Important Letter from Dean Reece to the UMSOM Community
As many of you undoubtedly heard over the weekend, our public health leaders expect that this week will be the toughest we have confronted thus far in the COVID-19 pandemic, in terms of the number of U.S. cases, and the number of lives lost. This week will also be the measure of the true nature of the virus, as well as the impact it could potentially have on people on the front lines. It is a moment which will deeply and indelibly define our collective history as Americans.
This next week, and how we decide to approach it, will also define us as scientists. We are incredibly fortunate to be in a position where we know our actions will help to achieve the goal of protecting and ensuring our future health and well-being. While some of us may not be working to develop a vaccine or an antiviral therapy for COVID-19, or the next novel infectious disease that challenges us, we are all working to make innovative discoveries that will advance biomedical science and improve people’s lives.
Therefore, as we face the weeks ahead, we must not lose sight of our core mission of research, even during this time of severe restrictions where we are largely working from home and social distancing from others. Each of us, myself included, should use this time away from our physical laboratories, clinical, translational and community research areas to strategically reflect while planning to catapult ourselves to greater heights after we return to more routine work lives. I am confident that we can return stronger and even more ambitious if we prepare now.
To that end, I wish to challenge ALL of us (myself included) to execute one or more of the following strategies:
- Continue routines. We should conduct regular meetings or seminars with our own individual team, and we should invite research guests or colleagues from other disciplines where collaborative opportunities may be forged. These meetings should be strategic and purposeful.
- Be opportunistic. Those of us conducting COVID-19-related research can take full advantage of the available funding opportunities. Others can use this time to seek out new collaborations, leverage the outstanding breadth and depth of research at the SOM, and start to work on larger multi-disciplinary, program-like grants.
In addition, this is the time to SIGNIFICANTLY increase the number of grant submissions because the NIH has stated that it will introduce administrative flexbilities to assist grant applicants. Please take full advantage of this opportunity.
Here are some suggestions:
If you have questions, reach out to the Office of Research Affairs, led by Dr. Terry Rogers (Associate Dean) and Dr. Joni Prasad (Director). If you wish to collaborate across the USM Campuses, Dr. Alan Faden (Associate Dean for Trans-Campus Research Advancement) can help facilitate meetings or launch collaborations.
- Aggressively explore opportunities for applied innovations;
- Determine how your work can positively rebuild the economy and identify funding sources in this area;
- Examine how your work can educate students or the public about the threat of emerging infections.
- Set aspirational goals. I would like to see all of our Centers, Institutes, Programs and basic science departments, as well as most of our clinical departments, have ONE OR MORE Program-type grant. In my own laboratory, the Center for Birth Defects Research, my longtime colleague and collaborator, Dr. Peixin Yang, and I have made it a top priority to secure a Program Project Grant.
Although this is a time of considerable uncertainty, it is also a great time for research opportunities: Government entities like the NIH have made more funding available with greater flexibility. Private foundations are seeking to finance promising research that will speed innovations to help combat the pandemic and safeguard public health in the future. Public interest in research and biomedicine has never been so high, which means the world is focused on what we do and why it matters to their daily lives. Many of us also have an unprecedented opportunity to work largely on our own, uninterrupted by a traffic-filled commute or daily staff meetings. Let us use this extra time as a gift to reflect, to plan and to reach out to others to explore collaborations. Let us try to remember what inspired us to enter the field of biomedical research, and which would sustain us through these challenging times.
We, in the Dean's Office, stand ready to support you in any way possible. I am convinced that if you embrace the three strategies outlined above, you will achieve significant success and growth in your research programs and funding portfolio. You will also feel the satisfication of knowing that you have increased your contribution to the greater good of advancing, protecting, and sustaining our collective health.
With very best wishes to you.
Thanking you kindly.
E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, UM Baltimore
John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor
Dean, University of Maryland School of Medicine