Department of Biochemistry Strategic Plan, 2011 – 2016



1. Enhance the Undergraduate Educational Program in Biochemistry

Undergraduate education is a fundamental priority of the University. The undergraduate academic program in biochemistry is directed at providing the foundation required for careers in industry, research, education, engineering, health professions or other interdisciplinary fields. To effectively prepare our undergraduates, the program seeks to act on recommendations from the AAAS in Vision and Change: A Call for Action.

Strengthen the undergraduate biochemistry program by developing a curriculum that includes course-work in each of the four years and includes counseling and electives for modern career specializations.

  • Redevelop and improve the first-year foundational course in biochemistry that promotes active learning and introduces students to fundamental concepts in the discipline.
  • Develop a second-year course in biochemistry, with a focus on biochemistry and the molecular life sciences in the popular media that is directed to introduce critical thinking, scientific writing and scientific presentation skills.
  • Enhance the major foundational biochemistry courses to include fundamental and emerging information in the context of core concepts.
  • Redevelop the course, Research Techniques in Biochemistry, to provide students hands on experience with data analysis from modern instrumentation in biochemistry and best practices in research documentation and communication.
  • Enhance the biochemistry service courses to better meet the strategic needs of different academic programs, including full implementation of on-line and distance versions.
  • Enhance the biochemistry capstone course to include discussions of different career tracks.
  • Develop undergraduate colloquia under the heading of current research topics in biochemistry for seniors, with a focus on discussion of cutting-edge research in the peer-reviewed literature.
  • Continue to enhance academic advising for all biochemistry students.
  • Establish career-mentoring programs for junior and senior undergraduate biochemistry majors with a mentoring council consisting of selected faculty in addition to the department’s professional advisor.
  • Assess student understanding of core concepts in biochemistry at the introductory, mid-point and end of the program. 

Enhance strategies of recruitment and advising that will increase the number of top-tier science students in biochemistry.

  • Continue to participate with existing middle and high school programs to attract high achieving students, especially those from underrepresented groups.
  • Continue to work with science outreach efforts within the university in recruitment efforts.
  • Increase the visibility of biochemistry as a discipline and highlight options for multiple career paths at recruitment events including The Big Red Road Show.
  • Increase use of social media to attract and maintain students in biochemistry.
  • Establish career-mentoring programs for undergraduate students in biochemistry to include industry, research, education, public outreach, engineering, health professions, journalism, or other interdisciplinary fields. 

Develop strategies to include current research in biochemistry into classes at all undergraduate levels.

  • Develop guidelines for faculty teaching in the undergraduate program to include current areas of research in biochemistry; this may include integration of fundamental concepts to open discussions of biochemistry in the popular media (e.g., radio, TV, newspapers, and magazines).
  • Develop expectations and outcomes for faculty teaching in the undergraduate program to include current research in their teaching efforts. 

Maintain a curriculum in biochemistry that is reflective of the discipline as a whole and accounts for current advances in knowledge.

  • Actively participate in the integration of a curriculum in biochemistry into the developing life sciences curriculum at UNL.
  • Encourage faculty teaching in the undergraduate curriculum to participate in establishing new pedagogy in the discipline.
  • Encourage submission of curriculum innovation proposals and publication of methods and programs in teaching modern biochemistry.

Increase research opportunities for undergraduate students and visibility for experiential learning.

  • Promote UCARE participation.
  • Promote the inclusion of undergraduate research interns supported by external grants (e.g., NIH, NSF, USDA, DOE, private foundations).
  • Expect faculty to contribute to the submission of REU grants.
  • Establish linkages to international programs in the molecular life sciences thereby increasing the number of students that study abroad.
  • Encourage and enhance service-learning opportunities including internships in the molecular life sciences in both the public and private sectors.

 

2. Enhance the Graduate Program in the Center for Biological Chemistry

The Graduate Program in the Center of Biological Chemistry maintains excellence of its training environment that is directed at providing an advanced foundation in biochemistry required for careers in industry, research, and education. The foremost commitment by members of the graduate biochemistry faculty is the development of new scientists and researchers.

Align recruitment into the graduate program in the Center for Biological Chemistry with university-wide programs in the life sciences.

