Intercollegiate Task Force on the Organization of Research and Education in the Life Sciences

In spring 2007 then-Provost Hogan formed the Intercollegiate Task Force on the Organization of Research and Education in the Life Sciences, to investigate how The University of Iowa can better leverage its exceptional strengths in basic and applied life sciences.

The Task Force was led by Michael Apicella, senior associate dean for scientific affairs in the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, and its work was supervised by a steering committee comprising the deans of the Carver College of Medicine, the colleges of Engineering and Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the Graduate College.

Background

The development of the Institute for Clinical and Translational Science at The University of Iowa, along with plans for a new Iowa Institute for Biomedical Discovery (including a new building--"Building C"), creates an opportunity for the University to examine the organization of its life science-related research, education, and service activities campus-wide. This is a moment when we should ask how we can carry out our missions related to these activities with greater efficiency, while also catalyzing new collaborations that may lead to new basic science discoveries, innovations arising from these discoveries that can enhance people's lives, and improved educational opportunities for our students. We should ask how the new institutes and the construction of Building C can be leveraged to achieve these ends.

In recent years, the National Science Foundation (NSF), American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), National Research Council (NRC), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other institutions have all issued reports pointing to important trends in the life sciences:

  • Rapid knowledge growth in the basic biological sciences and the rise of new specialty areas;
  • The increasing importance of research at the boundaries and crossing the boundaries of these specialty areas for catalyzing new discoveries;
  • Growing federal and state recognition of the potential of basic science discoveries to generate new applications, which can be shepherded in the applied sciences toward improving health outcomes and facilitating economic development.

Many other institutions have struggled to manage these trends, and have found that while much attention has been given to the latter point--improving health outcomes and facilitating economic development through translations in the applied sciences--this has occurred at some cost to investments in the basic sciences. Given the interdependence of the basic and applied sciences, this situation could pose a threat to future discoveries and applications.

In response, agencies like NSF, AAAS, and NRC are increasingly advocating for a more balanced approach to the allocation of resources across the basic and applied sciences, and for creating infrastructures that support collaborative efforts between basic and applied scientists and research at the boundaries of specialty areas.

This position reflects recognition that the health and economic benefits that can potentially result from the applied sciences are not possible without the discoveries that basic scientists make--and that the majority of important discoveries in the future are likely to occur at and across the boundaries of specialty areas.

Furthermore, the rapid knowledge growth seen in the biological sciences in recent decades is unlikely to slow, suggesting that the organization of the biological sciences must be agile and flexible--able to adjust quickly to new opportunities and new demands for training and research.

Task Force Charge

The Intercollegiate Task Force on the Organization of Research and Education in the Life Sciences includes balanced representation from the undergraduate colleges, the Graduate College, and the professional colleges that have an interest in life sciences research and education (see membership list below). Each of these colleges has a major stake in developments on the UI campus related to the life sciences, and in the overarching trends noted above. In addition, the Task Force will consult with other colleagues as needed, especially the Provost, the Vice President for Research, and the appropriate collegiate deans.

The Task Force should address the following questions, among others, in a report to be submitted to the Provost by September 2007:

  • To what extent are researchers in the life sciences currently collaborating across department and college boundaries on common programs of research and teaching?
  • To what extent is there replication, when there could be collaboration and sharing of resources across the campus in delivering on our research and education missions in the life sciences?
  • What barriers to cross-college and cross-department collaborations in research and teaching currently exist?
  • How might the barriers be removed?
  • What role do the current physical plant arrangements play in determining (or undermining) productive collaborative dynamics related to research and teaching in the life sciences?
  • What role do department/program boundaries play in determining (or undermining) productive collaborative dynamics related to research and teaching?
  • What alternative organizational models, budgeting processes, and physical logistics would better facilitate our ability to meet current and future demands for collaboration and agility in life sciences research and education?

Task Force Membership

Michael Apicella, Chair
Senior Associate Dean for Scientific Affairs, Carver College of Medicine

Mark Arnold
Professor, Department of Chemistry

Kathleen Buckwalter
Professor, College of Nursing

Kevin Campbell
Professor & Head, Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics

Gregory Carmichael
Associate Dean of Graduate Programs & Research, College of Engineering

Beverly Davidson
Professor, Department of Internal Medicine

Vicki Grassian
Professor, Department of Chemistry

Gary Hunninghake
Senior Associate Dean for Clinical and Translational Science, Carver College of Medicine

Joseph Kearney
Associate Dean for Research & Development, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Jack Lilien
Professor & Chair, Department of Biological Sciences

Susan Lutgendorf
Professor, Department of Psychology

Paul Rothman
Professor & Head, Department of Internal Medicine

James Torner
Professor & Head, Department of Epidemiology

Task Force Steering Committee

P. Barry Butler
Dean, College of Engineering

John Keller
Dean, Graduate College

Linda Maxson
Dean, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Jean Robillard
Dean, Carver College of Medicine