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2018 RCP Annual Update

Every year we work with hundreds of experts, including proposal peer reviewers and site visit panelists. Each of you helps the Research Competitiveness Program to support the AAAS mission of advancing science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world. We compiled this Annual Update to give you a sense of the scope of the work that you’ve contributed to. We look forward to working with many of you in 2019 and beyond!

Over 1900 Proposals Reviewed for 7 Funding Programs in the U.S. and Abroad

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Since 2001, RCP has worked with universities, U.S. state and federal agencies, foundations, and science organizations abroad to build STEM research capacity through peer review. In 2018, we recruited nearly 300 scientific and technical experts and led peer review for 1900 grant applications, pre-proposals, and technology entrepreneurship applications. All peer-review projects were conducted in close collaboration with the institutions running the competitions, allowing us to help build the review model and criteria to best fit each competition’s goals.

This year, we also began working with the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Education’s new Research Development Office (RDO). We are currently managing peer review for applications to the International Collaboration Grant (ICG) Program that will support long-term partnerships with international universities, enabling researchers to work in different academic settings and promoting a sustainable, collaborative R&D culture across disciplines.

RCP’s work with Washington state’s Cancer Research Endowment (CARE), a 10-year, up to $10 million per year state matching fund for cancer research, gave us the opportunity to manage peer review systems for programs that identify leading-edge cancer re

search with the greatest potential to leverage Washington’s existing facilities and talent. RCP provided peer review for two CARE competitions this year: Distinguished Researchers, which was designed to recruit researchers from all over the world to bring their best-in-class talent to Washington, and the Breakthrough Research Program, which encourage researchers to engage in innovative, cross-disciplinary approaches to cancer research.

RCP also continued our collaboration with the University of North Carolina General Administration (UNC GA) by providing consensus panel reviews for two competitions: the Research Opportunities Initiative (ROI) and the Inter-institutional Planning Grant (IPG). ROI is designed to support faculty research in priority areas including advanced manufacturing, data science, defense, energy, marine science, and pharmacoengineering, and IPG’s goal is to promote collaboration among UNC institutions and across disciplinary boundaries. Reviewers provided feedback to applicants and UNC GA on the scientific and technical merit of proposals as well as the potential for commercialization and economic impact to the state of North Carolina. Additionally, applications at the pre-proposal stage were screened by RCP-recruited experts, facilitating UNC GA’s selection of proposals to advance to the full application stage.

We also continued to provide technical review and advice for investment projects leading to technology commercialization in the state of Maine by managing expert evaluation of applications to the Maine Development Loans program run by the Maine Technology Institute (MTI). Our work with Maine in 2018 also included managing peer review of proposals for the University of Maine Small Campus initiative, which is designed to provide Maine Economic Improvement Funds to smaller universities in the University of Maine system.

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RCP has been conducting STEM program assessments for the past 22 years, during which time we have reviewed the implementation of more than $1 billion in federally funded research programs and produced over 250 reports. For each assessment conducted this year, we worked with program leaders to design the assessment, define a site visit agenda, and recruit a panel of experts suited to the program’s context. Site visits were led by RCP staff and included semi-structured meetings and facilities tours with project leaders, participants, and stakeholders. After discussing key findings, our panels composed reports that summarized findings and reported priority recommendations.

This year, our programmatic assessments included mid-course assessments of two multi-institutional, multi-jurisdictional NSF-funded EPSCoR programs. We conducted a mid-course assessment of a collaboration between Montana State University, the University of Wyoming, and the University of South Dakota that is examining the implications of net negative carbon emission strategies in the Upper Missouri River Basin. A mid-course assessment of a partnership between the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez and the University of South Carolina, aimed at finding solutions to global water, energy, and food use issues, is currently underway. Our assessments focus on identifying progress to-date, guiding the projects toward defining their vision, achieving research goals, and developing the broader impacts required by NSF.

RCP also evaluated the strength of state-wide biomedical research networks for the NIH-funded INBRE program in Oklahoma: this assessment focused specifically on the implementation of supporting core facilities within the bioinformatics field. The RCP-led panel helped the program gain an external perspective on the challenges it faces and how those challenges could be approached. The assessment also highlighted accomplishments and progress that sometimes can be overlooked by researchers busy with day-to-day work on the project.

RCP also led an external assessment of Florida State University’s capacity to support big data research and provided guidance on integration within the university’s broader strategic plan for cross-disciplinary collaboration in the health and behavioral sciences.  Finally, this spring RCP wrote a report for a site visit conducted last December in Kuwait on how a national laboratory could further build research capacity through professional development, with the report outlining multiple recommendations, including a series of courses tailored for that institution. 

