TRAIN Genesis

The Research Administration Improvement Network

A Program to Enhance the Skills of Research Administrators

1. Mission/Statement of Purpose
2. Background
3. The Role of Research Administration
4. Project Description/Methodology
5. Resources/Commitment
6. Outcomes/Benefits

1. Mission/Statement of Purpose

Knowledgeable research administrators are essential to the management of the research enterprise. The primary focus of The Research Administration Improvement Network, or TRAIN, will be to build the research support infrastructure by enhancing the professional competencies of those who contribute to the research enterprise, implementing training and education, improving business processes and reporting, and enhancing communication within the research community.

2. Background

As a comprehensive research institution based across multiple campuses and associated with numerous affiliates, the University of South Florida conducts a broad spectrum of health and non-health related research that requires substantial specialized administrative knowledge and oversight. USF's growth in research during its first 50 years has been truly remarkable. Over the last 10 years alone, the volume of sponsored research activity has tripled from $106 million in fiscal year 1996/1997 to over $308 million in fiscal year 2006/2007. Despite the dramatic growth in research dollars, there has not been a corresponding growth in the administrative infrastructure to support the increased volume as well as the expanded complexity in the responsibility of research management. In the current funding climate, extramural resources (especially federal funds) come with higher expectations of stewardship and compliance.

Several factors can undermine the effective support of research. A number of these have been identified:

Lack of infrastructure at USF can also create situations where the University is penalized. For example, in 2005, the outcome of a federal audit required USF to refund $5.5 million to sponsors. USF was not alone in this regard. In the last 11 years, several prestigious institutions have reached costly monetary settlements with the federal government because of findings related to inadequate infrastructure and knowledge of research administrators. [1]

Institution Year Payout
University of Minnesota 1998 $32.0 million
New York University 1997 $15.0 million
Florida International University 2005 $11.0 million
Northwestern University 2003 $5.5 million
Johns Hopkins University 2005 $2.5 million
Harvard University 2004 $2.4 million
George Washington University 2005

$1.8 million


3. The Role of Research Administration

The role of research administration is to support investigators by facilitating their efforts to conduct research in a flexible and supportive environment — an environment that is characterized today by evolving regulatory requirements and a need for managed risk. The complexity of research administration requires knowledgeable, highly adaptive, and skilled professionals who have expertise in the areas of:

Research universities have the responsibility of ensuring that there are sufficient, adequately trained research administrative staff members to maintain institutional integrity. This is accomplished by continuous training. Implementation and standardization of research-related business processes, best practices, and training curricula will enhance institutional efficiencies and minimize financial risk. [2] USF must invest in its research organizational support infrastructure in order to assure the needs of the research community are met.

In order to address the training needs of USF's research administration community, the Office of Research & Innovation proposes the creation of an organizational advisory group to be known as The Research Administration Improvement Network, or TRAIN.

TRAIN will engage the Office of Research & Innovation, Research Financial Management, and other units, as applicable, to develop a training program for research administrators to enhance the University's research capacity and increase knowledge of up-to-date administrative practices and policies across the research enterprise. In doing so, the University will improve service and support to research faculty to:

4. Project Description/Methodology

In order to develop a program that is customized and beneficial to USF research, the Office of Research & Innovation will establish a research administration improvement network that will develop the curriculum, calling upon the best practices identified by professional research organizations [3] and benchmarked against peer institutions. Deans and Directors will be asked to identify research administrators to serve on TRAIN, which, in turn, will create workgroups for the following areas:

The communications workgroup will identify areas where communication is lacking and recommend improvements. The workgroup will also evaluate current communication resources (e.g., e-mail, web sites) to determine if they are utilized efficiently and whether other options exist that would better disseminate information to the research community.

5. Resources/Commitment

The Office of Research & Innovation, with the Division of Sponsored Research and Research Financial Management, will organize the official launch of TRAIN at USF. Management from these offices will assist in guiding the planning process, serve as TRAIN members, and select others from their respective offices to serve within the network. Participation and support from other Office of Research & Innovation units (Research Foundation, Patents & Licensing, Comparative Medicine, and Research Integrity & Compliance) will be expected.

To proceed with this critical program, the Office of Research & Innovation seeks the support and endorsement of senior leadership and the research community at the University of South Florida.

The following resources/actions will be required for successful execution of this program:

6. Outcomes/Benefits

The establishment of TRAIN, representing stakeholders from all areas involved in research, will bring together participants with vested interests in improving the research administration enterprise at USF to assure that the research enterprise at USF is positioned optimally to address regulatory and business changes and will lead to increased institutional effectiveness in managing extramural funding.

TRAIN, in fulfilling its mission, will assist USF in achieving its goals and upholding its values by:


[1] Institutional Audit Information provided with permission of Charlene Blevens, DireFunds Accounting, Frida International University. April 4, 2008. (CostAccounting)

[2] This need has been and continues to be expressed by the USF research community through the Research Council, the Research Management Council, the College Research Administrators Network groups (Tampa and regional campuses), and the Associate Deans for Research. The USF Office of Audit and Compliance and the Association for the Accreditation and Protection of Human Research Protection Programs, Inc. (AAHRPP), the national compliance accreditation organization for human subjects research, have also identified this as an area of weakness. An independent consultant hired by the University concluded that USF had a significant lack of infrastructure at the departmental level to address research administration activities.

[3] The Society of Research Administrators (SRA), Council on Governmental Relations (COGR), National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA), Federal Demonstration Partnership (FDP), and Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM).