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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Funding for research at UCD prevails under economic constraints

Despite the dismal economic environment at UC Davis, there remains one area where funding is largely unaffected: research grants.

Ever-growing funding for academic research allows UC Davis to maintain its reputation as one of the nation’s premiere research facilities.

Research grants are contributed by the federal government or external agencies, such as the Gates Foundation. Depending on the agency, grants are typically awarded after peer review of a research proposal, or based on a good track record for previous research.

Research awards have increased by nearly $300 million since 2001, with a projected total of $620 million for the 2008-2009 academic year.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed in February 2009, is the Obama Administration’s effort to both create jobs and stimulate the nation’s scientific research programs.

“At a time when we are very hard-pressed, this stimulus funding will allow us to build up an infrastructure that will serve us well for many years,” said Vice Chancellor for Research Barry Klein in a UC Davis News and Information article.

By and large, biological science receives the largest research grants in comparison to other fields. In October, UC Davis was awarded $75 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development to predict potential for new diseases to be spread from wild animals to humans. Funding will be used for global pandemic prevention and to avoid the outbreak of another HIV or SARS crisis.

Over the next seven years, the UC Davis Health System will undertake the largest child and human health study ever conducted in the United States. Study of the effects of environmental and genetic factors on child development is funded by a $32 million grant from several federal partners, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Due to the mystery and uncertainty of autism, research on the disease is one of the most funded topics. Autism studies at the M.I.N.D Institute account for two out of the five largest grants the university has received, amounting to $27 million.

Although funds exist for issues in the social and behavioral sciences, such as substance abuse and aggression, these studies tend to get substantially less attention. Among the social and behavioral sciences, grant agencies favor interests in minority populations and health disparities between advantaged and disadvantaged groups.

When faculty interests do not parallel that of funding groups, flexibility in research becomes key. A psychologist’s proposal for a grant on personality studies, for example, may propose to include a health affects component to meet the priorities of the funding agencies.

“With a little imagination and hard work, people can do projects they would like to do in the social and behavioral sciences,” said Distinguished Professor Rand Conger who received a $5.5 million grant in 2005.

Although funds reach in to the multi-millions, the physics department faces a somewhat schizophrenic environment, a nation-wide trend that the Obama Administration plans to confront with its recovery act.

To fit the priorities of the biotech industry and federal, UCD’s chemistry and physics departments have dived into pharmaceutical research and recruited top energy experts, said mathematical and physical sciences Dean Winston Ko.

“In difficult times it is more important to invest in science,” Ko said. “It affects the recovery of society.”

GABRIELLE GROW can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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