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Improving Institutional Research Core Function

Tiffany Seagroves, PhD

Providing researchers with outstanding research infrastructure that will enhance discovery, productivity and the reputation of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) research enterprise has been a primary focus during Dr. Goodman’s first year of service as vice chancellor for Research (VCR). Institutional Core Facilities are a key component of the infrastructure, essential to maintaining international recognition of research programs, increasing extramural funding, supporting active research grants, and retention and recruitment of faculty. Institutional Research Cores are fee-for-service resources that are widely used among UTHSC faculty across multiple Colleges and Departments, and are financially supported by the Institution.

Over the past eight months, the Office of Research spear- headed an in-depth review of campus Core Facilities. In November 2016, Dr. Tiffany Seagroves was appointed as the new associate vice chancellor for Research—Cores. In February 2016, the VCR’s Research Cabinet advised Dr. Goodman that seven cores fit the definition of an Institutional Core, and Dr. Goodman accepted the Cabinet’s recommendations. As of FY17, the Institutional Cores include: the Lab Animal Care Unit (LACU); the Regional Biocontainment Lab (RBL); the Molecular Resource Center (MRC); the Flow Cytometry and Cell Sorting Core (FCCS); the Proteomics and Metabolomics Core (PMC); the Molecular Bioinformatics Core (mBIO); and the Research Histology Core (RHC). Internal Advisory Boards (IAB) for each core have been appointed by Dr. Goodman to advise on core operations, including core policies and procedures.

From March to April 2016, comprehensive business plans were developed in cooperation with each Core Director and the Core’s IAB to identify current core strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) and to drive the creation of three-year projected operating budgets. Each year, this process will be repeated. The FY17-FY19 projected budgets were approved by the Research Council in May 2016.

In a model new to UTHSC, going forward fee structures for core services will be determined based upon a market evaluation of fees set by our peer academic institutions, with prices at UTHSC selected to rank in the bottom-half to bottom-third as compared to peer academic core facilities. Prices for services will then be escalated by 3% each subsequent fiscal year. The Institutional Cores will be managed with a business-like model, using business plans to develop budgets and relying on data-based metrics to mea- sure core successes. At the end of each fiscal period, an Institutional Research Core Facilities Analysis will be performed.

Several new and exciting investments for the cores are planned for FY17, including the purchase of an Illumina NextSeq500 next-generation sequencer in the MRC, replacement of the aging LSR II cytometer in the FCCS Core, hiring of additional staff in the mBIO Core, and substantial upgrading of LACU animal care facilities and resources.

In addition, the Office of Research is exploring new core management web-based tools to facilitate sample submission, sample workflows, invoicing, and generation of core usage metrics. A new seminar series will launch in Fall 2016 to advertise core competencies and to highlight recent discoveries by our faculty who use our cores- the “Core Success” seminars. “Core Days”, open-house style events, will be hosted to encourage interactions with Core Directors and core staff. A new pilot project program, the “Core Bucks” program, will also be announced in Fall 2016. Finally, the Office of Research website is currently being redeveloped and will receive an updated, new look. Institutional Core descriptions and price lists will be easier to locate online and will be downloadable directly from the Institutional Cores webpage.

Overall, our new model of functional and financial core oversight will foster the research enterprise at UTHSC to achieve our common goal of doubling research within the next 10 years.

-Tiffany Seagroves, PhD, Vice Chancellor for Research-Cores