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Science and Technology Focus Group Summary
1998 All-University Planning Retreat
September 18, 1998

 

Facilitator: David L. Brautigan, Ph.D.

1. Wide agreement exists that centers of excellence created by pooled resources could be the most effective tactic for improving the sciences at U.Va. The Shannon Center was cited numerous times as a model for how this could be successfully accomplished. Strong faculty support exists for a revitalized Shannon Center.

2. There was wide agreement on the need for interdisciplinary cooperation between science departments and programs within the College and those in the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). Several comments were made suggesting pooling of resources between schools and departments at the VP RPS level. This would provide for matching funds and special incentives and support for new projects and recruits.

3. a. A suggestion was put forward that the creation of multi-disciplinary research buildings along the lines of the Fontaine Research Park might be a wise strategy for the future of the sciences at the University. Funding could be pursued jointly; teams would compete for space in such a mixed-use facility.

b. Comment was made that the geographic proximity of basic science departments in the College and SEAS should be of major benefit in future planning.

4. There is wide-spread frustration among faculty that their scholarly advancement and career growth increasingly are resource-constrained, specifically: staffing; the high demands of undergraduate instruction; and lack of physical facilities (labs, office space). One prominent researcher in SEAS said that she could not accept any more funding for her research, even though it was available; neither graduate assistants nor physical space were available to accommodate further growth of her research programs. The same situation exists in the School of Medicine.

5. There is strong sentiment that undergraduate instruction in the basic sciences is extremely important. The point was made that such stars as Einstein and Feinman taught first-year classes willingly, and that such involvement by senior faculty had the potential to raise the level of entire departments.

6. Many felt there is a serious conflict between the goal of increasing the quantity and quality of undergraduate activities in the basic sciences and the need for faculty to conduct the high-level research that is the funding engine and reputation builder for science departments. "U.Va. is at a crossroads: given the present size of the faculty, it cannot accomplish both adequate undergraduate instruction in the sciences, and broad research programs at internationally competitive levels."

7. a. It was suggested that any hiring of senior faculty should include offers to bring a team with them, or the opportunity to have a major say in subsequent hires, in order to build focused groups.

b. To attract top graduate students, additional research dollars, and build new quality in the basic sciences, the University needs to develop a strategy that blends the tactics of recruiting "star" scientists to be department leaders, and nurturing and promoting top performers from the University's own ranks.

8. The point was made that great care should be taken before embarking on or predicting a Silicon Valley or biotech emulation here in Central Virginia. Consensus opinion held that the University should proceed with public-private partnership initiatives, but that it should be cautious about its expectation for the kind of synergy and critical technological mass present in those California models.

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