RCP is committed to continually monitoring and assessing our processes: our logic model for Program Assessment allows us to visually represent our assessment process, the desired impacts, and the contributions necessary to achieve these goals. In addition, our new post-assessment surveys gather information on the experience of program leadership and our panelists so that we can improve our internal processes and potentially share lessons learned with the broader STEM research community.

We also initiated a self-study of the 70+ reports we have produced for INBRE programs since its launch in 2001 (previously known as BRIN), with the aims of identifying common challenges faced by states and parallels in recommendations provided, as well as of assessing the impacts of our work within the community. Initial results were presented to the NIH IDeA community at the 2018 National IDeA Symposium of Biomedical Research Excellence (NISBRE) Conference in Washington, DC.

RCP Builds Capacity for Innovators and Entrepreneurs

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RCP’s capacity-building for innovators and entrepreneurs in 2018 included work on both international and domestic projects. This year, our involvement with the U.S. Department of State’s Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) initiative included implementing a new Technology Idea (Tech-I) competition format for 2018 in which past finalists played an active role as alumni mentors, in addition to recently launching the 2019 competition.

GIST Tech-I, a global pitch competition for young entrepreneurs, has been implemented by RCP since 2014. For the 2018 competition, past GIST Tech-I finalists functioned as Alumni Mentors, who worked with competitors to improve their ideas and perfect their pitch, and selected the best applications to move on to the semi-finals. Semi-finalists then competed in a global public vote, which wrapped up with over 200,000 votes cast. The top ten finishers pitched their startups at the 2018 Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) in Istanbul, Turkey. More than $170,000 in startup resources were awarded. The first-place winner was Wassim El Hariri from Lebanon, whose company SASHA uses a uniquely designed robot to fully automate food distribution in hospitals.

In October 2018, we opened applications for the 2019 GIST Tech-I competition and began recruiting experts to review the applications, as well as judges and trainers for the finals. Young innovators and entrepreneurs from 132 emerging countries are eligible to submit their applications. The finals will take place during the 2019 GEC in Manama, Bahrain in April 2019.

Our support of innovation within the U.S. included continuing to manage evaluations of technical applications for innovation funds in the state of Maine. The Maine Technology Institute’s Maine Development Loan (MTI MDL) program offers up to $500,000 to Maine companies developing technologies in six priority sectors, including energy, advanced manufacturing, and composite materials. MTI’s goal is to boost economic development and create jobs throughout the state, frequently leveraging innovations coming out of the state’s universities. Over the past year, RCP managed the evaluation of 12 applications to MDL, using a new accelerated review format we developed with MTI. Projects proposed by the applications included the development of a wireless internet of things medical needle system, development of a small business cyberinfrastructure platform, and creation of cloud-based online course registration software.

In 2019, we plan to continue to advance STEM entrepreneurship in the U.S. and abroad by developing short courses to build capacity for researchers and entrepreneurs, managing review of a new round of MDL applications, and implementing GIST Tech-I 2019. To keep up-to-date on all of RCP’s work on GIST Tech-I, we encourage you to follow the AAAS Entrepreneur feeds on Facebook and Twitter.

RCP Expands its Short Course Curricula on Research Competitiveness

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Providing training to STEM students, professionals, and entrepreneurs is an important part of RCP’s work. This year, our work in this area included supporting the training of entrepreneurship mentors and developing, implementing a new short course on research ethics, and developing a new logic model for measuring impacts in our short courses.

This year, RCP implemented a modified version of the Department of State’s GIST Tech-I global pitch competition for young entrepreneurs, in which past GIST Tech-I finalists played an active role in soliciting, selecting, and mentoring the 2018 Tech-I applicants. Throughout the course of the competition, the past finalists functioned as Alumni Mentors who worked with competitors to improve their ideas and perfect their pitch. This feature of the 2018 competition allowed alumni to share the knowledge they had gained by participating in Tech-I, empowering them as mentors and entrepreneurship advocates in their region.

At the request of the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Education’s Research and Development Office (RDO), RCP developed a new short course on research ethics for international. We implemented the course in December 2018 in Riyadh and Jeddah, training more than 120 advanced graduate students and early-career faculty. We will measure long-term impacts in 2019 against baseline participant data to track ethics policy development, change in attitude and awareness, and transfer of knowledge to other colleagues.

In addition to designing the new ethics course, this we also developed a new logic model for  our short courses on Proposal Development and Research Paper Authorship and Publication, building on our staff’s experience training more than 5,000 researchers in over 20 countries. The logic model will allow us to measure the intended outcomes that our short courses help researchers become more competitive and enhance their ability to advance their careers whether in academic or non-academic areas. Our curricula are competency-based, hands-on, and developed with unique insights from designing and implementing grant competitions, reviewing proposals and manuscripts, and evaluating and providing strategic advice to STEM organizations and agencies for over two decades. We look forward to continuing to expand the variety and locations of short courses that we offer in 2019.

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