Discussion Paper on University-Level Research Centers
The purpose of this paper is twofold: 1) provide a brief overview of types of, and role of, research centers both nationally and locally, and 2) to offer a framework for the development of university-level research centers at Georgia State University.
USG Board of Regents Policy states that “a research ‘center’ provides an organizational base for research in a given academic area or closely related areas. It often provides a vehicle for interdisciplinary research in a given area involving faculty and students from a variety of internal administrative structures. A center may be involved in offering continuing education activities related to its area(s) of interest. The center structure may facilitate efforts of the college or university to obtain extramural funding in specific areas. It serves as a formalized link between the academic community and the professional community in the area(s) of focus. A center, however, is not an autonomous structure within the internal statutory organization of a college or university. It is administratively most often an appendage of one of the traditional administrative structures, such as a department. A center is not involved in the independent offering of /credit course or degree programs.”
Research Centers are typically semi-autonomous organizational structures within a university. In many universities, they may be called “institutes” or “laboratories”, or these entities may be sub-units of each other. As example, at Duke there are university-level institutes which have multiple centers or divisions within them, which may themselves contain laboratories. At other universities, the laboratory may be the superordinate.
Types of Research Centers:
An NSF review of research centers around the country noted that there was no single administrative structure or function that could be identified as more successful than others, and that most research centers were developed within the unique culture of the university, industry or governmental institutions that created them. Because of this, there are many different forms of research centers:
Single discipline centers housed within a department/departmental center College-level centers which involve multiple disciplines within a college
Multi-College centers which involve multiple disciplines across colleges
University centers which involve multiple colleges/schools and/or universities
State supported centers which include multiple universities, industry or governmental agencies
Federally supported centers/laboratories which involve multiple agencies, universities, industry, international partners
Centers without walls such as National Lamba Rail, etc.
Purpose of Research Centers:
Centers can also have many different goals, not all of which are scholarship and research focused:
1)Obtain increased external grant or contract support
2)Perform quality state-of-the-art research due to their unique infrastructure
4)Solving a problem
5)Provide value added administrative support system/structure/efficiencies
6)Provide unique, state of the art infrastructure or equipment for research
7)Create intellectually stimulating environment
8)Increase collaboration/interdisciplinary research activities
9)Provide research or other types of services to some external groups
10)Attract high quality research-focused faculty, scientists, graduate students, post-docs
11)Carry out strategic plan objectives for their superordinate unit.
12)Provide infrastructure to translate scholarship into applications, economic development activities, products, unique services.
Tash/Stahler (2005) surveyed research centers and found that: (1) they adapt quickly to new research fields and respond to critical needs related to technology and the economy. (2) Centers and their funding are moving away from single scholarly discipline-department approaches in favor of interdisciplinary, cross disciplinary, and coordination of disparate fields. (3) Centers increase peer-reviewed articles, citations, IP disclosures, tech transfer activities, external funding, and technical reports. (4) Centers secure more than 1/3rd of all sponsored research funds to universities, but employ much less than their proportional share of faculty, partly due to the use of research faculty and scientists. (5) Faculty involved in Centers are more likely involved in cutting-edge research and technologies. (6) Centers increase collaboration as part of organizational culture if investments are focused on the most viable, strategic concepts. (7) There is no ideal center size and structure. (8) Unsuccessful centers can add excessive university red tape if they don’t fit into available unit management models, and are frequently under-resourced (space, stable operational funds, administrative expertise and support, specialized instrumentation, etc.), and lack support because of their threat to more established administrative budgets.
Georgia State Research Centers
Research centers at Georgia State are distinct from other administrative groupings of faculty or students and have traditionally been reserved for those groups whose primary agenda is advancing scholarly or research activities. The term “research center” at Georgia State has tried to be reserved for the specific structures engaged primarily in ground-breaking research, utilization of critical research infrastructure, or supporting collaborative and multi-disciplinary research outside of the traditional academic department environments. Research centers are not established to grant degrees or to have substantial pedagogical involvement other than research training. Other types of centers at GSU have traditionally been differentially designated (i.e., service, instructional, administrative).
Georgia State’s research centers differ considerably in scope and organization. They may be linked to departments, colleges, or more recently, institution-based (Office of the VP for Research). As such, Georgia State’s research centers are not easily defined with one simple definition, which is consistent with national trends. At the same time, some may be more focused on scholarship and research than others, some are growing and developing compared to others, some are more successful than others at obtaining external and federal funding, some have more resources with which to operate or develop than others, and some may be more aligned with the university’s, college’s and department’s current strategic foci compared to some with only historical linkages.
