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Announcements From the VPR

About six miles from campus, in a plain, single-story brick building on Whitehall Road across from Peppino’s Pizzeria, is a hidden treasure for UGA researchers. This location is the home of the Instrument Design & Fabrication Shop, a full-service machine shop that provides investigators with the capability to build—sometimes from no more than a back-of-the-napkin sketch—the equipment and tools needed for their projects.

Led by manager Carlos Barrow, the instrument shop can help design, build and/or repair an incredible range of devices, containers and other research-related apparatuses. It boasts an array of mills, lathes, presses, saws, welders, 3D printers and other tools, as well as a dedicated team of professional machinists and welders.

One example of the Shop’s projects is the water tunnel built in 2018 to support the research of Ben Davis, now an associate professor in the College of Engineering. This room-sized contraption, 35 feet long with 2,800-gallon water capacity, uses a 125-horsepower electric motor to push water and help test and enhance the performance and viability of a variety of structures in high speed flow as well as assess the ability to use flow to produce electricity (think rockets, marine vehicles, drones).

This incredible research piece is also one of the fastest university-owned water tunnels in the country, capable of moving 275 gallons across its full length in one second. Most remarkably, it was built right here, in our own instrument shop.

Another shop project example is the 3D root phenotyping platform built for Alexander Bucksch, associate professor of plant biology in the Franklin College of Arts & Sciences. This device can measure architectural traits of excavated maize root crowns. Dubbed DIRT/3D by Bucksch (for Digital Imaging of Root Traits), the system uses motorized cameras to take 2,000 images per root from seemingly every angle. Using micro-computers to synchronize the images captured from ten cameras, the device transfers the data to the CyVerse Data Store—the national cyberinfrastructure for academic researchers—for 3D reconstruction. Researchers use the 3D renderings to study the relationship of root systems to plant function and yield, e.g. to influence global food needs in changing ecological environments.

To read about more of the instrument shop’s fabrication projects, take a look at its brand-new website. Among the improvements is an online submission form that allows researchers to send device designs, from the simplest to those with detailed specifications, and determine whether it can be built, how long the building process would take, and how much the device would cost. I’m very grateful for our skilled Shop team.

The instrument shop is one of many UGA resources available to investigators to help build equipment or gather data. Another is the Scientific Glass Blowing Shop, managed by the Center for Applied Isotope Studies. The glass shop can fabricate, repair or modify all types of glassware to meet the needs of researchers, and the work can be truly beautiful.

Both of these shops are among UGA’s core facilities, which offer a wide range of equipment and services to the UGA community, as well as to outside universities and industry. Our core facilities, many of which are managed by the Office of Research, can help with everything from bioexpression and fermentation, to electron microscopy and isotope analysis, to recruitment of clinical research volunteers, to name just a few services.

I’m proud of the variety and quality of research services we provide, both to our own investigators and to the clients we serve from far beyond the university’s borders; we’re constantly striving to improve our services. As we begin another exciting academic year, I hope UGA’s core facilities, like the Instrument Design and Fabrication Shop, both help you and inspire you.

Karen J. L. Burg
Vice President for Research
Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research

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Announcements From the VPR

The cost of conducting research at a university is significant. Total costs of a sponsored project comprise indirect and direct costs. Sponsored projects are externally funded, scholarly activities whose purpose is to provide benefit to the sponsor or to the public. Many sponsored projects, particularly in STEM fields, require specialized equipment that can run into the millions of dollars, not to mention the salaries of the investigators and research staff involved, student support, technical supplies, travel to and from research sites, and other expenses directly related to the specific project.

These are all direct costs, i.e. costs that are directly tied to the work of a particular project; however, importantly, there are also indirect costs, also known as IDCs or facilities & administrative (F&A) costs. IDCs are those costs necessary to conduct the general operations and business of research but are not readily identified with a specific grant, contract, or activity. That is, IDCs are shared across a large number of projects and other university functions. The costs include infrastructure and operational expenses—the cost of keeping the lights on, so to speak. Examples include personnel who support accounting or purchasing for sponsored project activities, utilities, laboratory maintenance, computing, email, etc.

As many of you know, IDCs are built into the sponsored project awards/contracts we receive from a range of different external sponsors. Indirect cost rates vary among universities and are established by the federal government for each institution on a case by case basis through a rigorous assessment of fixed costs and with the mandate that the rates will be consistently applied to all sponsored programs, whether federal, industrial, or other.

