Futuring Paper – Research Excellence

Lawrence M. Schell (Professor, Department of Anthropology), and
Alan Lizotte (Distinguished Professor, School of Criminal Justice)

Input at meetings or by email: Victor Asal, Erin Bell, Jennifer Dodge, David Hureau, Megan Kurlychek, Jack Mahoney (admin), Angela Gerace (admin), Lawrence Schell, Pinka Chatterji, Michael Bloom, Frank Dillon, Jennifer Manganello, Damira Pon, Joanna Workman, Melinda Larsen, Jennifer Manganello, Bruce Szelest, Phil McCallion, Verónica Pérez Rodríguez

  1. What forces are acting on this issue today, both those internal to the University, within the region, and nationally for higher education?

  2. Group discussions and written input indicated several overarching trends that are in play now. One that came up over and over was the research infrastructure.  This is a multifaceted force with influence different directions to units across the campus. Infrastructure for dealing with big data was very prominent in the discussion as was infrastructure to deal with biological samples. For the former there are issues of computer power, data storage, and curating data sets. The use of hand-held devices for data capture and for library access arose as well.  Regarding biological samples, first there is an need to collect these. Then there are issues from compliance restrictions (IRB) that relate to collecting such samples, to physical storage and curation for long-term access.  Infrastructure issues also include the often-repeated problem with pre and post-award support. Finally, the force of infrastructure also might include infrastructure to keep investigators informed about the activities of others on campus. For reasons that are not clear, many people continue to operate in silos. Software or other infrastructure to connect people is a need.  Another infrastructural element is incentives for research and, or possibly, as, the return of indirect cost return to investigators rather than to higher structures in the university (departments or schools).

    The issue of pre-award support bleeds into other elements or trends we feel.  One is the need to identify a niche within the larger funding trends so that we can compete effectively with much larger universities. We can’t be everything. We need to be able to interact to address the current trend of interdisciplinary (really transdisciplinary in the newer lexicon of collaboration) that is required for funding in many areas. Likewise flexibility in meeting job demands other than research is needed so professors can discharge their teaching obligations in a way that serves requirements of their research (such as time away from campus during the academic year).

    The largest external force is the funders, especially the federal sources of support. Faculty feel pressure, largely from federal funders, to move their research in a specified direction towards methodological advancement, applied or translational work with direct benefits to society.  There is a need to explore and learn skills to obtain funding from non-traditional sources such as the military, private industry, and health care industry.  However, non-traditional funders are often unwilling to pay for the full cost of research (overhead as well as research activity).  The push for new methodologies, mixed methods research and others, applies pressure on faculty to work in methodology rather than theory testing. Finally the constant requirement for relevance, application, translation, etc. seems to overweigh other aspects of research.

    1. Research infrastructure in the research enterprise to accommodate:
      1. Availability and increased use of sophisticated statistical and methodological methods to analyze and use big data.   
      2. IRB issues with biologic sampling
      3. Sample processing - collecting, storing, destroying waste and funding can depend on biological markers and similar issues in other fields
      4. Technological infrastructure (Computers, storage and curation etc – especially for big data and the integration of technology and applications
      5. Information technology such as cell phones, point of service data capture and analyses and the library improves the ability to do research
      6. Pre and post award support needs to be improved (writing, budget preparations and so on
      7. Lack of awareness of research going on throughout campus
        1. Could there be a website giving information on shared data sets?
        2. Recognition of silos on campus

    2. Emerging trends that impact the research process:
      1. Research increasingly needs to be applied and translational and impactful
        1. How can we compete with the big players? What is our niche?
      2. Variability in funding requirements: Some funding sources don’t want new cohorts, others will only consider new ideas
      3. Increased emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration by funders
        1. Additional campus support needed to create these relationships
      4. Most successful universities are flexible and innovation – concerns about that her
        1. Flexibility in academic schedules to permit research away from campus during non-summer months.
      5. Not enough flexibility in teaching to permit faculty to increase their funding
        1. People mentioned being talked out of applying for a grant to teach a course – concerns about accreditation issues (or freeing them from their obligations to do research)
      6. Lack of funding to incentivize faculty to do research – no extra salary money, bridge grants etc.
      7. At other universities, more support returns to the units compared to here
      8. Post-award support – lack of time for faculty to do all of the forms, hiring, etc.
      9. Research Foundation – daunting requirements, no computers on the grants now, etc. The other university centers have negotiated higher rates with them
      10. Lack of university centers on campus – no app services, interviewing, other in-house support
      11. Lack of funding or increased competitiveness

