Forums Bring Together BU Faculty Researchers, Funders

in MSE Spotlight Faculty, NEWS

New effort to demystify logistics for professors
By Rich Barlow

Representatives of funding agencies have met with researchers at BU this fall. Photo by Cydney Scott
Representatives of funding agencies have met with researchers at BU this fall. Photo by Cydney Scott

Muhammad Zaman (BME, MSE) is hardly a slouch as a researcher. His team’s PharmaChk detector of counterfeit medicines has won big-league backing, including from Bill and Melinda Gates, and it helped make the College of Engineering biomedical engineering professor one of BU’s first winners of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professorship.

Yet even Zaman learned a thing or two from Research on Tap, a new BU series where researchers discuss their work and mingle with colleagues. “I did not know the richness of the work done at BU, and I made a number of new connections with colleagues on both campuses,” says Zaman, who attended a November session on infectious disease research. “Continuing these workshops would be fantastic.”

He’ll get his wish. Three Research on Tap sessions were held in the fall, and more are planned this semester, part of a full-court press BU is making to demystify the sometimes byzantine byways of conducting, and securing money for, research. In addition to Research on Tap, there are workshops on the logistics of research and its funding, as well as informational meetings here and in the nation’s capital with professors and federal officials. The first spring session, on BU’s research into international migration, is February 4. Find the complete spring semester research schedule here.

The first logistics workshop, targeting new faculty members, introduced them to the University’s research-related offices. “Many research grants require what is referred to as a data management plan, which describes how data will be collected, handled, stored, protected, and so forth,” says Gloria Waters, vice president and associate provost for research. Waters says the workshops offer advice from experts on writing data management plans.

“Many research grants also require the researcher to describe a plan to mentor the students or trainees, such as postdocs, who are working in their lab,” she adds. “We pulled together a panel of senior BU faculty who have served on grant review panels to describe how to write an effective mentoring plan and what funders look for when reviewing them.”

Cara Stepp, a Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences assistant professor of speech, language, and hearing sciences, cohosted a workshop that brought a National Science Foundation (NSF) representative to discuss CAREER, the NSF’s most important award program for junior faculty. The rep “explained the structure of NSF in a way that was useful for both new and seasoned investigators,” says Stepp, who also is an ENG assistant professor of biomedical engineering. “He also let us know about new mechanisms that are available and recommended specific opportunities.”

Other workshops featured officials from major federal funders of research, including the US Agency for International Development, the National Institutes of Health, and the US Department of Defense.

Alice White (ME, MSE), an ENG professor and chair of mechanical engineering, attended the new faculty workshop and says she learned of the great work being done by BU’s Professional Development and Postdoctoral Affairs office. A workshop by an NSF representative, meanwhile, left her better informed, she says, about crafting proposals to that vital funding agency.

Research on Tap’s two-hour sessions—half devoted to brief talks by faculty presenters, the balance a wine-and-cheese reception where attendees network—seek to be interdisciplinary, with “faculty from across the schools and colleges,” Waters says. Among other fall topics were Air, Earth, and Water: Elements of Health and the Urban Environment, and Lighting the Way: Current Research at the BU Photonics Center. Turnout—between 90 and 120 at each of the three sessions—demonstrates how the organizing professors at each “did a great job of getting a wide range of faculty to present in their session,” she says.

For the third leg of this three-legged research stool, Jennifer Grodsky, BU’s vice president for federal relations, arranges meetings in Washington, D.C., where faculty brief federal agencies about their research. In recent months, Grodsky has also organized tours of BU labs for representatives of such groups as the US Department of Energy and the US Air Force.

“It’s important for BU faculty to hear directly from federal officials about their priorities and goals, so that we can better connect our research strengths with the nation’s needs,” she says. Meanwhile, government funders “have been impressed with the creativity and passion of the BU research community.”