IDC rates comprise two main components: facilities and administrative costs. The rates are specific to activity type, i.e. research, instruction, or other sponsored activities, e.g. public service, and are further specified as to on-campus or off-campus. There is no cap on facilities, but in 1991, the administrative component was capped by the federal government at 26%. Since that time, over the past 31 years, the number of regulations governing federally sponsored projects has grown steadily in everything from human and animal subjects research, to export control, conflict of interest, and other areas.

Universities, including UGA, incur significant costs to meet these federal regulations – we have several units with many personnel who ensure compliance with these important regulations, for example: Office of Animal Care and UseUniversity Research Animal ResourcesOffice of BiosafetyConflicts of InterestHuman Subjects OfficeResearch Integrity and Safety Support ServicesResponsible Conduct of ResearchOffice of Research Safety; and Office of Research Security and Export Control (new website coming soon). Note that there has been no change to the administrative cap to cover the tremendous additional burden these regulations impose.

Why does this matter to you? As you build your proposal budget, you see that the project has both direct and indirect costs. Anything less than full allowable IDC recovery translates to a subsidy from the university, which represents additional UGA cost and therefore a loss in our ability to support research. With the limitation on administrative cost recovery, research is already heavily subsidized by universities.

I explained in a previous Research Insights note why we cannot afford voluntary cost-share on sponsored projects. This practice is critical to ensuring UGA recovers the cost of doing business in support of our land and sea grant research missions. We recognize we cannot recover all indirect costs because of the administrative component cap, but we must collect the fully allowable IDC rate on all our sponsored projects, both for the financial health of our research endeavors and in the interest of fairness to all investigators and funding partners.

In collaboration with our Sponsored Projects Administration executive director, Jill Tincher, I’ll be talking much more about this topic in 2022-23. In the meantime, if you have questions about IDC rates in the proposals you’re writing, please reach out to Jill and her team.

Enjoy the rest of your summer—it’s going by quickly!

Karen J. L. Burg

Vice President for Research
Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research

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Announcements From the VPR

Many of you no doubt saw the news last month about Georgia’s FY2023 state budget commitment of nearly $40 million toward the renovation of Science Hill. This massive project will involve major renovations of several Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM)-related buildings in the heart of campus. These facilities, such the Chemistry and Biological Sciences buildings, were designed for the needs of scientists working in the 1950s and ’60s, and of course those needs have changed dramatically in the past 50 years.

We must renovate Science Hill to meet the needs of 21st century researchers, and the improvements will be ongoing. This month, however, I want to draw your attention to the many smaller projects that may not generate the headlines that Science Hill and the I-STEM complex produce, but just as important to our research mission.

The Office of Research (OoR) serves a vital coordinating role among UGA researchers, academic units, Finance and Administration (F&A), Facilities Management Division (FMD), University Architects and other units to help prioritize and financially support research-related capital improvements. Led by Associate Vice President Carl Bergmann, we work closely with F&A and FMD to monitor UGA’s research infrastructure and address areas of need.

Let me share a few projects in which we’re currently involved:

  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) work in several locations. A number of UGA research and instructional spaces have experienced problems in recent years with their heating, cooling and ventilation systems. We’ve partnered with FMD, which has begun or recently completed repair and remediation efforts in the College of Pharmacy, Riverbend South, Center for Applied Isotope Studies, Animal and Dairy Science, and Tucker Hall.
  • College of Veterinary Medicine renovations. The south wing of the CVM building housing research and vivaria (the space for veterinary student surgery training). As usage plans for this part of the building change—it is also serviced by an outdated HVAC system—OoR is participating in an engineering study to determine the best design and components and is spearheading the funding request for renovations.
  • Native American Graves Protection & Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) renovations. UGA has stepped up its efforts related to NAGPRA, and we recently worked with FMD to help the Laboratory of Archaeology upgrade its storage capacity for NAGPRA-related artifacts by completing a new, secure, climate-controlled space within the lab’s existing facility on Whitehall Road.
  • Plant Biology/Biological Sciences headhouse. The support building for the Plant Biology Greenhouses, serving research and educational needs for the Division of Biological Sciences, is home to 12 large, National Science Foundation-funded growth chambers with an estimated replacement cost exceeding $1 million. Unfortunately, the lack of adequate climate control has led to persistent research interruptions due to mechanical failure, as well as limited availability from May to October due to excessive heat. We recently worked with FMD, which added cooling and insulation to provide a stable, controlled environment that will eliminate interruptions while extending the life of the equipment by years (and at an estimated 5% of replacement cost).
  • UGA Marine Institute (UGAMI). The lab facilities at UGAMI on Sapelo Island have been almost completely renovated over the last five years. All major systems, including HVAC, lighting and flood mitigation features, have been updated. Next we’ll focus on bringing the same cost-effective, transformational approach to UGAMI’s housing needs.

