1. President’s Advisory Panel on the Biosciences Report

    September 24, 2015

    I am pleased to share the final report of the President’s Advisory Panel on the Biosciences at the University of Michigan.

    I established the panel in the Fall of 2014, with a charge of “developing a recommended strategy that will propel Michigan to the forefront in critical areas of life science research by optimally leveraging our comprehensive excellence.”

    The panel was comprised nearly entirely of faculty from several of our schools, colleges and institutes and was chaired by Provost Martha Pollack.

    We are in an era of unprecedented discovery potential in the biological and biomedical sciences.  Life science also has become a fundamental target of discovery in many fields once distant from biology. The integration of disciplinary approaches is advancing our understanding of human health and disease. And as highlighted recently in Nature, interdisciplinarity will be key to solving many of life science’s most important puzzles.

    Done correctly, it is not mere multidisciplinary work — a collection of people tackling a problem using their specific skills — but a synthesis of different approaches into something unique. … An interdisciplinary approach should drive people to ask questions and solve problems that have never come up before. But it can also address old problems, especially those that have proved unwilling to yield to conventional approaches.

    The University of Michigan is greatly advantaged in this highly collaborative and multidisciplinary research landscape because of our breadth of academic excellence. We have world-class schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Engineering, Natural Resources and Environment, Public Health, and Nursing, along with outstanding natural and physical science departments within the College of Literature, Science & the Arts, and free-standing institutes in Life Science and Social Research.

    The report provides a thoughtful analysis of the current state of the life sciences at our university including a candid assessment of our strengths and challenges. Most importantly, it goes on to describe what an ideal future for U-M life science might look like and suggests a variety of possible ways to get there. Finally, it includes appendices containing a wealth of data and the results of the panel’s extensive outreach activities.

    The panel engaged in extensive outreach to ensure that the report was informed by broad perspectives. The engagement included four town halls, anonymous input from an online site, interviews with leaders at our university and at other institutions, and visits to faculty and administrators at other universities that excel in the biosciences.

    I met with the panel just as the semester was starting, and we had the opportunity to discuss their observations and recommendations in detail. I am now sharing this report more broadly, and in the weeks ahead I will be reaching out to campus leaders and life sciences faculty to share my thoughts and to seek input from others about how to move forward.

    I’d like to thank Provost Martha Pollack, who chaired the panel, and its members for a job well done.