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Foundation: Societal Impact through a Culture of Collaboration
We are committed to improving the human condition through a culture of creativity, team science, collaborative research and recognition at VCU. These efforts transcend all four themes of our strategic priorities plan.
Objective F.1.1: Provide incentives for research effort and output.
Outstanding advances in research are essential to achieving our Quest 2025 strategic theme of national prominence. Faculty who make important research contributions deserve timely and tangible rewards. However, the research and creative activity of VCU faculty takes many forms.
Objective F.1.2: Review promotion and tenure guidelines to ensure that research and creative output is clearly rewarded.
While quality research and creative activity are highly valued and given strong consideration during promotion and tenure deliberations, procedures must accommodate the changing landscape of research. Advances in certain fields have become ever more dependent on collaboration and team science. In these efforts, it can be difficult to identify the contributions of essential individuals by conventional criteria, such as authorship order in publications or principal role in funding.
Objective F.1.3: Recruit and retain productive, eminent research faculty and staff.
Many efforts to advance research by training, developing and supporting current members of the faculty and staff are detailed elsewhere in this document, but perhaps the most direct method to boost institutional research is to recruit successful investigators and field shapers to join our research team.
Objective F.1.4: Increase opportunities for interactions between researchers and members of the VCU community who contribute primarily to the educational and clinical missions.
Cultural change must be pervasive. Not all members of the faculty can contribute actively to the research effort but they are highly valued for their contributions to our educational or clinical missions. However, all our faculty, staff and students must appreciate the value of the discoveries made at VCU. When all members of the VCU community have a better understanding of the value of research, increased referral into clinical trials and increased student involvement in research is possible.
Objective F.2.1: Accelerate innovation through collaboration between VCU experts and industry partners.
Innovation and the creation of new technologies and products requires a continuum of expertise, from ideas to discoveries to actualization. At VCU, experts in a wide range of fields support the advancement of concepts into research that leads to an enhanced human experience. However, additional partnerships are necessary to bring the products of our research to market. Industry partners and investors may help catalyze innovative research, but only if our faculty are aware, motivated and enabled to develop these key relationships.
Objective F.2.2: Establish a streamlined pathway for partnership with community organizations to meet their needs.
With its emphasis on community engagement and urban location, VCU has a broad network of community organizations with which to partner. While the Center for Community Engagement and Impact has a goal to be a central unit for maintaining these relationships, many separate partnerships have formed across the university to serve each unit’s needs. This has resulted in disparate and inconsistent approaches to engaging the community with research. VCU has not invested in infrastructure that streamlines interactions with community organizations so that researchers have one entry point to engage with local and regional community members.
Objective F.2.3: Address barriers to collaboration across VCU units and incentivize transdisciplinary research collaboration.
In VCU’s current budget model, indirect costs are recovered only by the home unit of the principal investigator. While faculty from other units may participate in the research project, there is no financial recompense for the indirect costs associated with their time. Additionally, administrative burden is often only increased by having a multidisciplinary team of investigators, with multiple administrators required to handle duplicative work to support the project. Instead of providing simple approaches to team science, our current infrastructure and processes favor investigators working in silos.
Objective F.2.4: Ensure that institutes, centers and core resources have value across the university.
VCU institutes and centers are hubs of collaboration and multidisciplinary teamwork. Our core facilities offer important services and facilities that enable researchers to conduct essential work for their projects. While VCU has strength across these areas, many of our institutes, centers and core resources are under-used or under- supported.
Objective F.2.5: Increase research partnerships with other universities in Virginia, especially HBCUs.
Virginia is rich with universities that offer complementary expertise and programs to those at VCU. Locally, there are several HBCUs that are ideal partners for conducting research that reflects, represents and responds to the needs of diverse communities. While we collaborate with these institutions in some capacities, we have not fully realized the potential for more meaningful research partnerships.
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Objective F.3.1: Increase opportunities for undergraduate students to engage in high quality research experiences.
VCU is committed to the REAL (Relevant, Experiential and Applied Learning) initiative, an academic experience involving hands-on learning activities directly relevant to the student’s personal and professional goals. In many fields, involvement of undergraduate students in research is essential. Unfortunately, institutional funding for undergraduate student research does not come close to meeting existing needs. Furthermore, the administrative support required to match students with mentors is inadequate.
Objective F.3.2: Implement strong research training programs for diverse trainees and students.
Traditionally, the opportunities and resources necessary to build successful research programs have been preferentially provided to men and people from a limited range of backgrounds. These disparities have resulted in a research landscape that is not reflective of our national diversity. VCU, with its majority “minority” student population and impressive portfolio of externally funded programs for training new researchers from diverse backgrounds, is poised to assume a leadership role in correcting this imbalance. This effort can be part of a broader initiative to increase the number of externally funded training programs, which already strive for diversity, at VCU.
Objective F.4.1: Promote the dissemination of research results to research participants and the broader community.
Publication of research results within one’s field is often a hallmark of successful research. Historically, communication to the public comes when a discovery is commercialized or when an internal communications team is made aware of its importance. This approach to the dissemination of research results can neglect to inform and educate participants in research and fail to spark change in the broader community. Understanding the breadth of research performed at VCU and how this research may improve society can increase the number of people interested in participating in research, promote an improved understanding of the many benefits of research and enhance the design of research studies by providing an opportunity for community feedback.
Objective F.4.2: Collaborate with community partners to design effective strategies to translate research into transformative outcomes.
VCU’s strength in community engagement provides opportunities to develop strategic partnerships focused on identifying gaps between research and actionable outcomes for society. Conducting research does not end with publication and requires additional work to provide understanding of how research can most effectively benefit society. Collaborations with partners who work daily in the communities and might most directly benefit from research outcomes will allow VCU to effectively promote change and address societal challenges.
Objective F.4.3: Create systems of cyclical and continuous communication to ensure community needs inform research, which drives systems change, which impacts community needs.
A one-time snapshot of a community’s needs cannot be used indefinitely. Research teams must continuously seek feedback from affected individuals and groups to ensure that adaptations are made to accommodate changes in society. A community-engaged approach to both process and quality improvement will lead to research outcomes that are more readily translated into solutions and improvements for the community.