The University of Texas Medical School at Houston The University of Texas Medical School at Houston
March 20, 2009 | from the Office of Dean Giuseppe Colasurdo

Distributed on Fridays via e-mail to all Medical School employees, students, residents, and postdoctoral fellows, UT 2 Me is Dean Giuseppe Colasurdo's weekly update of news and items of interest. He also welcomes feedback through this two-way communication.

This week I am out on vacation. So, I am turning this week's issue over to Dr. John Byrne, assistant dean for research affairs.

1. What are the top three objectives of your office?

The Office of Research Affairs is committed to promoting the research enterprise at the Medical School through the support of educational programs and interim grant assistance and supplement programs, the creation of professional development activities for faculty and students, and the identification of infrastructural improvements. The Office of Research Affairs has planned many activities in keeping with the above-mentioned objectives. The 10th annual Medical School Research Retreat, scheduled for Oct. 6, 2009, at the Sarofim Research Building, serves to highlight the Medical School research enterprise and fosters collaboration and interaction among researchers in our school.The general platform for the event will include a scientific policy session, and two data blitz sessions that take the place of a traditional poster/abstract review at other conferences. Presenters are given five minutes to convey a comprehensive and organized synopsis of their research, propose an initiative, or inform faculty of a relevant issue. In addition, the program will feature a new investigator series designed to introduce new faculty to the Medical School research community. 

The Office of Research Affairs will continue to enhance the quality of our educational programs and enrich the intellectual life of our faculty and students through the promotion and management of the Ernst Knobil Distinguished Lecture, the Cheves Smythe Distinguished Lecture, the Dean’s Lecture series, and the various programs of the Graduate Student Education Committee.  Featured topics range from metabolism and obesity to the genetic code presented by eminent scientists in their prospective fields. The 2009 Ernst Knobil Distinguished Lecturer and prize awardee is Ron Evans, professor and March of Dimes Chair in Molecular and Developmental Biology Gene Expression Laboratory, The Salk Institute.  Other featured speakers during the upcoming year will include: Mitchell Lazar, The Institute of Diabetes, Metabolism and Obesity of the University of Pennsylvania; and Ellen Vittetta, professor, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.   

2. How do the goals of your office support the mission and goals of the Medical School?

There is a direct correlation between the Medical School mission to provide the highest quality of education and training and to conduct the highest caliber of research in the biomedical and behavioral sciences.  The Office of Research has and will continue to raise the level of awareness of graduate education at the Medical School with the goal of contributing to the long-range development of the student and ultimately, the early career researcher.  It fosters and encourages the creation of educational opportunities and the strengthening of social networks through the following programs such as the Dean’s Research Awards, career development activities, the Graduate Student Research Poster Competition, and financial support of the Cell and Regulatory Biology,  Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Neuroscience, and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine academic programs.

The office provides support to talented investigators at two critical junctures in the funding process: when they need to gain substantive research experience in order to collect pilot data and to maintain their research programs while awaiting a funding decision.  The office recognizes that to effectively compete for National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants, applicants must propose relevant and top quality projects that will make them successful competitors. The Office of Research Affairs is committed to making this possible.

3. What are you doing differently in your office this year? What is new?

Through the efforts of the Graduate Student Education Committee (GSEC), we have  launched a new travel award for post-candidacy graduate students to help defray the costs of attending conferences. Involvement in professional conferences promotes the academic experience and assists the student in gaining invaluable networking opportunities essential to future success. These competitive awards are available to students who have been invited to present papers at a national or international conference or meeting related to their academic area or dissertation research. 

The GSEC will also provide a $4,500 scholarship to support up to five undergraduate students interested in pursuing a Ph.D. curriculum. The 10-week program, administered through the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, will include housing at Rice University and stipend support.    

4. What role will your office play in the future of the Medical School?

We will continue to identify areas of infrastructural improvement, develop programs to support this mission, and provide advice to the Dean and the Administrative Council on research and research policy related issues.

5. Which accomplishments of your office are you most proud?

We plan to continue our highly successful efforts to support the research enterprise of our school through the provision of interim grant assistance and supplement programs such as the Pilot Grant, the NIH K-Award supplement, the Bridging Grant, and the Just Missed grant programs to help faculty maintain their current projects and compete for new awards. The Health Science Center and the Medical School has provided nearly $2 million in support of these programs over the past 11 years.  Seventy-two percent of those applications funded through our program go on to receive extramural funding.

6. Please speak to the comment that research brings in a negative margin for the Medical School.

If you were to name the top 10 Medical Schools in the United States, I am confident that no school would be on the list, which does not have an exceptional research program.  Indeed, the public and the medical community judge the quality of a medical school, to a large part, on the quality of its research.  And, patients come to hospitals affiliated with medical schools because the clinicians are abreast of the latest scientific discoveries and the application of those discoveries to patient care.

The Medical School has made extraordinary strides in enhancing the quality and quantity of its research enterprise.  We have greatly expanded our research space with the opening of the Medical School Extension (MSE) last year and the hiring of new faculty who have moved to the MSE.  And, we have significantly increased our extramural funding at a time when most medical schools were flat or received decreased funding.  Our current and new faculty are at the cutting edge of biomedical science, and they will attract patients, residents, and students to the school and its clinics and hospitals.  With such great programs, private donations will continue to rise. So, in a broad sense, research has a positive margin, and the recent progress at the Medical School is ensuring that it becomes even more positive.

 I want to thank Dr. Byrne and all of those who are involved in research here at the Medical School. I am very proud of the growth and accomplishments in this area of our mission.

Have a great weekend,


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