Tuesday, August 21, 2018

MSU New Faculty Welcome 2018

This is my welcome message to new MSU faculty and staff, presented at the 2018 New Faculty and Staff Orientation lunch.
Good afternoon and Welcome!

We are so pleased that you are here at Michigan State University. You have joined a leading research university, at a very exciting time.

I usually don’t give lengthy remarks, but since I’m not standing between you and lunch, and because so many exciting things are happening on campus, I could not resist giving something of an overview today.

With increased funding, new infrastructure, and an aggressive hiring initiative, we are positioning MSU research, and the university, for continued success. This success is built on a rich research history spanning many decades and disciplines.

In an MSU lab in 1965, Barnett Rosenberg and his team discovered that cisplatin prevents the DNA in cancer cells from replicating. Cisplatin is now a widely used chemotherapy medication. His “ah-ha” moment led to further research, but not without difficulties. The team initially failed to replicate their first results. But they worked extremely hard to resolve the issue, and subsequently had the drug through trials and approved in record time. It’s this kind of Spartan tenacity and effectiveness that we should all emulate.

Two weeks ago we celebrated the 40 year anniversary of the FDA approval of cisplatin, a therapy that is still considered the gold standard to which most new cancer treatments are compared. This discovery not only continues to help those afflicted with cancer, but the resulting royalties also fuel new research and discovery in the form of internal grants and other investments from the MSU Foundation.

My sincere hope is that one of you someday discovers the next cisplatin, or makes scholarly advances of equal importance.

Our team at the MSU Innovation Center is ready to assist faculty and student entrepreneurs with the next “big idea”. They steward more than 150 discoveries annually into a pipeline of patents, products and startup businesses. In 2017, this productivity resulted in 75 license and option agreements with companies around the world, as well as $2.4M in royalties being distributed to our faculty and departments. Applied research helps to build a diversified economy and brings jobs to Michigan and beyond. It is an increasingly important part of university activity.

I’d like to give you a bit of context for the size and scope of the research enterprise here at MSU.

MSU research continues on an upward growth trajectory. For 2017, total research expenditures were about $700M. This is a number reported each year to NSF for their Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) report. Only 5 years ago our number was closer to $500M, so this represents significant growth.

Based on the HERD comparison data, MSU ranks 1st in the Big Ten and 2nd in the nation in combined Department of Energy and National Science Foundation research expenditures.

We expect to continue our leadership in DOE and NSF funding, in part due to the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, but also due to our work with the Plant Research Laboratory, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Lab and other interdisciplinary and multi-institutional research projects.

Our strategic plan outlines a number of new initiatives that leverage our current strengths and/or build new capacity to expand our portfolio, increase our competitiveness, and ultimately solve many of tomorrow’s pressing problems.

As I mentioned, MSU is home to the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams. FRIB will be a scientific user facility for the Office of Nuclear Physics in the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy.

FRIB will be operational in 2021 and will deliver the highest intensity beams of rare isotopes available anywhere in the world. Estimates of the total investment in this project are roughly $1 billion dollars--a huge milestone for MSU. Operated by MSU, FRIB will enable scientists to make discoveries about the properties of rare isotopes (which are unusual forms of the elements) in order to better understand the physics of nuclei, nuclear astrophysics, and the fundamental interactions of nature. It will also produce practical applications for society, including in medicine, homeland security, and industry.

Last weekend, FRIB held a public open house attracting some 3000 people. If you didn’t have a chance to visit, you will get a glimpse this Thursday at the new faculty research orientation. I hope to see many of you there.

But new infrastructure doesn’t stop with FRIB, and I’m sure you’ve noticed all the construction on campus.

Two years ago, we opened the new BioEngineering building, which houses the Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering, colloquially referred to as “IQ”. This collaboration of the colleges of Engineering, Human Medicine and Natural Science will apply quantitative methods to biomedicine and life science in an interdisciplinary setting. IQ’s researchers will develop new medical tools and treatments that will advance biomedicine in creative ways. We hope it will fundamentally change the way healthcare is delivered.

We’re already far along in construction of another, larger building next to IQ that will house precision health researchers and several other new initiatives. This building, along with IQ and Radiology will create an entire area of campus dedicated to biomedical research.

Last year, we opened a new health research facility in Grand Rapids to complement our medical school there. Researchers in Grand Rapids, and our East Lansing biomedical neighborhood, will make discoveries in health science, and attract additional funding to expedite our growth trajectory. Our performance in NIH funding lags the stellar results I mentioned concerning NSF and DOE, but the investments listed above are meant to improve this situation. In addition, I should mention that for the first time MSU will have a research hospital on our campus, through a partnership with McLaren. MSU research integration with major health systems in Michigan has never been stronger, and we anticipate announcement of major collaborative efforts in the near future.

