Wednesday, October 3, 2012

So, You Want to be a Research VP?

By Keith McDowell

Slicing and dicing with the newest bladed innovation guaranteed to achieve the perfect cut are a staple of television commercials, usually embellished by a fast talking huckster with a nasal New York accent. And if you purchase their $19.99 product in the next ten minutes, they’ll throw in the Ginzu knife for free. But wait! They are going to double their offer and give you TWO choppers for the extra low price of $19.99. What a deal!

Of course, slicing and dicing isn’t limited to the preparation of food. It’s a technique we use all the time to deconstruct various human endeavors into their component elements, typically to create the latest and greatest strategic plan. Mechanical gadgets are replaced by “instruments” and “planning techniques” sold to us by consultants who guarantee us an optimal strategic plan as the output instead of the perfect chopped salad. And they throw in the vinaigrette sauce for free.

Take, for example, the research enterprise at most American universities. Exactly what is it that a newly minted vice president for research must do to propel himself and his university research program to the cutting edge? Is there a recipe for success?

Guess what! First, you have to take the ingredients that you’ve been given, slice and dice, and then reform them into the perfect salad, otherwise known as your strategic plan. Looks count just as much as the taste.

And now for the Ginzu knife! For free, I’m going to throw in my own version of a sliced and diced research enterprise at a university. It’s missing the filler words such as “increase, expand, accelerate, enhance, and promote” since those are just spices chosen to suit one’s particular taste buds. It’s also missing all those words from the planning lexicon such as strategic, tactical, vision, mission, input, output, outcome, objective, goal and metric since, as Bob Dylan sang in Subterranean Homesick Blues, “Get jailed, jump bail, join the Army if you failed.”


·         Student research programs – Honors College
·         Training in grantsmanship, compliance, and …
·         Public relations through reports, press releases, publications – online research magazine
·         National, regional, and campus honorary research awards starting with Nobel Prize
·         Advancement of under-represented minorities
·         Non-tenured research faculty track
·         Research Centers of Excellence – Council of Center Directors


·         Internal faculty research grants
·         Data-mining for targeted strategic focus and research areas
·         Funding agency courtship
·         Travel grants for faculty visits to federal agencies
·         Grant writing service
·         Service as referees, reviewers and panelists
·         Targeted faculty hires with startup packages
·         Research facilities and equipment
·         Non-research sponsored programs – instructional grants
·         State and Congressional actions – earmarks
·         Assessment and ranking

Engagement for Service and Competition

·         Technology commercialization through IP disclosure, technology transfer, and marketing
·         Startup company and technology incubator
·         Venture capital – SBIR/STTR program
·         Regional innovation center
·         Research park
·         Special research facility service center
·         Student and faculty entrepreneurship programs
·         Workforce development
·         Economic development
·         Public-Private partnerships and alliances
·         Networking for global competitiveness – National labs, industry, AUTM, LES, NCET2, UIDP
·         Research foundation


·         Sponsored programs and grants management
·         Compliance
·         Policy and procedures
·         Web-enabled IT Services
·         Research foundation
·         Networking – COGR, FDP, NCURA

So, do you really want to be a research vice president responsible for all of this activity? If so, turn to the cooking channel on your television set. You might actually learn something useful.

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