Letter from the Vice President: Fall 2017

Dear Members of the UO Research Community,

There are multiple signs hinting that the UO is on the threshold of a dramatic increase in research productivity, excellence and impact. This gathering wave is not confined to just one school or college or campus. It’s occurring across the entire university. That was to have been the theme of my Oct. 31 campus presentation on “The State of UO Research,” but the passing of a family member forced me to postpone my talk.

My address is now rescheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, at 3 p.m. in the EMU Crater Lake North and South rooms. I am so excited about it that I want to give you a partial preview.  

In 2016-2017, UO researchers brought in $114.9 million in grants, contracts and other competitive awards and contributed $8.8 million in licensing revenue. Research expenditures, which represent the university’s spending of previously received research dollars, went up by $3.8 million last year to $111.1 million, an increase of 3.6 percent. Because awards received are a leading indicator of what’s to come, we can expect to see a further increase in research expenditures in the coming years.

Our success is not only measured in federal dollars — I am amazed by the talent and dedication that you all exhibit on a daily basis in your research, scholarship and teaching — but external funding will always be an important yard stick for us as a research institution. Given the reality of diminishing federal research funding in recent years, it is remarkable that UO researchers continue to be highly successful in winning competitive federal awards.

For a deeper dive on our research metrics, I encourage you to look at the FY17 Annual Report produced by our Sponsored Projects Services unit. And keep an eye on our website where each month we post the latest monthly award reports.

It’s still too early to tell exactly what our FY18 metrics will look like, but already, there are some encouraging signs. The first quarter of the fiscal year is off to a great start with awards and expenditures exceeding the first quarter of FY17.

That said, if we are to remain competitive, we need to continue to secure research funding from nonfederal sources, such as industry, foundations and associations. The fact that our nonfederal funding increased in FY17 for the second year in a row is a sign we are headed in the right direction.

Other factors also suggest we are on an upward trajectory. Under President Michael Schill’s vision, over the past two years we have made huge investments in faculty and startup funds to hire and/or retain outstanding researchers at all levels — from assistant professors to a Nobel Prize winner. While the cluster hiring process continues, our new data science initiative, and the Provost’s institutional hiring plan will help us recruit even more terrific scholars.

Meanwhile, we are bolstering the infrastructure that supports research. Major lab renovations are planned or underway in Pacific, Huestis and Klamath Halls. Our newest research core facility, the high-performance computing center, is now in operation and an imaging core facility will soon follow. This winter we will be building a high-speed (100 gigabit) internet connection to the outside world that will enable our faculty to access and share “big data” with other institutions. Finally, we are expanding our partnership with OHSU to support collaborative research projects and other activities.  

To help us capitalize on these investments, our office has launched a strategic plan, which we will soon be finalizing and sharing with you. Our high-level goals include:

  • To continue to make external support for research a top university priority.
  • To make sure we support all disciplines in their research.
  • To reward and recognize research success.
  • To provide incentives for faculty to go after large awards.
  • To provide new electronic processes that will streamline administrative tasks and reduce unnecessary paperwork.

All of this transformation in our research enterprise is happening even without mentioning the $1 billion Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact, which will fast-track scientific discoveries into innovations and provide a further boost to our research portfolio.

While there remain uncertainties about federal funding for research, now is the time to tell the story of our scientific discoveries and advancement of knowledge to increase public understanding of the societal value of research and innovation. As many of you know, science communication is a passion of mine. I am so encouraged by the many op-eds appearing in the media written by our faculty, students and staff. I am enthused by the many Quack Chats events, pub talks, and other outreach events that the UO sponsors. Your willingness to step up and get involved in the public conversation is so inspiring.                                                                                                                             

I truly believe we are poised to advance to a whole new level of research excellence. As we continue to raise our research profile, it’s important that we track our research metrics in order to benchmark our success and measure our progress as we go forward. Our office is here to support you. With so much momentum behind us, research at the UO will continue to blossom for many years to come.