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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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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
  • Lisa Tedesco (Emory)
  • Johnna Temenoff*
  • Jerry Thursby, Co-Chair
  • (*CoE)

Related subcommittee meeting concurrently:

“Ensure Georgia Tech’s Research Preeminence”



  • 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

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


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’ 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’ 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?


  • Ravi Bellamkonda, BME (
  • Jerry Thursby, Management (
  • Johnna Temenoff, BME (