University Research: A Multifaceted Endeavor

University Research: A Multifaceted Endeavor

The following commentary is part five of a six-part series featuring updates, national trends and personal perspectives from the University’s leadership team regarding the future of higher education and Michigan Tech. All questions or comments may be directed to the author of the article (ddreed@mtu.edu).    

Michigan Tech receives most of its research funding from the federal government. The federal research environment is challenging, with low and even declining funding rates, regulatory changes and the evolving federal budget climate, but Michigan Tech has managed to hold its own. Even in this difficult environment, in the last fiscal year Michigan Tech researchers achieved all-time highs in new sponsored awards ($63.5 million) and in research expenditures ($80.4 million). This was only possible through the outstanding creativity of our faculty and staff, a concentration on the development of outstanding proposals and a focus on areas where we can be recognized as one of the world’s leading institutions.

The campus developed these focus areas through the Tech Forward process last academic year. Several of the initiative areas include a significant research component. In particular, the Institute for Computing and Cybersystems (ICC, Tim Havens, director), the Health Research Institute (HRI, Caryn Heldt, director), and the Institute for Policy, Ethics, and Culture (IPEC, Jennifer Daryl Slack, director) were identified as highly exciting opportunities for future growth.  The Vice President for Research Office (VPR) is working with all three throughout this academic year to develop plans for continuing growth and eventual maturation as vibrant, self-supporting centers of scholarly activity.

Michigan Tech is well-positioned to reach $100 million in annual research expenditures within the next five years. To reach this will require continual work to improve the research environment on campus. There are several such initiatives underway this academic year:

  • Financial Services and Operations has removed the 3.5% annual administrative fee from all IRAD accounts, allowing all of these funds to be used to support and grow our research and graduate programs.

  • Our Shared Facilities were established five years ago. The associate vice president for research development is working with them to review their activities over the last five years and to formulate plans for their continued success and growth over the next five years.

  • Michigan Tech has made significant strides over the last few years in reducing the administrative workload associated with sponsored research activities. According to the Federal Demonstration Partnership’s 2012 and 2018 Faculty Workload Surveys, we have reduced the proportion of investigator’s research time spent on administrative tasks from more than 50% to 43%, below the national average of 44%. Many people in VPR and elsewhere on campus have worked to achieve this significant accomplishment. I think we can all agree, though, that there is still too much effort on administrative work when researcher’s efforts would be better spent on the creative activities involved in research and scholarship.  Thanks very much to all on campus who participated in the survey; the results shed light on a number of areas ripe for further process improvement, and we will prioritize and address them over the next few months and coming years.

  • Lastly, many of you may be aware that a number of cases have emerged nationally where university and other researchers have exhibited egregious behavior that has resulted in federal criminal charges of fraud and abuse. My understanding is that over 1,000 researchers across the country are under investigation. Many of these relate to failure to disclose financial conflicts of interest and also unfunded conflicts of commitment.  We expect there to be new federal requirements to change our disclosure practices at some point. In the meantime, it’s important for all to disclose any commitment and financial conflicts through our internal processes, as well as externally in technical reports and funding applications. When in doubt, the best practice is to disclose.

In closing, I would again like to recognize the outstanding efforts of all members of the University community, including researchers and the personnel who support them, both centrally and in their units, in developing and supporting a vibrant and creative environment. This improves our educational activities and strengthens our ongoing research efforts. Michigan Tech is in a great position with our outstanding strengths in areas of state, national and international significance.  Through progress in the Tech Forward initiatives and continued growth in our research and graduate programs, we will continue to increase our contributions to areas of great societal need.


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