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Designing the Future. ‘Big Ideas’ for Transdisciplinary Research. November 13, 2009. Subcommittee Members. Ravi Bellamkonda, Co-Chair* Peter Brecke David Frost* Don Giddens* Donna Hyland (Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta) Marcia Kinstler Elizabeth Mynatt Jeff Skolnick

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‘Big Ideas’ for Transdisciplinary Research

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Big ideas for transdisciplinary research

Designing the Future

‘Big Ideas’ for Transdisciplinary Research

November 13, 2009

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research

Subcommittee Members

  • Ravi Bellamkonda, Co-Chair*

  • Peter Brecke

  • David Frost*

  • Don Giddens*

  • Donna Hyland (Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta)

  • Marcia Kinstler

  • Elizabeth Mynatt

  • Jeff Skolnick

  • Lisa Tedesco (Emory)

  • Johnna Temenoff*

  • Jerry Thursby, Co-Chair

  • (*CoE)

Related subcommittee meeting concurrently:

“Ensure Georgia Tech’s Research Preeminence”

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research


  • Transformation from a regional school to a globally recognized research institute in the last 25 years

  • Growth in number of faculty and research infrastructure, as well as conversion of its faculty from a primarily teaching role to a primarily research role has contributed to transformation

  • GT’s size, diversity and numbers offers great flexibility

    • Strategies for the future can leverage this advantage in developing model for leadership

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research

GT 2035

Georgia Tech has a unique, entrepreneurial, problem solving spirit

Georgia Tech should take on the challenge of significantly impacting global challenges in the areas of Health, Environment, Energy, Information and Sustainable Economic Growth

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research

Design Criteria

  • Success in making an impact on global challenges will require:

    • Galvanizing and catalyzing GT to take on these challenges

    • GT having a global perspective and presence

    • Forming strategic partnerships

    • Creating a culture of leadership

The four ‘Big Ideas’ currently being discussed mirror these ‘criteria’

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research

‘Big Ideas’ Summary

  • GT-Research Innovation Fund (GT-RIF)

    • $1 billion GT-Research Innovation Fund

    • World challenges: energy, health, environment, sustainable economic growth, etc.

    • Rationale: Catalyzing innovation in a bottom-up, faculty driven manner will maximize success of new initiatives

  • Bring the world to GT/Atlanta

    • Partner with GA economic development office to attract research institutes to locate near GT campus (Advanced Study Quad)

    • Rationale: Attracting new research institutes to Atlanta/GT campus will promote the GT research enterprise

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research

‘Big Ideas’ Summary

  • Innovate in business practices for research partnerships

    • Partnerships of all types:

      • Within GT, regional, global

      • With industry, research institutes, governmental labs, hospitals, other universities

    • Rationale: Reducing barriers to partnerships will encourage large, “big-payoff” projects

      4. Nurture culture of leadership and scholarship

    • Alter resource allocation and organizational structure as needed

    • Rationale: Means to encourage excellence in thought leadership, entrepreneurship, and policy should also maintain a collaborative environment at GT

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research

GT-RIF: Rationale

  • Capitalize on the entrepreneurial spirit that characterizes GT culture to address global problems: health,environment, energy, information, sustainable economic growth

  • Particular research directions within these broad fields should be determined in a ‘bottom-up,’ faculty-driven fashion

  • Large top-down investments without ‘buy-in’ from faculty, chairs and deans are unlikely to succeed

  • Investments would particularly encourage multi/trans disciplinary approaches

  • More likely to tolerate ‘failures’ better than a top-down, large institute model

  • Allows the best ideas to rise to the top organically over an incubation period no larger than 5 years

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research

GT-RIF: Implementation

  • $1 billion GT Research Innovation Fund (GT-RIF) created to drive GT’s research in 5 global challenge areas

  • Multiple levels of funding

    • Seed grants, new buildings, institutes, GT-other institution or GT-industry partnerships, etc.

  • ‘Business plans’ generated in response to ‘call for proposals’

    • Include rationale, milestones, measures of success, timeline

  • Investment decisions be based on the quality of the ‘research business plan’

    • Made after rigorous peer review involving leading academic experts (external), business leaders (external) as well as top GT administration

  • Each ‘project’ has external review

    • Conducted at appropriate time intervals for the scale of the investment

    • Conducted by leading experts (external)

    • If not making milestones, ‘projects’ may be terminated/ramped down

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research

GT-RIF: Implementation

  • Through this process, 5 global challenges would be focused on specific areas where GT has greatest potential for impact

    • Example: Personalized medicine may be the focus of health/quality of life investments

  • Fund established by a new campaign involving philanthropy, state and business investment