On August 31, we will break ground on a new STEM education building. New laboratory teaching and research spaces will support MSU’s increasing student enrollment in STEM fields. We look forward to the opportunities this new facility will create for both our students and faculty.

In June, construction began on a new music pavilion. This state-of-the-art facility will incorporate highly advanced acoustical engineering to create high-quality teaching, practice, rehearsal and research spaces that meet the needs of 21st century musicians. This addition further elevates our reputation in the arts, with a particular focus on student learning.

MSU will continue to invest in infrastructure improvements to support our faculty and students, increase our competitiveness, and to attract top recruits like yourselves to the university.

Another recent development is a new department called Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering or CMSE. This department was planned, authorized, and operational in only three years—quite a feat in academia. I often compare “startup time” (the fast pace at which things are accomplished in Silicon Valley) to “academic time” (i.e., nothing gets done, other than committee meetings, or a no-brainer project takes a decade to complete), but with CMSE this was a case of something on campus getting done in startup time. CMSE is one of very few such departments in the country -- it is focused on data science, machine learning, advanced computation and related applications, but is not a traditional CS department. It supports many of the new efforts on campus that require the analysis of large data sets and development of new tools and algorithms. Researchers in this department utilize datasets drawn from areas such as astrophysics, business analytics, mobile data, materials science, human and plant genomics, and many other areas. The department was conceived as fundamentally interdisciplinary -- bringing together experts in computation with subject matter experts in fields of science which are becoming increasingly reliant on data.

I can’t help mentioning a couple of big data examples related to my own research interests: we’ve created a compute resource with 500k human genomes from the UK Biobank, which is open to interested investigators on campus. All of the data is stored at our High Performance Computing Center or HPCC. Using this data, our collaboration demonstrated for the first time that machine learning applied to large genomic datasets could produce accurate predictors for complex human traits. We can now predict adult human height from genome alone, with accuracy of roughly 1 inch. The predictor uses ~20k genetic variants distributed throughout the genome. Predictors of complex disease risk, for conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, low blood platelet count, and breast cancer, have been developed and replicated in out-of-sample tests. See the NYTimes science section just a few days ago. This is only the beginning for genomics-informed Precision Medicine.

Over the summer, through a CEO friend in Silicon Valley, I obtained access for MSU researchers to mobile geolocation data covering the movements of over 30 million Americans. Yes, geolocation coordinates every 10 minutes or so for 30 million people, via their smartphones. I hope you all were aware of this when you clicked “I Accept” :-) If you can think of interesting research uses for this data, please contact Dirk Colbry in CMSE for more information.

The most important component of a university is not buildings, or even laboratory or compute or data infrastructure. The most important resource is people -- talented research faculty, postdocs, students, and support staff.

Some of you joining us today may have been hired under the Global Impact Initiative (GI2). Launched in 2014, the goal of GI2 is to hire 100 new faculty whose research has breakthrough potential to shape the future. Over the last four years, we’ve recruited new faculty with a focus on key areas of innovation, such as machine learning, precision medicine, computational genomics, autonomous vehicles, advanced materials, gene-editing, and advanced plant science. Nearly 80 positions have been filled, with candidates hired from Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, MIT, Johns Hopkins University, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Los Alamos National Lab, and many other top institutions. But we're not done yet. We look forward, with enthusiasm, to the next year of recruiting.

Working here, you will be surrounded by world-class faculty, including members of the National Academy; Guggenheim, Packard, and Sloan Fellows; a recipient of the Stockholm Water Prize; Pulitzer Prize winners; and many more.

In 2018 alone, faculty at MSU received a record 11 NSF CAREER awards across a number of disciplines including engineering, communication arts and sciences, physics and astronomy, plant science, and others. This speaks volumes about the caliber of our young faculty, and is one reason why I’m looking forward to seeing their progress.

As you begin your time here at MSU, we urge you to think big and act boldly. If you are a new faculty member, still near the beginning of your career, we want to support your growth in every way possible. If you are a senior faculty member, we want to push your research program to that next higher level of impact. And, we hope that you can provide valuable mentorship to younger scholars around you.

If there is a problem -- tell us about it! -- whether it has to do with grant submissions, or startup incubation, or child care, food options on campus, your functional or dysfunctional department. We’re here to fix things, and to provide the best possible environment for your teaching and research.

Only one in a thousand people in our society have the privilege to engage full time in discovery -- in curiosity driven research -- for the benefit of humankind. You are part of that lucky one in a thousand, and we are here to help you succeed.

The bar has been set very high, but with the resources and new opportunities here at MSU, your potential is limitless.

My very best wishes to you all :-)

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