Officials gather faculty feedback on GW’s research in strategic plan forum

Members of a committee analyzing GW’s research ecosystem hosted a public forum for faculty to share their feedback about the state of research at GW.

The town hall, the first of several officials plan to hold to gather feedback on the four pillars underpinning the University’s next five-year strategic plan, was hosted by the high-impact research committee, one of five committees LeBlanc established to guide the strategic planning process. Faculty members in attendance expressed concerns about defining “high-impact” research and about discrepancies in allocating resources across departments.

Alan Greenberg, the chair of the epidemiology and biostatistics department and head of the high-impact research committee, asked faculty in attendance to define what high-impact research entails within their disciplines and identify “inhibitors” and “enablers” for high-impact research. Greenberg said he wants to prioritize garnering faculty feedback as the committee drafts recommendations for its report to the Board of Trustees next semester.

“We intend this to be an incredibly interactive, transparent and collegial process,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg said the committee shares faculty concerns about equitably sharing research funding and resources across GW’s academic disciplines.

“I want to assure our colleagues in the room that we’re not unaware that there are concerns about funding and redistribution of resources that we share with faculty members,” Greenberg said. “This is a great opportunity to hear input from across the University – people are hoping that the University vision for research at the University that will help us get to a path of preeminence that each field is going to have to figure out.”

Greenberg added that the research committee, whose membership includes faculty and staff from all 10 of GW’s schools, will host two more forums in November and December. Faculty and staff unable to attend the first event in person at the Milken Institute School of Public Health could watch the forum on WebEx, a web conferencing platform.

Harald Griesshammer, an associate professor of physics, said defining high-impact research will “weigh” disciplines against one another, which may result in a “popularity contest” between departments for funding.

“At some point your committee, as well as it really wants to be specific, will be confronted with the problem that disciplines will be compared with each other,” Griesshammer said. “And I would really urge you not to try and attempt to do that.”

Katrin Schultheiss, the chair of the history department, said humanities and social science research usually takes longer to conduct than research in STEM disciplines but should not be excluded from definitions of high-impact research.

“It’s incredibly difficult to measure the productivity and the high-impact research until you see that end product, which has a long time-frame on it,” Schultheiss said. “That’s something I really feel strongly needs to be taken into consideration – it can’t just be about numbers.”

Evangeline Downie, the associate dean for research in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, said the impact a piece of research has on the world outside of campus is a hallmark of high-impact research.

“There are a wide variety of markers of excellence,” Downie said.

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