This is a small sample out of a much larger population of projects of all shapes and sizes, reaching from Athens to the Georgia coast and multiple points in between. As I’m sure you are aware, on a campus as large as UGA’s, there are many, many needs. We’re committed to working with you and our campus partners to prioritize resource allocations so that our improvements have the widest possible positive impact.

We’re committed to ensuring that you and your teams have access to effective, up-to-date physical space and equipment. If you have questions, please reach out to Carl or to me.

I hope you’re having a great summer!

Karen J. L. Burg
Vice President for Research
Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research

 

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Announcements From the VPR

I thought it would be helpful to address an important topic for all of us who pursue external sponsored funding: cost sharing. Cost sharing refers to the portion of the project costs supported by the institution (rather than the sponsor). Cost sharing can include salary and fringe benefits, travel, equipment, supplies, and other project costs. Earlier this spring, to eliminate (or at least minimize!) questions, we released a revised policy clarifying how investigators may implement cost sharing on their sponsored projects.

Why is this policy important? Investigators often feel obliged to show considerably more cost sharing than actually required by external sponsors – this excess is referred to as voluntary cost share and can actually disadvantage us. We want to ensure we meet the requirements of external sponsors, are successful in receiving awards, while also minimizing (if not eliminating) voluntary cost share.

To better understand, let’s begin by differentiating mandatory and voluntary cost share:

  • When our external sponsors explicitly require cost share on their website or in the funding opportunity, this is referred to as mandatory cost share. A mandatory cost share requirement must be stated in writing, i.e. on the sponsor’s website or in the funding opportunity proposal. When this occurs, one should carefully consider – Will the cost-share overburden unit resources? Will the project’s return on investment justify the additional cost? If answering “no” and “yes”, it’s ok to proceed with proposal development including the cost share mandated by the sponsor. If subrecipients or third parties are anticipated, they too should contribute toward the mandatory cost share. Note that this policy is aligned with that of our peer institutions.
  • Voluntary cost share is when the sponsor does not require cost share, yet cost share is voluntarily included within the proposal. A common misconception is that voluntary cost share will positively affect the proposal evaluation; in fact, only mandatory cost sharing may be considered as an evaluative criterion (this point levels the playing field between well-resourced and not well-resourced institutions). That is, reviewers MAY NOT consider voluntary cost share in their evaluation. For these reasons, we do not allow incorporation of voluntary cost share on federal or federal “flow-thru” proposals. Only in very unique circumstances (and with non-federal sponsors) will voluntary cost sharing be permitted.

It is extremely important that we operate in a consistent manner as we consider cost sharing. This will make our proposal submission process more efficient and result in a smoother experience for all. It will also provide a more fair and equitable process across the institution.

We’re ready to help, as always. All cost sharing requests should be incorporated into the Grants Portal proposal submission. Once routed to Sponsored Projects Administration (SPA), the SPA person assigned to the proposal will assess the request and provide guidance through strategies to ensure the proposal complies with sponsor and UGA requirements.

If you have questions about UGA’s policy on cost sharing, please contact your SPA representative or Jill Tincher, SPA executive director. And … teaser … stay tuned for an introduction to institutional support mechanisms (distinctly different than cost share) that may lend well to your proposal efforts.

I hope all of you have a wonderful summer and take the opportunity to refresh and recharge. Thank you for all you do to advance the UGA research and innovation enterprise!

Karen J. L. Burg
Vice President for Research
Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research

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Announcements From the VPR

April 2022

As both a land- and sea-grant university, UGA’s mission to serve its community is embedded in its DNA. That community not only includes Athens and the rest of Georgia, it also extends to our larger community across our country and around the world. To amplify and extend our service to and collaboration with these communities, the university actively fosters partnerships with individuals and organizations, including businesses large and small.

Indeed, strong partnerships with industry are critical for UGA to reach its goals, including our research goals. Industry partners support the research enterprise by providing pathways to market for faculty inventions, as well as funding cutting-edge research and scholarship to expand human understanding and drive innovation. UGA’s industry partners also provide valuable experiential learning opportunities for our students, such as internships and coops, not to mention hiring our students once they graduate.

