An Emerging Profile of the Vice President for Research: Diplomatic Entrepreneur, Scholar, Strategist & Administrator Par Excellence - a recent discussion from the frontlines...

Jeff Harris & Rick Skinner: Harris Search Associates

Jeff:  Your turn to buy.

 Rick: Huh? I bought last time: it’s your turn. Besides, you never pay!

 Rick: These last few searches for VPs Research have been really interesting. Seems that role is changing in big ways.

 Jeff:  Yep. There’s been turnover of late, what with retirements and more pressure on VPRs to grow funding for research. The job was always a tough one, if only because you can’t “command” anyone except your staff and they don’t write proposals or do research.

 Rick:  And except for homeland security and stimulus money, federal funding for research hasn’t increased.

 Jeff:  I don’t see that changing anytime soon and industry doesn’t have much patience for research that won’t produce products or services now.

 What’s more the diplomatic skills of VPRs have taken on a new meaning. Agencies and foundations are demanding multi- and inter-disciplinary approaches to research as well as inter-institutional teams, so the VPR has to be able to navigate disciplinary and departmental boundaries very carefully. And that says nothing about the challenge of coaxing several universities to go in together on big projects: it’s not the faculty researchers but the department chairs and college deans who have to sort out the accounting of percentages of time and the like.

 Rick:  And my talks with program directors in DC suggest that many of them are close to retirement. When they go, so goes institutional memory and, perhaps, relationships.

Jeff:  These are strange times. Nobody questions the importance of research, but no one wants to pay the costs. Everyone of a certain age can tell you about the history of research projects that led to all sorts of important discoveries and new kinds of products but took decades sometimes to produce those results. Who nowadays has that sort of patience?

 Another round? Your turn to buy.



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