  • Work with the Office of Graduate Studies to develop a common portal for the recruitment of high caliber graduate students in the life sciences.
  • Discuss strategies to standardize graduate stipends and associated fringe benefit charges within the life sciences programs, thereby eliminating a key barrier to interdisciplinary program implementation.
  • Establish a learning environment for first year graduate students in the life sciences that include a weekly colloquium, career mentoring, and rotations into different research laboratories, including those in the Center for Biological Chemistry. 

Enhance the graduate curriculum in the Center for Biological Chemistry to reflect current trends in the discipline while grounding the educational experience in the broad foundations of biochemistry.

  • Establish the five focus areas for graduate training in the Center for Biological Chemistry as Structural and Chemical Basis of Protein Function, Metabolism and Metabolic Engineering, Molecular Mechanisms of Disease, Plant and Microbial Biochemistry, and Applied Agricultural Biotechnology.
  • Develop a cutting edge graduate program that includes advanced training in proteins, enzymes, metabolism, transcriptional regulation, molecular genetics and computational biology and adjusts based on new advances in the discipline.
  • Integrate the use of modern technologies and instrumentation in biochemistry and the analyses of data thereof into the graduate program.
  • Work to establish excellence in writing skills and oral presentations of primary research.
  • Provide foundational experiences as teaching assistants in biochemistry at the undergraduate level. 

Enhance graduate training in the Center for Biological Chemistry through the acquisition of training grants in key areas of research including Structural and Chemical Basis of Protein Function, Metabolism and Metabolic Engineering, Molecular Mechanisms of Disease, and Plant Biochemistry and Applied Agricultural Biotechnology.

  • Promote interdisciplinary collaborations between faculty members in the life science departments at UNL to establish the necessary foundation to develop competitive training grants in the Center for Biological Chemistry.
  • Submit training grant applications in key areas of research that exploit the interdisciplinary nature of biochemistry. 

Enhance and develop partnerships with other graduate programs in the molecular life sciences at UNL.

  • Develop a working relationship with the graduate programs in microbiology, biological sciences, chemistry, food science, veterinary and biomedical sciences, nutritional sciences, biosystems engineering, electrical engineering, and chemical and biomolecular engineering through research collaborations and co-mentoring of graduate students, as well as internal retreats and symposia.
  • Contribute to the development of training grants in the molecular life sciences based on common research between different graduate programs.

Develop a professional Masters Program in Biotechnology within the Center for Biological Chemistry.

  • Partner with other academic units and interdisciplinary programs in engineering and the molecular life sciences to establish a BS/MS in Biotechnology that is founded in biochemistry, instrumentation and business.
  • Work with local biotechnology industries to understand their technical and skills needs for the modern work force and adjust the training program in biotechnology appropriately, incorporating training in such areas as GLP (good laboratory practices) and GMP (good manufacturing practices).
  • Develop internships with biotechnology firms in Nebraska and beyond as part of the training in biotechnology. 

Promote entrepreneurship in the training of graduate students in the Center for Biological Chemistry.

  • Provide exposure to new trends in biotechnology, biochemistry and biological chemistry including the role of entrepreneurship in promoting new concepts and the establishment of new small business in the molecular life sciences.

 

3. Enhance Postdoctoral Training in Biochemistry

The postdoctoral training program in biochemistry provides research-intensive training in focused areas of biochemistry and the requisite environment to develop an independent research career as required for paths into industry, research, and academics. 

Provide research-intensive training in biochemistry to include new trends, strengthen expertise in the discipline, and develop scientific independence.

  • Develop a visible and interactive postdoctoral council in the Department of Biochemistry that interfaces with the comparable organizations within the university and other institutions.
  • Integrate postdoctoral research training in biochemistry with the larger facets of the discipline and work individually with fellows in the development of credentials for their chosen career path.
  • Establish postdoctoral training grants in specific areas of research strength within the department including, for example Redox Biology; Protein Structure and Function; Signal Transduction; Plant Biochemistry and Biotechnology; Nutritional Biochemistry; and Cancer, Disease and Aging.
  • Provide opportunities for postdoctoral fellows to attend national meetings, present original findings, and network with scientific colleagues as part of their professional development.
  • Develop programs that focus on grants writing, both in academic and industry settings.
  • Establish individualized career-mentoring programs to include industry, research, and academic career paths. 

Enhance and develop partnerships with other postdoctoral training programs in the molecular life sciences at UNL.

