Academic journal article SRA Journal

Research Administration through a Decade of Change

Academic journal article SRA Journal

Research Administration through a Decade of Change

Article excerpt

A panel of research administrators discusses the issues raised in Dr. Edward N. Brandt's 1987 article about changes in research administration. Panelists include Regina Smith, PhD, associate dean for research in the College of Medicine at the University of Florida; Mary T. Spina, CRA, director of grants administration at Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago; and James Grayson, director of grants and contracts at New England Medical Center. The discussion was moderated by Marcia Landen Zuzolo, SRA Journal associate editor.

MARCIA:

Dr. Brandt focused his comments on biomedical research, so let's talk about the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH's budget has continued to rise faster than those of most other federal grantmakers, and competition for NIH funding among our researchers continues to increase as well. Why has NIH done relatively well? Why do our researchers feel an increasing frustration in competing for NIH funding?

REGINA:

NIH has a vastly larger constituency group than the other agencies. Let's face it - very few people would advocate that we not try to find a cure for AIDS, cancer, or heart disease. So long as custodian and Congressman alike experience disease and debilitation, the advocacy group that supports increasing levels of funding for biomedical research will encompass almost all of us. That's a lot of votes.

MARY:

For medical research, NIH is seen as the funding source. Not only is it a mechanism for good, quality medical research; it has been (until recently) one of the few funding agencies that will fully fund a research project. NIH funding is seen as a prestigious award (at least at my institution). Those who are able to compete successfully for an NIH grant are seen as the "real" researchers.

JIM:

Part of the frustration researchers feel in competing for NIH funds is due to the number of faculty that are applying, which in many ways offsets the increasing budget. For new investigators, only one in five is being funded, and that 20% level has changed very little over the last 5 years. For senior faculty, the level increases to 33%, but that's still only one proposal in three that is funded.

MARY:

Because NIH has standing study sections for peer review, those who are planning to compete can look at the composition of the study section, decide where the experts in their field are serving, and ask to be assigned there. The faculty feel that they are receiving a fair review of their proposals. And if funded (or even if approved with a high score and not necessarily funded), they feel a great sense of accomplishment.

Part of the process is frustration, though. Researchers submitting to a premier funding source don't want to be unsuccessful time after time. Junior faculty, in particular - those striving for lab space, use of equipment, and more students - are pressured into writing for grant support before they are ready.

REGINA:

As academic health centers are increasingly called upon to compete against for-profit hospitals and commercial health systems for "market share," the old paradigm of operating the "academic business" off the margin of the clinical earnings has been blasted to smithereens. The clinical profits, which used to support education and research in fairly grand style, are being squeezed out of existence. College administrators, university presidents, and (in the case of the University of Florida) the state legislature now expect education and research to pay its own way. Research and teaching faculty have come to learn firsthand what "marketplace adjustment" really means. Of course faculty are frustrated! The good ones, however, are merely chagrinned. They know they might have to go hungry for a while, but they know they can survive if they rely on their excellent research skills, their strong track record, and their ability to collaborate with those who are more fortunate. The truly frustrated faculty are those who haven't had an NIH grant in a decade, who haven't written a peer-reviewed paper in 3 years, who can't teach, and who don't see patients. …

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