a personal way. When a new research faculty member is hired, another more senior research faculty member is assigned to welcome them in person, provide them with important information for getting oriented to campus, tell them about relevant professional opportunities, and give them Georgia Tech-branded swag.

“All of this work is about recognizing that research faculty are a tremendously valuable part of our community,” Rinehart said. “They also really enhance our reputation internationally.”

According to Coleman, research faculty can sometimes be viewed as disposable, because of their support from grants that may be limited in time and scope. But she believes that line of thinking is a disservice to both the individual and the Institute.

“It’s important that we recognize the value of research faculty, nurture them, and retain them long term,” she said. “We need to make it possible for people to spend their careers here, as I have, and help make sure research faculty positions at Georgia Tech can be both viable and fulfilling long-term careers.”


To read more about Georgia Tech's strategic research initiatives, visit the Research Next website.