    • Separate from the current ongoing capital campaign

    • Used as resources gathered rather than waiting for full amount to be raised

  • If certain new efforts require new multi-disciplinary buildings, they may be co-located in a new Advanced Studies Quad within or close to GT main campus

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research

Bring the World to Atlanta: Rationale

  • GT is a fast developing leader in research but its research presence needs to be further strengthened

  • GT will be the vehicle to make Atlanta the ‘cross-roads’ for global research by providing a pathway for global institutes/universities to have a high quality physical presence in USA

  • GT, Atlanta and Georgia gain just as they would when they ‘incentivize’ a car company to relocated here

    • Result in concentration of globally-integrated, PhD-centric Institutes and attendant workforce in Atlanta

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research

Bring the World to Atlanta: Implementation

  • Build large building(s) on GT campus (possibly part of Advanced Studies Quad)

    • Incentivize with inexpensive space and terms

  • GT partner with Georgia Research Alliance and the GA Department of Economic Development to actively recruit new research institutes to Atlanta

    • Academic research institutes (e.g. Max Plank Institutes)

    • Institutes funded by international companies

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research

Business Partnership Procedures: Rationale

  • Crucial difference between success and failure in realizing GT’s potential will be in execution of ideas, not just in their generation

  • Innovation in processes to reduce barriers to partnerships and collaborations will be critically important

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research

Business Partnership Procedures: Implementation

  • Form a non-profit institution called, the “Georgia Research Consortium” (between GT, Emory, CHOA, etc) which allows the following activities to occur easily

    • Money moves freely

    • Submit cross-institutional training and research grants

    • Equity stake in start up companies formed by university faculty

    • Run clinical trials to manage participant university conflicts of interest

  • Innovate in partnership agreements

    • Intellectual property

    • Student and personnel exchange

  • Apply databases of expertise and scholarly production to facilitate intra-GT collaboration

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research

Business Partnership Procedures: Implementation

  • Create a one-stop window or HOV lane for ‘Big Ideas/Innovation’

    • Office will support faculty group formation, development and large proposal submission for ‘big ideas’

    • Office be headed by an ‘innovation czar’ - mission is to incentivize and advocate for innovative ideas and approaches in research and education

  • Develop creative resourcing models for large research efforts involving coordinated state, philanthropic, defense, federal, and corporate fund-raising

    • Place GT in a position to receive several $100 Million ‘gifts’ over the next 10-15 years.

    • Empower development office to adopt a long-term strategy for large gifts

  • Create a GT Alumni Network for Innovation

    • Continually provide opportunities for alums to network/provide feedback based on business sectors

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research

Leadership Culture: Rationale

  • GT has maintained its collegial, collaborative environment while becoming acclaimed in many areas of research

  • Disadvantage is that environment also creates the potential to ‘moderate’ scale of research impact

    • Reduces the intense ‘pressure cooker’ type drivers that typify some of our peer research institutions

  • Number of research disciplines where GT leadership/dominance is undisputed is relatively low for its size, resources and potential

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research

Leadership Culture: Implementation

  • Recognize, reward and celebrate scholarship/academic achievement of faculty

    • Recognize our own through endowed chairs, professorships, GA Research Alliance chairs etc

    • Strengthen the tenure system by making it family-friendly and select for faculty with the potential of sustained, long-term productivity

  • Create a culture of leadership and research preeminence in areas of interest to GT

    • Aggressively market faculty for awards and honors

    • Institute-based awards for faculty at different career stages

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research

Leadership Culture: Implementation

  • Practice a ‘Darwinist Meritocracy’ at all levels of GT

    • Use internal database/other metrics to measure scholarly productivity of faculty, departments, centers and institutes

    • Establish a transparent link between resources and performance with an appropriately generous evaluation cycle

    • Resource allocation at all levels have a significant component tied to ‘performance’ from faculty salary to college budgets

  • Adopt a flexible organizational structure that encourages bottom-up innovation

    • Institute management methods to encourage problem-solving at the lowest administrative levels possible

    • Institute best practices for high-quality staff hiring at the appropriate pay-scale

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research

Further Issues for Discussion

  • If GT-RIF is created, can investment be done without internal pressures that compromise quality or direction of investment?

  • How do we transform the GT financial model such that each budget/salary within GT has a significant portion based on performance?

  • By creating a large research infrastructure, are we sacrificing our mission to educate undergraduates?

  • If we had 1 billion $$, is this the way we would want to spend it? Are these ideas truly transformative?

Big ideas for transdisciplinary research


  • Ravi Bellamkonda, BME (

  • Jerry Thursby, Management (

  • Johnna Temenoff, BME (

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