  • Develop a working relationship to postdoctoral training in microbiology, biological sciences, chemistry, food science, veterinary and biomedical sciences, nutritional sciences, biosystems engineering, and chemical and biomolecular engineering through research collaborations and co-mentoring of research fellows.
  • Contribute to the development of a visible community of postdoctoral fellows within the larger university. 

Promote entrepreneurship in the training of postdoctoral fellows in the Department of Biochemistry.

  • Provide exposure to new trends in biotechnology, biochemistry and biological chemistry including the role of entrepreneurship in promoting new concepts and the establishment of new small business in the molecular life sciences.

 

4. Increase Research and Creative Activities

Research is a defining feature of the Department of Biochemistry at UNL. It is expected that basic and translational research will advance knowledge in the discipline, contribute to the development of intellectual property and provide a platform for economic development.

Maintain and expand excellence in basic research, with a focus on areas of strength while expanding into new areas of research that reflect the breadth of the discipline.

  • Maintain an environment that promotes cutting-edge research and advances the discipline of biochemistry.
  • Establish mechanisms to purchase and share the costs of maintaining specialized instrumentation used by multiple research programs.
  • Identify resources to expand research programs into new areas, especially through the development of collaborative ties within biochemistry and as part of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary efforts.
  • Facilitate translation of research programs, patenting of intellectual property, and transitioning to establishment of small businesses. 

Promote a research environment coincident with new initiatives in the life sciences that embrace interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research programs.

  • Encourage and provide incentives for biochemistry faculty to work across departmental and campus lines to address important research questions.
  • Maintain and expand research initiatives such as those in the Center for Plant Science Innovation, the Nebraska Center for Virology, and Redox Biology Center that are rely on interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary efforts.
  • Work with the Office of Research and Economic Development and the appropriate Deans (ARD, CASNR, Engineering, CAS) to develop innovative strategies to promote interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research programs.
  • Support and contribute to the development of the University of Nebraska Innovation Campus. 

Integrate computational biology into research efforts in biochemistry.

  • Facilitate collaborative interactions involving faculty with computational expertise to support the development of academic programs in the life sciences that include computational biology training. 

Increase research in the development of new pedagogy in teaching biochemistry.

  • Identify mechanisms to support research in new strategies of teaching and learning (lecture and lab).
  • Promote a scholarly environment that includes the acquisition of grants to enhance the education of undergraduates in biochemistry and the broader molecular life sciences.
  • Work to acquire laboratory and equipment grants and funding to enhance the teaching laboratories in biochemistry.

 

5. Increase the Amount of High Quality Research Space and State-of-the-Art Animal and Greenhouse Facilities

There is no room for expansion of current molecular life sciences research efforts in the Beadle Center; this lack of expansion space severely limits our current research productivity and ability to expand and hampers our ability to attract the highest quality researchers to UNL. 

Identify new state-of-the art research space essential for the expansion of the high quality research programs in the Department of Biochemistry.

  • Work with the University and the Foundation to identify funds for new high quality research space for both expansion and recruitment; this is essential to maintain the highest standards for cutting-edge and externally supported research programs.
  • Establish state-of-the art core facilities, including shared instrumentation, to support research in biochemistry and the larger university efforts in the molecular life sciences.
  • Set up common equipment rooms to maximize use of space in existing research laboratories. 

Establish a quality animal research facility (ARF) that is AALAC accredited in order to compete nationally in modern biomedical research.

  • Work with the University to construct and maintain the highest quality animal research facilities.
  • Construct a terminal animal holding facility, which is linked to the central ARF in the Beadle Center for Biochemistry use. 

Identify additional greenhouse space of the highest quality.

  • Continue to expand expertise in genetic engineering of model plants as tools for basic research and crop plants for enhanced agronomic performance and value with the development of additional state-of-the art greenhouse facilities.

 

6. Work to Link the University of Nebraska Libraries

The increased emphasis in biomedical research on the University of Nebraska Lincoln campus requires access to a repertoire of biomedical journals as source materials to advance these efforts. Linking the libraries between the University of Nebraska campuses (Lincoln, Medical Center, Omaha, and Kearney) offers a solution to provide such access, while sharing the cost. 

Identify mechanisms within the existing structure to provide broader access to cutting-edge biomedical research journals.

  • Place priority on facilitating access to journals necessary for high quality teaching and research in the molecular life sciences.

