University of Pittsburgh

University Research Council

2005-2006 Activities Report


Provost James Maher delivered the Council charge at the September 8 Council meeting.  He asked the Council to:

  • sponsor an interdisciplinary research competition that funds original research projects.
  • sponsor a series of seminars that deals with various aspects of proposal writing.
  • develop a proposal that requests financing for postdoctoral fellowships.
  • advise the Office of Research on matters related to electronic research administration.

The Provost also asked the Council to consider how the University can best harness its research resources, human and otherwise, so that it can define research questions for the nation.  He wishes to create a process through which the University can identify cutting-edge research questions and the individuals at the University who are best equipped to address them.


Members of the Council met on May 10 to create an agenda for the upcoming academic year.  Issues of interest included:

  • Central Research Development Fund
  • Multidisciplinary Small Grant Program
  • Obstacles to Multidisciplinary Research
  • Federal Funding Trends


Central Research Development Fund

Thirty-eight individuals applied for funding from the Central Research Development Fund (CRDF).  Applications were evaluated by one of three Council subcommittees, whose members specialize in the health sciences, the sciences and engineering, and the humanities and the social sciences.  Eight of the 19 applications from health science fields were funded, seven of the eight applications from the science and engineering fields were funded, and 10 of the 11 applications from social science and humanities fields were funded.

Members of the Council discussed procedures for evaluating CRDF proposals and how to simplify the proposal-evaluation process.  They previously have suggested that CRDF proposals be submitted, distributed, and reviewed electronically.  Tony Polley, a member of the CSSD staff, discussed some of the available options.  The three subcommittee chairs and staff in the Office of Research will work with Mr. Polley to create electronic submission and review processes for the CRDF. 

Multidisciplinary Small Grant Program

The Council sponsored the second annual interdisciplinary small grant competition.  The program is designed to enhance opportunities for the University’s faculty to engage in multidisciplinary research, scholarship, and creative endeavors.  The program encourages faculty with different skills and training to address complex problems that span the humanities, social sciences, engineering, physical sciences, and/or the biological and health sciences.  The Council funded one of the 13 proposals.  Richard Schulz, Director of the University Center for Social and Urban Research, will be the principal investigator on the project, which is entitled “Multidisciplinary Research Program on Suffering.”

Carrie Leana, Professor in the Katz Graduate School of Business, and Sherry Cleary, Assistant Professor in the Department of Instruction and Learning, reported on the status of last year’s multidisciplinary small grant program award.  The project is entitled “Work Discretion and Job Crafting in the U.S. Child Care Industry.”  Drs. Leana and Cleary have compiled available data on childcare providers in Allegheny County; conducted four focus groups with childcare workers and one focus group with childcare center directors; drafted a survey instrument for teachers and aids; and drafted an interview protocol and post-interview survey for center directors.  They also are working with researchers at Rutgers University and in Europe to expand the scope of their study.

Federal Agency Briefing Trip

Twenty members of the University of Pittsburgh’s and four members of Duquesne University’s engineering and science faculty, as well as several grant administration staff, participated in this year’s annual federal agencies’ briefing trip.  Representatives from NSF, NIH, DOD, the Department of Energy, and the American Association of Universities spoke at the March 27 meeting.  The speakers provided information on discipline-specific research programs, agency contacts, and proposal review criteria.  They also discussed undergraduate research programs, joint research and educational programs, and teacher education programs.


Project-Development Models

Carey Balaban, Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, discussed methods that can be used to develop cutting-edge research projects.  These projects often integrate multiple disciplines while maintaining the rigor associated with each discipline’s research tradition.  They also usually utilize the expertise of senior faculty both to provide guidance for the project and to develop new lines of research for junior faculty. 

Some government agencies, such as DARPA, specialize in nontraditional research programs.  They use an iterative process to develop projects.  An “advanced concepts group” invites research groups to submit white papers or brief proposals, selects several groups to continue to the “proof of concept” stage, and then funds the most promising projects.  Projects are evaluated on a periodic basis by advisory groups and may take five to ten years to reach fruition.

Federal Funding for Cutting-Edge Research

Dennis McBride, Director of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, outlined two models of federal funding: the peer-review approach and the “red-meat” approach.  The former model is traditionally used by the NIH and the NSF.  However, personal relationships, professional reputation, and inside information are subjective elements that can alter the objectivity associated with peer review.  The latter model is frequently used by DARPA.  Program officers will subject proposals and white papers to rigorous review, but they possess greater leeway in committing funds to projects and need not necessarily follow the traditional proposal-submission process.

Dr. McBride also discussed trends in interdisciplinary scholarship.  Nanotechnology, energy, the social sciences and national security, and genetic approaches to the sciences are up-and-coming interdisciplinary topics.  Dr. McBride highlighted four obstacles to this type of research:

  • Federal Agencies – proposals are traditionally evaluated within disciplines.
  • The Tenure Process – interdisciplinary work often is not rewarded.
  • Journals – few journals publish across disciplines.
  • University Leadership – institutional support often is lacking.


Allen DiPalma, Director of the Office of Research, frequently reported on the activities of the Office.  Milestones and achievements often were announced.  The following is a breakdown by area:

Electronic Research Administration

The first module of the Office’s Internal Grants Management Software (InfoEd) was launched in November, tested during December, January, and February, and then released for general use.  This module captures all relevant pre-award and immediate post-award information so that investigators and administrators can track proposals.  The second module will support integrated proposal writing and electronic reporting and tracking capabilities.  It should be launched in the fall of 2006.

