InCHIP’s New Core Structure Offers “One-Stop Shopping” for Researchers

By Loretta Waldman

The past year has been one of significant growth and transformation at InCHIP, most notably for its evolution from the Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention (CHIP) to the Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP). As part of the change from a Center to an Institute, InCHIP has created a new Core structure that provides “one-stop shopping” for researchers. From the creation of an initial research idea to the implementation of a funded research project, InCHIP provides services and support at each step of the process. Of the many services being offered, InCHIP is prioritizing training and mentoring opportunities that help develop faculty and graduate students into strong researchers.

InCHIP’s Directors believe that the newly developed Core Structure and the developmental focus will lead to UConn researchers obtaining larger multidisciplinary grants.

“The reality of public health issues is that they are complex,” says Deborah Cornman, an Associate Director and Associate Research Professor at InCHIP. “Certainly, individual researchers can still get grants to address these issues but, more and more, funders are looking for a team approach that brings in different perspectives and areas of expertise. Historically, not just here at UConn but at most academic institutions, researchers have been pretty siloed. We are trying to bridge those siloes and bring people together. So for the past couple of years, we have been working aggressively on forming multidisciplinary teams of researchers.”

The new Core structure was created to facilitate InCHIP’s efforts and is comprised of five Cores:

  • Administrative Core
  • Training & Development Core
  • Intervention Core
  • Biostatistics & Methodology Core
  • Community-Engaged Health Research Core

Critical to the operation of these Cores are InCHIP’s two Boundary Spanners, John Giardina and Grace Morris, who work diligently to help carry out many of the activities of these Cores and support researchers across the University.

The Administrative Core, headed by InCHIP Director Jeff Fisher, provides exceptional pre-award and post-award services. The Administrative Core staff works closely with researchers to provide them with tailored support and services as they prepare their grant proposals and, then once their grants are funded, as they conduct their research.

Cornman called the Training & Development Core “one of the most important Cores at InCHIP.” It is headed by Amy Gorin, an InCHIP Associate Director and Associate Professor of Psychological Sciences. For UConn researchers at all stages of their careers, from graduate students to tenured faculty, this Core provides a variety of services including training in grant writing, faculty mentors, seed grant funding, research team development, and expert assistance with developing grant proposals. Examples of the grantsmanship training that this Core provides include a six-session Grantsmanship Training Workshop last Spring, a three-session Specific Aims workshop this fall, and a Budget Workshop in February.  A workshop in Team Science is scheduled for May of this year.

Another form of support provided by the T&D Core is the InCHIP Internal Seed Grant Competitions.

“There are currently five seed grant opportunities being offered by InCHIP,” Gorin says. “The idea here is that a small investment pays off substantially in the long run. If you allow people to collect the pilot data they need, they are much more successful with their external grant applications.”

A new InCHIP Grant Proposal Incubator is also part of the T&D Core. Co-chaired by Blair Johnson, Professor of Psychological Sciences and InCHIP Principal Investigator, and Michael Copenhaver, Associate Professor of Allied Health Sciences and InCHIP Principal Investigator, the Incubator provides feedback to Principal Investigators and their teams about their research ideas and grant proposals.

“The Incubator is an opportunity for investigators to present an idea or a draft of a grant proposal to a panel of expert researchers and get feedback on it, including how to best sell their idea in their proposal,” says Gorin.

The Intervention Core is another InCHIP resource for researchers. It helps them “create programs, interventions, and innovations that can address priority individual and public health issues,” says Cornman. Co-directed by InCHIP Director Jeff Fisher and Kim Gans, Professor of Human Development & Family Studies and InCHIP Principal Investigator, the Intervention Core provides researchers with assistance in designing, implementing, evaluating, and disseminating innovative behavioral interventions. The Core maintains a directory of 20 faculty members with expertise in health behavior interventions who are willing to assist investigators with their intervention research.

Along with facilitating the formation of collaborative research partnerships between investigators and intervention experts, the Intervention Core hosts lectures and workshops with leading investigators in the field of behavioral intervention research. One recent event featured Ross Buck, Professor of Communication, who gave a presentation on the potential value of interventions that teach people how to accurately forecast, label, and understand their emotions. After his lecture, he led a discussion with faculty and graduate students about health behaviors that might benefit from an emotional education intervention, such as safer sex, diet, exercise, and substance abuse.

“InCHIP is trying to build stronger intervention research at UConn, and this Core is a way of giving faculty the support they need to do that,” says Gans.

The Biostatistics & Methodology Core provides the support researchers need to conduct statistically rigorous research and successfully compete for grants in the health sciences. Under the direction of Tania Huedo-Medina, Assistant Professor of Statistics and Allied Health Sciences, this Core connects researchers with a range of statistics experts and helps them establish successful collaborations for innovative health behavior research.

The Community-Engaged Health Research Core is the newest Core at InCHIP. Headed by Cornman, InCHIP’s Associate Director, the goal of the Core is to develop partnerships between UConn researchers and community-based organizations who work together to identify and address critical health issues facing Connecticut and other communities. This Core is working closely with UConn’s Office of Public Engagement as well as with a variety of community organizations, including the Institute for Community Research, Hispanic Health Council, and Community Solutions, among others.

“The idea is to have the infrastructure in place to encourage and support community-engaged health research,” says Cornman. “Part of the Core’s mission is to provide training to faculty and community partners about how to most effectively work together to conduct community-engaged research that is feasible and sustainable, and has a positive impact on health.”

InCHIP Director Jeff Fisher succinctly summed it up this way:  “We tackle complex public health problems here at UConn, and InCHIP provides services and resources to help researchers be successful at that, including assistance with developing research ideas, writing strong proposals, and ultimately implementing their research.”