Montana State University hosts second annual Research Development Day

BOZEMAN – With Montana State University seeing five straight years of growth in its annual research expenditures — setting a record of $230 million in its most recent report — the university hosted its second annual Research Development Day on Thursday, Jan. 11, to further discuss the state of research and to help create connections among MSU’s diverse research teams.

“Having strong research programs and connections provides students an opportunity to engage in real-world problem solving,” said Alison Harmon, MSU’s vice president for research and economic development. “Our students have access to research instrumentation not available at other universities. At MSU we conduct both basic and applied research that can result in technological innovations and economic impact for Montana’s communities.”

“Research Development Day is everything we do — in one day,” said Nicole Motzer, director of MSU’s Office of Research Development, which hosted the event.

The event, held at Norm Asbjornson Hall, welcomed a combination of in-person and virtual representatives from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Humanities Montana, Montana Arts Council, National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. departments of Energy and Agriculture.

“There are program officers from the various funding agencies, who we invite to Bozeman to build relationships with our researchers and faculty,” Motzer said. “This is to ensure that they have the most advanced and up-to-date information about sponsors’ programs and priorities. We can get feedback on their ideas in real time rather than submitting their proposal into a void. Building those relationships greatly helps proposal success.”

MSU research expenditures in the fiscal year that ended in June 2023 reflected a $30 million increase over the previous year, according to Harmon. MSU is one of just 146 institutions across the U.S. that currently has an R1 designation for very high research activity from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

Allen Walker, the senior advisor of the National Science Foundation’s new directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, delivered the keynote, and the agenda featured several expert-led workshops on subjects like creating meaningful research experiences for undergraduate students, promoting diversity in research and broadening the impact of research.

“I always find valuable things to help me in my research and in mentoring other researchers at Research Development Day,” said Mary Miles, professor of exercise science and associate dean of research for the College of Education, Health and Human Development. “This event brings together a great many of MSU’s most active and successful researchers and creates a community to learn from each other and share ideas.”

“Faculty in my department are going to be excited about the grant opportunities we heard about in the humanities, arts and social sciences faculty charette,” said Kate Ryan associate professor of rhetoric and writing and chair of the Department of English. “I also appreciated the opportunity to hear the keynote address and learn more about Technology, Innovation and Partnerships research initiatives and directions happening in the sciences.”

Motzer said the goal was to have something for everyone at MSU who is looking to enhance their research funding success.

“We diversified the type of funders we invited,” said Motzer. “We are trying to be more inclusive of our humanities, arts and social sciences faculty. We want to show that research development is not just for STEM, but for everyone.”

Compared to the inaugural 2023 event, Research Development Day in 2024 attracted around 25 percent more interest across campus in terms of registrants and featured nearly 30 percent more one-on-one consultations with participating program officers.

“While there are objective measures of these efforts, the intangible yet palpable outcome was faculty feeling connected to each other,” said Liz Shanahan, associate vice president for research development. “This outcome raises morale, which has such important cascading effects for faculty as individuals, for teaching and research.”

Motzer said the event’s success has drawn attention from other research institutions, which has led to Motzer and Tracy Gatlin, co-organizer and assistant director of research development, being invited to present about the event at the National Organization of Research Development Professionals’ annual meeting in late April.

“We have had widespread interest from partner institutions in MSU’s Research Development Day,” said Motzer. “We will use this conference presentation as an opportunity to share advice and the lessons we have learned over the last two years.”