Vice President for Research Brian Herman outlined his vision for the University of Minnesota’s research enterprise to the Board of Regents at their July 10 meeting. Herman, who assumed the role of VP in January 2013, expressed the importance of leading — not following — a transformative research agenda and outlined a series of innovative methods to address critical global challenges in an era of stagnating or declining federal funds.
Achieving success amid constraints
The U of M is nationally-known for its research excellence and has a strong track record of R&D performance. Yet, as Herman pointed out, due to sequestration and other troubling trends, the future outlook for support of research is less certain.
“The university has done very well historically, but this is a very challenging economic climate, not only for our own institution but for research nationwide” said Herman.
For example, according to reports from the American Association of the Advancement of Science and the Washington Post, R& D spending is set to stagnate in the coming decade, NIH’s budget is scheduled to drop 7.6 percent in the next five years and NASA’s budget is on pace to drop to its lowest level since 1988. Overall, the success rate for NIH grant awards has dropped by 40 percent since 2003.
Despite these challenges, Herman sees tremendous potential to refine and transform the U’s research enterprise in a way that will help strengthen the research infrastructure, promote public/private/non-profit partnerships and create opportunities for faculty, students, staff and external partners to come together to address issues that have a profound impact on society.
Creating a culture of serendipity
Herman envisions a “culture of serendipity” that transcends the university’s borders. He aims to create an environment where researchers can come together across departments and colleges, and with industry colleagues outside the U, to collaborate with – and to challenge – each other in finding solutions that will do the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
This confluence of experts from different fields, Herman believes, is the key to tackling the world’s increasingly complex challenges. “Chance and creativity coming together creates a powerful environment for making new discoveries,” said Herman. By leveraging the methodology of researchers from multiple disciplines, new disciplines are created – and with those, new approaches to solving urgent and formidable problems.
During his presentation, Herman outlined several key OVPR initiatives:
- Guidelines to maximize impact of the state’s $36 million dollar investment in the Minnesota Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy (MnDRIVE) program
- A new working group within the Itasca Higher Education project that will enhance student entrepreneurship programs and address workforce needs
- Plans to enhance the University’s technology commercialization efforts
- A possible internal funding mechanism to support successful recruitment and retention of nationally and internationally recognized research faculty
- OVPR’s recent expansion of its bridge funding program, designed to provide interim support for research projects that experience a temporary lapse in external funding
- Efforts to position the University as the primary contact for local, state and federal officials in all aspects of economic development
In May, OVPR embarked on a strategic planning process designed specifically to advance the university’s research mission and bring increased focus, alignment and support for OVPR initiatives. The plan will be aligned with and support the university’s key initiatives and will be done in close cooperation with the President’s office. The timing of the OVPR strategic planning process, to be completed in September, will dovetail perfectly with a similar process that will kick off early this fall at the university level led by President Kaler.
Visit the Board of Regents to read minutes from the meeting or to watch a recording.