University of Pittsburgh

University Research Council

2007-2008 Activities Report


THE PROVOST’S CHARGE

On October 17, Provost James Maher delivered the Council charge.  He asked the Council to:

  • continue to sponsor the Multidisciplinary Small Grant Program and Central Research Development Fund.
  • work with faculty members from the humanities disciplines to increase postdoctoral funding.
  • continue to sponsor the annual Federal Agencies Trip, which enables the University’s faculty members to interact with project managers from various federal agencies.
  • create a process through which we can identify future, cutting-edge research questions and the individuals at the University who are best equipped to address them.
  • continue to invite speakers from research-related administrative units to address the Council.

COUNCIL RETREAT

Members of the Council met on June 5th to create an agenda for the upcoming academic year.  Areas of interest included:

  • enhancements to the electronic small grant proposal-review process
  • endowment funding for the multidisciplinary small grant program

Council members also discussed a range of potential multidisciplinary programs, including issues related to traumatic brain injury, segregation in Pittsburgh, natural disasters, and energy and power.

FACULTY RESEARCH ASSISTANCE

Central Research Development Fund

Thirty-nine faculty members submitted proposals to the Central Research Development Fund.  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 10 proposals from health science disciplines were funded, nine of 15 proposals from engineering and science disciplines were funded, and 10 of 14 proposals from humanities and social science disciplines were funded.

Multidisciplinary Small Grant Program

The Council sponsored the fourth annual Multidisciplinary Small Grant Program.  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 members 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 21 proposals.  John Camillus, a Professor in the Katz Graduate School of Business, will be the principal investigator on the project, which is entitled The Business of Humanity: Exploring the Emerging Economic Logic of Strategic Decision Making.

Federal Agency Briefing Trip

Twenty-five members of the University of Pittsburgh’s and three members of Duquesne University’s engineering and sciences faculty, as well as five grant administration and other staff, participated in this year’s annual federal agencies’ briefing trip.  Representatives of NSF directorates and divisions, NIH institutes, Department of Defense agencies, and the Association of American Universities spoke at the March 17 meeting.  The speakers provided information on discipline-specific research programs, agency contacts, and proposal review criteria.  They also discussed undergraduate research programs and joint research and educational programs.

MULTIDISCIPLINARY SMALL GRANT PROGRAM REPORTS

Quality Care through Quality Jobs: Retention and Development of the Direct Care Workforce

Carrie Leana, Professor in the Katz Graduate School of Business, is the lead investigator on a multidisciplinary small grant project that deals with direct-care workers, such as child-care providers and nursing-home employees.  Professor Leana collaborates with Jules Rosen, a Professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry.  The study will be completed in two phases.  The first phase will include focus groups and pretesting and will concentrate upon Southwestern Pennsylvania.  The second phase will include four waves of phone-based surveys, which will be conducted over 18 months and cover the entire state.  Professors Leana and Rosen wish to determine why individuals remain in this field’s difficult and under-valued jobs, how to persuade people to remain in these positions, and how to induce more people to enter the field.

Multidisciplinary Research Program on Suffering

Richard Schulz, Director of the University Center for Social and Urban Research, is the lead investigator on a multidisciplinary grant project on suffering.  Individuals from six departments and several interdisciplinary centers participate in the project.  Dr. Schulz is addressing problems related to defining, conceptualizing, and measuring suffering.  He and his team developed a comprehensive measure of suffering that they are using in preliminary studies.  Dr. Schulz recently recruited Joan Monin to be a postdoctoral fellow on the project.  Dr. Monin is studying the manifestation of suffering in older individuals with musculoskeletal conditions.

Development of New Pallet Arrays for High-Throughput Screening of Nanoparticle Cytotoxicity

David Waldeck, Professor in the Department of Chemistry, is the lead investigator on a multidisciplinary small grant program project that deals with the health effects of nanoparticles on the human body and the environment.  He is collaborating with Valerian Kagan, Hong-Koo Kim, and Stephen G. Weber on the project.  They are faculty members in the Departments of Environmental and Occupational Health, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Chemistry respectively.  Nanoparticles offer considerable promise for applications that involve imaging and chemical sensing, among others.  However, issues of toxicity must be addressed before nanoparticles can be widely used.  These issues include:

  • properties of nanoparticles that may influence their toxicity
  • reactive by-products caused by illumination of nanoparticles
  • the distribution of nanoparticles in the body following exposure
  • the effect of nanoparticles on cellular processes
  • chemical transformations of nanoparticles by chemical or biochemical processes. 

OFFICE OF RESEARCH

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 Office of Research was charged three years ago with developing an electronic, cradle-to-grave proposal development process (known as Electronic Research Administration or eRA).  The Office selected InfoEd from several potential providers and purchased two modules – a proposal tracking module and a proposal development module.

The proposal tracking module is currently operational.  It allows Office of Research staff to record, track, and report on entire projects instead of projects’ individual funding increments.  Eventually, proposal tracking will be integrated with several other University databases to allow for greatly enhanced reporting and administration. 

