Potential University research priorities presented to regents

Last week’s presentation by Vice President for Research Chris Cramer is the first of three presentations to the board this year. It focused on incentivizing research.

The Board of Regents convene for their October 2019 meeting at the McNamara Alumni Center on Thursday, Oct. 10.

Nur B. Adam

The Board of Regents convene for their October 2019 meeting at the McNamara Alumni Center on Thursday, Oct. 10.

Niamh Coomey

Board of Regents members discussed potential opportunities to advance research at the University of Minnesota at last week’s meeting.

Vice President for Research Chris Cramer presented to the board and President Joan Gabel Friday in what was the first of three scheduled presentations and discussions this year around research strategy for the University. The presentation was focused on incentivizing research, both how the University is succeeding at this now and ways in which it can be improved. Cramer is beginning to consult with various groups on campus as the process of setting priorities continues. 

During his presentation, Cramer highlighted ongoing research initiatives, such as MnDRIVE and Grand Challenges, as well as successful research collaborations and projects. He also outlined potential goals his office drafted for the next five years. 

Dan Gilchrist, communications director for the Office of the Vice President for Research, said the research priorities planning process is in its very early stages.

The priorities that Cramer presented are a draft, Gilchrist emphasized, but the goal is for them to align with the the system-wide strategic plan. 

Cramer is beginning to talk with groups on campus such as the Council of Research Associate Deans and the Senate Research Committee as research priorities are being set, Gilchrist said. 

Cramer said during his presentation that while his office is responsible for determining many of the incentives, researchers at the University play a large role. 

“Remember, it’s the innovative thinking and the creative thinking of the faculty across the institution that really gives rise to the dollars that come in,” Cramer said to the board. 

Among several potential goals that Cramer proposed to the board was the idea of encouraging more student participation in research. He proposed potentially making it a requirement for every undergraduate student to engage in a research experience at some point during their time at the University.

Cramer noted that on the Rochester campus, research experience is required for every student, giving the school a unique brand and educational experience. 

Another possible goal is to increase sponsored awards and industrial research awards. 

Cramer also said growing the system-wide reach of research expenditures by 50 percent would be a good potential goal. 

This would mean increasing the number of grants awarded to researchers collaborating across different University system campuses and increasing projects that would specifically benefit Minnesota, among other things. 

Regent Randy Simonson said he supports Cramer’s goals and hopes to see further commercialization of research. 

“I really appreciate what I think Vice President Cramer is attempting to do,” he said. 

Simonson emphasized that he would like to see research increase as an alternative source of revenue for the University so that tuition is less relied on. 

Regent Richard Beeson emphasized that research is an ongoing process and that goals cannot be achieved in just one or two years. 

“The issues are so complex and difficult that to be effective we have to commit more time in order to see progress,” Beeson said.

Beeson also said he hopes the partnership with Fairview Health Services can serve as a way to expand opportunities.

“We should be looking at our M Health Fairview partnership as a place to look at leveraging our clinical footprint that we have with our partner,” he said. “That’s one area that I would like to see going forward.”

It is important that goals and priorities from specific colleges and from the Medical School are in alignment with grants that are awarded, Beeson added. 

“The directions that the University takes for research have been driven heavily by the faculty whose expertise we’re relying on to undertake that work,” he said. 

Gabel noted at the meeting that Cramer’s presentation is what consultation during the strategic planning process will look like going forward.