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Marsha Mailick Q & A

August 26, 2014

Interim Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education Marsha Mailick recently talked with University Communications’ Terry Devitt about the administrative changes to come, the experiences that have prepared her for her new role, and the challenges UW–Madison faces in the areas of research and graduate education.

The administrative structure of the research and graduate education enterprises are, of course, in transition. What kinds of changes might faculty and staff encounter?

Marsha Mailick: Our leadership team will devote our efforts during the upcoming semester to creating a distinct Graduate School with its own dean, and developing an Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education that fosters the vitality of the university-wide research environment, optimizes the research and scholarship infrastructure, and supports the continued high level of integration of research and graduate education that has been the hallmark of the UW–Madison.  This process will involve interaction with governance groups, and outreach to faculty, staff and students whose advice we will seek as we implement the resolution that the Faculty Senate passed last May. 

In addition to those changes, I would hope that they notice that the research and graduate education services that they and the campus receive are not only maintained during the transition but are continuing to steadily improve in terms of quality and timeliness, and that our research and graduate education prowess is more widely known and appreciated by funding organizations and policy makers alike. This, I believe, is a significant reason why the UW–Madison Faculty Senate voted to change the administrative structure.

This is an inflection point in the history and future of the UW–Madison, and we take very seriously the opportunity and challenge of “getting it right” so as to better achieve the university’s research and graduate education mission.

How will this position us to continue and build on the success UW–Madison has enjoyed for decades?

Mailick: The new structure will advance the success of the UW–Madison by having full-time leaders of both the research and graduate education entities.  Additionally, the reorganization will give us the opportunity to take a fresh look at how we carry out our activities and achieve our mission, and we intend to listen closely to the university community to capture the spirit of change while at the same time maintaining the successes we have achieved under the able leadership of my predecessors in this office.

How does your long experience as the director of a large interdisciplinary research center help you as you take on one of the biggest administrative responsibilities on our campus?

Mailick: Directing the Waisman Center for 12 years has given me the opportunity to intensively interact with researchers from 27 academic departments drawn  from three divisions of the university.  I have experience managing complex scientific cores such as advanced microscopy, transgenenic animal, brain imaging, patient registry, and biomanufacturing facilities, and coordinating a grant portfolio of approximately 85 federal grants, as well as multiple centers within the overall Waisman Center.  I have worked with UW Health to expand Waisman clinics that now serve 5,000 patients a year. Throughout all of the labs and programs, we have successfully included students and postdocs. The Waisman Center is a place where each PI and program director brings a unique angle of vision focused on a common problem, and I have worked hard to sustain both the unique perspective as well as to foster commitment to the common mission.  I expect that all of these experiences and more will be extremely helpful in the VCRGE role.

Beyond reorienting a complex administrative structure, what do you see as the biggest challenges facing our campus in the areas of research? Graduate education?

Mailick: UW–Madison is world renowned for its research and graduate education, and we continue to attract the highest caliber of faculty, staff, and graduate students to our campus. The funding climate, however, continues to be a significant challenge, as is the growing list of regulatory demands on researchers.  More substantively, our university must remain committed to supporting an environment that nurtures creativity and excellence, where researchers and scholars enjoy the context for sustained pursuit of the most important intellectual and scientific questions facing our society, and where the next generation of researchers is educated and prepared for the future.  Doing so in the current environment will be a challenge but these are the fundamental goals of the Office of the VCRGE.

I understand you plan to remain active as a scholar. That won’t be easy. What’s the appeal of that when you have such a big administrative task in front of you?

Mailick: I’ve enjoyed a long-term set of collaborators here at the UW–Madison, and by working as a team we have been able to sustain a program of research even though I’ve held a number of full-time (or more than full-time) administrative leadership positions for more than a decade.  By continuing to conduct research, I maintain firsthand experience of both the compliance and regulatory requirements of research as well as the joys of discovery.

Let me add one other note of gratitude and appreciation to Martin Cadwallader, who has devoted himself to the Graduate School and the university for so many years, has been a friend to so many of us, and my boss.  I also feel very privileged to have the opportunity to work with an outstanding team of university leaders and staff in Bascom Hall and throughout campus. I’m excited about this year to come.