University of California Irvine (UCI) is morphing and growing into a research powerhouse. Thanks to visionary yet pragmatic leadership, human capital, research infrastructure, and collaborative programs, the Orange County-based educational institution achieves torrid research revenue growth, shattering records along the way. That UCI’s research funding has nearly doubled in the four years since vice chancellor of research Pramod Khargonekar prompted attention at TrialSite.
From cutting-edge research and clinical trials focused on cancer care to creating a new center devoted to protecting personal data privacy, UCI researchers are blazing new paths to help change the world. And their impact only keeps growing. In fiscal 2019-20, which ended on June 30, UCI researchers receive the most funding and campus history with $529 million in grants and contracts. That’s an increase of 20 percent over last year’s totals, and it represents awards from federal and state agencies, leading foundations and forward-thinking companies that reflects strong and growing support for UCI as top rank faculty its first-rate facilities, its diverse and talented student body, and its community-based programs.
Awards from federal and state agencies, leading foundations and forward-thinking companies increased by 20 percent over 2018-19 totals, reflecting strong and burgeoning support for UCI’s top-ranked faculty, first-rate facilities, diverse and talented student body, and community-based programs.
“This research funding milestone surpasses our campus strategic plan goal of $500 million while accelerating UCI’s ascent among its Association of American Universities peers as a world-class research university. Despite the hurdles we face during the COVID-19 pandemic, the UCI community continues to make a meaningful impact on regional economic development and to improve society through globally prominent research,” said UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman.
Pramod Khargonekar was recently interviewed on UCI’s podcast series in an effort to explain such rapid and impressive growth, most recently expanding the research capital to $529 million for fiscal 2019-2020. The vice chancellor or research first acknowledged that the impressive research growth actually didn’t occur overnight but rather represents the progression of past leadership and programs combined with more recent prescribed moves to improve outcomes across the board at the university.
What is the Formula for UCI Success?
Highlighting critical elements underlying success, people make research better. Hence, first and foremost, the number one prerequisite contributing to research growth and success is the hiring and retaining of targeted human capital: that is, high-quality, highly-creative, highly energetic people. The vice chancellor emphasized he has been making new hires consistently since he was selected for the position. The hiring process needs to be designed to support the attraction of talent while ensuring a force multiplier effect once hired.
For example, chancellor Khargonekar pointed out that “creative programs” such as the “research excellence” program are designed to promote successful research culture which can improve the probability of better outcomes. Front and center in the pursuit of talent is the identification of faculty possessing excellent collaboration capabilities; underlying UCI’s success has been their commitment to cross department and program collaboration, leveraging in parallel major research investments in new facilities, for example.
Second comes the need for strategic investments in research infrastructure which of course is a broad, nuanced topic with many dimensions. Khargonekar highlights an underlying premise: “modern scientific research relies on state-of-the-art instrumentation without which you really cannot do anything.” As UCI has embraced the investment in such facilities, instruments and capabilities, he points to the Materials Research Institute as a great example of this critically important element but also suggests there are many others.
Third, fostering and facilitating a collaborative research environment based on creative programs that impact, and capitalize on the talent and infrastructure. Examples included seed-funding programs and the leveraging of research development officers, writing proposals for other faculty, that have made a big difference. Khargonekar points to the team-science accelerator lab as a platform to encourage and support cross-discipline collaboration, which counters the tendency in large universities to build and reinforce bureaucratic, departmental silos, stifling creativity and collaboration.
TrialSite provides vice chancellor Khargonekar’s CV, which lists many of the new programs created under his leadership.
Sources of Funding
Support from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, which encompasses the National Institutes of Health, the largest single source of research funding at UCI, rose 21 percent over last year to $189 million. The National Science Foundation provided $65 million, 18.4 percent more than in 2018-19. And gifts and grants from philanthropic foundations and charitable trusts reached $85 million, a 38.5 percent hike.
Other noteworthy new research awards and recipients in 2019-20:
- Nancy Rodriguez, professor of criminology, law & society, received a $2.7 million gift from Arnold Ventures to conduct the most comprehensive study to date into the sources and consequences of prison violence in seven states. Findings from the three-year, multistrategy investigation will inform the creation of an evidence-based framework for reducing and preventing incidents of violence.
- Jenny Yang, associate professor of chemistry, will use a $1.5 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to help develop methods for the capture and removal of carbon dioxide from the air and from flue gases emitted by fossil fuel plants. The funding will support an interdisciplinary team – led by Yang – from UCI, UCLA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in its attempt to form new molecular compounds for electrochemical CO2 capture and removal.
- The Institute for Clinical & Translational Science was awarded $24 million over five years by the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Science. Marking the third highly competitive and successful funding cycle for UCI’s ICTS, the grant will go toward initiating and extending efforts to speed the transformation of scientific discoveries into medical treatments for patients.
- Jessica Millward, associate professor of history and African American studies, and Tiffany Willoughby-Herard, associate professor of African American studies, received a three-year, $271,902 UC-HBCU Initiative grant to partner with Morgan State University, a public and historically black research university in Baltimore, to encourage UC faculty to actively engage with faculty and students at historically black colleges and universities to attract and retain graduate scholars who reflect the communities of the world.
Additional data on UCI’s 2019-20 research funding:
- 1,043 new awards were bestowed during the fiscal year, 21 percent more than in 2018-19.
- 570 UCI researchers garnered new awards, an 11 percent increase over last year.
- 3 percent of support came from nonfederal sources.
- $70 million in grant and corporate funding from all sources was received for clinical trials, a 55 percent jump over the previous year.
About University of California, Irvine (UCI)
UCI was founded in 1965 and is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 222 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy.