2023 Life Span Institute Collaboratory focuses on adapting to changes in research

More than 100 researchers, staff and graduate students from the KU Life Span Institute gathered in person for the 2023 Collaboratory on Jan. 12 to learn about the health of institute, discuss ways the COVID-19 pandemic has changed their work, and to focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in research.

Director John Colombo gave an overview of the Life Span Institute and its 12 research centers. 

John Colombo
John Colombo described the financial picture of the Life Span Institute to attendees. 

“The Life Span Institute has a unique structure,” Colombo said. “There are not many places like us in the world.”

Colombo highlighted the Institute’s productivity and strengths:

  • Annually, the Life Span Institute processes about 200-300 proposals, applications and continuations each year, and staff manage 130-170 externally funded projects.
  • External awards, such as research funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Education, and contracts have increased 6% since 2008, generating an average of $24 million annually, and $28 million on average annually since 2016.
  • Investigators generate more than 300 publications per year. When the publisher Elsevier shared an analysis of the top 2% of all-time scientists worldwide, based on citations and impact, 16 scientists on the list were from the Life Span Institute.

Colombo sought to remind attendees that each of the approximately 460 people affiliated with the Institute are connected by a shared purpose. 

“We are bound together by our core values,” Colombo said. “Together we conduct rigorous research and deliver services that address societal problems and improves individual welfare.”

Following Colombo’s presentation, participants evaluated changes to their work wrought by the pandemic and discussed communication strategies for internal and external audiences.

A woman with long blonde hair is in focus and surrounded by people at her table and other tables. She is holding a pen and looking down at a piece of paper.
During the Collaboratory, staff, faculty and students weighed the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their work.

Tracy King, M.D., a medical officer at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), offered a virtual talk on how diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility principles enhance intellectual and developmental disability research.

King emphasized that while homogenous teams may feel more effective, diverse teams perform better, despite feeling more uncomfortable. However, presenting diversity as an obligation may undermine results, so she said it is important to value the differences in perspectives and opinions within non-homogenous groups.

The event concluded with a discussion on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging hosted by Vice Chancellor for Research Simon Atkinson, with panelists Brad Linnenkamp and Evan Dean of the Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities, Amy Swift and Wade Kelly of SWIFT Education Center, and Nicole Hodges Persley, vice provost for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. 

Panelists Evan Dean, Brad Linnenkamp, Wade Kelly, Amy McCart and Nicole Hodges-Persley on stage, with facilitator Simon Atkinson
Panelists Evan Dean, Brad Linnenkamp, Wade Kelly, Amy McCart and Nicole Hodges-Persley discussing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging with facilitator Simon Atkinson.

Kelly challenged the audience to consider moving beyond inclusion, a word that can foster a guest and host power dynamic.

Panelists encouraged those at the event to move beyond what can be a superficial understanding of diversity to value the rightful presence of all people, in particular those who are involved as subjects of research and whose perspectives have often been undervalued or excluded in the past.

View a gallery of photos from the event.