Framework for University-Level Research Centers
This proposal is based on the hypothesis that there is benefit to developing and supporting a more robust and strategic set of university supported research centers as they are one key mechanism in advancing GSU’s research agenda and federal funding growth in the near term. Unfortunately, the University has not had a specific strategy to help develop such University-level Research Centers that would represent its strategic foci, increase multidisciplinary and collaborative research activities within the university or across universities, and provide the basis for increasing the university’s competitiveness for large federal funded program project and center grants.
It is recommended that the University develop a framework for University-level Research Centers that engage in research that is consistent with, and best represent: the mission and strategic plan of Georgia State; increase the multidisciplinary and collaborative scholarly and research environment of the University; increase external and federal funding; and potentially provide benefit to society in general1.
GSU University-Level Research Centers should be able to successfully address the following questions:
1.Is the focal scholarly or research area critically important to the strategic plan and the success of the University?
2.Is it potentially transforming, such that GSU is, or will become, a leader in the research area of focus at national, and increasingly international, levels?
3.Does it successfully compete for significant federal funds to support itself?
4.Does it compete successfully for exceptionally talented faculty and students?
5.Does it strengthen the Georgia State “brand” and improve its scholarly reputation?
6.Does it influence other faculty’s scholarship; is it an idea leader?
7.Does it make an impact on the outside world?
A Research Center Incubator is needed to support the founding, development and growth of new or emerging research centers that have the strong potential to meet this framework to grow into University-level Research Centers. The University should identify current, productive, and growing research centers that meet this general framework, and if they so desire, provide them with incubator and other support as necessary to make them University-level Research Centers. In addition, the University should continue looking for faculty and research staff hiring opportunities that would allow for the development of new, strategically defined University-level Research Centers to add to the University’s portfolio. The Research Center Incubator would have a University-level Research Center “launch” staff whom has the experience and knowledge to provide the Center faculty and staff with the core administrative support for startup and running the day-to-day center functions so that the faculty and research staff may focus on their scholarship, science, and grant proposals. As example, the launch staff would:
a)Oversee and support the faculty and research team that establishes the strategic and action plans for the center
b)Oversee and support the team that defines performance metrics for the center
c)Organize kick-off meetings (introduction to strategic and action plans, performance metrics, general vision, mission and specific goals of the center; meetings will get the scientific collaborations off the ground)
d)Advertise, recruit and hire personnel
e)Assist in development of workload agreements with colleges and departments
f)Oversee the establishment of financial accounts
g)Locate and develop office and lab space
h)Ensure appropriate and adequate IT support
i)Create website and develop public relations plan
j)Assist in the purchase of research supplies, equipment and tools
k)Develop financial and performance report format
l)Oversee and assist in the development and completion of grant proposals, their approval processing, and post-award management
m)Assist with relevant compliance issues
n)Identify internal and external stakeholders and develop communication plans
o)Convene internal and external advisory committees
p)Communicate with institutional partners and sub-contractors
q)Coordinate meetings with the upper administration
r)Oversee resolution of IP and commercialization issues
s)Assist with faculty conflicts of interest resolution
t)Publish initial financial and performance reports
u)Review staff performance
v)Communicate with sponsor(s)
w)Assist in the development of annual reports to the University.
x)Train and transfer responsibility to permanent managing director and staff
New research centers supported by the Center Incubator will be provided up to 3 years of support, renewable annually, dependant on progress toward meeting Center goals as documented in their annual reports. At the end of 3 years, if not before, they will have a special review for designation as an ongoing University Research Center. It is proposed that designation as an ongoing University-level Research Center should have an average of $1M in annual, new, external federal research grant support within their 1st 3 years of formation. They are expected to have an average of at least $3M annually in ongoing external & federal research funding, and self-supporting administratively, within 5 years. If funding levels fall below an average of $1M over a 3 year period, University-level Research Centers will be required to be reviewed for deactivation. It is proposed that the University provide support for up to 3-4 new incubator-supported research centers a year over the next 5 years. Support for current research centers that could be newly designated as University Research Centers because they presently meet this framework and funding criteria, would also be required. The overall goal of this proposal is to launch and grow to success at least 10 University-level Research Centers over the next 5 years. This goal is designed to provide approximately $20M annually in new federal research funding during this time period.
1 Departmental and college-based research centers need to be considered within this framework, but are not the primary focus of this proposal. This proposal also does not presume that the development of university-level research centers is the sole manner in which its strategic research focus and multidisciplinary activities should be developed and supported by GSU.