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Getting to Know Robert V. Duncan

Texas Tech's new vice president for research discusses his vision for the future.

Written by Sally Logue Post

Robert V. Duncan became the vice president for research and professor of physics at Texas Tech University on Jan. 1. He comes to Texas Tech from the University of Missouri, where he served as vice chancellor for research since 2008. Duncan is a Fellow and a life member of the American Physical Society. He has published extensively in experimental low-temperature physics, including the observation of new phenomena near the superfluid transition in helium, and in new instrumentation development for physics research in space.

You were born in Missouri, the Show Me State. What did Texas Tech show you to make you move here?

Texas Tech University is at an exciting position in its evolution. It has outstanding leadership. President Duane Nellis is a very effective leader, and what impresses me the most is the determination of the people here to excel and to really make the research program stronger. The opportunity to really expand the university’s research mission in a very short period of time is very attractive to me. Lubbock is a wonderful place to live, and the people here are genuinely friendly and supportive of others who are moving into the area.

Duncan

Duncan

What is your vision for research at Texas Tech?

Texas Tech is a very successful place in many ways. It has had a huge expansion of the student body; there are a lot of brilliant young minds who are excited to work with the faculty in ways that will expand their knowledge through experiential learning. I can see us expanding greatly the amount of sponsored research from federal agencies and from the state. We’ll also expand translational opportunities to develop new commercialized technologies based upon the knowledge discoveries we make. It is interesting because the technical basis of our trillion-dollar industries today weren’t even thought of 30 years ago, and the trillion-dollar industries of 30 years from today probably have not been thought of yet. This process of discovering new knowledge and figuring out how to translate these discoveries into new commercial opportunities is exhilarating, exciting and fun. The process is also very inclusive. It not only gets our faculty more engaged with the national and international agenda, it also gets their students and our entire academic community actively engaged, as well.

What is the biggest challenge you see facing Texas Tech in the short term?

Texas Tech is growing rapidly, and that brings with it both big opportunities and natural growing pains. I think that the plans that President Nellis has put into place are bold and a wonderful opportunity for us all. We’ll change a lot in the next few years, and President Nellis has hired me to help lead and manage that rapid rate of change. But change is always a little bit difficult to manage. One of the beautiful things about Texas Tech is the great trust-based relationships between people across the campus, in the City of Lubbock and throughout the whole West Texas region. That’s an extremely rare and valuable asset. As we do change and accelerate opportunities and bring more people into our community from around the world, managing that change in a way that preserves that trust and that interpersonal strength of our relationships is exceptionally important. I cannot imagine any great event throughout history ever occurred without trust and mutual benefit and respect for one another. I’m certain we’ll be able to accomplish our goals, and as we accelerate our opportunities, we must make sure we preserve the trust and warmth that’s so characteristic of our region.

How has your research experience helped you to be a better administrator?

An important concept in the natural sciences is called ‘self similarity.’ Many structures in nature are fractal, meaning if you zoom in on any small part of the structure, then it looks quite similar to the overall structure before you zoomed in. Incidentally, in mathematics the power-law function is the only closed-form function that is self-similar. I think self-similarity is a very important concept in administration, as well. If you develop an administrative structure that works well in the executive leadership of the university, then many of those same administrative principles will also work well at the college and departmental levels. Scientific research requires objective reasoning and evidence-based, data-driven decision-making. These principles are also the key to making sound decisions in the administration of large organizations such as TTU.

Find out more about Dr. Duncan and his research at Texas Tech Discoveries.

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Office of the Vice President for Research

The Office of the Vice President for Research is dedicated to developing new technologies for a better world. From the study of the smallest nanoparticles to comprehensive wind power systems, from research in autism and addiction, to our pioneering work in STEM education, our researchers are finding ways to solve problems, improve lives and find new solutions to the world’s critical needs.

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