By George Walker, former Vice President of Research and Dean at multiple research institutions; Senior Advisor, Academic Analytics.

As a former Vice President of Research, I’ve been to many CoR (Council on Research) meetings. Here are four thoughts that stood out from the recent 2018 CoR Summer Meeting in Bozeman, Montana.

1. Diverse institutions, similar stresses
One of the attractions of CoR – one of APLU’s (Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities) many councils – is the diversity of the institutions that are represented. This includes geographic diversity as well as diversity of size and mission. This diversity adds greatly to conversations.

Yet, I found it interesting that despite this wide diversity, a common theme was that research administrators from all types of institutions are feeling significant stress. (While CoR is just for senior research officers at public land-grant universities, I believe the stresses and challenges discussed at CoR apply to research leaders from all institutions.)

2. A leading stressor: the need to justify research
A consistent theme was the need to justify research. This includes justifying:

  • Money invested and faculty time spent on research.
  • Overall impact of research at public institutions. This means justifying that research has an impact on the public and improves the quality of people’s lives.
  • Economic development impact on local communities, states, and the nation.
  • Way in which research is conducted, which includes assurances of doing the right things with human and animal subjects.
  • Impact of research to a wide and diverse group of stakeholders such as:
    • Students and parents, who need to understand the value that’s added by research and why funding research is so important.
    • Public entities, including the federal and state government, as well as entities like the NSF and NIH, who want to see the impact and returns from research.
    • Alumni, industry, and other donors who need to understand the impact of their contributions.

While the need to justify research has never been greater, doing so has essentially become an unfunded mandate. Demands for justification have risen, but budgets and resources have not increased for staff or infrastructure to make the case for research or to communicate this case.

3. The need for greater collaboration
This isn’t a new thought, but discussion at CoR amplified this idea. It has become even more important for VPRs to foster collaboration both internally within an institution and with stakeholders externally. Internally VPRs must collaborate with those who manage data, with those responsible for fundraising, with those who lead state and federal relations—and of course, with faculty.

But with all of the other pressures on VPR, it is important for collaboration efforts to be even more efficient and to be based on insights from data.

4. The importance of instruments
With the stresses and pressure on research administrators, I was struck with the important role that instruments and tools can play. Instruments can quickly pull together information, produce insights, inform decisions, and save time. Instruments can help guide decisions and foster collaboration.

I’m a believer in instruments, because I have seen them work. I believe they can help administrators justify the impact of research and communicate the value of research to various external stakeholders.

A few imperatives related to instruments:

  • They must increase efficiency. If an instrument produces a good result but it requires more time, it won’t be accepted. Instruments must save time and increase efficiency.
  • They must provide a clear, compelling ROI. In this challenging economic environment, any funding for a new instrument must have a clear business case showing a positive return on the investment.

With all of the demands on research administrators, instruments can play an important role in justifying research, making good decisions, and alleviating some stress.

Those are my thoughts on four simple but clear takeaways from this year’s CoR. What were yours?

George Walker is currently Professor and Senior Mentor in the School of Business and Leadership, at the University of Charleston WV. Dr. Walker previously was the interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Cleveland State University from June 1, 2012 – June 30, 2013. From January 1, 2010 until May 31, 2012, he was Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies at CSU. He has held appointments as Professor of Physics, Chair of the Physics Department, Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School at Indiana University, and Senior Vice President for Research Development and Graduate Education and Dean of the Graduate School at Florida International University. Dr. Walker has served as Chair of the Board of the Council of Graduate Schools, President of the Association of Graduate Schools of the Association of American Universities (AAU), and Chair of the Council on Research, Policy and Graduate Education of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC/APLU). He directed “The Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate” while a Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Dr. Walker received his B.A. degree from Wesleyan University in 1962, and the M.S. (1964) and Ph.D. (1966) in Theoretical Physics from Case Institute of Technology. After serving in Post-Doctoral positions at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory and Stanford University, he joined the faculty at Indiana University in 1970, remaining until becoming Professor of Physics-emeritus in 2004. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. While at Indiana he was twice awarded Physics Graduate Students’ Award for Outstanding Contributions to Graduate Education.

Dr. Walker has chaired or served on numerous advisory committees including those at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSEE) and the Ruhr-Universität Research School International Advisory Committee.

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