May 12, 2014

Tour offers insight into research possibilities

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Mickey A. Latour, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, wants to be certain faculty members have access to the major grants that bring research to the university. 

Accordingly, Latour led department heads and other representative faculty members on a private “insider’s” tour of the U.S. Department of Agriculture facilities in Washington, D.C. this spring. 

The group met with the heads of various agencies and offices based in the USDA to learn about major grant availability, deadlines, new grants, elements of a successful grant application, and what each agency perceives as its primary research needs. 

The faculty members also learned about opportunities to sit on grant review panels.  Most panels include 15 experts in the general area of the grant -- for example, crops, plant breeding, water quality, or food safety.  SIU faculty who participate in review panels will have the opportunity to work with faculty from other universities, as well as learn from behind-the-scenes which research grant requests are successful and which are not. 

Latour explained that the competition for major grants of $100,000 or more is fierce.  The application process can take up to an entire year and any mistake or incomplete step can send the application back to the beginning.  Latour said the visit was a step down the path for researchers in the college to remain competitive at the highest end of the research spectrum. 

The group also learned about smaller grants that foster research that is in its beginning stages.  Those grants, Latour said, can be useful for launching cutting-edge, problem-solving research. 

“Research is a high priority for the college and for the university and it’s part of our mission as an institution,” Latour said.  “In agricultural sciences, we stress hands-on learning, and one way to do that is to engage students in research.  That is more effectively done when the faculty members are engaged in research.  This insider’s visit to the USDA shows our faculty absolutely that we support them, that we want them to bring research to this university.” 

“Learning from the USDA agencies about their research priorities for the next few years is invaluable information to have as we plan our own research,” Andrew Carver, professor of forestry who was part of the trip, said. “It impacts our curriculum, too, in that we can help our students focus on issues that will be relevant in the near future.” 

Carver noted this visit was the first of its kind he had participated in and that the dean’s involvement added significance. 

“We all felt energized by this -- meeting with leaders and interacting with each other,” he said.  “It was inspiring.”