NORDP 2015 Conference Report: Building an NIH Portfolio Without a Local Medical School

By Karen Markin, PhD, Director of Research Development, University of Rhode Island
To build a portfolio of grants from the National Institutes of Health at an institution without a medical school, it is essential to understand the agency’s mission, according to Janet E. Nelson, associate vice chancellor for research development at the University of Tennessee. That mission is to seek knowledge that enhances health, lengthens life and reduces illness and disability.

Nelson was one of three panelists who discussed strategic planning for successful grant-seeking from NIH in an increasingly competitive environment. The panel was part of NORDP’s annual Research Development Conference in Bethesda, MD.

Award rates at NIH are falling, noted Jennifer L. Webster, manager of strategic research initiatives at the University of Tennessee. However, it is still making grants focused on certain initiatives, including precision medicine, antibiotic resistance, cancer, brain research, Alzheimer’s disease and new vaccines.

Institutions without medical schools can compete by focusing on their strengths relative to other institutions. Panelists urged participants to think about the unique strengths of their institutions. For example, panelists Meredith Murr said the University of California at Santa Barbara has a top engineering department with talents it can leverage into NIH awards. The institution also hires strategically, focusing on medical researchers, and buildings collaborations outside the university.

Other tips from the panelists:

  • Invite an NIH program officer to speak at your campus.
  • Organize quarterly networking events and involve off-campus groups
  • Conduct red-team reviews on grant proposals.
  • Offer proposal development workshops.
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NORDP 2015 Conference Report: Preparing Competitive STEM Education Development Proposals: Planning for Sustained Adoption

By Vanity Campbell
Proposal development and project management of large STEM education proposals often lack design elements to ensure sustained adoption of successful programs. The presenters shared 6 key best practices to increase the impact and systemic change anticipated of such proposals. In the past, funding agencies have encouraged a solitary cyclic model for STEM education improvement based on research, evaluation, and implementation of innovative methods.  This system relied on isolated, individualized development of new methods by researchers with limited outside feedback and involvement.  The dissemination of program outcomes was often passive utilizing conferences, websites, and publication to share program results.  As a result, proposed solutions were unique to specific institutions and lacked transferability and scalability.

New federal agency trends are emerging in STEM education development to address limited adoption and portability and broaden dissemination. To identify best practices, the presenters researched successful practices by analyzing 75 NSF CCLI grant proposals funded in 2009, case studies of well-propagated innovations (PhET, PLTL, Peer Instruction), and a review of recent related literature.  The results showed that effective propagation requires 6 key elements:

  • identification of potential adopters,
  • extensive plan for attracting, training, and supporting adopters,
  • addresses propagation early while the program is ongoing,
  • relevant instructional system elements identified,
  • provides a clearly identified plan, with rationale and strategy defined,
  • innovation, potential adopters, and selected strategies are aligned

As a hands-on activity, the presenters led workshop participants through an evaluation of a proposed STEM education proposal using an assessment instrument focusing on project type, target curricula, propagation activities, and plans.  Participants reviewed and assessed two different proposal project summaries, and compared evaluation ratings and comments.  From this exercise, participants learned that successful propagation has an intended audience, engages users, propagation plans are initiated at onset, the plan consists of an instructional system, clear and thorough plan and strategy.

Successful propagators identify potential adopters, interact with them, and support them. To achieve this, proposal planning requires interactive development, interactive dissemination, and support at three levels: individual, department, and institution.  Interactive development will include partner institutions, advisory boards and beta testing.  In comparison, isolated development involves primarily institutional stakeholders.  An interactive dissemination plan will consists of immersive workshops, leverage professional societies, pilot sites, and foster scholarship in other faculty.  Where as static dissemination should be avoided, such as dissemination of results via articles and webistes.  Lastly, adequate support will assist adopters by use of networks, customizable materials, and consultation.  This ensures successful adoption in contrast to adopters implementing new methods in isolation with no support for addressing challenges.

