Cross Explains Tech’s Evolving Research Strategy
From leading the way in cybersecurity to improving flood predictions in developing nations, Georgia Tech researchers are internationally known for their discoveries.
But there is still much to be done to make it easier for faculty members, students and others to pursue the well-respected research that occurs at Tech.
“Our goal is for people around the world to ask ‘What does Georgia Tech think?’ when they have a question or problem,” said Steve Cross, executive vice president for research. “To do this, we need to find new ways for faculty, students and post docs to explore and solve exciting problems by working together across traditional academic disciplines.”
In this two-part Q&A series, Cross will discuss Tech’s relationship with research and respond to common questions. In this installment, he explains the Institute’s evolving research strategy and the establishment of 12 core research areas.
Is research separate from the educational component of Georgia Tech?
They are intimately linked. We do research because it is reputationally important (helping attract the best faculty, students, and postdocs) and because of its importance in economic development. But, of course, research is also key to enhancing our educational role. Our main product is, and will always be, well-educated students. It is significant that this focus remains connected to our history, specifically the initial shops and foundries of Tech. When the Institute opened its doors, students worked in those shops and foundries in parallel with their coursework — as is the case today with the research many of our students do in campus laboratories.
What is Georgia Tech’s research strategy?
The research strategy has three objectives. The first is pursuing transformative research. We want to make it even easier to pursue research that is game-changing and leading edge, and have people asking, “What does Georgia Tech think?” The second objective is strengthening collaborative partnerships with industry, government and nonprofits. We want to be viewed as leaders who define grand challenges and engage communities in collaborative problem solving. The third objective is maximizing the economic and societal impact of our research. This strategy involves the entire Tech research enterprise: the colleges and schools, the Georgia Tech Research Institute, the Enterprise Innovation Institute, our contracting and licensing operations, our development and support functions, and our Interdisciplinary Research Institutes (IRIs). We strive to be a research environment that is powered by ideas, led by faculty, energized by students and supported by professionals as “one Georgia Tech.”
What do you see as your role in this?
My main role, and that of my team, is to support those who do the research. We are behind the scenes helping make others successful. I also have an important role in communicating and marketing the impact of our research to various stakeholders, including sponsors and alumni. In addition, I serve as an internal advocate for faculty and students, and sometimes I challenge us to do more than we may think possible.
How do you define interdisciplinary research? How does the Institute support it?
An interdisciplinary pursuit can be contrasted with a multidisciplinary one where two or more existing disciplines are involved in achieving some outcome. IRIs were created to provide intellectual crossroads where different academic pursuits could merge to explore and solve problems. They provide an environment where interaction among traditional academic disciplines is natural. It is the intersection of these fields at the boundaries of their knowledge that creates new ways of thinking about problems and new ways to solve them.
Explain our 12 core research areas.
Shortly after I was selected for this position, I was looking at a website that listed many of the centers, labs and groups across Tech. There was not much rhyme or reason to how they were grouped, and many were not even listed. Unless you had intimate knowledge about the Institute’s internal structure, it did not make much sense. Given my role in communicating and marketing our research capabilities, I wanted a better way to describe our research to the outside world. So, with help from the associate deans of research and school chairs, we constructed a master list of all the centers, labs, groups and institutes. A list of around 300 dictated that we group many into similar thematic areas. Out of this distillation process came 12 areas. It is not cast in concrete and can change when it makes sense to describe it differently.