For example, UGA’s longstanding relationship with Boehringer-Ingelheim has produced numerous, tangible outcomes that have advanced human and animal health around the world, provided rich experiential learning and professional development opportunities for UGA students, and helped to prepare the next generation of leaders in veterinary medicine.

To support and expand vital collaborations like the one we’ve enjoyed with Boehringer-Ingelheim, last year the university created the Office of Business Engagement (OBE) reporting jointly to the Office of Research (OoR) and Development & Alumni Relations (DAR). Led by Executive Director Kyle Tschepikow, OBE’s mission is to cultivate long-term, holistic partnerships with companies that help expand the positive impact of the business and our university. It focuses on three primary objectives:

  • Connecting companies to programs and people across campus
  • Facilitating university-industry research collaboration
  • Attracting philanthropic support to advance UGA’s mission

OBE is meant to serve as UGA’s front door for companies looking to partner with us, while also providing resources, support and guidance to faculty who wish to engage in industry-sponsored activities. The office works closely with Innovation Gateway, Sponsored Projects Administration, the UGA Career Center, schools, colleges and other units to support a coordinated and strategic approach to industry engagement.

Physically located within the Innovation District (the innovation spaces at the interface of UGA and downtown Athens) at One Press Place, OBE’s joint reporting line to Research and DAR recognizes its importance as a connector, an organizer and a facilitator across the university. Through its activity, OBE will also work alongside our Small Business Development Center, Student Entrepreneurship Program and Innovation Gateway to grow UGA’s culture of innovation.

Indeed, if we are to grow that culture of innovation, we must do it collaboratively with our industry partners. They provide the vital pathway that connects many of our research discoveries with their practical application in the world. I’m excited about the potential of this new OoR/DAR initiative; please do reach out to Kyle at kyletsch@uga.edu if you have questions about forming or expanding partnerships with industry.

Wishing you a smooth transition to a productive and refreshing summer.

Karen J. L. Burg
Vice President for Research
Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research

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Next month the University of Georgia, as well as the broader Athens community, will celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit at the Innovation Showcase, to be held April 26 in the Delta Innovation Hub. The event is intended is intended to celebrate the success of those entrepreneurs who have worked tirelessly, taking risks to move their ideas and technologies to market, as well as to attract and inspire new innovators to turn their own entrepreneurial dreams into reality.

With this annual celebration fast approaching, now is a great time to reflect on the activity and success in research commercialization that was a key driver in UGA’s decision to launch its Innovation District initiative more than three years ago. Having served on the task force that recommended forming the Innovation District, I’m especially enthusiastic about this topic; it represents one of the best ways we as academic researchers can ensure our work is leveraged for the greatest benefit to society.

I’m sure you’ve heard about our Top 5 ranking in bringing new products to market through collaboration with our industry partners. Indeed, UGA has never not been in the Top 5 as long as this metric has been available. But that number only begins to describe the history of success UGA has had in research commercialization—a history that stretches back several decades. Did you know that the Bradford assay, a method to quantify protein still used today, was discovered at UGA in the 1970s? Overall, more than 900 products based on UGA research have reached the market, including over 250 products in just the past five years.

In the numbers released each year by AUTM, you would be hard-pressed to find a measure in which UGA is not among the nation’s leaders. Number of active commercial licenses? We’ve been in the Top 10 for 14 straight years. Annual licensing deal flow? Also Top 10 for 14 years. Total active startup companies? Top 30 for 18 years.

The list goes on. The National Academy of Inventors has existed for only 12 years, yet in that short time 12 UGA faculty members have been elected as NAI Fellows, and another eight elected as senior members. In the 2021-22 cycle alone, three more UGA faculty members were elected into each of those categories.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a small decrease in our commercialization activity, there is still plenty of good news to share. Did you know external funding for UGA-related startups has tripled in the past five years? We have approximately 120 startup projects in our pipeline, a number that has remained constant since pre-pandemic.

Last December we officially opened the Delta Innovation Hub, which has quickly become the campus research commercialization engine. Providing both event space and office square footage for companies that want to be close to UGA research talent, the Hub is filled nearly every day and many evenings with innovators both new and seasoned. To see this historic building reimagined and now functioning as a whirring Hub for creative innovation has been one of the true pleasures of my time as VPR. I’m so grateful to the Delta Air Lines Foundation for making this space possible.

