Research and undergraduate education are core missions of many
universities, but the University of Vermont is exceptional for
the graceful mesh of these two endeavors that are sometimes portrayed
as being at odds. I am proud that our professors and our programs
consistently create ways to bring undergraduates into the research
arena, making it a fundamental part of their educational experience.
This years recipient of the Kidder Outstanding Faculty Award,
an honor bestowed by our alumni, is an excellent example of the
magic that happens when a fine researcher and a fine teacher are
combined in one person. Professor Paula Fives-Taylor has been
a major influence in the lives of so many who have studied here
from undergraduates to medical students throughout her distinguished
career as a microbiologist at the university.
There are many reasons for undergraduates to get involved in research.
It opens up a new world of inquiry and involves students in the
exploration of important issues; it teaches how knowledge is created
and validated and how it can be applied to address significant
problems and opportunities; it inspires confidence and opens up
a different kind of creative working relationship with faculty
and with other students; it creates a habit of lifelong curiosity
and exploration; it deepens a students understanding of the consequences
of knowledge, the responsibilities that accompany the conduct
of research, and the importance of the ethical use of knowledge.
When I consider UVM students experiences with research, I reflect
upon my own and how it shaped me. During the summer between my
junior and senior years at Swarthmore College, I worked in the
laboratory of a neuroendocrinologist at the University of Pennsylvania.
I was so fascinated by what we were doing, studying the role of
the hypothalamus in the control of body weight and food intake
in rats, that I decided to go on to graduate school rather than
to pursue my earlier interest in medical school.
After my senior year, I participated in a field project at Rocky
Mountain Biological Laboratory, where we were studying homing
behavior in field mice. I spent most of my summer mixing up sticky
batches of peanut butter and rolled oats to place as bait in live
traps and then in shaking out the annoyed occupants of those traps
to identify them and tag them for future tracking. It was cold,
it was wet, it was strenuous and I loved every minute of it, but
it was clearly not what I wanted to do with my life.
Both experiences helped to guide my path toward the research
laboratory and away from the field. For some of my classmates,
the path went the opposite direction. My class yielded a couple
of the nations leading ecologists and several fine physicians
as well as a cell biologist and a specialist in space physiology
at NASA. We all were happy with our decisions, which were better
informed because of our research experiences as undergraduates.
At UVM, I have been delighted to support efforts that have increased
the number of undergraduates involved in research and professional
Whether or not a student chooses to pursue a research career, the habits and approaches to seeking understanding instilled by the experience provide a broader repertoire of ways to understand the world and to interpret the discoveries of others. I have not been in a research laboratory since 1985, except as a visitor, but the habits of those years of active research still influence how I approach my responsibilities today.