    3. External forces impacting research in disciplines
      1. Pressure to produce more publication counts at the expense of quality
      2. Research should be about theory testing not with an obsession with methodology at the expense of advancing theory and doing quality impactful work.
      3. Research should be translational, there is pressure to show how our research is usable by the outside world
      4. Pressure to improve the system of interest and reduce cost and better society
      5. Need a greater appreciation for mixed method and qualitative research
      6. Declining grant dollars may mean going to nontraditional sources for funding (military, health care, private industry). this also means more competition for dollars
      7. At risk challenges particularly with grants coming from state agencies (not enough money until grant is fully executed and increasing unlikelihood of no cost extensions
      8. Foundations balk at large overhead rates

      In health care big agendas push demands for cures vs. managing issues/symptoms even with cures a long way off

    4. Students and Research
    5. There is substantial pressure on faculty to engage undergraduate students in research as a means of attracting more students to our campus.  Although faculty understand the relationship between student numbers and funding to the campus, the engagement of faculty with undergraduates in the research enterprise while rewarding in many cases has a negative side.  Current students are not well prepared in quantitative methods to be helpful and quantitative methods courses usually are not taken until late in the undergraduate’s career, nor are many equipped to write up research results, or analyze published research.  In a context when researchers’ time is in short supply, engaging undergraduates in research could impact the faculty member’s ability to publish and apply for additional grants.

      1. Now we have an office of undergraduate research.
      2. An administrator for research. Pressure on faculty to engage in research with undergraduates. Undergraduates may not have the skills to carry out research (quantitative, writing, analytical/discourse skills) so there needs to be an appropriate role for them, given the demands of grant funding
      3. Globalization of higher education, puts more int’l students into the mix.   This will create more diversity
      4. Serving the undergraduate population (teaching and advising) is difficult/time consuming, resource consuming
      5. Not enough money available to stimulate research.  Funds are enrollment dependent.  Need more students.  Currently they are not really research proficient
      6. Lack of funding for doctoral students to do research.

  3. In 10 years, what forces will further shape the issue?  Which forces will accelerate change and which ones will slow down progress? How will teaching and learning, administration, and student service be affected?

  4. The major forces that will shape the future of research at UAlbany are demographic, technologic and globalization.  The demographic will change as more baby boomers retire creating both research needs to address problems associated with this aging population and some teaching impacts as well.  Technology will be the major force in many ways.  It will provide access to populations that are not interacting with the university on campus but through newer communication technologies.  Globalization in combination with technology means that populations at great, even intercontinental distances, will be able to interact with university researchers as collaborators or participants in research. It also means a different feel to the educational experience of   university students as they may be interacting electronically with students at distant locations.  Technological shifts will create more big data opportunities beyond those already existing in health and business as well as create more methods for their analysis.  Collaboration among disciplines will become more important for the analysis of big data as such analyses will pertain to more areas requiring more diverse expertise for the analyses.  Applied research will be emphasized possibly at the expense of basic research. Community engagement in research and even community driven research will be more prevalent. …….

