Research development programs begin for faculty members

The 2014–15 intensive research development initiatives at Virginia Commonwealth University are underway.

Sponsored and supported by the Division for Inclusive Excellence, the Office of Research and Innovation and the Office of the Provost, the two programs making up the initiatives — the Research and External Funding Academy and the New Investigators’ Grant Writing Institute — held a joint kickoff reception and orientation on Wednesday.

The REF Academy, which is beginning its inaugural year, is designed to increase external funding opportunities for underrepresented ethnic minority faculty. It will provide yearlong training and support to a select cohort of investigators through grant-writing workshops and mentors and coaches.

Faye Belgrave, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, is faculty fellow for research mentoring in the Division for Inclusive Excellence. She facilitates the REF Academy.

“We hope the REF Academy can help to address some of the challenges underrepresented ethnic minority faculty face by providing a structure that supports their research and external funding portfolios,” Belgrave said. “In addition to the submission of grant applications, we also expect to see among REF Academy participants more interdisciplinary collaborations, increased scholarship and dissemination of research findings.”

The New Investigators’ Grant Writing Institute, now in its second year, provides yearlong, intensive proposal development and interdisciplinary communication training for VCU faculty from across the university who will apply for extramural funding within 12 months. The program offers monthly intensive grant-writing workshops, peer review, mock review, funding agency visits and mentoring.

Ann Nichols-Casebolt, Ph.D., is senior associate vice president for research development in the Office of Research and Innovation and is a co-facilitator of the institute with Jessica Venable, director of research development services in the Office of Research and Innovation

“With federal budgets constrained and more competition for available research dollars, the funding environment for investigators just starting their research careers is especially difficult,” Casebolt said. “We have implemented the New Investigators’ Grant Writing Institute as one strategy for increasing the competitiveness of our faculty in this process.”

Amy Rector Verrelli, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences, is one of this year’s participants.

“I expect to develop my skills at communicating the importance and broader impact of my science, and I hope that better communication skills will translate into a funded grant,” Verrelli said. “Grant money is important to a career; more important is the ability to effectively communicate your science and ideas. I think that being involved in this program will help me with developing that effective communication skill, and I really look forward to interacting with my colleagues as I do that.”

Wednesday’s reception featured three speakers: John Wiencek, Ph.D., interim provost and vice president for academic affairs; Wanda Mitchell, Ed.D., vice president for inclusive excellence; and Francis Macrina, Ph.D., vice president for research and innovation. They shared thoughts on the importance of — and university’s commitment to — research, faculty support and diversity.

“We’re all very privileged to be in an environment where we’re not only allowed to share the knowledge that we’ve accumulated and impact the lives of others, but we get the benefit of trying to extend our knowledge by being in a network of colleagues that that help us grow by challenging and mentoring us,” Weincek said.

“Collaborating to advance VCU’s commitment to excellence, inclusion and advancement of knowledge and research productivity advances VCU’s Quest for Distinction and also eliminates silos to allow the natural engagement of dialogue across disciplines and people,” Mitchell said.

“The activities we launch today are really the epitome of VCU living its mission and its vision in multiple ways: strengthening research, advancing and applying new knowledge, enhancing collaboration and fostering diversity and inclusion,” Macrina said. “So be engaged, work hard, go forward and good luck.”

As Verrelli heeds this call moving forward, she is happy to know that she will have support.

“[The initiatives] show that VCU is invested in developing their junior faculty,” she said. “The stereotype is that you are thrown in as tenure-track junior faculty to sink or swim as you make your own way, but by creating this program and structure, it makes it clear that VCU is committed to the success of our faculty, and that they will create as many opportunities for that success as possible.”


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Research and External Funding Academy fellows. Click to enlarge.
Research and External Funding Academy fellows. Click to enlarge.
New Investigators’ Grant Writing Institute Cohort. Click to enlarge.
New Investigators’ Grant Writing Institute Cohort. Click to enlarge.