Implementing strong propagation plans can strengthen STEM education proposals and ensure sustained adoption and successful impact of active programs.

For contacts and additional information, see www.increasetheimpact.com.

NORDP 2015 Conference Report: Innovations in Research

By Lucy Deckard
Presenters: This session was presented by Margaret Hilton (National Research Council), James Gentile (Hope College) and Kara Hall (National Cancer Institute and member of National Research Council ) Margaret Hilton gave an overview:  This session discussed a series of reports related to Innovations in Scientific Research (specifically, interdisciplinary and team science), the latest of which came out in late April, 2015.

  • “Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research” (2005)
  • “Convergence: Facilitating Transdisciplinary Integration of Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering and Beyond” National Research Council (2014)
  • “Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science” National Research Council (2015)

The first report defined “interdisciplinary” vs. “transdisciplinary” (transcends disciplinary boundaries). In theory, an individual can conduct these kinds of research by him/herself, but in reality that rarely happens. This is where you get to the realm of Team Science – science conducted interdependently by more than one person.

These reports came up with some common recommendations for changes needed to promote and accommodate these new ways of doing scientific research:

  • Revise promotion and tenure policies
  • Expand funding mechanisms and review criteria
  • Conduct research/evaluation to understand and guide improved interdisciplinarity and convergence in science

James Gentile spoke about ”convergence”:

Scientific research is becoming more problem-centered. Mother Nature is winning, and she has no departmental structural constraints. In order to solve complex questions in science we need true innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration. In addition, tools in science are exploding, bringing disciplines together.

The grand challenges that we want to converge about include:

  • Green energy
  • Chemistry and physics of living systems
  • Synthetic capacity of live
  • -omics to uncover new approaches to disease
  • Others were also listed.

The Research Corp, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and others: Science Coalition coming together and made a context map   Addressing these problems means we have to go through a web that includes law, policy, economics, as well as virology .

So in the future we will have to learn how to converge. For example, brain mapping requires a lot of different types of expertise. In interdisciplinary research, it’s usually altruistic. A researcher takes a sample to a colleague in chemistry and asks if she’ll run it on her machine. She does this as a favor. In contrast, when we converge, I get my question answered but that answer presents a new question for the colleague in chemistry. In this case, everyone is growing. They coined a new term: “Scialog,” from science and dialog.

The Research Corporation for Science Advancement brought together researchers to consider a national priority: energy from photosynthesis (in essence, can we build an artificial tree based on nanotechnology). They invited researchers to form teams, but before they pitched the science, the Research Corporation just wanted to hear the justification for the team composition. They ended up funding a group that created bio-inspired silicon photovoltaics. Convergence also works in education. He gave the example of having students design robotic “cockroaches”. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JysIA-4fcA4 and NRC, 2014.

Kara Hall talked in more detail about the recently released report, “Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science”:

The committee looked at factors that impacted effectiveness of science teams:

  • Individual factors
  • Factors at team/center/institute level (organizational factors)
  • Management approaches and leadership styles
  • How tenure and promotion are affected
  • etc.

The team included people with a broad range of backgrounds, including psychologists, biologists, social scientists, etc. They used several measures to evaluate effectiveness, including which research is cited more and which yielded more patents. They found that research done in teams is cited more, yields more patents, and demonstrates high levels of innovation.

They defined the following terms:

Team science – collaborative, interdependent research conducted by more than one individual

Science team – 2 – 10 individuals

Larger group – more than 10 (teams of teams)

Team effectiveness – a team’s capacity to perform

Key features that cause more challenges for team science are large membership diversity, the need to effect deep knowledge integration, (sometimes) large size, goal misalignment, permeable boundaries for teams (meaning members may move in and out as the research evolves), geographic dispersion, and high task interdependence. The concluded that there is already a strong body of research on team processes as they relate to  effectiveness, but most of that research was done on teams such as business teams (not science research teams), so we need to bring that literature into the context of science.

