Environmental sciences and life sciences networks announced

Patrick S. Osmer — October 31, 2011

Pat Osmer

I am pleased to announce the launches of the Environmental Sciences Network and the Life Sciences Network.

These networks will help draw together Ohio State faculty, graduate students, and others who are advancing research in the environmental sciences and the life sciences. The networks will provide the support necessary for faculty and graduate students across our full range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary graduate programs to address important research topics in ways that we have not been able to do in the past.

I also want to announce the appointments of two Ohio State faculty members to serve as the first executive directors—Richard Moore, Environmental Sciences Network, and Kathleen Boris-Lawrie, Life Sciences Network. Richard and Kathleen are charged with building and carrying out the activities associated with the networks. There are more details about them and their responsibilities later in this message.

What the networks will help us accomplish

Ohio State has tremendous but unrealized potential in these areas. This was one of the top findings during the 2008 doctoral review. Since that time, two faculty task forces, faculty advisory committees, and deans met to identify how we can help faculty and graduate students work more effectively across programs and colleges and how we can increase the visibility of our environmental sciences and life sciences research efforts and graduate programs.

The Environmental Sciences Network and the Life Sciences Network are the result of that effort. I want to emphasize that the choice of the word network was a conscious one. The definitions of social networking were particularly helpful as we conceptualized what needed to be put in place to help support environmental and life sciences efforts.

By network, we mean a structure of relationships based on common interests, where activities will be adaptable, and where flexibility is a core characteristic. These are all essential values identified by the faculty involved in environmental and life sciences at Ohio State. With these values at the foundation of the networks, I believe that we have a solid starting place for addressing problems (many of which are long-standing) that have hindered team-building and interdisciplinary efforts in the past. The most pressing problems are: difficulties working across unit boundaries, how to share costs and revenues, and allocating and rewarding people’s interdisciplinary efforts.

It has also been difficult for individual faculty to find out who their colleagues and potential research partners may be. Through the work of the task forces, we now know that there are over 500 faculty involved in life sciences research and over 200 faculty involved in environmental sciences research. There are corresponding numbers of graduate students and researchers. All of these people are spread across approximately 25 life sciences- and 16 environmental sciences-focused graduate programs in multiple colleges.

We also know that expertise and interest in the environment and life sciences span the full range of Ohio State colleges, departments, and graduate programs. Consistent with Ohio State’s One University focus, we fully expect that interested Ohio State faculty from any discipline, department, or college of the university will affiliate with the networks. Such broad participation in the networks is essential to building innovative research programs, teams, and graduate programs.

As you can see, the numbers are immense. The potential is equally immense. The networks are being put into place to help bring interested faculty, graduate students, and others together and to move forward.

Responsibilities and roles

We realize that resources are tight. We also know that the deans of the colleges involved in the environmental sciences and life sciences must be fully behind the networks in order for them to work. To create the conditions that we believe will help ensure success, we have defined the roles of the deans and the executive directors, and we have outlined the responsibilities of faculty who want to participate in the networks. The existing interdisciplinary graduate programs are a core element of the networks. Participation by faculty and by graduate programs is by mutual interest, and given the core values of flexibility and adaptability, we expect that these roles and responsibilities will change as faculty members identify new needs and opportunities. We also recognize that there are linkages and synergies between the environmental sciences and life sciences. Faculty and graduate students do not have to affiliate with just one network. We fully anticipate that new research teams and other activities will call for expertise from both networks.

We’ve created a Program Council for the Environmental Sciences and the Life Sciences. This council replaces the Council of Life Sciences Deans and consists of the deans of the Graduate School, Arts & Sciences, Engineering, Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Medicine, Pharmacy, Veterinary Medicine, and the Vice President of Research. This council has established faculty advisory committees for each network and 1-, 3-, and 5-year goals.

The responsibilities of the deans are as follows. They must facilitate the activities of the networks by

  1. identifying new interdisciplinary partnerships, programs, etc.
  2. recognizing, formalizing, and crediting interdisciplinary work by their faculty
  3. sharing costs, revenues, and recognition of outcomes on a percentage of effort or involvement by participating faculty or groups, and
  4. developing a supportive environment for these new efforts

The first two executive directors of the networks have been vetted and appointed by the Program Council:

The executive director of the Environmental Sciences Network is Richard Moore, director of the environmental sciences graduate program and professor of anthropology and environmental and natural resources.

