To be better leaders, the administration should engage its primary audience: the faculty. Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

The world of academic research is tough. As institutional research offices juggle regulatory and financial challenges within a continually strained system, they still have to lead their respective enterprises and serve their research communities.

“Service before leadership,” said Amr Elnashai, vice president/vice chancellor for research and technology transfer at the University of Houston. “We cannot miss this very important fact – we have to serve the needs of our research communities, first, before they will trust us to lead.”

How can we better serve faculty while tackling the many challenges faced by research divisions?

Sara Bible, associate vice provost for research at Stanford University, says the best way is to continually engage faculty in the business of research.

Rule making within research

Let’s be honest – faculty don’t particularly enjoy the administrative overburden dished out by university research offices. Nor should they.

But involving faculty in the process is the quickest way to earn their cooperation.

“You will have good results if you put in the time,” said Bible. “It’s really important to be flexible with faculty and staff on campus.”

One way Bible has successfully engaged her research community is in policy development. Her office at Stanford implemented a research policy working group that spends months testing policy language and effectiveness with university faculty and staff before it is launched.

“We’ve had great results,” she said. “People want to engage and be part of the process, not just be expected to follow a rigid set of rules.”

The pre-deadline deadline

Another way to partner with faculty is to work with them to improve the proposal review cycle, for everyone knows the risks of pushing the magic button mere minutes before the deadline.

Melinda Cotton, assistant vice president for Sponsored Programs at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, recommends creating a pre-deadline deadline.

Her office worked with faculty, schools and departments to establish the submission of proposals a full seven days before their due dates. This gave the office time to strengthen merit of the research project and fix minor details that could disqualify a proposal.

“Within our School of Medicine, more than 80 percent of our proposals came in by our pre-deadline,” she said. “We work hard to communicate and advocate to faculty that we can serve them better by doing it this way, and it’s working for us.”

Ultimately, there are lots of processes university research offices have to put in place to do the business of research. But to be better leaders, the administration should engage its primary audience: the faculty.

Engagement in policy-making, for instance, gives insight into pain points and allows research offices to put the best processes in place to get the job done for everyone.

------

This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Lindsay Lewis, the author of this piece, formerly served as the executive director of communications for the UH Division of Research.


Faculty in academia shouldn't be hesitant to follow their entrepreneurial goals just because it may be difficult to balance the two worlds. Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

University of Houston: Tips for balancing faculty and founder life

Houston voices

Finding balance in your professional life and your dreams can be hard for anyone. Faculty in academia, hoping to become entrepreneur and start their own companies, find this especially difficult. Finding this balance is essential to having success both professionally and in entrepreneurial endeavors.

Amy J. Ko, a professor at the University of Washington Information School and Co-Founder of AnswerDash, said in a post on her Bits and Behavior blog that she found parallels between being an entrepreneur and being a professor that helped her start her technology company.

Here are four parallels between startup life and faculty life that Ko found striking.

1. Fundraising.

"I spend a significant amount of my time seeking funding, carefully articulating problems with the status quo and how my ideas will solve these problems. The surface features of the work are different—in business, we pitch these ideas in slide decks, elevators, whereas in academia, we pitch them as NSF proposals and DARPA white papers—but the essence of the work is the same: it requires understanding the nature of a problem well enough that you can persuade someone to provide you resources to understand it more deeply and ultimately address it."

2. Experimentation.

"Research requires a high degree of iteration and experimentation, driven by carefully formed hypotheses. Startups are no different. We are constantly generating hypotheses about our customers, our end users, our business plan, our value, and our technology, and conducting experiments to verify whether the choice we've made is a positive or negative one."

3. Learning.

"Both academia and startups require a high degree of learning. As a professor, I'm constantly reading and learning about new discoveries and new technologies that will change the way I do my own research. As a founder, and particularly as a CTO, I find myself engaging in the same degree of constant learning, in an effort to perfect our product and our understanding of the value it provides."

4. Teaching.

"The teaching I do as a CTO is comparable to the teaching I do as a Ph.D. advisor in that the skills I'm teaching are less about specific technologies or processes, and more about ways of thinking about and approaching problems."

Ko also mentions the distinct differences between the two are the pace, the outcomes, and the consequences.

Finding Balance as a Professor and Entrepreneur

Alaina G. Levine, an award-winning entrepreneur, science journalist, and STEM careers consultant said in a Science Mag blog post that the key to success is to find ways to balance the two worlds.

"Issues of intellectual property ownership, human resources protocols, and time management, as well as the challenge of keeping a delineated barrier between professorial and business activities can be difficult to manage, but these concerns shouldn't prevent academics from seeking to create a startup company," Levine said in the blog post.

How to Balance Entrepreneurship and Faculty Responsibilities

According to Levine, these are a few things to consider before perusing entrepreneurship in order to successfully balance professorial and entrepreneurial activities:

1. Know your priorities

"If you are a professor who ponders whether your research can be developed into a technology that can be commercialized, your initial step should be to ponder your priorities. Do you want to stay in academia? Do you desire a career in industry? Deciding these choices early on, even before the lawyers and university representatives get involved, is crucial to forging a balance and a satisfying career."

2. Figuring out what path to take

"To wrangle the options and make it through the multiverse of marketing and manufacturing without sacrificing professorial duties, an academic's initial stop should be their institution's office of technology transfer (OTT). The OTT can assist faculty with understanding how much time they can spend on outside endeavors and how it must be structured. Technology transfer professionals also provide insight into patent law and can help professors navigate intellectual property (IP) issues."

3. Managing potential conflicts of interest

"Once you engage in entrepreneurship, you must create a distinct separation between your university lab and your company's facilities. IP can't flow freely between the two, and neither can labor—your grad students cannot work for you in your group and intern at your company at the same time. Safeguards that prevent mingling are necessary for legal purposes, say experts, as well as to synthesize a balance between being in academia and being in business."

4. Getting a Return on Investment on the faculty side

"Even with a targeted separation of academic and business endeavors, pursuing commercialization can actually enhance your skills in education. The connections that faculty make not only help the students but benefit the department and university as a whole as well."

What's The Big Idea?

Faculty in academia shouldn't be hesitant to follow their entrepreneurial goals just because it may be difficult to balance the two worlds. Take what you already know as a professor and apply it to your new venture as an entrepreneur. Also, know where your priorities lie, what path you're taking, watch out for conflicts of interest and make sure you, your students and university are all getting something out of it.

According to both writers, universities and research go hand in hand and both are "of critical importance" to the advancement of our society. So, is your research impactful? If the answer is yes, go for it.

------

This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Cory Thaxton is the communications coordinator for The Division of Research.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.