Universities throughout the country are concerned that may become the required proposal-submission platform before the universities are prepared to use it.  The NIH will require researchers to submit proposals via earlier than many other federal agencies.  The Office of Research’s staff is developing standardized procedures to enable faculty and staff to properly utilize the system.  In February 2006, the Office of Research instituted a year-long training program geared towards users of the site.  The Office sponsors an open forum on the system each month.  Departments and schools can request more targeted training.

Material Transfer Agreements

External research sponsors are introducing increasingly restrictive language into grants and contracts.  The Office of Research’s staff often must address proposed limitations on the use of intellectual property and conflicts with University policies.  The additional effort required to resolve these issues increases the time required to process grants and contracts.  In order to process these agreements more efficiently, the Office’s staff has developed a checklist of compliance issues that must be addressed prior to signing material transfer agreements (MTAs).  The Office of Research sponsored a University-wide forum that dealt with MTAs. 

NIH eRA Commons

The NIH altered several of the eRA Commons’ operating procedures.  The NIH will not require a principal investigator’s signature as part of the application or reporting process.  The NIH will require the investigator’s organization to secure and retain the required written assurances at the institutional level.  Proposals submitted to the NIH will be delivered to the relevant officials by default if all information on the proposal is correct.  Previously, the principal investigator had been required to verify electronically the information even when no errors were found. 


NSF Graduate Fellowships

Amy Eckhardt, from the University’s Honors College, discussed graduate-student funding and NSF graduate fellowships.  The NSF awards approximately 900 fellowships to graduate students each year.  Almost 8000 individuals applied for the fellowships last year.  Thirty-nine percent of last year’s awards went to incoming graduate students, and fifty-five percent of the awards went to first or second year graduate students.  The University of Pittsburgh is developing a program to support students who apply for these fellowships.  The program involves input from faculty and previous fellowship holders as well as participation in working sessions.  Forty-two students participated in last year’s program.

Undergraduate Research Programs

Joe Grabowski, Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry, discussed undergraduate research programs at the University.  Research universities are cultivating undergraduate researchers to a greater degree than they have in the past.  Many universities have developed programs that encourage faculty to mentor undergraduate students, sponsor undergraduate students in research labs, and incorporate research components into undergraduate degrees.  Undergraduate research at the University of Pittsburgh is sponsored and highlighted (e.g., through research fairs) at the departmental, school, and University levels.

The School of Arts and Sciences’ Office of Experiential Learning sponsors numerous programs that are related to undergraduate research.  Examples include the First Experiences in Research Program, which offers opportunities for second-semester freshmen to become involved in faculty research projects; the Research Experience for Undergraduates Program, which gives students an opportunity to work in research labs for an extended period of time; and the Brackenridge Undergraduate Research Fellowships, which enable undergraduates to complete independent research projects.

Allen DiPalma discussed, the federal government’s new Internet-based, grant-application site. is an initiative that is designed to improve access to federal funding programs.  It is a one-stop shop through which researchers can apply for funding from more than 1000 programs. should reduce the time and costs associated with applying for grants, limit the need to interface with multiple agencies, and reduce redundant information and data requests.

Unfortunately, as with most new systems, users must invest some effort to become familiar with the site and to eliminate any bugs in the site’s software.  Both principal investigators and Office of Research staff must learn new procedures.  Researchers also must download PDF-generation software (i.e., PureEdge viewer) in order to apply for grants.  A Macintosh-compatible version of PureEdge does not yet exist, but this software should be available to Macintosh users in November of 2006.


Members of the Council discussed several recurring issues during the academic year.  These issues included:

Copyright Policy

Members of the University Research Council reviewed and approved the revised Copyright Policy.  Overall, the policy more clearly delineates the rights and responsibilities of the faculty, the students, the University, etc., than had the previous version.  It more clearly defines the rights of the faculty vis-à-vis the University.  The default position within the policy is faculty ownership of the copyright; previously, this position had not been well defined.  Terms such as “works-for-hire”, “copyrightable works”, and “scholarly works” are now explicitly defined in an appendix.  The Copyright Committee, which will help adjudicate ownership disputes, also is now defined in the appendix.  References to potentially copyrightable material have been updated to include newer, technologically advanced media, particularly in areas related to classroom technology.

Hurricane Katrina and Tulane University

Dr. Klinzing discussed the effect of Hurricane Katrina upon Tulane University.  Almost all records – both electronic and paper – were destroyed because they were stored in the area affected by the storm.  Post-Katrina communication among and between administration, faculty, and students was virtually nonexistent.  Clinical trials, animal-based studies, and other experimental studies were affected due to the loss of human test subjects, animal populations, and university infrastructure.  The University of Pittsburgh’s Environmental Health and Safety Committee is examining how large-scale disasters would affect the University.



George E. Klinzing, Vice Provost for Research



Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Irving J. Lowe


Daniel Shaw


Craig Wilcox

Graduate School of Public and International Affairs

John Mendeloff

Graduate School of Public Health

Stephen Wisniewski

Office of the Provost

Nicole Constable, FAS


Esther Gal-Or, KGSB


Janelle Greenberg, FAS

School of Dental Medicine

Robert J. Weyant

School of Engineering

Peyman Givi


Mike Lovell

School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Rory A. Cooper

School of Information Sciences

Michael Lewis

School of Law

Lawrence Frolik

School of Medicine

Michael Cascio


Guillermo G. Romero


Pei Tang

School of Nursing

Janice S. Dorman

School of Pharmacy

Raman Venkataramanan

University of Pittsburgh at Bradford

Gregory L. Page

University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

John Mullennix

University Senate

Patricia W. Dowling, Medicine


Gene W. Gruver, FAS