She led the development of a strategic plan for research at Tufts and other initiatives, and will continue doing research at the HNRCA
Simin Meydani, who led the creation of a strategic vision for Tufts’ wide-ranging research enterprise, will be stepping down as the university’s vice provost for research at the end of August. After a sabbatical, she will return to her lab at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts (HNRCA) and her work at the Friedman School and School of Medicine.
“Dr. Meydani’s advocacy for research has advanced opportunities, inspired collaboration and enabled productivity for Tufts students, faculty and staff,” said Deborah Kochevar, provost and senior vice president ad intermin. “Informed by her own successful scientific career, she has brought an energetic, consultative style to the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and has engaged faculty and staff university-wide to think innovatively about research.”
“My goal was to have a more strategic approach to enhance research, scholarship, and innovation at Tufts, in terms of how we approach research, what priorities we might best focus on, and the organization within the OVPR [Office of the Vice Provost for Research] that would support those efforts,” Meydani said.
As an institution that combines a liberal arts college with a constellation of graduate-level health-sciences schools across three campuses, Tufts has an uncommonly diverse research portfolio, Meydani said. Identifying focal areas of research is increasingly necessary because of the current funding environment, she said.
“Federal funding has not grown significantly,” she said. “And non-federal funding, whether from industry or philanthropy, is subject to a lot more scrutiny than before. We need to ensure that non-traditional funding sources meet the goals and values of the university.” Plus, “with advances in technology, and changes in the geopolitical landscape, every day there are new regulations that we need to be responsive to.”
The strategic plan developed under Meydani’s leadership is the first university-wide blueprint specifically geared toward research. A steering committee that included representatives from all Tufts schools examined the university’s core strengths to determine research priorities, with a focus on cross-disciplinary collaboration and ways to address societal and global challenges, Meydani said.
That resulted in five thematic priority research areas: Climate, Food, Water and Energy; Comparative Global Humanities; Equitable Society; Living Technology; and One Health. These areas also align with the university’s ten-year strategic plan, known as T10.
“I’m very happy that we made good progress, and this exercise was also helpful in understanding some of the needs of the faculty and the different units outside the OVPR that engage in research. It got us talking to each other,” Meydani said.
Several recommendations made by faculty during the process have also been implemented, such as the establishment of a cross-university research council. And the mixing of faculty from so many different areas of the university has also resulted in more collaboration—“we’re seeing a significant increase in multidisciplinary grant proposals,” she said.
Another priority for Meydani was to encourage practical solutions through translational research. To that end, her office oversaw the birth of Tufts Launchpad | BioLabs, a 15,000-square-foot biotech incubator to nurture innovation in the life sciences on the Boston health-sciences campus. Tufts’ wet-lab startup incubator, managed by BioLabs, completed its first year of operation in the fall of 2018, markedly outperforming original occupancy and financial projections. “It has been a success beyond our expectations; as of April, we’re at more than 90% occupancy ,” she said.
Among other accomplishments during her tenure at OVPR, Meydani mentioned creating a cohesive culture of safety and compliance across the university; unifying compliance matters into one unit, with a dedicated person to lead it; and reducing time faculty spend on administrative tasks by providing electronic submission of Institutional Review Board (IRB) protocols and a single conflict-of-interest form.
Meydani came to the OVPR after serving as director of the HNRCA from 2009 to 2016. She has been a researcher at Tufts since 1984. Moving into an administrative position and spreading her attention to the dozens of topics addressed by Tufts faculty was an adjustment at first, she said. “In the beginning, that was a little hard, but once I started doing it, helping others achieve their research goals became as rewarding as advancing my own goals.”
Meydani is an expert in the field of nutrition, aging, and the immune system, with more than 300 publications to her name, and more than $40 million in external grant funding over her career. She is director of the HNRCA’s Nutritional Immunology Laboratory and holds appointments at the Friedman School and the School of Medicine. Her upcoming work will look at the effect of increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, and at determining the safest level and type of iron supplementation for people living in malaria-endemic areas.
What advice would Meydani have for new researchers? “This is a really exciting era to be a scientist,” she said. “Despite all the difficulties, the possibilities are unprecedented. My advice would be to venture out of your comfort zone from time to time. Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research and scholarship are the way of the future. Some of the most significant discoveries in science are being made by those at the intersection of different disciplines. As scientists, we can’t work in isolation anymore. And, it’s actually a lot more fun.”
Helene Ragovin can be reached at Helene.email@example.com.