From day one of his role as vice chancellor for research, Terry Magnuson has worked hard to connect Carolina’s entire research community. Recently reinstated to serve another five years, he strives to continue to bring together great minds from across the university.
The brain. Cancer. Data science. These are just a few of the strategic research priorities spearheaded by Terry Magnuson during his first five years as vice chancellor for research. These priorities — which also include the environment; infectious disease; opportunity, well-being, and culture; and precision health and society — were developed by Magnuson and the team he began putting together on his first day on the job. Now, twice each month, he meets with research deans and directors within Carolina’s 13 schools, the three divisions of the College of Arts & Sciences, and 13 centers and institutes to discuss additional ways to promote interdisciplinary research.
Magnuson’s strength lies in connecting people. This was evident well before he became vice chancellor, having built the university’s Department of Genetics from the ground up. In that role, he hired faculty and staff, oversaw research programs, gained funding for the department, and supported student research, all while maintaining his own research program focused on the function of chromatin and gene expression in various diseases.
Those skills have translated well to UNC Research. He not only centralized the research administration offices and oversaw development of the seven strategic priorities, but developed a funding mechanism for interdisciplinary research teams called Creativity Hubs, improved the university’s research regulatory compliance and infrastructure — even contributing to the hire of UNC’s first director of science and security — supported the expansion of University Research Week, relaunched an annual print edition of Endeavors, and proudly steered the ship of the research enterprise as it broke the $1 billion mark in 2020 for new awards. Creativity Hubs projects, in particular, have brought in more than $25 million in additional funding.
“The most rewarding part, for me, is to see the positive impact that all areas of UNC research have on society, from the arts and humanities, to social and natural sciences, to data and health affairs research,” Magnuson says. “One example is the significant contributions UNC faculty have made during the pandemic in all of these areas.”
For the first six months of the pandemic, Carolina produced the most research on COVID-19 among all colleges and universities in the United States, according to Microsoft Academic, and continues to be the most cited American university for coronavirus research.
But Magnuson recognizes that none of these efforts are possible without a team that supports the individuals within it. That’s why he is proactively addressing structural racism and implicit bias within research through new training programs in diversity, equity, and inclusion. This includes backing the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Research certificate program launched by the Odum Institute earlier this year and continuing to hire diverse faculty through programs like the Carolina Postdoctoral Program for Faculty Diversity.
When it came time for Magnuson’s five-year review, it’s no surprise his colleagues described him as “a top-notch scientist who possesses strength, compassion, and goodness that permeates the research system at Carolina.” Others said he is welcoming and supportive of new ideas and personal growth and “a treasure to the university.”
Looking toward the next five years, Magnuson strives to continue building what he started: a connected, campus-wide research team.
“UNC could become this country’s leading Research I public university and continue climbing in its ranking among the world’s finest public or private institutions leading in research and innovation,” he says. “My aspiration is to achieve this goal by facilitating and supporting our remarkable faculty, staff, and trainees.”
Terry Magnuson is the vice chancellor for research and the Kay M. & Van L. Weatherspoon Eminent Distinguished Professor of Genetics and founding chair of the Department of Genetics within the UNC School of Medicine.