UAB research community input leads to enhancements as part of Research Strategic Initiative: Growth with Purpose

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On March 20, 2024, at 9:30 a.m. in the Hill Student Center Alumni Theater, UAB President Ray Watts will lead a town hall to share an important update on planning for the Research Strategic Initiative: Growth With Purpose. This is UAB’s roadmap to significantly grow the positive impact of our research and reach $1 billion in research expenditures.

The initiative began with an extensive data collection phase in summer 2023, including a survey of UAB faculty and staff that collected 570 responses on research strategic priorities and infrastructure needs. At the same time, two consulting firms working with UAB on the initiative, Huron Consulting Services and Urban Impact Advisors, conducted more than 120 detailed interviews with key members of the research enterprise on campus to capture data on existing UAB research programs, challenges and potential areas for improvement and growth.

A key aspect of Growth with Purpose is stakeholder input. President Watts appointed a Research Design Working Group representing UAB research leaders, deans, center directors and research administration staff (see a list of members here) that was charged with interacting closely with the Huron/Urban Impact Advisors team to review potential strategic goals and opportunity areas, and assess recommendations and next steps for implementation. The consultant team visited Birmingham seven times to meet with the Research Design Working Group over the six months of the engagement. A draft strategic roadmap, based on analysis of an extensive report by Huron and Urban Impact Advisors, will be shared during the town hall on March 20.

Several areas for improvement identified by stakeholders during the data collection phase last summer were immediately actionable and have already led to significant gains. Some examples:

Streamlining operations and processes

UAB research administration offices have made continued progress in streamlining operations and processes. The Office of Sponsored Programs has reduced time to activation (TTA) for industry sponsored clinical trials from a median of 140 calendar days in FY2022 to 97 days in FY2023 and 91 days as of January 2024.

Similarly, IRB processing time for industry sponsored clinical trials has decreased steadily each quarter as well, from a median of 78 days in FY2022 to 65 days in FY2023 to 55 days in January 2024.

Creating efficiencies

Committees such as the President’s Clinical Trials Oversight Committee and working groups in the Office of Sponsored Programs and Office of Counsel have been established to strengthen and create greater efficiencies for clinical trials. In addition, a taskforce has been created and charged with considering approaches to share indirect costs (IDCs) associated with sponsored awards within the UAB context as appropriate by law and regulation. Plans are for updates from this process to be shared with the task force and research community in the coming weeks.

Technology improvements

Based in part on UAB research stakeholder input, the Office of Finance and Administration and the Office of Research fast-tracked a request for qualifications for a new electronic research administration system to replace IRAP, UAB’s current system. This will be a cloud-based solution to identify funding opportunities, submit sponsored projects, and manage required regulatory and research compliance elements. The goal is to improve efficiency and increase interconnectedness with other campus software systems. Vendor proposals are in hand and are undergoing technical and budgetary review.

New research facilities opening soon

UAB’s dramatic growth in research expenditures over the past decade has strained the university’s existing infrastructure. In its evaluations, Huron/Urban Impact Advisors praised the investments that UAB has made in constructing new and renovating existing facilities. Several of these projects will come online before the end of the year, positioning UAB for its future growth.

  • This summer, work is expected to be finished on a dramatic enhancement to wet labs on floors 2 through 9 of the McCallum Basic Sciences Building. The project will be completed with a new lobby, set to open in fall 2024.
  • Also, this summer, UAB will break ground on the 225,000 square foot Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research and Psychology Building, an eight-story facility with wet and dry labs that will house the research-intensive departments of the Heersink School of Medicine as well as the Department of Psychology. The building is projected for completion in summer 2026.
  • In December 2024, UAB is projected to open the 175,000 square foot Altec/Styslinger Genomic Medicine and Data Sciences Building. With space to accommodate an estimated 80 existing and new faculty, the building will house the Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute, Department of Biomedical Informatics and Data Sciences, the Heersink Institute for Biomedical Innovation, the Heersink Institute for Global Health and the Center for Clinical and Translational Science, among other entities.
  • The first phase of the Science and Engineering Complex, including research laboratories in the departments of Biology and Physics, opened in August 2023. Groundbreaking on the second phase, Frances and Miller Gorrie Hall, took place the same month. Gorrie Hall, a nearly 116,000 square foot facility that will bring together the School of Engineering’s advanced labs and research suites in a single space, is projected for completion in June 2025.

These accomplishments reflect some of our notable improvements and enhancements to our current research infrastructure that were put forth through faculty and staff recommendations. The comprehensive recommendations will be presented at the town hall on March 20, where the UAB community will get a first look at proposed infrastructure and technology enhancements, strategic research opportunity areas for investment and growth areas to expand UAB’s research footprint and impact. Mark your calendar and plan to attend in person.