2017 RCP Annual Update

Every year we work with hundreds of reviewers and dozens of experts on institutional site visits. Each of you helps with a part of the work of the Research Competitiveness Program to support AAAS’s mission. We compiled this Annual Update to give you a sense of the scope of the work that you’ve contributed to, and we look forward to working with many of you in 2018 and beyond.

Over 1,500 Proposals Reviewed for 8 Funding Programs in the U.S. and Abroad

Since 2001, RCP has worked with universities, U.S. state and federal agencies, foundations, and national science organizations abroad to build STEM research capacity through peer review. In 2017, we recruited scientific and technical experts and led nearly 600 peer reviews for grant applications, pre-proposals, research progress reports, and technology entrepreneurship competitions. The majority of the competitions RCP supported involved small batches of proposals (2 to 40 proposals in total). All peer review projects were conducted in close collaboration with the funder and/or institution running the competition, allowing us to help build the review model and criteria to best fit the competition’s goals.

Through Washington State’s new Cancer Research Endowment (CARE) Fund, a 10-year, up to $10 million per year state match to fund cancer research, RCP has the exciting opportunity to bring peer review to bear on identifying leading-edge cancer research opportunities with the greatest potential to leverage the state’s existing facilities and talent. with a sustainable investment in cancer research. RCP has worked with the program to provide peer review for applications to the CARE Distinguished Researchers competition, designed to recruit researchers from all over the world to bring their best-in-class talent to Washington. In 2018, RCP will provide peer review for a second funding opportunity, the Breakthrough Grant Program, created for researchers and collaborators to engage new and innovative approaches to cancer research.

This year, RCP managed the peer review of over 1,100 proposals submitted to the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), for which we will deliver consensus reviews in early 2018. Early in the spring, we also managed dozens of panels of scientific experts to provide consensus reviews for research proposals in regenerative medicine for the Connecticut Innovations funding agency. Additionally, RCP organized panel reviews for proposals to the University of North Carolina General Administration’s Inter-institutional Planning Grant and Research Opportunities Initiative. The topics of proposals for which we have recruited reviewers varies across a range of STEM fields – from biomedical proposals for Connecticut and Washington to soil science, solar cells, and cloud computing for KACST. Beyond leading independent peer review on basic and applied sciences, RCP also provides technical review and advice for investment proposals for projects leading to technology commercialization, in fields ranging from translational medicine to industrial engineering.

Many of you have served on one of our panels. Thank you. Because of you, the institutions and organizations receiving the reviews have consistently remarked on the high value of the independent feedback they are provided. This is especially true for the applicants whose skills you are helping build through these competitions. Often from smaller institutions, many applicants may not have regular experience applying to NSF and NIH. We would also like to extend a special thanks to many of you who have worked on the review of progress reports funded by KACST’s Strategic Technologies Program. The ability to have continuity of feedback from the original reviewers on these last few hundred ongoing research projects strengthens that program significantly. We all greatly value your service. 

STEM Program Assessments Span Institutions and Jurisdictions in 9 States and Internationally

In the last year, RCP designed and led external reviews of 13 STEM programs in 9 U.S. states and Puerto Rico, with an additional upcoming assessment in Kuwait. In each case we worked with program leaders to design an assessment, define a site visit agenda, and recruit a panel of experts suited to each program’s context and stage in the funding cycle. Each assessment was carried out through a site visit led by a Ph.D.-level RCP staff member. The site visits included a series of semi-structured meetings and facilities tours with project leaders, participants, and key stakeholders in the program. While on-site, the AAAS Panels met with project leaders to discuss key findings and then RCP led the panel in composing a report that summarized the findings and listed priority recommendations for the program.

In 2017, RCP recruited and led expert panels to provide assessments and guidance for NSF-funded EPSCoR programs in Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, and Vermont. Formative assessments guided projects toward defining the project vision, achieving their research goals, developing the Broader Impacts required by NSF, and improving project integration and communication across multiple partner institutions and stakeholders. Summative reviews captured the outcomes of research projects and their impacts, and helped the grantees to develop sustainability plans. In several cases, the program reviews involved university research consortia working across state borders.

RCP also evaluated the strength of state-wide biomedical research networks for NIH-funded INBRE programs in Delaware, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Louisiana, and Vermont, including collaborations between research institutions and community and tribal colleges. As independent, external evaluators, we help the INBRE projects gain an external perspective on the challenges they face, including ideas about how those challenges have been solved in other parts of the country. The assessments also highlight accomplishments and progress that sometimes can be overlooked by researchers busy with the day-to-day work on the project.