There is much more to come in 2022 from Innovation Gateway, UGA’s research commercialization unit, based in the Office of Research. Our Innovation Bootcamp, which has trained nearly 100 budding entrepreneurs, is set to expand thanks to the generosity of the Truist Foundation. Having enrolled three cohorts of female innovators and a fourth dedicated to the music industry, this spring and next academic year we plan to enroll cohorts of computing researchers, entrepreneurs of color and military veterans in the program.

Innovation Gateway recently received federal funding to enhance its NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program with new technology to connect people remotely, as well as a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) FAST grant to provide grant writing assistance to startup companies across the state. Gateway also is expanding its graduate student internship program, which has trained 30 students over the past five years in the business of research commercialization, to enroll recent Ph.D. graduates as postdoctoral licensing associates.

What does this mean? Of all those licensing deals that garnered AUTM recognition, the vast majority are with Georgia companies, helping them stay competitive and keeping significant financial return within the state. As for UGA startup companies, one analysis showed that UGA-affiliated startups—through the jobs they create—have an annual economic impact of $531 million, including $322 million in Georgia alone.

And, of course, there is the broader impact on our own students, faculty, staff and friends. As the UGA Entrepreneurship Program has exploded in size, the Innovation District and all the real-world opportunities it affords to students have grown with it. The Delta Innovation Hub serves as a showcase for our innovation ecosystem, hosting tours for elected officials, industry partners, donors, business owners and others interested in UGA’s success.

UGA’s Innovation District brings together the passions and talents represented on every corner of our campus, from engineering to fine art to veterinary medicine, journalism, music, psychology, bioinformatics and so many more. It represents the ideals of a land-grant university, putting the products of our research and discovery mission to work for our communities.

If you haven’t been involved in the Innovation District, I encourage you to attend our Research Live event, “The Latest in Research Commercialization @ UGA,” on Friday, April 8, at 11 a.m. Derek Eberhart, associate vice president for research and executive director of Innovation Gateway, along with Ian Biggs, director of startups, will share all of this news and more, as well as answer your questions.

I hope you’ll participate!

Karen J. L. Burg
Vice President for Research
Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research

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In December the UGA Terry College of Business released its 39th annual Georgia Economic Outlook, which predicted that—by the end of 2022—Georgia would fully recover from the pandemic-inflicted recession. According to the projection, the state economy will grow by a robust 4.3% this year, and its unemployment rate will fall to about 3.2%, lower than pre-pandemic levels.

One area of the economy that has recently grabbed Georgia and UGA attention is electric mobility. In December, the electric vehicle company Rivian announced that it would site its second manufacturing plant east of Atlanta, a $5 billion investment that will employ more than 7,500 workers. This followed on the heels of SK Innovation’s decision to build a $2.6 billion electric battery facility near Commerce, just a few miles up 441 from Athens.

While those two projects generated a lot of headlines, they’re not the only good news for Georgia in e-mobility. Ascend Elements (formerly Battery Resourcesannounced in January that it would open the largest North American battery recycling facility of its kind in Covington, a $43 million investment that will add another 150 jobs and process up to 30,000 metric tons of discarded lithium-ion batteries and scrap each year.

Blue Bird, maker of those instantly recognizable yellow school buses, is now producing hundreds of all-electric buses at its two facilities in Fort Valley. To provide infrastructure in Georgia for all this electric mobility, other companies are building e-charging stations and establishing parts suppliers.

While electric vehicles traditionally attract all the attention—automakers alone are expecting to invest $250 billion in them by 2023—e-mobility is no longer just about electric cars. Aircraft, boats, bicycles and drones are all moving toward electric propulsion technologies. Autonomous software, batteries and storage technology, and network and cybersecurity infrastructure are all needed to support this sector.

That’s where UGA comes in. Last summer our Carl Vinson Institute of Government partnered with the Governor and the Georgia Department of Economic Development on the Electric Mobility and Innovation Alliance. The alliance brought together public officials and business leaders to identify and develop a comprehensive, statewide strategy to recommend policy that will boost our workforce, research and innovation, supply chain, and infrastructure for this sector.

Recently UGA announced its Electric Mobility Initiative, which will bring together students, faculty and staff together from various disciplines to support research and development, sustainability, security and regulation, community and economic development, and business impacts from this industry. Together with private funding, UGA will invest $1 million to create new initiatives to support e-mobility research and development, including a new certificate program in the College of Engineering and battery research in our new I-STEM complex.

