The University Science Strategy Committee — which convened last year to develop a strategy to bolster the sciences at Yale — shared its findings and recommendations on Thursday, calling for the creation of a series of new campuswide research institutes.
The committee met almost 60 times over a 16-month period, clocking in more than 90 hours. The long-awaited report recommended 10 specific ideas for the University to prioritize, four areas for campuswide development and 10 possible changes to the organizational structure of the sciences at Yale.
The recommendations in the report are expected to form the basis of Yale’s next capital campaign, a major fundraising push that will likely begin in the next year or so. The report identifies five top recommendations, listed by priority. At the top of that list is a new University-wide institute on data science, aimed to integrate that growing field with mathematical modeling research.
Among other priorities, the report calls for Yale to expand the Yale Quantum Institute and establish three other new institutes: an institute on the inflammatory basis of disease, one focused on modeling environmental change and assisting in conservation efforts, and a collaborative neuroscience institute centralizing efforts by neuroscience researchers in the School of Medicine and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
In January 2017, University Provost Benjamin Polak charged the committee with identifying priorities for science investment to improve the University’s standing as a top research university. Scott Strobel, vice president for West Campus planning and program development, chaired the 16-member committee, which also included top administrators in the offices of institutional research and development.
“We are grateful to Scott Strobel and the other members of the University Science Strategy Committee for the considerable time and effort they devoted to this important and challenging work and for their dedication to advancing research and educational excellence at Yale,” University President Peter Salovey wrote on Thursday in a letter to the Yale community.
Over the course of its work, the committee sought to develop holistic investment priorities applicable across Yale’s science campuses — Science Hill, the School of Medicine and West Campus.
Damon Clark, a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology and co-director of undergraduate studies of the neuroscience major, praised the report’s cross-cutting recommendations that aim to bolster science and engineering at Yale.
“It’s a very diverse set of researchers and departments affected by the neuroscience recommendations,” Clark said, noting the many departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and at the medical school that perform neuroscience research. “Indeed, one goal of the recommendations in neuroscience is to find a way to bring some of these diverse faculty together — physically and intellectually.”
Mark Gerstein — a professor of biomedical informatics— similarly emphasized the value of a new data science institute that would integrate Yale’s science campuses and discourage research “silos.”
In addition to the five top priorities, the report includes a set of five secondary objectives: climate change, the intersections of computer science and other fields, cancer research, precision medicine and regenerative medicine.
The report also features four recommendations for “cross-cutting” investments that would support all the different STEM fields at the University. It recommends increased funding for STEM graduate education, a renewed focus on diversity in STEM at Yale, the growth of state-of-the art instrumentation and engineering facilities, and more investment in Yale’s core facilities and laboratory spaces.
Finally, the report recommends 10 changes to the organizational structure of the sciences at Yale. Several of the proposed changes call for greater support and training for scientists and faculty members, as well as more research collaborations and interdisciplinary efforts.
Salovey wrote in his letter on Thursday that the committee welcomes feedback from the community and will begin to plan the implementation of the report’s findings in the coming months.
Before releasing the report, the committee met with more than 100 faculty members spanning nearly 50 departments and five of Yale’s schools. The committee initially identified 70 ideas for further consideration and next convened panels in which faculty members advocated for particular recommendations. These conversations culminated in a ranked vote for the top priorities among the committee members based on two criteria — impact and feasibility.
“The greater focus on data science would definitely help push the quantitative research of possibly all disciplines at Yale to a higher level — from medicine to physical sciences, social sciences and the humanities,” said Huibin Zhou, the chair of the statistics and data science department and a member of the Integrative Data Science panel.
Zhou added that the greatest challenge facing the implementation of the new data science institute is identifying a physical space to house the data scientists. According to the report, a potential location for the institute is the Kline Biology Tower — after the MCDB department move from KBT to the new Yale Science Building.
Another concern is establishing the specific role of the institute amid the various departments and programs at Yale that perform data science research, Gerstein said. For example, he said, Yale’s new Center for Biomedical Data Science, which Gerstein co-directs, might eventually be folded into the proposed institute.
The University’s new 240,000-square-foot Yale Science Building — which will house the MCDB department and part of the MB&B and Physics departments — is slated for completion in fall 2019.