Over the past 20 years, USF has transitioned into a major research institution and was designated a "Preeminent State Research University" by the Florida Board of Governors in June of 2018, one of only three in the state. Today, USF is one of 56 public research universities nationwide classified as both a Doctoral University with "Highest Research Activity" and as a "Community Engaged" institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

USF was the first university in Florida to create a research-specific strategic plan, created with the input of more than 550 stakeholders across USF’s three campuses, and which identified six key strategic research areas of focus:

  • Brain and Spinal Cord, including neuroscience, neuromorphic computing, cognitive sciences, aging, hearing loss, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative diseases, prostheses, and spinal cord and traumatic brain injury prevention and mitigation.

  • Data Science, including data analytics, financial data analysis, pattern recognition in big data, digital visualization, electronic health records, health informatics and digital humanities.

  • Heart, spanning basic, translational and clinical research, and cardiovascular disease-related care, with emphasis on biological systems research that would be applicable across areas that contribute to cardiovascular disease.

  • Human Security, spanning cybersecurity, global security, military research, food security, spread and control of infectious diseases, promoting civil societies and social networks.

  • Water, spanning marine science, purification, supply and management, ocean ecology, coastal ecosystems, fisheries, natural hazards and sustainability.

  • Research Translation of intellectual property into products, industry collaborations, software services, startups, processes, and policies that improve the human condition, including supporting economic development and job creation.

USF ranks 8th in the nation among public universities and 16th worldwide for granted U.S. patents among all universities according to the Intellectual Property Owners Association/NAI (2019), and has ranked in the Top 10 among public universities for U.S. patents granted for the past 10 years (2010–2019).

The USF Office of Corporate Partnerships serves as the “front door” to provide a pathway for potential external industry and community partners to connect with all USF campuses, including research & development contracts, educational programs, student internships and potential employees, and philanthropy. The USF Research Park, located on the Tampa campus, provides an important, centrally located community environment for a growing number of startups, early stage companies, researchers and community partners.

The University of South Florida has consolidated its three campuses into one accredited institution. Faculty on each campus are involved in interdisciplinary research collaborations and have access to extensive community partnerships, working together to create geographically distributed centers of research excellence.

Undergraduates at the university are encouraged to take advantage of a wide range of research opportunities. The Office for Undergraduate Research provides support to students engaged in undergraduate research and teaches students about the expectations and privileges associated with undergraduate research.

Graduate students have the opportunity to work alongside internationally renowned faculty and researchers in a variety of settings. Together they work to create solutions to society's most pressing problems.

At USF, research and innovation comes from a creative and ongoing collaboration between faculty and student researchers, administrative staff, business and academic partners, and the community. The result is an ever-stronger global research university that opens minds, creates knowledge, brings innovation into the marketplace and changes lives.