Research Insights

Research Notes: Thoughts from VPR Karen Burg

University of Georgia Vice President for Research Karen Burg

Karen Burg was appointed as University of Georgia’s Vice President for Research in July 2021. Focusing on tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, her work has been supported by more than $20 million in grants from agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense, as well as organizations such as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Burg is the author of nearly 120 peer-reviewed journal publications and the co-author of four books and nearly 40 book chapters, and she holds nine U.S. patents. She also serves as the Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research in UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine. In 2022, Burg received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from President Joe Biden.

Progress from the Office of Research: A quick look back as we leap forward

September 2022

Fourteen months ago, I was appointed as the University of Georgia’s vice president for research. Since then it has been full-on engagement: I’ve talked to faculty, staff and student research scholars all over our Athens campus; traveled around the state and beyond, touring our research facilities; met with deans, administrators and faculty members from our 18 colleges and schools; and represented UGA at national events in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere around the country.

Over these 14 months, my excitement about leading this dynamic and growing research enterprise has only grown. As we dive into another academic year, now is a great time to look back and celebrate our accomplishments, as well as look ahead to goals for 2022-23 and beyond. Here are a few highlights:

My first (and ongoing) task in the Office of Research (OoR) involved getting a handle on a very complex budget and working tenaciously to plan the use of extremely limited financial resources to strategically support a burgeoning research enterprise and an extraordinarily high number of financial requests and needs. In order to better understand and prioritize, we established a research advisory group to help identify areas of need, opportunity, strength and weakness.

This group was deliberately constructed to include the many voices and faces of UGA research (faculty, staff and student researchers – plus business officers, sponsored programs, compliance, information technology, communications experts and more). The group membership is designed to reflect the many aspects of UGA research; the point being that we need a diversity of views and expertise to support the diversity and complexity of research and innovation.

One less visible but critically important effort has been toward ensuring research data quality—that is, to ensure that our data records are easily accessed and consistently maintained and reported (by “data,” think names of funding agencies, amounts of grants, copies of proposals, payroll certification records, etc.). This effort has involved lots of behind-the-scenes work to connect the Grants Portal with UGA PeopleSoft Financials, and to institute an audit process to ensure high-quality and accurate data.

Over the past year, we’ve also worked to transition all internal grants and awards processes to InfoReady, a system that has greatly streamlined the application process for all internal competitions, including those for external limited submission awards.

We have placed the Office for Proposal Enhancement under the larger umbrella of Integrative Teams Initiatives and are building out capabilities in order to provide a higher level of support to faculty teams developing large, collaborative proposals. We also created the UGA Research Institute, which now serves as our organizational foundation for expanding our research partnerships with U.S. mission agencies (e.g., Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Advanced Research Projects Agencies) and industry.

We have instituted a new request process for OoR support for such needs as bridge funding, targeted infrastructure support, event support and other funding opportunities. Creating a standard system to gather and evaluate all of these requests helps us maximize the impact of OoR support and provides an accessible and equitable system for all researchers.

Regarding internal communication, we’ve rolled out or enhanced our offerings based on your feedback (remember last year’s survey?). I hope you agree that we do indeed listen and that you’ll take a few moments to complete our second annual survey of research communication needs. Your feedback will help us improve such initiatives as our Research Live webinar series, the redesigned Research Insights newsletter, major events like our Faculty Research Orientation and Office of Research Town Hall, and even this very blog!

We launched a Humanities Working Group to be more inclusive across disciplines; this resulted in many exciting changes, including the recommendation and recent formation of a Humanities Council that is supported by the Office of the Provost. Thank you for lending your voice as we continually improve how we disseminate research information to you and your colleagues.

The past year also saw several changes within the Office of Research Integrity & Safety. We established a new Office of Research Security & Export Control to help the university meet evolving mandates for research security and develop safeguarding requirements for both classified and unclassified information.

Last year, the Human Subjects Office was overwhelmed with significant, pandemic-influenced workforce and workload challenges, so we reimagined, restructured and rebuilt the office to improve service to investigators engaged in human research and help them better share the results of their work with the UGA and Athens communities. We put in place short-term measures to efficiently reduce the mountain of protocols awaiting review, and we also addressed long-term realities. Not only did we increase staffing, but we added education specialists who are focused on assisting investigators with the “how to’s” of protocol construction and helping them navigate a process often perceived as complex and tortuous.

We also established a Conflicts of Interest office and have been setting up review triggers at various stages of award lifecycles to incorporate any new or updated disclosures from investigators. Our intent is to be customer friendly, so please give us constructive feedback as we build out and enhance initiatives such as these. Let us know what is working and what is not working – we are here to support you!

Innovation Gateway continued its exceptional work in support of the goals embodied by the UGA Innovation District. For the eighth straight year, UGA ranked in the Top 5 for new products to market developed from our research. We officially opened the Delta Innovation Hub, and we launched a much-needed new website for Innovation Gateway that allows us to better serve our customers and clients, both on-campus and off. We’re excited to have offered several “niche” bootcamps for budding UGA and community-based entrepreneurs – including focus on women and underrepresented minorities, computer scientists, and musicians and other creatives.

Lastly, we began a new tradition of community engagement—i.e. giving back—and team building. In March our Athens OoR team worked at the Athens Clarke County Beech Haven Park, picking up trash and removing invasive plants, while our Savannah River Ecology Laboratory team worked at Ellenton Bay near Aiken, S.C., removing a mile-long drift fence.

These are just a few of the more notable accomplishments of the past year; there is much more in store for 2022-23, including:

  • Improvements to Sponsored Projects Administration service, with goal of faster average award processing times and expanded training programs for unit grant officers
  • Support for and outreach to UGA’s humanities faculty through the new Humanities Council, administered by the Provost’s office
  • Reimagined faculty and staff advisory groups to the Office of Research to provide critical feedback and evaluation of our efforts
  • Launch of annual updates/discussions with OoR Centers and Institutes
  • Establishment of the inaugural OoR Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategic plan
  • Updating of the OoR strategic plan and mission statement
  • Planning and roll out of smaller, focused in-person town hall meetings

If you have questions or would like to hear more about these activities, please make plans to join us for one of our major events this fall. The Faculty Research Orientation (Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2:30 p.m.) is an opportunity for investigators—whether you’re new to UGA or a veteran of many years—to learn about the current makeup of our team and how we serve the research community.

The following week, on Monday, Oct. 24, at 3:30 p.m., we will hold an Office of Research Town Hall, open to all, to engage directly with you, discuss this year’s planned goals and activities, and answer your questions and hear your feedback. Both events will be held via Zoom.

I can’t wait for these two opportunities to showcase the accomplishments and ability represented by our Office of Research senior leaders and their teams—and to hear from you. If you can, please make plans to join us, and you’ll understand why I’m more enthusiastic than ever to serve as your vice president for research. With your collaboration, the future of UGA research is boundless!

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

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