The executive director of the Life Sciences Network is Kathleen Boris-Lawrie, David White Professor of Veterinary Biosciences and former graduate studies chair of the comparative veterinary medicine graduate program.

Richard and Kathleen were selected because they have demonstrated the ability to bring together faculty from different programs to support research efforts. They lead important interdisciplinary research programs, and they are successful in securing external grants. They also are experienced in graduate education and graduate program administration.

In this first year, the Program Council has charged Richard and Kathleen with beginning to form the networks by identifying initial members and facilitating connections among them. They will also facilitate connections among the interdisciplinary and disciplinary graduate programs. On the support side, Richard and Kathleen are charged with

  1. identifying common space and responsibilities for existing staff associated with the interdisciplinary graduate programs
  2. developing prototype websites that will serve faculty and graduate students involved in the networks and serve as portals to these research and graduate programs at Ohio State,
  3. preparing the first major grant submissions, and
  4. developing a prototype information system to support major proposals

We are trying to put a flexible and adaptable structure in place to support the faculty. Faculty members are at the heart of the networks because they conduct the research and carry out key roles in graduate education. Faculty will be responsible for

  1. developing creative new approaches to research problems
  2. identifying major sources of external funding
  3. building up new research groups and proposal teams
  4. responding to and supporting the new networks and associated efforts, and providing constructive feedback

We will judge the success of the networks by their demonstrated ability to pull together faculty and graduate students in new and productive ways, to increase external funding in the environmental sciences and in the life sciences, to strengthen research and graduate programs, and to respond to current national and state financial circumstances. We anticipate that the networks will be an essential part of the work of the university discovery themes (health and wellness; food production and security; and energy and environment).

Getting the networks underway

Richard and Kathleen are planning open forums for faculty to ask questions, to give more feedback, and to get involved. In the meantime, I encourage you to contact them directly. Richard Moore, moore.11@osu.edu, (614) 292-9762; Kathleen Boris-Lawrie, boris-lawrie.1@osu.edu, (614) 292-1392.

Material documenting the efforts leading to the development of the networks is available on the Graduate School’s website. http://go.osu.edu/ESLSbackgrdmaterial I want to thank the faculty who lent their time and expertise to that work, especially Joan Leitzel, who co-chaired the task forces with me.

In the environmental sciences: Doug Alsdorf, earth sciences; Nick Basta, environment and natural resources; Ralph Boerner, evolution, ecology, and organismal biology; Gil Bohrer, civil and environmental engineering and geodetic science; Tim Buckley, public health; Jay Hobgood, geography; Berry Lyons, Byrd Polar Research Center, Karen Mancl, food, agricultural, and biological engineering; Bryan Mark, geography and earth sciences; Jay Martin, food, agricultural, and biological engineering; Maria Miriti, evolution, evolution, ecology, and organismal biology; Amanda Rodewald, environment and natural resources; Allison Snow, evolution, ecology, and organismal biology; and Linda Weavers, civil and environmental engineering and geodetic science.

In the life sciences: Mark Bennett, horticulture and crop science; Kathleen Boris-Lawrie, veterinary biosciences; Mike Boehm, plant pathology; Cynthia Carnes, pharmacy; David Denlinger, entomology; Jeff Firkins, animal sciences; Michael Ibba, microbiology; Karin Musier-Forsyth, chemistry; Randy Nelson, psychology and neuroscience; Jill Rafael-Fortney, Ohio State Biochemistry Program, Linda Saif, veterinary preventive medicine; Ginny Sanders, Integrated Biomedical Science Graduate Program and molecular, cellular, and developmental biology; Amanda Simcox, molecular genetics; and Larry Schlesinger, molecular virology, immunology, and medical genetics, and College of Medicine.

I am excited about the possibilities that these networks will put within our reach, and I invite you to participate. I encourage you to comment below. You are also welcome to contact me directly with any questions or observations that you might have.

Patrick S. Osmer is vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the Graduate School at Ohio State. He is also currently serving as chair of the board of directors for the Council of Graduate Schools. Osmer was chair of the Ohio State astronomy department from 1993-2006.

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