Gregory F. Ball, PhD, was named the vice president for research (VPR) at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) in January. In his new role, Ball will oversee the joint research enterprise at the two institutions, a collaboration that garners a combined $1.3 billion in research awards annually.
Ball had served as dean of UMCP’s College of Behavioral and Social Sciences for the past seven years. Before joining UMCP, he was vice dean for science and research infrastructure in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University.
Ball took time out of his busy schedule to talk to CATALYST magazine two months after assuming his three-year appointment on Feb. 1.
How has your background at Johns Hopkins and College Park prepared you to lead research at UMB/UMCP?
At Johns Hopkins, my primary faculty appointment was in Psychological and Brain Sciences in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, but I had secondary appointments in Neuroscience at the School of Medicine and in Biochemistry in the School of Public Health. With these multiple appointments, I learned a lot about the challenges and rewards of units in Arts and Sciences collaborating with professional schools such as Public Health and Medicine. I served in the Krieger School dean’s office for seven years as a vice dean of Science and Research, so many of the duties required of the VPR here at Maryland were in my purview such as compliance issues (Institutional Review Board and American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, etc.) as well as issues related to promoting research activity. When I came to College Park and become dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, I became familiar with the complexities of the College Park campus, and I was involved in collaborations with UMB. So all these activities at Hopkins and at Maryland provided me with a good foundation to serve as VPR.
What are your goals over the next six months for the UMB/UMCP research enterprise?
The UMB/UMCP research enterprise is vast and growing, and there are exciting opportunities ahead to achieve great outcomes and harness the power of our research to help people. We want to take on the grand challenges of our time to help humanity, not just locally and regionally, but across the globe. These priorities are inclusive of all of our academic disciplines. Our research addresses global challenges such as climate change, human health innovation, and many more areas where we can have a positive societal impact.
Some specific goals I have include:
Further advancing cross-disciplinary collaborations involving researchers at both UMB and UMCP is an important goal. One way we can work toward achieving this is by providing resources to help make researchers at each institution aware of current research projects and expertise at the other campus that may be complementary to their own work, using technology tools and other methods. Another approach is to help support and facilitate joint grant proposals. Further, we need to tell the story of these collaborations. This can be done through increased efforts to communicate about collaborative projects and ensuring that these stories are shared with the public.
Another goal is to continue to grow and diversify our research portfolio. We want to increase our partnerships and engagement with industry and foundations, and to grow, develop, and strengthen those relationships. Building research partnerships is an important priority in the near term and long term.
We also seek to further grow and strengthen our research infrastructure. This will be important as the size, scope, and reach of our research enterprise continues to expand. This includes expanding how we manage compliance and ethical concerns.
What is your own research currently focused on?
I study the neuroendocrine regulation of birdsong production and perception. This behavior in temperate zone birds occurs in a seasonal context with males singing far more in the spring than in the winter. These seasonal changes in behavior are associated with seasonal changes in the brain. Steroid hormones such as androgens and their metabolites regulate these changes in brain and behavior. Steroids regulate different components of song behavior by acting in specific parts of the brain. With my graduate student Chelsea Haakenson, who is in the Neuroscience and Cognitive Science program, we are studying how androgens modulate dopamine systems to regulate seasonal changes in the motivation to sing.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I grew up in University Park just down the street from the College Park campus. My mother worked at UMCP as an administrative assistant to the dean of what is now called the School of Public Health. I went to summer sports camps at UMCP, and one summer during college I was hired to be a temporary member of the grounds crew. I trimmed the lawn around many campus buildings including Tydings Hall, where I later would have my office as dean!
What kinds of things do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I like reading history and visiting museums, especially art museums. I very much like to do that while traveling abroad, though that has been curtailed in recent years for obvious reasons. I also enjoy seeing nature, especially birds! My wife, Margaret McCarthy, is a department chair at UMSOM (Pharmacology), and we enjoy biking together on the C&O Canal and have a shared interest in travel, nature, and art. We also like to socialize with friends and sample restaurants around Baltimore.
Read more about Dr. Ball here.