UA’s new vice president for research began meeting with deans and administrators to learn about their research needs, strengths and plans before he even moved into his second-floor office in Rose Administration Building.
What he heard was exciting. “I was impressed with the strengths UA has, and with the excellent foundation laid by both President Bonner and former Vice President for Research and Interim Provost Joe Benson.”
He’s certain that as he continues to meet with deans, administrators, faculty, staff and students, he will find even more to be excited about.
“Dr. Benson and President Bonner have set a very nice stage,” he said. “We have what a good research university needs, infrastructure, good researchers and institutional support already in place.”
What happens on that stage in the next several years is Pinkert’s challenge.
“My long-range goal is to increase the breadth of our research activity, and to raise brand awareness of UA as a hub of research activity not just within the state, but beyond.”
UA’s research activity will lead to a better quality of life in two ways, he said. The first is through education that leads to student success. “When you have faculty doing cutting-edge research and they provide the opportunity for their students to participate in and learn from that research, and to grow academically, the research becomes part of the value-added education students receive here.”
The second is economic. Economic development, spurred by research and by innovation that is brought to market through technology transfer, is vital to the state’s future.
Pinkert especially praised the inclusion of undergraduates in research opportunities traditionally afforded only to graduate students.
“Undergraduates come in with tremendous enthusiasm; yet, they don’t usually possess the same honed research skill set expected of graduate students. The faculty is doing a great job of tailoring research activity to the abilities of the students, and the students are responding.”
As he gathers information, builds relationships and reflects on the long term, Pinkert is also thinking about the short term.
“In the immediate future, we need to complement UA’s strategic planning moving forward. With input from all our stakeholders, we will craft a fluid plan based on our strengths and strategic opportunities to come and built on the many successes of the last few years.”
And for Pinkert, moving forward comes down to two things: partnerships and collaborations. With less funding and more competition, partnerships with state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations, businesses and other universities will be integral in growing UA’s research enterprise.
And, yes, other universities mean those in The University of Alabama system and beyond, including the university located on the plains, where Pinkert served as associate vice president for research.
How does he feel about that, considering the Alabama-Auburn rivalry?
“Working together we can do greater good for the state than we can individually. But we can still be mortal enemies one day every November,” he said with a smile.
His belief in the value of working together is informative in how he wants to see collaboration done within the University, too.
“Interdisciplinary programs – crossing disciplines – is the avenue of the future for research,” Pinkert said. In his talks with constituencies across campus, he’s found a willingness to embrace more partnerships. He feels this will bring a wealth of possibilities.
“By crossing disciplines I don’t just mean, for example, one branch of the sciences working with another,” he said. “The social sciences, arts, humanities and sciences working together shape the interdisciplinary research activity paradigm.”
The vice president’s role in that paradigm is administrative and as a catalyst: safety in the facilities and safety of human research subjects; ensuring the security of research; compliance with a forest of federal, state and local guidelines; protecting intellectual property such as patents and copyrights; and shepherding the transfer of technology from research facility to marketplace. That’s all in addition to ensuring high-quality work, encouraging and supporting faculty and student research, securing resources and advocating for competitiveness.
Pinkert’s own area of research was in animal modeling and transgenesis. He still consults on ongoing studies that focus on developing therapies for human metabolic diseases, but the administrative role now takes precedence. While it was difficult to give up his laboratory research activities, he feels that the last several years have been preparing him for his new role.
“I have a passion for helping others. And, I believe we accomplish more together than we do individually. By supporting the team – networking and developing collaborations, advocating for faculty, securing resources, coaching – we can help the University reach its goal for being the destination for the best and brightest faculty and students in their research and scholarship efforts.”