The future of research at Stanford
The two newest members of the leadership team in the Office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Research discuss their positions, how their research backgrounds inform their roles, and exciting research opportunities on the horizon for Stanford.
Since their appointments earlier this year as senior associate vice provosts, Jennifer Cochran (for research) and Judith “Jodi” Prochaska (for clinical research governance) have been working to support researchers, identify new opportunities, and facilitate collaborations among the diverse community supported by Stanford University’s Office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Research (VPDoR).
Cochran, a bioengineer, and Prochaska, a clinical psychologist, met over a decade ago during a year-long School of Medicine leadership program. Each brings a diverse portfolio of service and leadership to their roles in the VPDoR. Cochran is the former chair of the Department of Bioengineering and still serves as the faculty director of the Innovative Medicines Accelerator Protein Therapeutics Initiative. Prochaska is a professor in the Department of Medicine, deputy director of the Stanford Prevention Research Center, faculty director of the Master of Science in Community Health and Prevention Research program, and a treating clinician with addiction medicine privileges at Stanford Health Care.
Since January, the two have spent time listening, learning, and exploring the breadth and scope of responsibilities under the VPDoR.
Here, Cochran and Prochaska discuss with Stanford Report their backgrounds, some early learnings and achievements in their 3-year terms, and their aspirations as faculty leaders.
This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.
For those unfamiliar with your roles, what do the SAVP for Research and the SAVP for Clinical Research Governance do to support faculty, researchers, and their teams?
Prochaska: Stanford’s clinical research portfolio has grown exponentially and extended geographically, and this volume requires coordinated oversight and support. The SAVP-Clinical Research Governance role aims to help Stanford’s clinical research achieve the highest ethical standards and comply with all applicable regulatory requirements. To that end, I support the VPDoR’s mission to facilitate, nurture, and safeguard a thriving research ecosystem focusing on clinical research.
Cochran: As the SAVP-Research, I help develop strategy and planning for innovative research initiatives and opportunities that strengthen collaboration across campus – this includes the 15 research institutes, centers, and laboratories managed under VPDoR, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, the Office of Technology Licensing, among others. Over the past few months, I have been working on a range of special projects in partnership with [Vice Provost and Dean of Research] Kathryn “Kam” Moler, allowing a unique opportunity for a firsthand view of the scope and mission of the VPDoR. I’m still building my portfolio, yet I am grateful for what we have accomplished in a short period of time.
What aspects of the role have been the most inspirational, and are there any highlights you can share?
Cochran: We have been working on building stronger ties between Stanford and SLAC researchers by re-imagining physical space at the Arrillaga Science Center at SLAC, with a goal to leverage the ground-breaking science happening across the campuses. It’s been inspiring to lead a community process where groups could pitch ideas for this space with the goals of advancing cutting-edge research and enhancing collaboration. The bold and impactful program proposals we have seen from teams across campus make me optimistic for the future, not only for these enabling partnerships but for the world that will benefit from them. I have also been grateful to serve on the SLAC Director Search Committee, which has offered an opportunity to hear from SLAC and campus stakeholders about their vision for the future at such a critical time.
Prochaska: The local and at-large community looks to Stanford Health Care for its renowned patient care. In federal Fiscal Year 2022, Stanford University received more than $650 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health for more than 1,100 research awards. I’ve been on a listening tour to build an understanding of the opportunities, successes, and challenges within Stanford’s clinical research ecosystem. An example of the extent of the research, on a single day in March 2023, there were 9,191 active human subject protocols: 97% were within Stanford School of Medicine, 77% identified Stanford Health Care, and 27% Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital as clinical sites, 21% were clinical trials, of which 11% were industry sponsored. This is a lot of science with many people responsible for leading and managing the research, and for some, the research is providing training opportunities. It has been inspiring hearing from leaders in research and health care delivery about their vision, achievements, and challenges in clinical research growth at Stanford. For example, the strategic partnership between Stanford School of Medicine and Stanford Health Care is calling for the expansion of clinical research to community affiliates, research training, education, and regulatory support.
What do you believe are some research opportunities on the horizon for Stanford, and how do you hope your role will support the university’s progress in these areas?
