Experimental physicist Peter Schiffer ’88 joined Yale last month as the inaugural vice provost for research — the latest addition in Yale’s ongoing efforts to support the sciences.
In his new position, Schiffer works to facilitate and support research across the University by overseeing administrative functions — including grant processing — and helping researchers from different disciplines connect in order to solve complex problems.
“My goal is very simple: to help make Yale’s research enterprise the most impactful it can be, across all areas of scholarship,” Schiffer said in an email to the News. “I plan to focus on communications to connect researchers with each other, on improving computational resources and experimental lab facilities, and on taking full advantage of the insights of our world-leading faculty as to where we should be targeting our efforts.”
Schiffer noted that researchers at any university often complain about arduous and burdensome paperwork processes. As part of his new role, he works with faculty, deans and departmental chairs to find ways to streamline the system, such as by implementing an improved software with better web interfaces.
Schiffer returns to Yale after serving as the vice chancellor for research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign since 2012. He has co-authored more than 200 papers and received honors for his research in experimental condensed matter physics. As a senior in Yale College, he received the Howard Schultz Award for Research in Physics. In addition to his appointment as vice provost for research, Schiffer will serve as a tenured faculty member in the Department of Applied Physics, according to Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler.
Gendler told the News that members of her science team meet with members of Schiffer’s office on a weekly basis to discuss how to best allocate resources to promote the sciences in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Together, they plan start-up funds to recruit new science and engineering faculty members, permitting these scientists to continue their research immediately upon arrival at Yale. The teams also plans major investments to support current scientific research in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and throughout Yale. Past investments include a cryo-electron microscope, which both researchers in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the School of Medicine use.
Schiffer joins Yale at a time of increasing momentum in the sciences. In a letter to the Yale community last fall, University President Peter Salovey committed the University to developing the sciences, adding that insufficient growth in this area often leaves the University lagging behind other institutions in the global rankings.
Last fall, the University appointed new deans to the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the School of Public Health. And in January University Provost Benjamin Polak chartered the University Science Strategy Committee — which Schiffer has joined — to formulate a five- to 10-year plan to develop the sciences at Yale.
“Sometimes we’re not as strong in an area as we should because we haven’t recognized the synergy that exists across school boundaries,” said Vice President for West Campus and Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Scott Strobel, who chairs the University Wide Science Strategy Committee. “We might not be structured in a way to maximize the impact in an investment that we are making in the sciences just because it’s made across multiple schools.”
In an interview with the News, Salovey said that in his new role, Schiffer is “a part of [the University’s] strategic team around science priorities.”
According to Gendler, Schiffer will also work with the Department of Statistics and Data Science, as well as biostatisticians in the School of Medicine to help coordinate data science efforts across the University. The faculty in the statistics department voted unanimously in 2015 to include the field of data science in its academic vision moving forward.
Research and training programs make up 15 percent of Yale’s operating budget.
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