The proposal development module is being tested in select departments.  It allows for the creation, review, and submission of grant applications and contracts via a powerful web interface. This module will enable investigators to route a proposal electronically through the University's internal signature process and eventually to submit the proposal electronically to a sponsoring agency. 

Grants.gov

Grants.gov, the federal government’s Internet-based, grant-application site, is designed to improve access to federal funding programs.  Twenty-six federal agencies eventually will require investigators to submit grants via Grants.gov.  The NIH is transitioning to the Grants.gov system more quickly than most agencies.  The NIH now requires that proposals for many of its most important grant programs, including RO1 proposals, be submitted via the site.

The Office of Research continues to educate members of the University community in the use of Grants.gov and other proposal-submission processes via research administrators training forums and Grants.gov training forums.  Departments and schools can request more targeted training.  The Office may develop a training program for NSF FastLane due to increasing interest in and use of the submission process.

From December 2005 through January 2008, University researchers submitted almost 1500 proposals via the Grants.gov website.  Faculty members are submitting grant proposals via the site at a greater rate than they have in the past.  In order to ensure error-free submission, the University requires applicants to submit their proposals to the Office of Research 10 days prior to the NIH’s deadlines. 

Miscellaneous

Other topics of discussion included:

  • Changes in the NIH salary cap
  • Conflict of Interest forms
  • Internal grant-submission deadlines
  • Negotiations with pharmaceutical companies
  • Online MTA submission forms
  • Research agreements with federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs)

RESEARCH-RELATED ISSUES

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

Corporate Scholars Program

The Corporate Scholars Program is designed to enhance collaboration between the University and industry.  An individual faculty member will form a collaborative research relationship with a company, which will sponsor the work of one of its researchers in the faculty member’s lab.  The University will develop a customized program for each team. The programs will consist of predetermined research agendas, agreed-upon expectations, and intellectual exchange among different program teams.  Each relationship will last for approximately six months.  The Program was initiated with start-up funding from the Heinz Endowments.

Effort-Reporting Requirements

The federal government is more strictly monitoring the effort reporting requirements associated with federally funded grant proposals.  The University developed an internet-based, educational module entitled “Responsible Conduct of Research – Effort Reporting Guidelines,” which will help educate University researchers about these requirements. 

NIH Funding

Competition for NIH grants has increased dramatically over time.  From 2001 to 2006, funding rates for all grant proposals decreased from 32 percent to 20 percent, while funding rates for newly submitted R01 grant proposals decreased from 26 percent to 16 percent.  Heightened competition may negatively affect new investigators in the health and biological sciences due to these investigators’ reliance on NIH funding for support.

NIH Public Access Policy

The NIH will require that all investigators, whose research is funded by the NIH, to submit articles arising from NIH-funded projects to PubMed Central.  Authors must submit an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts no later than 12 months after the official date of publication.  The full text of the policy is located on the agency’s website.

Transformative Research

Transformative research is defined as research driven by ideas that have the potential to radically change our understanding of an important existing scientific or engineering concept or lead to the creation of a new paradigm or field of science or engineering.  The NIH fosters transformative research through the NIH Roadmap Initiative, and the National Science Board, the NSF’s governing body, approved a motion to enhance support of transformative research at the NSF.

Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate research is increasingly emphasized at universities.  The University of Pittsburgh organized many previously existing undergraduate research fairs so that they take place concurrently.  The University also developed a website that serves as a focal point for undergraduate research (http://www.pitt.edu/~ugr/index.html).   Undergraduate research is now highlighted in recruiting material.

U.S. Patent Law

The plethora of changes in patent rules, patent reform legislation and recent Supreme Court activity represent a shift in the patent landscape that will make patents more difficult and more costly to obtain, easier to invalidate, and less costly to infringe, thus challenging the ability to procure and maintain patent protection to support the development of life sciences innovations. This impact will be felt most significantly where resources for intellectual property protection and commercialization are limited, such as at universities. Universities will have to reconsider their established processes for negotiating licenses and potentially spend additional time and effort renegotiating existing licenses.

MEMBERS

Chair

George E. Klinzing, Vice Provost for Research

 

 

Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Jeffrey Brodsky

 

Jeffrey Cohn

 

Paul Florencig

Graduate School of Public and International Affairs

Louise Comfort

Graduate School of Public Health

Stephen Wisniewski

Office of the Provost

Nicole Constable, FAS

 

Ravi Madhavan, KGSB

 

Hidenori Yamatani, Social Work

School of Dental Medicine

Mary Marazita

School of Engineering

Peyman Givi

 

Jeff Vipperman

School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Katherine Verdolini

School of Information Sciences

Ellen Detlefsen

School of Law

Lawrence Frolik

School of Medicine

Brian Davis

 

Anuradha Ray

 

Chuanyue (Cary) Wu

School of Nursing

Janice S. Dorman

School of Pharmacy

Dexi Liu

University of Pittsburgh at Bradford

Gregory L. Page

University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

John Mullennix

University Senate

Juan Manfredi, FAS

 

Carol Redmond, GSPH