So how do researchers connect with economic development? From his office in Atlanta’s Technology Square, Matt Colvin, UGA’s director of economic development, works to help connect state industries with UGA research talent. Matt has worked for both the University System of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Economic Development, and he has the experience and contacts to help turn potential research collaborations into reality. If your research aligns with our Electric Mobility Initiative, or if you have other ideas about how to connect your research program with industry needs, I encourage you to reach out to Matt at mcolvin@uga.edu.

I look forward to supporting many of you who are involved in this work. The Electric Mobility Initiative is so vitally important not just to Georgia’s future, but to that of our country and our planet. We are excited to partner with the state on this initiative and leverage our academic and research expertise to help Georgia become a world leader in e-mobility technologies.

Karen J. L. Burg
Vice President for Research
Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research

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Hello and Happy New Year! I hope all of you had a much needed holiday break, after another very challenging semester.

I want to talk about a very important topic: communications. If an organization’s business functions can be compared to a circulatory system, distributing vital resources to maintain biological function, then communication is the nervous system. Its signals hold the organism together as a cohesive whole, passing information from one part to another and feeding vital data to the body’s executive capacity. Simply put, an organization with dysfunctional communications is very likely to be dysfunctional itself.

While interviewing for the job of VPR, I talked about the importance of effective communications in reaching UGA’s vast research potential. In my first day on the job, I met with our research communications director, Michael Terrazas, to talk about our priorities in improving our research and internal communications practices.

Last fall we surveyed you to gauge your needs and preferences for research communications (thanks to all of you who participated), and you’ll soon see the results of these efforts. First, most of you are reading this after receiving the Office of Research’s main internal newsletter, now called Research Insights, and you probably noticed some significant changes.

We’ll continue to rely on Research Insights as our primary vehicle for conveying regular, monthly updates about funding opportunities, policy changes and other news of interest to campus researchers. We also hope the newsletter’s new look and content make it both easier to read and more relevant.

One change is the addition of a funding opportunities section specifically for arts and humanities researchers, offered in collaboration with the Willson Center for Humanities & Arts.

If you are a humanities or arts scholar, or if you are looking for research collaborations with your colleagues in those disciplines, I encourage you to  also subscribe to the Willson Center’s own newsletter to stay abreast of opportunities.

Another change we’re making is the creation of more opportunities for two-way communication with our researchers and scholars across UGA. Today, January 20, we are holding a town hall with personnel directly affiliated with the Office of Research, and next fall we plan to host a similar event that will be open to anyone on campus. I look forward to participating in these events and hearing feedback directly from you, the community we serve.

We’ll also revive the Research Live webinars launched during the pandemic. Originally conceived as virtual events to address research issues related to COVID, we will regularize this series to include monthly presentations from individual units within the Office of Research, while still leaving room to tackle specific issues ad hoc as they arise.

These are just a few of the more visible changes we are making, and we will use your participation and feedback to optimize these activities as we go. I realize that, in a university as large and complex as UGA, there is no way we can fully address the needs of every individual researcher on campus. But we will try harder to make what we do more reflective of the diversity of inquiry at UGA, as well as provide enhanced mechanisms for you to provide feedback and help us continually improve.

Speaking of which, please share your feedback regarding communications either with me or with Mike at michael.terrazas@uga.edu. Your input is critical to ensuring that our activities meet the needs of the greatest number of investigators possible.

Thank you, and I hope 2022 is off to a healthy and productive start for all of you.

Karen J. L. Burg
Vice President for Research
Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research

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Shortly after I assumed the role of Vice President for Research (VPR) on July 1, I embarked on a “listening tour” of UGA’s colleges and schools and a “reading tour” of past surveys about UGA research. The questions I wanted to answer include: What are the obstacles preventing you from successfully achieving the goals defined in your Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship strategic plans, and how can the Office of Research (OoR) help?

It’s hard to believe nearly five months have passed since I started this process, but these listening and reading sessions—which are ongoing—have been invaluable in helping identify the challenges UGA researchers face. I am reminded that the research itself is nearly as diverse in needs and potential as the 38,000 students who work in the laboratories, studios, libraries, performance halls, field locations and other research and creative inquiry spaces around the state of Georgia and beyond.

