New Ideas for Supporting Research and Outreach in the College
We have gone through a remarkable period of growth in the number and size of our externally supported research and outreach projects. Within the last few years, we have moved from award numbers in the $4–5 million range to award numbers in the $20 million range. Growth like this comes with its challenges, and we are working to find ways to provide enhanced pre-award as well as post-award support for our principal investigators.
One of our realizations is that some projects just do not fit neatly into our academic departments. Examples include the Mid-Atlantic Regional Education Laboratory, the Aeronautics Education Services Project (AESP), and the Training Interdisciplinary Educational Scientists (TIES) project. These projects tend to be large in size, involve participants from multiple units (within as well as outside the University), and have a multidisciplinary orientation that cuts across existing academic units. In all three of these cases, we have been (or in the case of the TIES project will be) running the project out of the Office of the Associate Dean for Research, Outreach, and Technology rather than through a department. Our departments are set up to pursue broad academic missions that include teaching, advising, research, outreach, and service. Large projects like these can upset delicate balances that exist within departments, and it makes good sense to have the ability to administer projects at more central levels of the College.
However, we also have large projects where a department base seems to be working quite well. A good example is the Mid-Atlantic Center for Mathematics Teaching and Learning (MAC-MTL). The MAC-MTL is a National Science Foundation-funded center with a mathematics education focus. It fits well within our Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and we anticipate no administrative changes for this Center.
We have also created the Center for Educational and Developmental Sciences (CEADS), which is an arm of the Office of the Associate Dean for Research, Outreach, and Technology. Indeed, CEADS and its co-directors (Karen Murphy and Tom Farmer) will work closely with the associate dean to support the projects that are housed administratively in the associate dean’s office as well as selected projects that are based in the departments.
You will be hearing more about CEADS and its mission as we get into the new academic year. For now, suffice it to say that the aims of CEADS include enhancing the scientific components (e.g., the research design, selection of metrics and methods, and the analytic plans) of research applications for projects that involve interdisciplinary and cross-campus initiatives that are related to education. Karen and Tom are working to identify a finite number of themes that will be used to organize the work of CEADS. For each theme there will be a faculty working group consisting of 3–5 faculty members from the College and at least one senior scientist from outside the College to organize the endeavor. We will be identifying a “scholar in residence” for each of the thematic groups and this individual, who will be a faculty member from the College, will work closely with the other members of the group, with the co-directors of CEADS, and with the associate dean to develop competitive proposals for research in the identified areas.
As you may recall, Kyle Peck is stepping down as associate dean for research, outreach, and technology to direct the REL and the AESP under the aegis of CEADS. Once we have identified the new associate dean for research, outreach, and technology, we will be ready to work through the details of how this new model for project support will work. We welcome questions and comments and look forward to having thorough conversations, which will include the Faculty Council, about the best steps to take. We need to be careful not to disadvantage our departments as we make these changes. Principal investigators will retain their department affiliations, regardless of where a project might be housed, and departments need to receive the appropriate credit, including financial credit, when department personnel spend time on externally supported projects.
There are many details that warrant attention, and my primary goal in this column is to let you know that some changes are being considered in how the College supports research and outreach projects. It has become a cliché to say that we are building the airplane as we fly it, but in this case the cliché seems particularly apt.
Questions and comments are welcome and can be directed to me, Karen, Tom, or to the new associate dean for research, outreach, and technology. In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying these delightful days of late spring/early summer. Please enjoy the warmer weather and I look forward to welcoming you back to campus in August.
David H. Monk