Dr. Julius Fridriksson assumed the role of interim Vice President for Research on July 1, 2021. Dr. Fridriksson has for years been a prominent member of the UofSC research community, serving as a faculty member in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the Arnold School of Public Health since 2001 and as SmartState Endowed Chair of Memory and Brain Function, directing the SMARTBrain™ Center, since 2016. He also co-directs the cutting-edge UofSC McCausland Center for Brain Imaging.
Dr. Fridriksson brings a wealth of research and administrative experience to the interim VPR role. He built his research portfolio from the ground up over many years, studying post-stroke neuroscience and learning about how to manage a growing, thriving team of researchers through doing just that. These efforts have culminated in development of the interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Aphasia Recovery, or C-STAR, now in its second round of successful, competitive funding through the National Institutes of Health. Collaboration is at the heart of C-STAR’s mission. The center encompasses four projects, including two here at UofSC, one at Johns Hopkins University and one at the University of California, Irvine. Each project examines a different aspect of aphasia, a communication disorder characterized by difficulty understanding and/or generating speech that results from damage to the left hemisphere of the brain, often caused by a stroke.
Dr. Fridriksson plans to carry this emphasis on collaboration into his new role as interim VPR, as he explained in a Q&A about his plans for the Office of the Vice President for Research.
In addition to functioning as an administrator, I believe a VPR must assume the roles of cheerleader and matchmaker to foster research collaborations.
– Julius Fridriksson, interim VPR
What is your vision for the Office of the Vice President for Research?
Our office provides faculty and students services in grants management, student training, research compliance and more. Moving forward, we will continue to provide these services at the highest levels of excellence and find new ways to improve to meet our mission. I plan to make our office more focused on facilitating early-career investigators through targeted mentoring and education about available resources. Also, we must be proactive about retaining those same faculty members once they become stars in their respective fields and make sure they stay at UofSC to help grow the research enterprise even further.
I also hope to get our most productive senior faculty to become even more proactive in faculty mentoring. I was fortunate when I came to UofSC that my department chair, Dr. Elaine Frank, took me under her wing and served as a very close mentor. As my success has grown over the years, I have tried to pay it forward to others. Taking on the role of interim VPR is a part of that mission, and my individual success must now take a back seat to helping others realize their research dreams.
Should faculty and students expect any new research programs under your watch as interim VPR?
My team and I are planning several new initiatives, with two new programs already in the works. First, we will start a campus-wide grant-writing collaborative for early-career investigators who already have had some grant-funding success. Participants in this program will be selected through a nomination process and will go through targeted grant-writing workshops. Then, they will work in small groups led by senior faculty to write grant proposals that are carefully planned and thoroughly scrutinized. This collaborative constitutes a nine-month process culminating in submission of grant proposals that have a high likelihood of obtaining funding.
Our second program will target the other end of the experience spectrum — senior investigators who have already successfully attracted considerable funding to support their research. This effort focuses on writing large center grants, and will draw on the success and expertise of several principal investigators at UofSC who already have center grants. In addition, this second program will include a relatively small group of senior faculty to help them learn about what is involved in applying for center grants and what kinds of resources and support we can provide them.
It sounds like you plan to serve as an interim VPR with a strong focus on faculty support. How do you plan to reach out to faculty?
The VPR must have a deep understanding of the kinds of research taking place on our campuses and in individual colleges and departments. Therefore, my goal is to spend considerable time visiting the labs of individual investigators, both junior and senior, and asking to sit in on their lab meetings. In addition to functioning as an administrator, I believe a VPR must assume the roles of cheerleader and matchmaker to foster research collaborations.
As a part of my role as facilitator, one of my plans is to work closely with Mr. Julian Williams, our Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, to support underrepresented faculty and students to become superstars in the field of research. Also, 14 of my 16 Ph.D. students have been women. I am keenly aware of the considerable added challenges that motherhood and parenthood place on our younger faculty, especially women, who are raising young children. As a part of my goal to become a better mentor, I have tried to educate myself and others on this issue by inviting experts to speak at our lecture series and through targeted group discussions. I have a long way to become fully informed but will continue to seek opportunities and find ways the Office of the VPR can help faculty who are new mothers, new parents, maintain and elevate their research productivity.
How did you come to study communication disorders like aphasia that originate in the brain? Was there a particular experience that helped to steer you in the direction of that field of study?
I would like to say I was interested in the brain from an early age, but that was not the case. I am a first-generation college student. My path to higher education was far from a straight line and included several individuals taking an interest in helping me along the way. In short, as an undergraduate student, I became fascinated by how damage to the left hemisphere of the brain could have devastating effects on the ability to process speech and language. During graduate school at the University of Arizona, I spent much of my time in the Department of Neurology rounding with the neurologists, which was probably better education than anything I learned in class. Bottom line, I love being a scientist and studying the brain, especially in ways that can help patients recover from brain damage. It is a privilege that I try never to take for granted.
You cannot underestimate the effect a positive departmental culture can have, especially on junior faculty.
– Julius Fridriksson, interim VPR
Many people may not be aware that you have spent your academic career at the University of South Carolina. What brought you here, and what kept you here over the years?
I interviewed for a faculty position at several universities. What struck me about the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders here at UofSC was that the atmosphere among the faculty was highly positive and everyone seemed to be pulling for each other. As a faculty candidate, I was very inexperienced but understood that having supportive colleagues was important. During my interview, the first appointment was with our current interim University President, Dr. Harris Pastides, who was the Dean of the Arnold School of Public Health (ASPH) at the time. Along with the department chair, Dr. Frank, he was so optimistic about the potential of the college that I canceled my remaining faculty interviews once UofSC offered me a position. The current Dean of the ASPH, Dr. Tom Chandler, has further elevated that positive culture, which I think has been instrumental in the college setting new records in research funding this past year. You cannot underestimate the effect a positive departmental culture can have, especially on junior faculty.