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K-State Today

December 15, 2015

Celebrate the hills conquered on the path to research, scholarly and creative activities, and discovery success

Submitted by Karen Burg

Dear faculty and staff,

As my time at K-State draws to a close, I want to take time to highlight some of the key initiatives we as a university research community have accomplished in response to suggestions and critique from across campus and in planning for the research goals of the 2025 plan.

I've been a runner for many years, and one thing I've learned is that when I'm running on a long, hilly road, I concentrate on the immediate incline in front of me rather than becoming demoralized at the prospect of a seemingly insurmountable altitude ahead. As a university, we have successfully climbed steep hills on the path to research success and, although difficult terrain remains, it's important to look back and celebrate how far we've come.

K-State faculty and staff offered recommendations in a Research Infrastructure Report in June 2010 and a Research Focus Group Report in March 2014. Units within the Office of the Vice President for Research, or OVPR, have worked with many individuals and groups across campus to address a number of the concerns from these reports and have equipped a team to go the distance, hill by hill. Here are a few of the milestones we've passed so far.

First, we've made great progress in improving internal processes to better support researchers. We hired two additional grant specialists in PreAwards Services, or PAS, and continue to invest in professional development of PAS staff. K-State now has 12 certified research administrators, a number which leads the Big 12. We have collaborated with the Associate Deans for Research Council to update Research, Scholarly and Creative Activities, and Discovery, or RSCAD, Policy Statements, streamline procedures, and develop more efficient proposal and budget development tools. We updated our research compliance training modules to the gold, online standard used by leading research institutions and revised our Sponsored Project Transmittal Sheet to facilitate multidisciplinary collaboration by accommodating multiple investigators and departments. Efforts to procure and deploy a Research Administration System to streamline the process of requesting, accepting, tracking, and reporting RSCAD efforts and successes are ongoing.

Gathering accurate data and providing access to the K-State community also has been a priority. PAS is collaborating with Information Technology Services in the rollout of the K-State data warehouse to provide visibility and insight into our research enterprise. Making meaningful, visionary plans is difficult if we don't know where we've been and what we've achieved; easy access to awards and proposal data will allow us to thoughtfully critique our past and plan our future. We have worked with the Division of Financial Services and business officers to ensure that K-State builds processes to more accurately and consistently identify and report total research expenditures/investment to ourselves as well as to the National Science Foundation, or NSF, for the NSF Higher Education Research and Development Survey, or HERDS report. The HERDS report is an important national metric of research activity by which we are judged externally and is one of the components in our K-State 2025 assessment. These steps may seem mundane, but they are indicative of what it takes to climb each of the hills: small strides that add up to and facilitate major progress.

Another significant area of improvement — as well as an area in which much work remains — is evaluating and increasing our levels of research support. We've achieved a lot during the past year, including:

  • Implementation of consistent processes to improve recovery of facility and administrative costs;
  • Support for business planning in the proposal stage to ensure financial sustainability of core facilities;
  • Enhancement of Faculty Development Award and University Small Research Grant processes;
  • Deployment of a searchable database for funding opportunities — Funding Connection Search;
  • Fostering of continued discussions of a funding model and revised tuition policy for graduate research assistants; and
  • Establishment of development funds through the Kansas State University Foundation to support research initiatives.

The Research Support Task Force was formed to further this work, and although it just began its work in November, I have every confidence that this group will create a new wave of activity when it offers its report next spring. Please be sure to review the group's first update to campus.

We've also implemented innovative funding mechanisms to foster interdisciplinary research in global food systems, or GFS, and water. GFS teams awarded funds earlier this year have met regularly and engaged in training and discussion on a variety of topics, including methods to improve science communication. This fall, the OVPR and other partners hosted a Knowledge-Based Economic Development, or KBED, event designed to form a water "think tank" to provide talking points for a regional NSF workshop centered around Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems, or INFEWS. We also offered a Water Seed Grant Program to fund an interdisciplinary research award and three team development awards that will result in urban-rural water interface or INFEWS funding submissions. We look forward to seeing exciting RSCAD and funding results from all GFS and water groups and to using these programs as models to support more K-State teams in the future. To expand RSCAD funding opportunities and showcase K-State's efforts, we've invited several funding agencies to visit campus in spring 2016. 

We've prioritized boosting industry research funding. K-State has always had great industry projects, but we can do more through coordinated and planned efforts. The Office of Corporate Engagement collaboratively led a group to offer a Working With Industry Boot Camp in spring 2015 and some "deeper dive" workshops on branding and intellectual property this fall. We also hosted the inaugural Research Showcase last spring as a way to inform our campus community of available research facilities and resources. An industry-focused showcase event is in the works for spring 2016. One industry-focused event that showcased what can be achieved was the Pet Food Innovation Workshop and the K-State Pet Food Experience in late October. Nearly 200 attendees gathered in Manhattan to hear faculty presentations, view research posters, hear keynote speakers, and participate in hands-on pet treat manufacturing workshops. This $23 billion U.S. industry is a perfect example of one that K-State is uniquely positioned to serve, and the event highlighted to the industry, and to ourselves, our outstanding capabilities.

Finally, K-State research has made great strides in communication. Collaborating with the Division of Communication and Marketing, we have articulated our RSCAD strengths and unified our branding and messaging to produce a revamped website, a Twitter account @KState_RSCAD, a weekly newsletter RSCAD Momentum, and promotional materials that distill K-State's unique capacities for external audiences. We are in the process of revamping other external research communications such as our universitywide research magazine. We have successfully promoted K-State research news to NSF's Science 360 newsletter several times this semester, and we piloted a partnership with video production and professional writing classes to promote NSF-funded research. Internal communication also has been vastly improved by research staff visits to departments, RSCAD Momentum, social media, and the Funding Connection. We have more communication goals to meet and a communications strategic plan to build, but we've come a long way.

Hopefully you appreciate these highlights are only a fraction of the many ongoing, behind-the-scenes RSCAD initiatives. Much of this progress is a direct result of the feedback offered by faculty and staff who participated in past focus groups and surveys. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts and for supporting our efforts. Even when necessary, change is difficult, so we appreciate your flexibility and willingness to move into unchartered areas! Please continue to offer innovative thinking, feedback and positive energy to the Research Support Task Force as that group works to ensure we don't balk at the next hill.

In case you missed it, we reported a piece of exciting news in the Dec. 10 edition of RSCAD Momentum: A record number of proposals were submitted during fiscal year 2015. Faculty garnered 382 awards totaling $36,694,579, which is an increase over first-quarter 2015 figures — 243 awards for $27,689,191. I believe this demonstrates that we have people and ideas that are valued even in a highly competitive funding environment; however, we can sustain this growth only if we continuously seek to update and refine our processes and approaches. The hills become steeper as we progress!

I am indebted to a fantastic group of staff in the units of the Office of the Vice President for Research who care deeply about K-State RSCAD and K-State researchers and who, each and every day, go far beyond the required bounds to serve K-State and its researchers. It has been my privilege to work with you. The future is bright for K-State research; I wish you the very best as you work as a community to reach K-State 2025, one RSCAD hill at a time.


Karen J.L. Burg