The committee’s charge is to propose innovative, large scale “big ideas” to increase high-impact research and improve research productivity across the university.
By Kristen Mitchell
The second High-Impact Research Strategic Planning Committee public forum was held on Thursday, giving the George Washington University community the opportunity to provide feedback on questions that will inform a strategy for improving research productivity across the university.
The committee ultimately will draft a report that articulates where the university’s research portfolio should be in five years and how to get there. During Thursday’s forum, held at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, the committee sought proposals for new, innovative, large-scale “big ideas” to increase high-impact research and improve productivity. The committee also asked faculty to consider research areas GW should focus more on and how to stimulate and facilitate interdisciplinary team research.
Diana Burley, vice chair of the committee and a professor in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, facilitated the conversation. The committee will support an iterative and collaborative process as members begin drafting their report, she told faculty members in attendance.
“We really greatly appreciate your feedback, both today and in the past and in the future,” she said.
Attendees suggested the university could facilitate interdisciplinary research by lowering barriers to collaboration. Many researchers do not have access to trained project managers, which can make pursuing research across departments challenging. They suggested providing more internal resources that would facilitate managing cross-disciplinary teams.
One way to promote cross-disciplinary work would be to establish research teams centered around specific pressing social issues—such as the opioid crisis and climate change, attendees suggested. These teams would be similar to the GW Cancer Center, which has affiliated faculty from across the university. Faculty members stressed the importance of dedicated research time to engage in high-impact research.
David Dolling, professor and former dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, said the university should be doing more to build bridges with Amazon, who is currently building a second headquarters in Arlington’s Crystal City neighborhood. Other local universities such as Virginia Tech and George Mason have taken concrete steps to expand their presence in Arlington in the past year.
One of the university’s big ideas for high-impact research should be figuring out how GW could collaborate with Amazon and other institutions in computer science and across disciplines, Dr. Dolling said.
Another member of the faculty suggested GW should form a multi-institutional research alliance to conduct high-impact pediatrics research alongside federal and community partners based in D.C.
Jim Chung, associate vice president for Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said the university should devote resources toward developing a robust incubator that would support and accelerate research from all disciplines. Research happening at GW has great potential for societal impact and more should be done to bring that work to the forefront, he said.
Other members of the faculty noted that the term high-impact research can mean different things to different people. Some ideas have potential for significant impact in the short-term, while it can take decades to generate a single, transformative finding in other disciplines. Focusing on only big ideas could lead to short sightedness, faculty warned.
Dr. Burley said having a “portfolio approach” to research funding has been a successful model for institutions like the National Science Foundation.
As the university grows its focus on STEM, members of the faculty suggested that GW leverage its traditional strengths in international affairs, public policy and law to promote research on data analytics and the impact of data on an increasingly digital world.
Alan E. Greenberg, M.D. ’82, professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology at the Milken Institute School of Public Health and chair of the High-Impact Research Committee of the strategic plan, opened Thursday’s meeting by reviewing what was discussed in the first meeting held in October. With help from the faculty, the committee is well on its way to creating a thoughtful report to bring to the administration, he said.
“Thank you all for your ideas and comments. We’re getting input from many, many sources, different flavors of some of the ideas you’ve expressed today have already hit our radar screen,” Dr. Greenberg said. “We’re looking for confluence of theme, looking for things that really emerge as priorities. It really helps.”
The committee plans to hold an additional public forum in December to solicit feedback on other points of interest such as the type of university resources or commitments that would facilitate research. Members of the GW community are also invited to submit feedback through the strategic plan website.
Each of the four strategic planning committees are holding public discussions and gathering input to make draft recommendations. Under a recently revised timeline, they will prepare a short draft report in February including principles, metrics and a proposed set of recommendations. Those drafts will be shared with the Faculty Senate and the campus community to review and offer feedback.