‘Punching above its weight’: NYU’s research revolution

The university’s growing focus on research has spurred significant spending increases, but has also led to better support for everyone from faculty to undergraduates.

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‘Punching above its weight’: NYU’s research revolution

The university’s growing focus on research has spurred significant spending increases, but has also led to better support for everyone from faculty to undergraduates.

An illustration of a scientist in a white robe pouring liquids out of a glass flask. In front of the scientist is a shelf filled with laboratory equipments.

(Illustration by Mikaylah Du)

Mikaylah Du, Illustration Editor | Feb. 11, 2024

Over the past decade, NYU has developed rapidly as a research institution, increasing research funding nearly three times over and seeing steady growth in influential research papers.

Nina Gray, assistant vice provost for research, told WSN that NYU publications in top-cited academic journals have increased at a rate almost seven times the national average since 2012, at 2.7% annually compared to 0.4%.

In 2014, three researchers from the university were named on Clarivate’s Highly Cited Researchers list. In 2023, the number rose to 22. The increase can partly be attributed to an increase in research funding — from 2010 to 2022, NYU’s annual research expenditures increased by 278%, a larger increase than almost every other highly research-active university in the country, according to Gray.

Around 80% of those funds come from external sources, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, city and state funding agencies and non-profit foundations, which in total make up over 500 different sponsors. Last year, nearly 600 researchers received awards from outside funders, an increase of about 20% since 2018.

Since 2016, NYU has also awarded faculty research seed grants — grants that help researchers devise proposals to apply for external grants. The university has given $5 million in seed grants to 214 investigators in topics in STEM and arts. Awardees have gone on to apply for additional research funding from external sponsors, which Gray said has yielded a 27 times return on NYU research investments. Brian Hall, a professor at the School of Global Public Health in NYU Shanghai, believes the seed grants show that the university is prioritizing expanding its research operation. Hall also said NYU can go a step further when it comes to its overseas campuses.

“We need to develop stronger partnerships and collaborations in science across the global university campuses, especially the three portal campuses — NYU Shanghai, NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU New York,” Hall wrote to WSN. “I visited several other campuses this past summer and the excitement and opportunity to work with students and faculty in research is palpable. We can really benefit from additional strategic thinking about how best to synergize across the campus.”

(Courtesy of Shane Liddelow)

Besides funding, the university also provides faculty with administrative support for their research. Shane Liddelow, a professor and researcher of neuroscience at NYU, said one reason he decided to come to the university was the increased grant-writing support for researchers compared to at his previous institution, particularly as an early-career researcher. 

Writing research grants to apply for funding can be a highly time-consuming process — multi-year grants for organizations like the NIH can be 100 to 200 pages long, and need to follow specific guidelines. NYU handles a large portion of these grants, meaning that researchers like Liddelow only need to write about a dozen to two dozen pages about the science, resources and expertise behind their potential studies. 

“Administrative support means that I can focus more dutifully on the actual research,” Liddelow said. “At NYU, the scientists focus on the science and the administrative support team focuses on the administrative support.”

NYU’s emphasis on research is also expanding to students. In June 2023, the university hired its first Director of Undergraduate Research, Ethan Youngerman, to integrate research into the undergraduate experience. Among other new initiatives, this spring, undergraduate students will have two new venues to present their research: an arts-based research conference and a social impact symposium of applied undergraduate research. 

Liddelow, who served on the graduate admissions committee for neuroscience during the 2019-23 academic years, noticed that not only were graduate program applicants increasing, so was applicants’ caliber.

“We know internally that NYU is very supportive and a great place to be, but the quality of the research externally is being held in higher and higher esteem as the years go on,” Liddelow told WSN. “[NYU] is really punching above its weight as far as the sheer output of the research and the quality of the research output. It’s a really great place to be on that upward trajectory that it has been on for some time.”


Contact Mikaylah Du at [email protected].