The Open Door: Advancing research, scholarship and innovation at Vanderbilt

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Dear Colleagues,

This month’s edition of the Open Dore newsletter is authored by Padma Raghavan, Vice Provost for Research, who joined Vanderbilt almost exactly four years ago. She leads the university offices that focus on trans-institutional resources for support of research, scholarship and creative works. This involves engagement with the deans and faculty of all ten schools and colleges, our centers and institutes, as well as fostering continued robust collaborations with the medical center. As you will read, we have much to celebrate: impactful innovations, discoveries and partnerships that are hallmarks of our community’s unwavering drive for excellence and impact on society.

Susan R. Wente
Interim Chancellor and Provost

There are endless ways to describe research, scholarship and innovation at a university like Vanderbilt but perhaps the simplest way is through facts and figures. For example, in fiscal year 2019, our faculty submitted 2,173  proposals and received 916 awards. We executed 212 end-user licenses and were issued 74 U.S. patents, ensuring our place on Reuter’s list of the Top 20 Most Innovative Universities in the World for the third year in a row.

While the numbers are admirable, they tell us very little about what research, scholarship and innovation at Vanderbilt University actually looks like, and even less about its impact. To understand that, we have to look at the stories behind the numbers, what our researchers and scholars are actually doing and who their innovations and discoveries impact.

These are just a handful of examples of the powerful research and scholarship that our Vanderbilt faculty, staff, post-doctoral fellows and students are advancing in this very moment.

Projects like these demonstrate the creativity, curiosity and optimism of our community. The top rankings, prestigious awards and impressive funding are all terrific, but the real point is that Vanderbilt researchers and scholars are changing our lives for the better.

That is why I came to Vanderbilt as the inaugural Vice Provost for Research in early 2016, and it was paramount in the minds of Interim Chancellor and Provost Susan R. Wente and our faculty when we launched the Provost’s Initiative for Enhancing Research and Scholarship soon after. With this initiative, we laid out a shared vision and strategy for the future of research and scholarship at Vanderbilt that we’ve been steadily advancing ever since with continued guidance from faculty governance like the Vanderbilt University Research Council.

A key strategy has been building enduring research partnerships based on shared priorities and complementary strengths. By galvanizing first-of-its-kind research at Vanderbilt, we ensure that those who seek transformative impact through research and innovation think of Vanderbilt first. Internal seed funding programs keep our faculty in the vanguard of discovery and innovation. Trans-institutional research centers and institutes, like the Data Science Institute and the Wond’ry, stimulate interdisciplinary engagement and student-led innovation. With our Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization, we bring life-changing new discoveries and innovations to the public and expand industry support for research and scholarship.

It’s an approach that’s already getting attention. In 2018, Deerfield Management partnered with us to bring life-changing therapies to patients faster with the launch of Ancora, a new company that supports Vanderbilt’s innovative life science research and leverages Deerfield’s expertise in accelerating state-of-the-art drug development. Ancora has already funded two groundbreaking new projects to develop pharmaceuticals to treat dystonia and other movement disorders, as well as to treat and prevent opioid use disorders. In 2019, the U.S. Army signed a first-of-its-kind education partnership agreement with Vanderbilt to connect our experts with military personnel to create rapid soldier-inspired innovations that will protect, empower and enhance soldiers and veterans.

Another strategy has been to strengthen and expand our ecosystem, enabling our researchers and scholars to seize opportunities as they arise and shape new opportunities in the future. With our deans, we’re proactively connecting faculty with federal sponsors through the consulting firm Lewis-Burke to influence and target upcoming requests for proposals. We provide competitive proposal preparation assistance for everything from distinguished National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipends to complex National Science Foundation training grants. We’re creating new and expanded collaborations with the Department of Energy and supporting faculty and student access to world-class research facilities through our Oak Ridge National Laboratory liaison. With constant pre-award services through our Sponsored Programs Administration team and the upcoming launch of a new one-stop electronic research administration platform to replace Coeus and PEER, we’re forging ahead with streamlined proposal development and contract negotiation to support our faculty, as well as our research administration staff campuswide. With the new VURC Subcommittee for International Research and Engagement, we’re poised to enhance the global reach and impact of our pathbreaking discoveries and innovations.

As a Vanderbilt faculty member myself, I share with you the excitement and challenges of leading a research program – the joy of discovery, the frustration of setbacks and the questions and ideas you tinker with all day and sometimes all night. It’s this that fuels my work to develop and advocate for all Vanderbilt research and innovation. We’ve come a long way in a few short years but there’s much more to do.

As we reflect on the past year and look ahead to the new, I feel certain that our researchers and scholars will bring about breakthroughs that we can barely imagine today. The best is yet to come.

Wishing you and yours happy holidays and a brilliant new year.

Padma Raghavan

Vice Provost for Research

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