Emerging research leaders aim to solve big problems

10/2/2023 6:40:40 AM Amy Clay-Moore

Christopher Brooke shares at the Emerging Research Leaders orientationLast month, the first cohort of the Emerging Research Leaders Academy attended a kickoff meeting in the Beckman Institute fourth-floor tower room. With its stunning view of the whole University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus to the south, the location was fitting for this multidisciplinary group of researchers coming from across campus to participate in this first of its kind training program here at Illinois.

The Emerging Research Leaders Academy provides vital leadership and team science training that will help mid-career faculty pursue large, multi-PI grants, lead campus research initiatives, enhance their own research programs, and ultimately position Illinois for research excellence.

Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Susan Martinis offered opening remarks, thanking the cohort for taking the time to invest in themselves and in Illinois’ research enterprise, and for representing the very best of Illinois.

“The university’s success relies on creativity and disciplinary excellence,” said Vice Chancellor Martinis. “I know we have a lot of great ideas in this room, however implementation with strong administrative and leadership skills to lead teams at scale is an important piece of the puzzle to make sure we are successful in securing the resources and infrastructure to support all those big ideas, and that is why you’re here. Congratulations!”

After opening remarks, cohort members introduced themselves and shared what they hoped to gain from their experience in the program. Some common themes emerged.

Many of the researchers brought how essential multidisciplinary collaboration is to their work. Laura Mattie, a professor of speech & hearing science, was among them.Emerging Research Leaders participants in a break-out discussion“My research focuses on understanding early development in infants and young children with neurogenetic disabilities in order to promote positive development and well-being in these children and their families. We want to build infrastructure to support people with these neurogenetic disabilities and we need a lot of people from different backgrounds to work together. Team science is the only way we can accomplish our goals.”

A number of researchers also discussed their desire to improve their mentorship skills. As iSchool Professor Jodi Schneider pointed out, the benefits of strong mentorship go beyond the investment in the trainees.

“It’s not just about becoming a better leader myself, but mentoring my postdocs and grad students in project management, leadership, and mentoring down the pipeline. I cannot continue to grow my research program without growing the competency of the people I collaborate with. I need more leaders on my team.”

One of the most common themes in the room was the desire to effectively manage teams at scale. Ying Diao, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, summed it up well.

Emerging Research Leaders participants in a break-out discussion“My research involves building smart robots for sustainable energy. I realized early in my tenure at the university that we need bigger teams to solve these big problems. Everyone comes in with their own ideas and their own goals. How do we orient and motivate everyone towards a shared vision?”

Throughout the Fall 2023 and Spring 2024 semesters, participants will attend a series of monthly, in-person workshops addressing strategic leadership, mentoring, building diverse and inclusive teams, and leading and managing teams. Each participant will also develop a five-year action plan to help them define and reach their goals.

The Emerging Research Leaders Academy is organized by the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute in partnership with the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science & Technology, Carle Illinois College of Medicine, Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, Center for Social & Behavioral Science, College of Applied Health Sciences, Grainger College of Engineering, and Office of Proposal Development.