GW’s research spending, output average among peers during pandemic, data shows

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Officials said faculty used their time at home during remote learning to finish writing the studies they were developing on campus.

Updated: April 12, 2022 at 11:37 p.m.

The University ranked sixth among its 12 peer schools in research output and spending of federal research funds during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to University data.

Vice Provost for Research Pamela Norris said the University’s federal expenditures increased from $155 million in fiscal year 2019 to more than $180 million in fiscal year 2021 at a Faculty Senate meeting in February. She said researchers published more than 4,500 documents in 2021 – an increase from about 3,400 in 2019.

Officials from four peer schools said they either maintained on-campus labs or provided faculty with resources like technology to continue high-quality research during the pandemic.

Out of GW’s 12 peer schools, the University of Pittsburgh and New York University ranked first and second, respectively, as the highest expender of federal research funds in FY 2020, while Northeastern and Syracuse universities ranked second to last and last. GW ranked 94th in overall research and development expenditures for FY 2020 in the United States, according to the National Science Foundation.

“I think research development is an opportunity that I seek to really enhance,” Norris said at the February Faculty Senate meeting. “That is a competitive intelligence looking at what the landscape of our peers look like, where we can be distinctive in what our strengths are, perhaps where we might be missing a piece and how we might be able to add to that.”

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Norris said faculty members used their time at home during the remote learning period to finish writing the studies they were developing on campus, which helped increase the University’s number of research publications released in 2021.

She said federal funding for GW’s research, which makes up nearly 85 percent of the University’s overall research funds, increased by $22 million in FY 2021. She said the University research community published six books, 74 chapters, 117 editorials and 156 letters in 2021.

The University published 15 books, 91 chapters, 111 editorials and 120 letters in addition to 2,710 articles in 2020, according to Scopus, a database of research studies published by universities across the country.

Peer school administrators said the pandemic provided researchers with more time at home to compile and write up research studies while other universities chose to shut down access to in-person labs to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

All peer schools, except NYU, do not publicly provide or declined to reveal their overall research and development expenditures for FY 2021 – which ran from July 2020 to June 2021. Eight peer institutions did not return requests for comment.

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Giovanni Piedimonte, the vice president for research at Tulane University, said Tulane’s federal research expenditures in FY 2020, which totaled $100 million, and FY 2021 blew past previous years of research spending prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Piedimonte said the university’s research publications and quality surged during the pandemic because there was more demand for universities that specialize in biomedical research projects to do research that could lead to vaccine trials to treat COVID-19.

GW officials announced the University opened a series of testing centers for a nationwide COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial in August 2020. Tulane officials hosted a clinical testing site in November 2020 for COVID-19 vaccine trials by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a Johnson & Johnson-owned pharmaceutical company.

Piedimonte said Tulane also implemented a series of COVID-19 protocols that minimized infection on campus and kept in-person labs open, while faculty members who were unable to work on their research in person were able to focus on writing and completing their studies from home instead.

Tulane spent more than $200 million in overall research and development funds and ranked 116th nationally in FY 2020, the ninth-highest total out of GW’s 12 peer schools. The university’s published research documents increased from 2,273 in 2020 and 2,587 in 2021, according to Scopus.

He said the Tulane research community participated in multidisciplinary research in teams with public health, medicine and engineering specialists to address issues within COVID-19 research.

“If we want to solve the fundamental problems that we have in our society, in our medical world and so forth, your approach is convergence research, and that is exactly what we did there,” he said. “We fundamentally based our investments and our strategy on bringing people from different backgrounds to work together.”

He said while Tulane’s research efforts slowed because of staffing shortages during the pandemic, the university is working to retain its staff members with training for professional advancement and flexibility toward individuals’ personal circumstances that could lead to missed time.

“Research today is a team sport involving massive teams, typically multidisciplinary, typically multi-institutional, typically multinational teams,” he said.

Nancy Daneau, the vice provost for research at NYU, said her university received more than $900 million in research grants that were distributed through 1,200 awards to faculty and students’ research projects in FY 2021.

NYU’s publications increased from more than 10,500 documents in 2020 to nearly 12,000 documents in 2021, according to Scopus.

Daneau said faculty members and research assistants were able to spend more time at home during remote learning closely analyzing previously collected data, leading to an increase in publications.

“I think people did have more time and they were able to take the data that they had gathered and do the analysis and increase publications,” she said.

Daneau said NYU’s Office of Research Development continued allocating the research funds they received from federal government agencies to invest in research projects that varied in fields like biology and climate change throughout the pandemic.

She said the investments, known as seed funding, allowed their faculty and staff to develop studies that can yield more grant applications and awards from federal agencies as well as multidisciplinary collaborations between different research fields and organizations.

She said NYU officials also focused on improving their computing capacity and their High Speed Research Network – four in-person labs that have a computer network for researchers to run experiments with large data sets – so faculty and staff could continue research studies despite their inability to access personal on-campus labs during FY 2021.

“We’ve made those investments and I think that’s also helped us stave off what otherwise might have been some pretty negative impacts,” she said.

This post was updated to correct the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that GW ranked sixth among its peer schools in spending of federal research funds during the pandemic. The University ranks seventh among its peer schools in this category. The Hatchet also reported that New York University ranked second and Northeastern University ranked second to last among GW’s peer schools in federal research fund expenditures. The University of Southern California ranked second, and Georgetown University ranked second to last. We regret these errors.

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