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VP of Research grows office’s influence

Jill Pipher develops corporate partnerships, promotes communication about U. research

In the year since Professor of Mathematics Jill Pipher was named vice president for research, her office has undergone a series of developments including the creation of the Office for Industry Engagement and Commercial Venturing, headed by Executive Director Daniel Behr. Pipher has also participated in research advocacy efforts in Washington and worked to give faculty members the resources necessary to realize their investigative aspirations.

Within the many departments in the Office of the Vice President for Research, the University has focused on developing the Office for Industry Engagement and Commercial Venturing. “The launch of this office is part of Brown’s expanded commitment to translational research,” Pipher said. Behr and Pipher assumed their posts around the same time last year.

In the 14 months since Behr came to the University, his office has worked to “help accelerate the flow of innovation from lab to market,” Behr said, adding that they essentially bridge the gap between Brown’s research community and companies that may be interested in further developing scholars’ work from an entrepreneurial perspective. The office works closely with the Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, but it specifically focuses on helping faculty pursue potential commercialization when the University has ownership over the intellectual property from their research, Behr explained.

When working to form partnerships with companies and funding sources for these commercial pursuits, Behr said his colleagues often hear from industry representatives that they like working with University-affiliated projects for two reasons: The academic atmosphere offers an “ingrained culture of convergence of disciplines” and emphasizes undergraduate research on campus. Students can get further involved in the sort of commercial partnerships Behr advances through programs like the Hyundai Visionary Challenge, as The Herald previously reported.

“There are faculty whose research, with a little extra help, could produce new technology and products that would be profoundly important to society, and we want to help them make that leap,” Pipher said. The University can help researchers get a patent, form a startup company or establish a corporate-sponsored research agreement.

Beyond aiding faculty and student researchers as they interact with the corporate world, Pipher’s first year in office has also been characterized by an emphasis on “communication and advocacy about research,” she said.

Pipher travels to Washington frequently — roughly once a month. There, she meets with federal agency program officers and interacts with congressional delegations and policy committees. “It’s an important part of my job to advocate for research in general,” Pipher said, adding that federal program officers have visited Brown’s research facilities and met with faculty for the same purpose.

Her work to further promote communication about research on campus includes a new annual research magazine, “Impact.” The office also shares research efforts on its Twitter account.

To physically centralize collaboration between the various offices Pipher oversees, the Office of Vice President for Research and its affiliates relocated to the South Street Landing buildings in the Jewelry District of downtown Providence, which welcomed staff starting in October last year. Though Pipher splits her time between that location and University Hall, she said the move has been good for the office, which previously saw different teams working from multiple locations on campus. “It’s a wonderful working environment,” she said.

These teams have also seen some growth in numbers during Pipher’s time in office. Through her efforts to achieve “operational excellence,” new staff have been hired to help with grant administration and research management support, on top of adding a few members to Behr’s team, she said.

Next week, Pipher will give a presentation at the Transforming Research conference hosted in part by Associate Director of the Carney Institute for Brain Science Christopher Moore. The conference, held last year at Johns Hopkins University, comes to the University this year to grapple with the “science of science” by discussing the criteria through which research is evaluated and how scientific success can best be achieved, among other topics, Moore said. Transforming Research will bring together professionals from various disciplines including publishing and library science for lectures and breakout discussions over two days. Pipher hopes the University can promote “a research environment that’s really driven by our best shared values, societal benefit of research, ethical conduct, generosity and inclusion.”

“My goal is to make sure that Brown has all the infrastructure necessary to do the cutting edge research that it is doing and can do more of,” Pipher said, who serves as vice president for research until 2020.


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