Still, in less than half a year we have made some real progress and launched efforts to address several of the issues that have been revealed, some of which I’ve described in this news space. My first priority as VPR, as I’ve expressed many times, is to rebuild and modernize UGA’s research infrastructure to align it with the tremendous growth in research activity UGA has experienced over the last decade. As we near the end of 2021 and look ahead to a new year, it’s worth recapping some of these efforts:

Human infrastructure. We have implemented many technological systems and digital tools to bring efficiencies to our research and business operations; however, staff members with systems expertise are crucial to realizing these efficiencies and the full potential of the systems. In the last 10 years, as research activity has grown significantly, Office of Research staffing has remained flat, and in some instances (for example as a result of a 7% pandemic induced budget cut in 2020) it has decreased, while compensation has fallen well below competitive levels. These realities undermine our burgeoning research needs; accordingly, I have redirected our limited resources to actively recruit and retain staff in OoR units, including Innovation Gateway, Research Integrity and Safety (e.g., our Human Subjects Office, or HSO), Sponsored Projects Administration, and Research Communications.

Institutional Review Board review. The pandemic and staffing challenges have significantly diminished our ability to efficiently and expeditiously evaluate and approve submissions to our Institutional Review Board (IRB). To augment our existing agreement with WCG IRB, founded in 1968 as the world’s first independent IRB, and to address a backlog of submissions, we’ve entered into a similar agreement with Sterling IRB. While commercial IRBs do not provide the hands-on service our HSO provides, they will certainly improve the throughput of research protocols (at no cost to the researcher) while we rebuild the staffing in HSO. Concurrently, we are reorganizing the structure of the HSO and creating a front-facing group specifically to work directly with researchers to develop IRB protocols for submission.

Physical & IT infrastructure. My last two blog posts both described efforts to improve our infrastructure related to facilities and information technology, so I won’t review those efforts in detail here. The newly launched FMD-Research Working Group, as well as our own Office of Information Technology, are working to identify and address multiple issues and needs, and I am committed to working with the Provost and President to identify resources to address these needs, beginning with those that affect the widest number of researchers. These are not quick fixes, and we will keep you informed as these initiatives progress and take shape.

Internal communications. For the past three years, our Office of Research Communications has revamped its activities and channels to showcase UGA research success for external audiences—indeed, this objective is explicit in UGA’s 2025 strategic plan. Alongside this work, the “RComm” team now is reimagining how we talk and listen to our own internal audiences. Earlier this fall we surveyed faculty on needs and preferences for research-related communications, and you’ll start to see the results of this effort as early as January.

Strengthening support for humanities & arts. Like those at many large research universities, we work hard to support all research disciplines. Feedback to our internal communications survey suggests we don’t always succeed. With the generous help of the Willson Center for Humanities & Arts, we are working to identify ways we can better provide faculty members in these areas with information they need to advance their own research programs while staying connected—in an era of increasing interdisciplinary collaboration—with colleagues from other disciplines.

I recently participated in my first UGA Research Foundation (UGARF) Board of Directors meeting as UGARF’s executive vice president. Part of that meeting is a review of recent sponsored research activity, including highlights of a few notable awarded projects. We ensured the Board’s materials included a balance of sponsored awards in the humanities, arts, and social sciences, as well as several projects that were not supported by external sponsored funds. Indeed, research on the UGA campus and beyond is research, whether it’s supported by a seven-figure grant or not. Research produces new knowledge and advances the human condition. It “inquires into the nature of things,” to quote our UGA motto.

As we move through this holiday season in a time of so much uncertainty and division in the world, I look forward to a new year of recognizing and supporting the value of all our researchers, across all disciplines and at all levels, from the newest undergraduates to the most seasoned faculty researchers.

It has been a whirlwind five months. Have a wonderful holiday, and I’ll see you in 2022.

Karen J. L. Burg
Vice President for Research
Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research

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Announcements From the VPR

Last month I wrote about a new working group spanning the Office of Research (OoR) and UGA’s Facilities Management Division that will address a range of infrastructure and communication issues that affect our research enterprise. This month I am pleased to introduce to you a unit within OoR that is hard at work making improvements to the information technology resources upon which we all rely in our research programs.

