NORDP 2015 Conference Report: Strategies to Support Multi-Institutional, Cross-Conference Research Collaborations

by Marilyn Korhonen, Ed.D.
Associate Director Center for Research Program Development and Enrichment
Office of the Vice President for Research, University of Oklahoma

Panelists: Martha Cooper and Nathan Meier

The Traumatic Brain Injury Project is a great example of being ready to seize an opportunity, and it serves as a lesson to watch for such opportunities and be flexible enough to respond. One important aspect of the project is the timeliness and critical need to address concerns about the impact of more than 3 million brain injuries that occur each year, many of which are associated with college athletics programs.

A second critical factor is the presence of an established organizing structure. In particular, the Big Ten Athletic Conference and the Ivy League came together to improve traumatic brain injury prevention, detection, and treatment strategies. While this project aligns with athletic conferences, it is enabled by the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), which is a consortium of the Big Ten member universities plus the University of Chicago. The CIC has been in place for more than 50 years, enabling the member institutions to advance their academic missions by sharing expertise, leveraging campus resources, and collaborating on innovative programs.

A third factor is the ability to govern, fund, and staff the project quickly and equitably. CIC is governed and funded by the Provosts of the member universities, and coordinated by a staff from its Champaign, Illinois headquarters. Thus the project had a natural, established home. This governing body allowed for focused goals and focused approaches implemented in coordinated ways.

Most of these factors exist primarily outside of research development. So a fourth important factor is to make a case for research and scholarship, and to leverage the resources established for the program. In this case, having a larger sample size of athletes with potential traumatic brain injuries enabled use of evidence-based, clinical protocols. These protocols may lead to collaboration with the Department of Defense, allowing for comparison of TBI based on a greater number of factors.

Finally, the University of Nebraska was in a position to provide leadership as well as physical resources to create a Center for Brain Biology and Behavior, which is attached to their Athletics Performance Lab (all within the football stadium). This strengthens their research program and provides even greater resources to the overall TBI Project. This project has already resulted in 22 research collaboration efforts and 12 distinct sources of funding.

Some of the challenges include:

  1. Increased competition for limited federal funds
  2. Balancing tensions between collaboration and competition
  3. Lack of equity in the institutional contributions of seed funding and other support toward the project.

Ultimately, the presenters expect that a strong focus on common goals will be the key to the success of their project.

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