Faculty Leverage UGPN Funding And Networks To Expand Collaboration

The University Global Partnership Network (UGPN) is seeking proposals for this year’s round of funding from its Research Collaboration Fund (RCF). The network recently adopted the UN Sustainable Development Goals as part of its new strategic framework. This cycle, the RCF places an emphasis on proposals that address the UN SDGs or address issues related to the global pandemic and its impacts.

“The wide-ranging implications of the COVID-19 pandemic across health systems, the public sector, economies, and global relations bring into stark relief how interconnected we are in so many ways,” said David Dixon, director of partnerships for the Office of Global Engagement. “As the UGPN members are located in Australia, Brazil, the United States and the United Kingdom, we are well-positioned to leverage complementary expertise across the four continents.”

NC State is a UGPN founding member

Harnessing the research being conducted at the four universities in the network: NC State, the University of São Paulo, the University of Surrey and the University of Wollongong was the focus of NC State Global Health Director Sid Thakur’s UGPN grant last year. The group utilized the grant funding to develop an antimicrobial resistance research consortium comprised of 52 faculty members across all four universities. 

“The seeds of the proposal that was funded last year were planted at the UGPN meeting that we hosted at NC State,” he recalled. “I was leading the One Health workshop, and we were all sitting in a room trying to figure out a common problem that was affecting us all. We discussed a couple of different topics and antimicrobial resistance was at the top.”

Expanding Research Networks

Kelly Meiklejohn, assistant professor of forensic science in the College of Veterinary Medicine, also utilized the network as a way to reconnect with and establish new collaborations. Her proposal to develop a global database of blow flies with collaborators at the University of São Paulo and the University of Wollongong, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree and Ph.D.

Dr. Kelly Meiklejohn, forensic science professor, works in her lab at the biomedical research campus. Photo by Marc Hall

“I had just started at NC State, so it was also a way for me to meet new collaborators within our university,” she said. “We had a fantastic group of collaborators on our team. Everyone was very responsive and really passionate about moving ideas forward. We held workshops in each country and also got to meet other colleagues during those visits, developing additional connections.”

Forming and deepening collaborations are just some of the reasons UGPN is a preferred strategic partner network for international research, according to Bailian Li, senior vice provost for global engagement.

“NC State is proud to be a founding member,” he said. “In addition to the potential impact the research has on society, this type of joint international research and activities leads to more publications and citations as well as larger international funding opportunities.”

Leveraging Networks for More Opportunities

Both Thakur and Meiklejohn have already leveraged their UGPN projects and collaborations successfully. Thakur, a professor of molecular epidemiology, spent two summers as a visiting professor at the University of Surrey’s School of Veterinary Medicine. He connected with colleagues there through previous UGPN projects, and they, in turn, applied for a larger grant that funded his stints at their university. And, he already has 5 joint publications with a collaborator he met during his time in the U.K.

Dr. Sid Thakur is professor of molecular epidemiology and director of the Global Health program.

“Had I not gone over there, I would have never met him,” Thakur said. “We just clicked, and he’s on the committee for 2 of my Ph.D. students now.”

Meiklejohn was able to utilize the workshops that were held as part of the UGPN grant to develop a proposal for the National Science Foundation’s Dimensions of Biodiversity Program, which she recently submitted.

“This particular program requires joint submissions from the U.S. and either São Paulo, China or South Africa,” she explained.  “We harnessed the collaboration we developed during the UGPN grant with the University of São Paulo for this submission.”

Finding Collaborators Across the Network

Both NC State faculty members said the proposal process is pretty straightforward, and one of the keys is finding good collaborators. Thakur and Meiklejohn both agreed that participating in a UGPN conference is one of the best ways to meet potential partners. But, this year’s conference that was to be held in Australia was canceled because of COVID-19.

“Each proposal requires collaboration across the network with at least two institutions contributing,” Dixon added. “So, the Office of Global Engagement could help facilitate connections among faculty.”

Proposal submissions are due by July 6, and successfully funded projects will be selected by late July. Interested faculty can find more details and a link to apply for funding on the Office of Global Engagement’s website.