    1. Overarching forces that will shape the future of research include worldwide demographic changes
      1. In ten years even the youngest of the baby boom will have reached age 65. This large aging population will present opportunities for future research regarding all aspects of their lives. 
      2. Technologies will more readily provide access to populations now beyond our reach. We will have access to places and people that are now too remote and difficult to study or collaborate with.  For example Africa will come on line. 
      3. Globalization will bring:
        1. More collaboration, bring in different perspectives, will accelerate change
        2. More opportunities for students and will enhance intellectual diversity too.
        3. We should be able to anticipate where they are going
        4. Importance of bringing broader social understanding over discrete research

    2. Changes in technology will enhance collaboration
      1. Vast changes in technology will allow really big computing and really big data to analyze very complex problem in very complex ways.
      2. Big research opportunities translate into interdisciplinary research opportunities across institutions and countries
      3. Collaboration will be even more important – maybe the departmental structure should be obsolete? Can we learn to speak the same languages
      4. University efforts to build cross-disciplinary and cross institution supports may increase both grant success and breadth of interests
      5. More collaboration, bring in different perspectives, will accelerate change

    3. Change as progress
      1. Despite its current media reputation Start-up New York may offer opportunities in the future and the need to show linkage in applications may better support teaching and learning as well as new grant capacity
      2. Continued value on public engagement may open new opportunities but they will be in social impact, intervention and systems change areas
      3.  Openness to research centers led or substantially led by non-tenure-track faculty has already expanded resources and opportunities but this has happened “accidentally” – looking at major research universities this is a growing trend and will be a force over the next 10 years.

    4. Teaching
      1. There will be more competition for students to help conduct research
      2. There may be a trend toward using post-docs rather than PhD students to conduct research that may have broad implications for conducting research

    5. Challenges to Progress
      1. The University must become more nimble to meet these future trends.
      2. Government will probably decrease its investment in research so we will have to turn to less tradition sources of funding like private foundations and business
      3. The University will have to invest in technologies to enhance research and teaching how to do research
      4. Funder will want cool research and be focused on outcomes when basic science will be needed
      5. Academic branding will be more important to recognize what we are doing
      6. We will have to develop mechanisms for communicating complex research findings to ordinary people
      7. The University will have to restructure the teaching/research balance to recruit the best researchers
      8. Reality that most State and Foundation grants and some Federal) won’t pay the approved indirect rates meaning little infrastructure support
      9. Tighter interpretations of regulations governing grants are reducing teaching and research training opportunities outside of center and training grants
      10. “Protection” of school, department and university funds to address the educational mission will increasingly mean little support for research infrastructure and start-up/pilot work
      11. We need to refocus and reallocate our efforts and resources on big trends like health care, immigration, and climate change
      12. Role of politics will be more important on what is funded (E.G., stem cells; boycott of institutions in certain regions or countries). Science used more and more to justify political positions.
      13. We need to fight junk science and research because the legitimacy of research may be at question
      14. There will be increasing pressure to be told what you are allowed to publish by funding agencies.  How can use their data, etc…

  5. What are the implications for the institution, and students, staff and faculty? Specifically, what new opportunities may be created in the future?

  6. The pressure to perform research will grow and with it the pressure to obtain funding for that research. There has been a proliferation of journals to accommodate researchers’ need to publish weaker research while top schools become more prestigious and attract more of the smaller number of students pursuing research careers. Universities will continue to compete for the brightest students but these may be more attracted to non-academic paths. To foster development of research and the dollars it can bring to a campus, there may be more development of a two tier faculty, one class devoted to research and another to teaching. Interdisciplinarity will become more important. Meanwhile teaching will change as well with continued movement away from traditional disciplines towards interdisciplinary foci, and more emphasis on new competencies driven by vocational and research needs. Students will be more involved in hands-on research. Older returning students will comprise a larger percentage of the student population than before and present opportunities for involvement in research. A useful tool to bring students together with faculty for research would be a directory of students with their skills (statistics by level; library searches, laboratory techniques; research design analyses) and this would also inform students of what skills are needed and should be acquired.

