By: Chad Ross
A small group of us got together for breakfast at last month’s annual NORDP Research Development Conference to discuss grantseeking culture: what is it, who are the best at it, and how do we get it? The conversation dove-tailed with a number of the concurrent session topics, but some common themes surfaced:
Insight #1: Pursuing research funding is a business.
Goal-setting at the administrative level can at times feel arbitrary, while Research Administration (RA) is tasked with connecting those dots for faculty. Manage upward through publicizing and leveraging success. By emphasizing the “externalities of research” with the administration, RA professionals can chip away at structural barriers that are not within RA’s immediate control, such as ensuring that F&A flows back in part to departments from which it comes rather than feeding into the common pool.
Insight #2: Build from your common denominators.
Most institutions of higher education have a common variable: students. Facilitate student research poster presentations to help overcome the perception of “haves” and “have-nots” among faculty. If the students can do it, so can they. Likewise, community town halls will build buy-in throughout the region, connecting the mission of the institution to the values of the communities they seek to enrich. Finally, when it comes to incoming faculty, everyone is trying to “get them young” and instill good research habits. Be thoughtful about the timing of trainings, scheduling these 2-3 months into the semester to avoid onboarding white noise. Pair this with a career development matrix to hook PIs and allow RA to serve as matchmakers throughout their careers.
Insight #3: You get out what you put in.
Many institutions incorporate seed funding into successful research enterprises, but not all seed programs use these funds to drive groups alongside individuals. Require on-campus talks as a condition of seed funding, and, above all emphasize that these programs require patience to pay dividends.
Insight #4: Funding research is also a business.
Remember that funders are also ultimately looking for return on investment. POs at every level are accountable for the outcomes within their portfolio, and, amidst an uncertain funding landscape, operating/bridge grants are disappearing for individual PI research programs. A number of funders are encouraging multi-investigator proposals as a way to get the most bang for their buck, with the super-externality of facilitating cross-discipline collaboration. RA professionals (particularly those at institutions looking to turn the corner from a teaching institution to a research institution) should likewise encourage PIs to diversify their portfolios so that the institution lessens reliance on tuition-based formula funding.
While there is no silver bullet for every institution, RA professionals from medical research facilities to teaching institutions landed on this set of best practices that have the potential to enrich any aspiring research organization.