The Office of Information Technology (OIT) team , led by Director Gary Rachel, often flies under the radar. However, the team members work to produce critical OoR administrative applications and to integrate OoR data with other critical campus systems, including:

  • Grants Portal: This is the online system used for the institutional management of grants proposals and grant awards/modifications. This system handles all required approval processes electronically and provides process transparency to faculty and unit staff. The Grants Portal electronically communicates project details and budget information to UGA’s Financial Management System (see below), significantly reducing the award setup time once sponsored funding is received.
  • PeopleSoft Financial Management System: UGA’s Financial Management System is built with PeopleSoft software and is part of OneSource, an ongoing UGA initiative to integrate business, HR and other processes into a single seamless interface. The Financial Management System is used for institutional financial accounting, including grants financial accounting.
  • Institutional Review Board (IRB) Portal: This system is used for the management and approval of human subjects protocols (i.e., for research concerning living individuals). All protocol operations are completed online, including initial review, requests for clarifications, IRB committee processing and approved protocol modification and closeout. The use of this type of system results in a process that is highly compliant, transparent to faculty and staff, more efficient, and less time-consuming. We’ve received several suggestions on how this portal could be improved and are exploring improvement options.
  • Office of Institutional Research (OIR) Warehouse: This centralized data repository is managed by the EITS Office of Institutional Research. The warehouse stores data that is generated or reported from across the institution and allows a consistent data set for a variety of purposes, including reports, dashboards, graphs and benchmarking for research proposals.

The OoR Office of Information Technology currently comprises eight staff members:

  • Michelle Muiruri, Jon Thibodeau and team lead Derrick Bray make up the end user and devices team. This team is focused on assisting end users of OoR applications and software with day-to-day operations, expanding application capabilities, and ensuring devices are properly managed and secure.
  • Trevor Sellers and team lead Jonathan Pruitt make up the backend systems team, which works to ensure all research applications managed by the OoR are served securely without interruption, and to maintain the foundational services used by the other teams, such as data storage and backup.
  • Keythe Gentry, Charlie Hall and team lead Kevin Ralphs make up the application team, which maintains existing OoR applications (such as the grants portal) and works to develop new applications as needed.

The team works closely with UGA’s Enterprise Information Technology Services (EITS), Information Security and college/school IT units. I thought it would be helpful to share examples of the efforts of Gary and his team that have made a significant and positive impact on the efficiency of UGA research operations.

Grants Portal/PeopleSoft integration: All of us want our sponsored research awards to be processed and managed efficiently. At an institution as large as UGA, this requires a grants portal that can automate a significant portion of the setup process in PeopleSoft, easing the burden not just on faculty but for unit business teams as well. Our OIT continues to expand this functionality while making the system more user-friendly and resilient. The feedback many of you have provided is allowing us to prioritize and make much needed improvements; please continue to provide your thoughts.

End-user support: OIT provides support to a wide variety of units within the Office of Research, including administrative offices, research integrity and safety offices, centers, institutes, and core facilities, many of which are staffed by personnel with appointments in academic units. Recent enhancements to the end-user support processes include the adoption of a more streamlined ticketing process and improved remote help capabilities. When a user needs any type of IT assistance, they can submit a request for help here. The help request (a “ticket”) will be acknowledged and handled quickly, often within minutes, via our remote support process. Gary focuses on providing continuing education for his team so they can provide the best support possible.

Application enhancement: The OIT team works to improve research-specific applications. One ongoing area of improvement is to UGA’s IRB Portal, including better data displays and simplified form entry. Currently the OIT team is planning new applications to streamline submission, approval and archiving of biosafety and chemical safety plans.

OIR Warehouse access: The EITS Office of Institutional Research is working on adding proposal submission and award data (dollar amounts, sponsor, key dates and personnel, etc.) to its data warehouse. Meanwhile our OIT team is working to expand the data available to the warehouse by providing additional research-relevant data families, including compliance. The goal is to enable units to evaluate their activities in these areas without having to make special requests for data.

System monitoring: Wouldn’t it be great if, when one of your devices fails to function normally, tech support proactively reached out to you? The OIT team is working to enhance its device monitoring to do exactly this, providing automatic notifications when a desktop, laptop or tablet is experiencing performance issues, and enabling its technicians to provide a proactive resolution to the user. On the back end, they’re also expanding application and system resiliency (i.e., avoiding unexpected system failures), incorporating multiple redundancies to every component, to ensure users have access to the resources they need whenever they need them.

Information technology is one of those areas where, when things are working smoothly, few people notice. In fact, that’s the point: we expect things to simply work. But, in an era of significant technological change, it takes continuous effort by teams of dedicated professionals to keep everything running smoothly.

A big thank you to Gary and team for the hard work of OIT in supporting our research efforts! If you have questions or suggestions for our OIT group, please send them to Gary at gcrachel@uga.edu and/or to ovpr@uga.edu.

Karen J. L. Burg
Vice President for Research
Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research

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