Cochran: In addition to fostering stronger ties with our colleagues at SLAC, there are exciting research opportunities percolating in broad areas such as AI, quantum, semiconductors, and astrophysics. Moreover, building on almost a century of innovations in electrical engineering and computer science is a renaissance in the life sciences and biotechnology that is poised to have transformative impacts locally and globally. The broad theme of “synthesis” applied to biology (i.e., synthetic biology) is a burgeoning area of research with cross-cutting opportunities across all of Stanford, including fundamental science, policy, medicine, engineering, sustainability, and arts and humanities. Working with President Tessier-Lavigne, VPDoR Kam Moler and Deans Lloyd Minor, Jennifer Widom, and Arun Majumdar, among others, we’ve begun supporting a diverse and outstanding community of faculty, postdocs, and students to develop a strong foundation from which to support ongoing and future work in this space (sb.stanford.edu). In parallel, to facilitate the translational aspects of technologies resulting from these activities, 85 acres of the adjacent Stanford Research Park have been earmarked to create a 21st-century biotechnology hub. I’m extremely passionate about how we can best help this ecosystem grow and thrive to benefit all, in addition to supporting all the exciting research on campus.
Prochaska: Stanford’s continued innovations in cancer diagnosis and treatment for our local community and beyond, by leveraging new technologies and discoveries, are areas I believe will further solidify our purposeful impact. I believe the VPDoR can help by supporting more collaborative team science and equipping clinical researchers with the facilities and instruments to fuel their ideas.
How is your own research career influencing the approach you bring to this role?
Prochaska: At Stanford, I conduct clinical research, treat and supervise patient care, and direct a master’s program that is research oriented. I know the excitement of a new discovery and value the applied training opportunities possible with team science. From personal experience, I am sensitive to the increasing time demands of federal regulatory oversight and contracting. I also bring an eye to supporting greater efficiencies and streamlining processes to support research activities with integrity. Collaboration and authentic interactions are critical to building trust. In my community-based research, hearing perspectives and identifying challenges and successes before intervening allows the solution to be targeted and hopefully effective. On my listening tour, I have been doing just that: listening and building my understanding, mapping the lay of the land with data, and conducting a needs assessment.
Cochran: My career has been driven by opportunities for combining different scientific areas to tackle impactful problems. My degrees are in biochemistry and chemistry. My postdoctoral training was in biological engineering, and then I completed a fellowship in biophysics. One of the reasons I was thrilled to come to Stanford nearly two decades ago was the ability to be immersed in the interdisciplinary ecosystem that makes our institution so special – in fact, I spent the first 10 years of my career here in the Clark Center, home of Bio-X. Joining the VPDoR team provides an unprecedented opportunity to engage with and support the breadth of research endeavors across campus, including and beyond the life sciences. Bringing my own experiences in convening groups of people with diverse expertise around important shared goals, I hope we can accomplish some remarkable things.
Lastly, how can faculty, researchers, and our staff across campus collaborate with you or the office of the VPDoR?
Prochaska: Given my focus on clinical research governance, I would welcome hearing from faculty or researchers needing problem-solving with encountered challenges or who have identified process improvements that can be scaled. Success for me would be developing new academic-clinical partnerships, supporting training opportunities in clinical research, and fostering clinical research to practice discoveries. Helping Stanford PIs develop, implement, and disseminate their science with integrity and efficiency is our aim.
Cochran: Likewise, I hope to serve as a connector and conduit to link faculty with teams and resources within VPDoR and elsewhere in our ecosystem to help facilitate their success. Sometimes there will be an easy path forward and other times I hope to build a stronger understanding of their unique needs to inform our processes and best practices. Sharing examples with the community of how our office has helped faculty and units ensure preeminence and purpose in their research would be a great win for all.
Cochran is also director of the Stanford/NIH Biotechnology pre-doctoral training program. She has launched multiple startups in the fields of oncology and regenerative medicine. Prochaska’s research program leverages technology to study and treat tobacco use and multiple risk behaviors, spanning community-based epidemiologic studies, randomized controlled trials, and policy analysis.