VT-FAST: A new resource for Virginia Tech faculty

From VT News

Imagine this: you are a new assistant professor in biological sciences at Virginia Tech. You are overwhelmed by setting up your lab, hiring staff, writing grant proposals, submitting manuscripts, and recruiting graduate students. What is your most precious resource? Time.

This is where the Virginia Tech Faculty Activity Support Team, or VT-FAST, comes in.

VT-FAST is a virtual team of faculty and staff across campus who support faculty at Virginia Tech in all aspects of grant and proposal development. Their goal is to facilitate proposal preparation, formatting, and editing, thereby allowing faculty to focus more directly on their research plan.

VT-FAST support ranges from single-investigator proposals to larger, more complex proposals involving teams with external partners. The concept is for VT-FAST to provide all Virginia Tech faculty timely access to personnel that can help with a variety of tasks. As examples, VT-FAST can help with grant writing and manuscript preparation, as well as providing a mechanism to help faculty interface with compliance personnel and the Office of Sponsored Programs. It can also help faculty locate information about existing equipment resources. You can look at the VT-FAST website to see how the team can help you in your next proposal submission.

Dennis Dean, director of the Fralin Life Science Institute, said, “this type of assistance will be particularly useful to new faculty members. The goal of VT-FAST is to contribute to coordination among the institutes and to help with development of large, complex, multidisciplinary grant applications. Over the years, we have provided such services, but I believe now is the time to better coordinate university assets located within institutes, departments, and colleges in a way that can be leveraged to assist faculty more effectively on a larger scale.”

Janet Webster, associate director of finance and administration at the Fralin Life Science Institute, and Jon Greene, associate director for strategic development, Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, or ICTAS, will be leading VT-FAST.

“The whole idea of VT-FAST is to help Virginia Tech faculty succeed.  That could mean one of us helping a junior faculty write a better single-PI proposal. And it could also mean convening a team from across the university to support one of our top researchers to best position the university and write a winning proposal for a big federal grant. And then, after we win, help manage the resulting research program,” said Greene.

Editor and researcher looking at a computer

Janet Webster, associate director of finance and administration at the Fralin Life Science Institute, reviews a grant with biological sciences associate professor Carla Finkielstein.

Current VT-FAST team members represent colleges, departments, and institutes from all over campus: Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College of Science, University Libraries, Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment, and Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology. As the resource develops, the expectation is that other units on campus will also participate.

“Large, collaborative grants have a ripple effect on research that goes beyond the funding itself — they jump-start research partnerships and tend to generate additional ideas. Connecting faculty with the resources to put together competitive applications for those grants is one of the ways we fulfill our role of advancing the university by growing externally funded research,” said Stefan Duma, director of ICTAS.

Webster has worked with Fralin faculty affiliate Carla Finkielstein on several successful grant proposals and manuscripts. Finkelstein, an associate professor of biological sciences in the College of Science, researches the molecular basis by which environmental factors influence sporadic breast cancer incidence with a focus in circadian disruption as toxic agent.  She also seeks to understand the mechanisms by which tumors develop resistance to conventional therapies and interfere with those processes using nano-based technologies.

“Science is all about generating innovative ideas and being able to communicate them effectively, to both the general public and our colleagues. When it comes to writing, I count on VT-FAST’s expertise for feedback to ensure that the excitement I put into my science translates into my grant proposal,” said Finkielstein.

Webster is also working with Jessica Crawford, the grants and contracts officer for the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, and Nancy Dudek, the grants coordinator for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, to coordinate a large National Institutes of Health grant for Kiho Lee, an assistant professor of animal and poultry sciences.

Lee’s research focuses on early embryonic development in pigs. Major research topics in his laboratory include identifying the mechanism of epigenetic reprogramming by oocytes after fertilization and developing an efficient approach to produce genetically engineered pig models for agriculture and biomedical research.

“When I began this job five years ago, there weren’t enough professionals on campus to break down a large NIH submission into small, feasible tasks. Back then, the PI and I did it all ourselves,” said Dudek. “Now with VT-FAST, I have colleagues like Jessica Crawford and Janet Webster who are willing to break off and support pieces of the proposal so we can each create higher quality documents. When we merge our pieces together, we have a much more polished grant proposal (and less stress). It reminds me of the motto on the U.S. seal, E Pluribus Unum, or, ‘out of many, one.’ ”

VT-FAST also wants to underscore that support is not limited to just science and engineering faculty. They will support faculty from all colleges and departments on campus.

The Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment, or ISCE, is also excited to get involved.

“ISCE is delighted the VT-FAST group has come together to share grant-related resources and expertise with one another and with Virginia Tech faculty,” said Karen Roberto, director of the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment and University Distinguished Professor. “While ISCE has always offered assistance to the faculty associated with the institute, we are excited that our staff can now draw upon the wider resources of VT-FAST to enhance the support we provide.”