This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Integrating research called key step

Molecular recognition group reviews white paper at follow-up retreat

Published: June 30, 2005

Contributing Editor

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The integration of currently autonomous research groups and their work has been identified by faculty members as a key step to leveraging UB's strengths to build academic excellence in the area of molecular recognition in biological systems, one of the 10 strategic strengths that are the focus of the UB 2020 strategic planning process.


A draft of a "white paper" based on ideas and discussion generated at an envisioning retreat held in April that was attended by more than 100 faculty members also identifies four "pillars"—biological systems, molecular diversity, pharmacometrics/genomics and structural biology—that represent the strengths of faculty members within the group and should be the focus of that effort.

The document was presented at a meeting, attended by close to 40 faculty members, held Monday in 120 Clemens Hall as a followup to April's retreat. The white paper outlines goals, resources needed, a five-year timeline for meeting goals and immediate steps to be taken to propel the process forward.

The white paper also clarifies the central objective of the strategic strength: "to expand the research interactions between the four major areas so that major challenges in biology can be addressed and the strategic strength will become much more than its individual components."

Kenneth Blumenthal, professor and chair in the Department of Biochemistry in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and a member of the group authoring the white paper, presented an overview of the document and recommendations for investments that will be required to accomplish the objective.

Those resources include an administrative infrastructure to facilitate grant proposals, symposia and center development; organization of core research facilities; promotion of cross-disciplinary research; and targeted searches for new faculty members based on interdisciplinary themes.

Several faculty members at Monday's meeting voiced concern about the significant cultural change that will be required of faculty members to move from guarding one's departmental turf to working toward an interdisciplinary goal, as well as advancing the work of the strategic strength group as a whole.

"No guts, no glory," was Blumenthal's response.

The white paper proposes a five-year timeline for moving the molecular recognition in biological systems group forward, including results expected from specific actions.

Year 1 involves developing an intellectual inventory, a homepage, a research day, securing secondary appointments and acquiring seed funding, resulting in identification of collaborators and initiation of projects.

Year 2 calls for investments in core laboratory facilities, presentation of a research symposium, faculty recruitments, acquisition of additional seed funding and new course development, resulting in submission of two multi-investigator National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants. Another symposium would occur in Year 3 and faculty recruitments would continue. Years 4 and 5 would continue recruitment and symposia activities.

In the short term, immediate next steps also are recommended. They include creation of a searchable intellectual inventory of researchers' work, a Web homepage for the group, a structure for reviewing seed grants, a strategy for facilitating joint departmental appointments and a Molecular Recognition in Biological Systems Research Day poster session.

With no objections voiced on the draft text and activities proposed in it, the ensuing discussion on Monday revolved around strategies to cement the structure and relationships needed to advance the group's work.

One of the critical points raised was the need for a project manager to coordinate the "strength-wide" tasks, and the question of to whom that person would report and where he/she would be located. It was agreed that a steering committee needs to be formed to oversee the tasks and the project manager, if one is hired.

Participants discussed the best type of person to do the groundwork necessary to develop multi-investigator NIH research grants. Suggestions included giving an existing faculty member release time from teaching and research to take on this job, hiring an energetic postdoctoral fellow or hiring a technical staff person.

Those who liked the technical-staff option suggested the hiring would be quicker and work could get under way faster than recruiting a "postdoc." Others suggested the expertise of a "postdoc" would pay off in the long run.

Other issues raised in the discussion included:

  • The need for a facilities inventory, as well as an intellectual inventory

  • The need for a "true" proteomics facility

  • The usefulness of a Web site with photos of researchers within the "strength" and a brief synopsis of their work to inform current investigators and assist in recruiting new faculty

  • The need for a name for the group

  • The importance of interdisciplinary research committees for new hires within the "strength" and the question of how to maintain departmental autonomy while doing interdisciplinary recruiting

  • A call for development of new instruments to do new measurements

Comments from the meeting will be incorporated into a second draft of the white paper that ultimately will be sent to deans and the UB 2020 Academic Planning Committee.