This year, RCP also completed an assessment of the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science’s capacity to support IT and integrate with UVA’s broader strategic plan for technology enterprises. In addition, at the request of the President of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, RCP convened an expert panel to provide guidance on the university’s intellectual property endeavors. This included an assessment of current IP processes and functions, as well as recommendations to implement new processes that may increase the effectiveness of technology transfer.

We have worked on STEM program assessment for over 20 years, providing review of more than $1 billion in federally funded research programs. RCP is committed to continually monitoring and assessing our processes to ensure that we are doing our best to support the institutions and PIs with whom we work. This year, senior RCP staff attended courses on needs assessment, monitoring and evaluation frameworks, evaluability assessment, and qualitative evaluation methods through The Evaluators’ Institute of Claremont Graduate University, gaining additional tools in program evaluation. If you have had the opportunity to serve as a panelist on one of our site visits, we thank you for the crucial role you have played in our programmatic assessment work.

RCP Builds Capacity for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

In 2017, RCP expanded its work with several U.S. state innovation funds to build capacity in STEM research and worked with young technology entrepreneurs in the Washington D.C. area through a pilot competition for start-up companies called Lab to Launch.

RCP created Lab to Launch to identify and support promising D.C. technology innovators by providing training, networking opportunities, and seed capital prizes. Individuals from across the District submitted applications and pitch videos describing their business plans and technical innovations. After a merit review by panels composed of scientific and entrepreneurship experts, six entrepreneurs were selected to advance to the Lab to Launch Live Pitching Finals. On April 18th, the finalists convened at the AAAS Headquarters in downtown D.C., and pitched their technology innovation to an audience of their peers and technology enthusiasts, including a panel of judges. Each finalist was competing for the chance to win a seed capital prize of $5,000 for 1st place, $3,000 for 2nd place, or $2,000 for 3rd place.

In addition to our new work this year on Lab to Launch, RCP continued to provide peer-review of technical proposals to state innovation funds in Connecticut and Maine. The Maine Technology Institute’s (MTI) Development Loan 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. RCP also provided scientific review for applications submitted to newly revamped Maine Technology Asset Fund (MTAF 2.0), which offers loans to Maine-based firms for investment in R&D and commercialization activities. Just 250 miles south, Connecticut Innovations organizes a variety of competitions and investment programs for its state, and RCP provided comprehensive scientific and technical merit reviews for both the Connecticut Biosciences Innovation Fund and the Regenerative Medicine Research Fund.

To keep up-to-date on all of RCP’s entrepreneurship initiatives, we encourage you to follow the AAAS Entrepreneur feeds on Facebook and Twitter. In 2018, RCP will continue to advance STEM entrepreneurship in the U.S. and abroad, by applying its diversity of expertise in capacity building, peer review, institutional assessment, and training.

RCP Expands Its Workshop Curricula on Research Competitiveness

This year, the Research Competitiveness Program staff designed two new workshops: Science and Policy-Making Fundamentals and Starting a Career Outside of Academia and updated our proposal writing workshop for a workshop benefitting public health officials. Our workshops were this past year were attended by researchers and institutions from Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, the United States, and Afghanistan.

In December 2016, RCP led a Competitive Grant Writing workshop in Kuwait City for researchers from Kuwaiti universities and research hospitals, funded by the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science (KFAS). The three-day workshop prepared participants to identify regional and international funding opportunities and to develop competitive proposals for submission.

In India, RCP led the majority of a three-day One-Health workshop for leaders in public health from Afghanistan. The workshop presented the One Health framework for epidemiology and reviewed strategies for success in applying to international grants, including funding from the U.S., for studies applying a One Health approach.

In October, RCP was invited to present on two seminars at the International Conference on Women Leaders in Science, Technology, and Engineering – the 10th Anniversary, in Kuwait. The first seminar, Science and Policy-Making Fundamentals, was led by the RCP Program Director, Charles Dunlap, and provided an overview of science for policy and policy for science fundamentals. The second seminar was led by RCP project director Annette Olson and provided a presentation, take-home exercises, and resources on how scientists can find, apply to, and adapt to non-academic careers. With only 3-20% of jobs within scientific disciplines yielding tenure-track positions, most students today consider careers outside of academia. Half of the audience included undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs, while the other half were professors seeking to advise their students. All the participants now have resources to utilize for exploring careers.

In 2017, RCP also measured the impacts of several of our workshops held in 2016. For example, in follow-up surveys of participants in our workshop on networking for women technology entrepreneurs in Côte d’Ivoire, the participants reported that they expanded by six-fold the members of the networks supporting their technology-based businesses. They also passed on knowledge gained in the workshop to an average of 300 other technology entrepreneurs.

RCP workshops are designed to help researchers become more competitive and to enhance their ability to advance their careers whether in academic or non-academic areas. RCP will continue to expand the variety and locations of workshops that we offer in 2018.