We are writing with some important updates about research at the University. As you are aware, enabling discoveries that enrich and improve lives is one of the strategic goals of The 2030 Plan. Our research mission extends across all fields: through discoveries and innovations in the humanities, arts, basic, translational, and social sciences, education, architecture, engineering, data, computation and mathematics, policy and law, medicine and nursing, technology, business and commerce, and beyond. Externally sponsored awards are only one measure of the vibrancy of that comprehensive research mission, but they are an important one. We’re pleased to report that our extramural funding—across all fields—has continued to climb in recent years and that we achieved a record-high $532 million in sponsored funding for Fiscal Year 2023, crossing a significant half-billion-dollar annual threshold. This reflects the hard work and well-deserved success of faculty, staff, and students across Grounds.
This is great news. But we aim further. We all have high aspirations for research at UVA, and to reach those aspirations requires bold thinking and action. Last year, a pan-University faculty steering committee led a Strategic Research Infrastructure Initiative. With the input of faculty and staff colleagues, they considered the infrastructure needed to support and strengthen research in all schools and disciplines. The committee provided us with recommendations this summer. After discussing those recommendations with President Ryan, the Board of Visitors, deans, and other leaders, we are moving forward with substantial commitments to our comprehensive scholarly and research mission that will help our faculty, research staff, and students secure funding for research; help provide the equipment, time, data, information, or other resources needed to enable them to conduct that research; and help ensure that their research, scholarship, and innovative practice earn the impact, influence, and recognition they are due.
Research Administration Staff and Systems
The Vice President for Research’s (VPR) office must be strengthened, across all domains, and we will ensure that happens. Key to that is bolstering the Office of Sponsored Programs, alongside other areas of research administration, to benefit the entire University. With that in mind, we will invest significantly in building essential research staff capacity; enhancing data systems essential to sustaining a first-rate academic research enterprise; and building programs to make it easier for our researchers to navigate increasingly complex funding requirements and compliance. We will also develop resources to help our researchers take full advantage of our cores and the other shared equipment and resources available on Grounds. The VPR’s office will be providing details on all these initiatives as they unfold.
Faculty and Student Support
One of the requests that we have heard most frequently from faculty members was the desire for more protected time for research. In response, we are working with the deans to develop ideas—which we will help fund—for competitive sabbaticals, entrepreneurship leaves, or other ways to increase research time at key moments in faculty members’ careers. The deans will help us flesh out those ideas with the goal of having a new set of competitive programs related to increasing research time in place for the coming academic year.
We have committed to supporting our faculty in other ways as well. We launched the Shannon Center Mid-Career Fellows program last spring and will start a mentoring program for all pre-tenure tenure-track faculty this spring. Professor Maite Brandt-Pearce (vice provost for faculty affairs) is working with the deans on developing all these faculty support initiatives and will assist us as we finalize them and share more information over the coming months.
In addition, through our Grand Challenges initiatives, we will continue to provide seed funding for faculty research and support for the schools to recruit additional faculty members (up to 60 new positions) in the strategic areas identified in the 2030 Plan (Democracy, Environment, Neuroscience, Precision Medicine and Health, and Digital Technology and Society). There are more details on our most recent Grand Challenges Initiatives below. At the same time, we have established a new set of President’s and Provost’s doctoral fellowships to partner with the deans (and added financing to the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs) as we seek to recruit, retain, and support the graduate students who play vital roles in the UVA community. Through a series of initiatives, we are also working with the deans to help support a range of new postdoc and postdoc-to-faculty positions. We will also invest in undergraduate research through a series of new undergrad research awards/internships/fellowships.
We have committed to invest in new research cores that will be available to researchers across the University: a clinical trials unit; a data analytics center to assist faculty with data-intensive research; a digital technology core to assist faculty who want to use apps, websites, wearables, and other technology in their research; and a clinical data warehouse/ health data enclave. Another key area for investment over the next few years is research computing, including major investments in staffing, equipment, enhanced access to research computing time, and a new research computing facility at Fontaine Research Park. These resources will be helpful to faculty across disciplines, especially those who will find it easier to tap into powerful computing networks with the expertise of research computing staff who can serve as project consultants to provide advice and technical assistance. Our newly appointed associate vice president for research computing, Josh Baller, has been working extensively with our offices, Kelly Doney (vice president and chief information officer), J.J. Davis (executive vice president and chief operating officer), and a deans’ leadership group on all these research computing needs and we will be following up soon on a program for enhanced access to computing for research. At the same time, we are considering investments in additional cores, including a quantitative social sciences core, a policy core, and core investment by our offices in humanities and arts research, scholarship, and practice.
While we are investing in people and technology, we also are investing in the physical spaces required to pursue research. Renovation of Alderman Library will be complete this academic year, the School of Data Science’s new building will open in the spring, and construction is moving along on Shumway Hall for the McIntire School. Planning is underway in partnership with UVA Health for the Paul and Diane Manning Institute of Biotechnology building, the aforementioned research computing facility at Fontaine Research Park, and the Karsh Institute of Democracy building which will include collaborative research space along with some dedicated space for the Batten School. Future building priorities include the Center for the Arts (combining space for the performing arts, the University museums, and music); a new building for the School of Engineering and Applied Science; and renovation of existing research spaces. Acting on these future priorities will depend on Commonwealth funding and philanthropic support.
Grand Challenges Update
Since 2021, the University has committed over $200 million in strategic funds toward research in the five Grand Challenges focus areas. This work overlaps with our efforts to strengthen the University’s research infrastructure and positions us to address some of the world’s most urgent challenges. Last year, we worked with the deans and faculty across Grounds to identify potential areas of strength and promise related to two Grand Challenges focus areas: Digital Technology and Society, and Precision Medicine/ Precision Health.
In June, we announced initiatives selected for Grand Challenges investments: Digital Technology for Democracy, Digital Technology and Youth Development, and Precision Health for Populations. We have now identified faculty leaders for each. They will reach out to the research community soon to begin work related to seed-funding programs, interdisciplinary post-doc programs, and other projects. Twenty-four new faculty positions are related to these initiatives.
- Digital Technology for Democracy Initiative: Laurent Dubois (Arts & Sciences) is the faculty lead for this initiative, which will be housed within the Karsh Institute of Democracy. The work will focus on how digital technology can support democracy, particularly in the age of artificial intelligence.
- Digital Tech and Youth Development Initiative: Nancy Deutsch (School of Education and Human Development) and Bethany Teachman (Arts & Sciences) are the faculty leads for this initiative. The work will explore how digital technology can contribute to healthy development in young people, with a focus on addressing the youth mental health crisis.
- Precision Health for Populations Initiative: Karen Ingersoll (School of Medicine) is the faculty lead for this initiative. The work will examine and consider how we can use the tools of precision health to improve outcomes and reduce disparities for communities and populations – ranging from reducing cancer in rural communities to developing scalable digital interventions to support young people.
Search for UVA’s Next Vice President for Research
We recently launched a search for our next vice president for research. Catherine Bradshaw, the senior associate dean for research in the School of Education and Human Development, is chairing the search committee. As the leader of last year’s strategic infrastructure initiative working group, she brings a deep understanding of the needs identified by researchers across Grounds to this search. We are proceeding now with numerous investments that are essential to advancing the University’s research enterprise and will engage the next VPR in implementing additional steps when they are on Grounds.
Advancing UVA’s research enterprise is among the University’s top priorities, and we will keep you updated on our collective progress. Deep thanks for all you do, and best wishes for a productive fall season.
Executive Vice President and Provost
Interim Vice President for Research