    1. Pressure to publish and produce research has profound implications
      1. A proliferation of journals comes a crisis of more low level research that is of little benefit
      2. A concentration of students, money and resources and status concentrated in a few top programs in disciplines and a corresponding retrenchment in lower prestige programs will require universities to build on strengths
      3. Strong interdisciplinary research efforts will benefit from less traditional sources research dollars such as business and foundations
      4. Competition for research dollars, capable students and top scholars will become more acute
      5. Tenure track positions are likely to become rarer and the university will have to compete with business and foundations for talented faculty and graduate students

    2. Teaching
      1. Changing competencies – can be more unique and create innovative curriculum
      2. Fading of traditional majors for interdisciplinary focus
      3. More involvement of students in funded research
      4.  Incentives are need to get PhD students in and trained because post-docs are cheaper and more efficient but in the long run disrupt the prestige of programs to produce future researchers
      5. A system here to identify  students with skills available would be helpful to find research support
      6. Lack of culture here for undergraduate research – need to encourage them to get involved
      7. Future employers will want more students with specialized skills to work on interdisciplinary teams
      8. The need to change careers more rapidly and efficiently will require former student to be more nimble in response to change
      9. Baby boomers may want to return to the university to offer competencies and help conduct research

  7. How will the future developments and opportunities affect the university – impacted departments or units? How might UALBANY respond to these within the strategic planning process?

  8. To respond effectively the university will need to invest in strong programs while also promoting collaboration for interdisciplinary research (now referred to in the new lexicon as transdisciplinary research- researchers working together and sharing competencies rather than working side by side but without the interweaving).  The university also must invest in areas of strong future growth, especially big data analytics and research infrastructure. The two are not entirely distinct.  Infrastructure will need to include services to researchers. Services should include guidance as to future (near and far) directions of funding, compliance procedures and  officers who understand the research endeavor, and especially given the culture of NYS oversight/accountability, personnel to alleviate the paperwork burden of conducting research both pre-award and especially post-award when productivity is being measured by sponsors.  More physical locations are needed for collaboration especially on a campus that stretches across two counties. More collaborations with other institutions and industry will drive or support future research.
    As a corollary to these activities there are complementary changes in our approach to faculty roles including teaching. Faculty need refresher courses in rapidly changing fields to keep up with developments and to provide the best teaching to students.  More types of recognition are necessary beyond the traditional degree awards, e.g., certificates. This will involve more collaboration with industries to determine needed competencies that certificate programs could address while also involving the humanities in research at all levels including certificates as competencies in types of analysis and communication taught by the humanities are valued also.

    These future activities may require more partitioning of roles on the campus. There may be service faculty, teaching faculty, research faculty.  In general, more support for research is necessary to grow the endeavor and promote teaching of the newest knowledge in any field. Keeping senior people fresh and up to date while promoting research by younger researchers is essential.

    1. University should invest heavily in strong programs.
    2. The University must stay ahead of the curve on big data, big analytics and research infrastructure
    3. Departments, Schools, Colleges and the University should nurture taste-makers or diviners who can identify the important issues and synthesize where various fields are going in order to stay ahead of the curve
    4. Build interdisciplinary efforts including physical spaces to house of projects
    5. Provide better and more nimble pre and post award services that simply and efficiently remove barriers to researchers.
    6. Prepare to better service students of the future
      1. Changing student body – need to be responsive to that and create courses that target them (i.e. retirees)
      2. Refresher courses for people in rapidly changing fields
      3. Certifications and certificates are attractive and address changing needs in the work environment
      4. More partnerships with industry and other institutions (i.e. Albany Medical, ACPHS, RPI)
      5. Humanities will need to be brought in more in the research process
      6. Should we consider the PhD students market and enrollment
      7. Look at our strategies for allocating our service roles and what service and research really mean here
      8. Maybe we should think more deeply about bifurcation – research or teaching tracks here
      9. Compact Planning or SUNY 2020 – didn’t meet targets but got the faculty – we need to follow-through and deliver
    7. Stream line the research process
      1. University needs to be more flexible and fluid and set the bar higher
      2. We need to remain aware of funding opportunities like R15s
      3. Could we hire more lecturers/contingent faculty to free up some of the research burden?
      4. IRB concerns – separating staff to immediate vs less urgent matters
      5. More support for Associate Professors to make them research stars
      6. In addition to growing our own we should hire at higher ranks (like star faculty that can mentor and still provide service)