Shijun Zhang, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the VCU School of Pharmacy and researcher with VCU Massey Cancer Center.

The impact of our research and creativity

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Virginia Commonwealth University is proud to be among the nation’s most active research universities. The levels of creativity, discovery and innovation among my faculty colleagues and our students has never been higher, nor more impactful.

There are many ways, of course, to measure the impact of a university’s research. One is the amount of sponsored research a university is awarded; that is, how much funding for research comes in to the university from external sources, including foundations, corporations or government entities.

I am proud that for FY15, VCU’s sponsored awards reached $270.3 million, an all-time high for our university and a 3 percent increase over FY14. Amazingly, it also marked the eighth time in 10 years that we have set a new institutional record.

Every day, VCU is awarded nearly three-quarters of a million dollars for research. That is a staggering investment in our commitment to advance the human experience through discovery and innovation.

The biggest reason for this growth is a remarkable 12 percent increase in federal awards; that is, U.S. government-sponsored research. VCU was awarded $156 million in such grants. Notable among that is funding from the National Institutes of Health, which increased by 10 percent, to $88 million. This is extraordinary because the NIH is awarding fewer grants overall, meaning VCU’s researchers earned a larger piece of a smaller pie.

For the fourth year in a row, we are within the Top 100 universities in terms of federal research expenditures, a prestigious list compiled by the National Science Foundation on which we ranked 84th. Investigator-initiated grants to VCU also reached record attainment for the fourth consecutive year, totaling $211 million.

Across the board, these record-setting numbers are exceptional. My sincere thanks to Vice President for Research and Innovation Frank Macrina for his leadership and vision, and to my faculty colleagues who are breaking new ground every day in laboratories, clinics and studios across VCU. They are also remarkable mentors for our students at every level, who are making research a part of their educational experience like never before. Did you know that VCU students started eight companies last year, from their research, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit?

I could not be more proud.

While $270.3 million is one good measure of our research engine, it is not the only way to mark our research’s impact. VCU’s brand of research is both translational and transformational, and we commit to use what we discover here to help people quickly. We do not create knowledge for the sake of new knowledge, nor simply to make the pages of a periodical. What we do here — what we discover and create — shapes the future of humanity.

That is why VCU’s research is interdisciplinary and collaborative, focused on sharing knowledge to solving problems and addressing societal needs. We are leveraging each other, not competing with each other.

What we make here, we make real.

That is why we are one of the few universities in the nation to be recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for both our “very high research activity” and our robust community engagement. It is why we focus on helping the people who need us most — beginning right here in Greater Richmond — through our commitments to discovery, education, service and human health. It is why we are tireless in asking the questions no one else does, and relentless in discovering the answers no one else can.

At VCU, we conduct research so that we can change our community and change our world. How do measure that? Well, $270.3 million is a good start. But it is only the beginning. The real measure is in lives empowered, lives improved and lives changed.