They identified three main areas where interventions could enhance effectiveness: team composition, team professional development, and team leadership. Kara summarized several recommendations based on current research in each of these areas.

Composing your team: Consider using task analytic methods to identify needed knowledge, skills and attitudes. These methods can be used to match task-related diversity among team or group members.  Also, consider moving outside your usual network – for example by leveraging networking tools.

Team Professional Development: Team professional development models prevalent in business could be applied to science. The committee recommended that we look at these models to see what’s out there and develop them so that they are relevant to science teams. When dealing with diverse teams and trying develop shared knowledge, it’s very important to devote time to developing a shared vocabulary. This may seem like it takes a lot of time, but in the end it will be worth it.

Leadership: The committee noted that there is already fifty years of research on teams and organizational leadership, so we should take advantage of this robust foundation and adapt it for leaders of science teams and larger groups.

The team also recommended that, in order to address the challenges of geographic dispersion, we conduct research on virtual collaboration and geographically dispersed science teams. They also recommended that dispersed teams consider task assignments within semi-independent units at each location to reduce the burden of constant electronic communication.

The team also concluded that while universities have launched new efforts to promote interdisciplinary team science (e.g., getting rid of departments), the impact of these initiatives on the amount and quality of team science has not be systematically evaluated. It may not be that the main hurdles are not actually disciplinary structures but may instead be factors such as promotion and tenure (P/T) criteria.

This points out the importance of aligning reward structures with encouraging team science. Many university P/T review policies are uncreative  and don’t give credit for team-based research. One model might be big physics, where research has long been done in very large teams. They allow researchers to get credit for pre-publications (e.g., software, databases, etc.), not just first-authored publications.

Funding agencies also need to play a role in encouraging a culture change in the scientific community. The report recommends that funders encourage development and implementation of new collaborative models (e.g., research networks, consortia). They also need to support the development of resources that support team science (e.g., info repositories, training modules, ensuring data is available for mining). We also need more targeted research about team science, but few funding programs support this research.

She also recommended that folks attend the SciTS (science of team science) 2015 conference in June 2 -5, 2015 in Bethesda, MD.

Questions and Answers:

Question: Are more diverse teams more difficult to manage?

  • Faculty are a non-pack-oriented group – leadership and administrative oversight can be difficult
  • Teams should start out small – then they can grow as they demonstrate success
  • In the team science report there was lots of discussion around diversity – we will see evolving culture shifts – more emphasis in education. A new Chief of Science Workforce Diversity at NIH was just named. As get used to more diversity, it will get easier.
  • There will be a meeting targeting provosts and deans by the National Academy highlighted their role in addressing some of these team science issues (e.g., authorship is an example  if diff disciplines have different authorship criteria)

Question:  Are there recommended strategies for forming teams?

  • When you have a team that has worked together and then bring in some new people, that often works best. If you’ve been working together too long, you can lose your innovative edge. Sometimes concatenating two teams also works.
  • When there’s too much competition among teams, it degrades the teams’ ability to work with one another, which may be needed in the future. One way to address this is to develop large networks and initiatives that include multiple centers to foster collaboration.
  • NIH is offering the opportunity to bring together scientists to think about a problem space – not a commitment. That way, teams can form and when there is an application, it’s more sophisticated
  • Another strategy is to form a team around teaching – if they can work together around teaching, a lot of research can come out of that, and it’s a way for the members to get used to working with one another (for example, developing innovative interdisciplinary non-major courses)

Question: Can core facilities help bring teams together?

  • You have to find a way to stimulate conversation. Some core facilities work better than others to stimulate interdisciplinary collaborations. The  core needs to understand that this is one of their roles.
  • Sometimes the core is competing with the people they are supposed to be supporting – they need to get rewarded for bringing people together.

The presenters thanked their sponsors: NSF and Elsevier