From the desk: What IU is doing to grow its external research funding

President Michael A. McRobbie recently announced that external support for research and other activities at Indiana University hit a new record in fiscal year 2019 of $680.2 million.

Fred H. CateView print quality image
Fred H. Cate. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

This is good news, and the faculty, staff and students responsible for the more than 2,800 funded proposals who made this achievement possible have a lot to be proud of. External funding for research reflects the validation of our peers, in an ever-more competitive environment, and that researchers at IU are engaged in work that is both important and novel.

It constitutes an investment in the state and the infrastructure of the university. External support helps keeps tuition down and gives students a chance to hone their research skills and advance their careers.

Perhaps most importantly, this funding supports research that literally saves lives, enriches and transforms our communities and helps us address some of the most vexing issues facing our society, including climate change, economic inequality, addiction, and the ethical and social challenges presented by new technologies.

There is a lot worth celebrating and a lot of people who share credit for this success. But while we celebrate, we are also working across the university to ensure that this success continues.

Our efforts to inform and support faculty in applying for grants and awards continue to expand. Programs such as Grand Challenges and Emerging Areas of Research have created great incentives and opportunities for faculty support. I encourage all faculty to visit www.research.iu.edu to see how we can help you find support for your research.

We are working to diversify the sources of support for research. At $234.9 million in support last year, the National Institutes of Health represents our largest research funder and the IU School of Medicine our largest grant recipient.

Within the last year, we announced the largest single grant from NIH for a group of IU School of Medicine scientists to partner with a team of premier researchers around the country and lead a five-year national research study of a rare form of Alzheimer's disease. The hope is that our researchers will find new therapies for a disease that so far has resisted effective treatment.

But fiscal year 2019 also marked a new record in funding from corporations and foundations of $208.3 million. This support reflects a sustained effort to broaden our base of support and not rely so heavily on government grants, for which there are more competitors every year and an uncomfortable vulnerability to political vicissitudes.

We are also devoting more attention to federal and state government contracts. It is important to remember that one federal agency -- the Department of Defense -- provides more than twice as much financial support for research nationally as the NIH and National Science Foundation combined -- research in health care, environmental quality, cybersecurity and business management systems.

Laura Kolton, based in Washington, and professors Chandan Sen in Indianapolis and Jeff Zaleski in Bloomington are spearheading a range of initiatives to introduce IU researchers to federal agency officials and help IU compete for agency research dollars.

We have more joint research with Crane and with state government agencies than ever before. Vice President and Chief Financial Officer John Sejdinaj and I have been working with colleagues across the university to improve the scope and effectiveness of our corporate outreach efforts. And we are investing strategically in efforts to expand public access to IU inventions through disclosure and licenses.

We are working to communicate the value of research more clearly and effectively through the press, social media, websites, meetings and public presentations. I hope you will visit our new Research Impact website and join our colleagues at Faculty Research Days on every campus that are an integral part of the formal IU Bicentennial launch in September.

The goal, lest there be any doubt, is not simply more money or more visibility, but rather stronger partnerships and greater impact in our research. I appreciate all you do to help IU achieve those goals and, as always, I welcome your thoughts about how we can be more effective for people in Indiana and around the world.

Fred H. Cate is vice president for research, Distinguished Professor and C. Ben Dutton Professor of Law at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law.