 

7. Enhance Faculty Mentoring

The faculty-faculty mentoring program in the Department of Biochemistry at UNL is an important component of assisting new faculty members adjust to their new environment. Whether it is academe itself that is new, or simply the UNL campus, assistance from well-respected mentors provides invaluable guidance and assistance to the Department Chair in directing the new faculty member during his/her early years at the university.

Establish responsibilities of the department chair.

  • Following arrival of the faculty members, the Department Chair will assign one or more faculty mentors.
  • The Department Chair will be responsible for advising new faculty on matters pertaining to academic reviews, and advancement, including timetables and procedures.
  • As the faculty mentor may also be asked to provide informal advice, the Chair will make certain he/she has current information on UNL’s academic personnel policies and process. 

Establish responsibilities of the faculty mentor.

  • The mentor will be expected to contact the new faculty member upon their arrival at UNL and then meet with them on a regular basis over the first three years.
  • The mentor will provide informal advice to the new faculty member on aspects of teaching, research, and committee work and be able to direct the new faculty member as appropriate to other individuals within the university with the necessary expertise.
  • The mentor will treat all interactions and discussions in confidence. There will be no evaluation or assessment of the new faculty member on the part of the mentor, only supportive guidance and constructive feedback. 

Reaffirm responsibilities of the new faculty member as a mentee.

  • The new faculty member will keep his/her mentor informed of any problems or concerns as they arise.
  • When input is desired, the new faculty should provide sufficient time in the grant proposal and paper submission processes to allow his/her mentor the opportunity to review and critique drafts.

 

8. Develop a Faculty Hiring and Retention Plan for the Next Five Years and Beyond

In order to address the teaching mission in the Department of Biochemistry and maintain its research strengths, it is essential we be proactive by developing a faculty-hiring plan.  

Identify long-term teaching needs in biochemistry and within the larger life sciences community to gage biochemistry education from 2011-2016 and beyond.

  • Work within the larger life sciences community to address the long-term needs of both biochemistry and programs outside of biochemistry in the context of programmatic development.
  • Consider options for faculty recruitment that include those on the practice track, with more of an emphasis on teaching
  • Consider new faculty members hired as part of the NU Teach program to assist in advancing the educational mission of the Department of Biochemistry. 

Advance the five core research areas within the Department of Biochemistry and address whether there are gaps in that should be filled as part of potential faculty recruitment.

  • Work to maintain cutting edge research and be dynamic enough to identify new areas of emerging strengths within the department that are consistent with maintaining the balance between plant biochemistry and biotechnology and biomedical research.
  • Maintain an environment of active recruitment that includes identifying seminar speakers that may have an interest in joining the biochemistry faculty. 

Recruit a full-time instructor to oversee the daily operations of the teaching labs in biochemistry and forensic science.

  • With the increased number of students in the biochemistry and forensic sciences lab course, there will be a critical need within the next two-three years to identify an individual who will coordinate all of the teaching lab efforts, including working with graduate teaching assistants in advancing the teaching mission.

 

9. Promote External Visibility of Biochemistry

Develop a roadmap for the Department of Biochemistry in advancing the discipline and programs both within the university and as importantly outside the university. Of particular importance will be interactions with other departments, centers and programs within the university and relationships to the private sector. 

Promote interactions with private sector through mechanisms such as Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs and NUTech Ventures.

  • Actively participate in discussion and strategic planning for inclusion of molecular life sciences research at Innovation Campus, particularly addressing recruitment of small business collaborations, possible adjunct faculty status for incoming PhD level researchers, and mechanisms to allow graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the Department of Biochemistry to work in startup up companies.
  • Advance training opportunities for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in entrepreneurial thinking.
  • Develop training opportunities for undergraduates, through the BS/MS Biotechnology Program.  

Develop activities to increase visibility and stature of the Department of Biochemistry to the larger scientific community and general public

  • Reinvigorate the Faculty Awards Committee to promote colleagues for awards and opportunities to improve scientific standing and reputation.
  • Promote and increase faculty participation in high profile external activities, including grant panels, editorial boards, and conference organization.
  • Look for opportunities to host symposia, which advance the discipline of biochemistry and scientific teaching and increase the regional and national exposure of the Department of Biochemistry.
  • Increase interactions with the University of Nebraska Medical Center to support biomedical initiatives.
  • Create more “buzz” through local press and university public relations about activities in the Department of Biochemistry including major grants, significant papers and other scholarly activities.