Maine Research Consortium to help the state build a knowledge-based
The UMaine associate vice president for research and dean of the
Graduate School speaks about research at UMaine.
Its director speaks about the goals and achievements of the Jackson
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Offering a Ph.D. program in the
cutting-edge field of functional genomics requires an interdisciplinary
core curriculum in biological, computational and physical sciences. To
do that in Maine requires an inter-institutional approach.
Maine does not have a university medical center, as do most states. What
it does have is a private institution that is a world leader in
genetics, a research university and a hospital-based research institute.
That collaboration between Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, the
University of Maine and Maine Medical Center Research Institute in
Scarborough has resulted in a $2.68 million Integrative Graduate
Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) grant from the National
Science Foundation (NSF) to launch a five-year doctoral program in
functional genomics the study of genes and their proteins as part of
the biochemical processes in the body.
Throughout the country, programs like NSF IGERT are considered new
models for graduate education, featuring collaborative research that
transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries. In Maine, the new
doctoral program exemplifies the innovation needed to participate in an
increasingly knowledge-based economy. It epitomizes the philosophy and
potential of the new Maine Research Consortium.
The Maine Research Consortium Bigelow Laboratory for Oceanographic
Sciences, Jackson Laboratory, Maine Medical Center Research Institute,
UMaine, the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine
System was created in 2002 to develop collaborative strategies to
secure large-scale, multidisciplinary projects to strengthen R&D in the
As a facilitator, the consortium will develop protocols and procedures
by which researchers can collaborate, prepare funding proposals, and
share facilities, equipment, faculty, students and costs. Also included
will be criteria by which other Maine organizations may join the
voluntary group. In essence, says Don McDowell, retired CEO of Maine
Medical Center, the consortium will do what traditionally happens in the
executive offices of a state university's medical center.
"With the consortium, the state will be able to attract its
proportionate share of federal research dollars," says McDowell, who
chaired the Interim Research Council that drafted the five-year
memorandum of understanding signed in October by the six founding
"Those dollars will bring jobs and
financial resources. This will expand the ability of Maine organizations
to compete with those in New York, Massachusetts and California. We will
have as much research horsepower in the combination of our multiple
institutions as those states have in one (medical school)."
From the beginning, McDowell says, it was important to understand that
each institution is sovereign and fully operational. "As members of the
consortium, we're not asking them to give up any of their autonomy. Any
involvement in the consortium is on a voluntary basis. There will even
be times that member institutions could be competitors for the same
grant. Nevertheless, from the first meeting, all agreed that the
consortium was in the best interest of their organizations."
Life sciences research, including conservation biology and genetics, is
a common thread among the consortium's member institutions. According to
McDowell, the consortium also will focus on areas of expertise, such as
marine research with medical applications and forest products research.
An example of the kind of project the consortium could facilitate will
receive federal funding early next year. The multi-million-dollar NSF
infrastructure grant will create the Center of Molecular Biophysics with
UMaine, Jackson Laboratory and Maine Medical Center Research Institute.
For the three institutions, it will mean new jobs and a new chapter in
cutting-edge research in Maine, says UMaine Executive Vice President and
Provost Robert Kennedy.
"It's bringing tremendously promising research in nanotechnology and
combining it with breakthroughs in human genomics," Kennedy says. "The
biophysics center will take world-class expertise in biophysics from our
campus and combine it with joint programs in genetics at Jackson Lab and
Maine Medical to address biomedical problems."
Through this and other projects, faculty and students will have access
to collaborations and interactions that add value and opportunity, says
Kennedy. "The result will be better training for students because of
more opportunities and better funding for research than the state can
afford by itself."
Such an alliance among universities and independent research labs in
Maine is the cornerstone of a November 2001 action plan issued by the
State Planning Office called "30 and 1,000: How to Build a
Knowledge-Based Economy in Maine and Raise Incomes to the National
Average by 2010." Based on a review of per capita income data for the
past decade from all 50 states, the State Planning Office cited two
primary factors for differences nationwide: the percentage of adults
with four-year college degrees, and the dollars per employed worker
spent on R&D.
The report notes that, in 1998, 19 percent of adults in Maine had
college degrees (placing the state 46th in the nation) and $255 per
worker spent on R&D (44th in the nation), producing $23,529 in per
capita income (37th in the nation). But according to the State Planning
Office, if 30 percent of Maine's adults had four-year college degrees
and $1,000 was spent on R&D per worker by 2010, Maine's per capita
income would rise to the national average ($28,000) or above, and
economic activity would increase.
Under the 30-1,000 formula, an additional 100,000 adults in Maine would
get college degrees in the next decade, and R&D investments statewide
would increase four-fold.
"The 30 and 1,000 report is about economic development, pursuit of new
knowledge and identification of the drivers here. We will only meet our
goal by getting high-paying jobs in our state. We need to grow
entrepreneurs in Maine, as opposed to just attracting them to Maine,"
says State Planning Office Director David Keeley.
In a time of budget shortfalls and a weak economy, it's more important
than ever to look at investments in education and leveraging of federal
research dollars, Keeley says.
"The Maine legislature and voters have increased public spending for R&D
from less than $1 million to more than $30 million a year," Keeley says.
"In many instances these funds have leveraged federal and private
funding five-fold. This is the kind of return on our investment that we
need. The expenditure of research dollars means building buildings,
hiring staff, buying equipment, people moving to the area. The ripples
through the economy continue with the creation of new products and
People often struggle to understand the importance of R&D, Keeley says.
"The blue collar worker may say, it's not going to benefit me.' Part of
what we're doing is helping people understand how it all merges together
(for the greater good). It's all about growing Maine's economy so your
child, whether he or she is in the crib or in high school, will find
jobs in Maine paying above the minimum wage. (It's about) providing
An obvious measure of success will be the degree to which Maine has
collaborative research funded "in significant numbers to the left of the
decimal point," McDowell says. "If we can attract millions of dollars
through collaborations, we will have succeeded. We will have contributed
to the world of science and the good of mankind. And the state will be
viewed as a small but highly respected, very active force in research in
by Margaret Nagle
for more stories from this issue of UMaine Today Magazine.