Purdue pushes forward
Up from number 25 in last year's survey, Purdue University has made strong headway during the past year, ranking fourth in 2007. With a new university president and its interdisciplinary research center, Discovery Park, gaining recognition, the below-par facilities and bureaucratic irritations that employees cited as weaknesses in last year's survey may be on their way out.
For faculty and researchers at Purdue, the tendency to cooperate stems partly from both Midwest upbringing and school tradition. "When you need something from someone else's lab you can send your grad student over there and he'll get it," says Mark Hermodson, professor of biochemistry and former department head of 20 years. "Some of that is Midwest hospitality, but a lot is the long-standing work ethic of Purdue."
Purdue's Midwest small-town setting in West Lafayette, Ind., is a big selling point for many faculty members with young families. Moreover, Purdue has a strong record of placing spouses in university employment; the spouses of new faculty members are given preference for departmental openings. The university offers full funding for new young investigators, while bridge funding, paid for by the vice president of research, covers funding gaps for established researchers.
When William Muir, professor and geneticist in the college of agriculture, showed that transgenic fish populations might threaten wild populations (PNAS, 96:13853-6, 1999), his findings challenged the college's charter to increase agricultural production with biotechnology. Still, he says he never felt pressured by the administration. "You don't have to toe the party line in your research," says Muir. "The college of agriculture is tremendously supportive of faculty, even if their ideas go against the grain."