The Research Administration Improvement Network
A Program to Enhance the Skills of Research Administrators
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.
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:
- There are varying degrees of knowledge and oversight by research administrators across departments within the University community.
- Some internal controls are too decentralized.
- Funding for research support is inadequate in some areas, jeopardizing program sustainability.
- Institutional buy-in at all levels is inconsistent.
- Central office backlogs, staff turnover, and heavy workloads may prohibit research administrators from obtaining the essential enhancement of new skills.
- Limited proficiency in Enterprise Business Systems can result in undefined or inconsistent application of business processes.
- There may be a lack of incentives and career paths for research administrators.
- Current communication methods may not be adequate to reach all constituents.
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. 
|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||
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:
- Proposal Development
- Electronic Research Administration Systems
- Institutional Review Board (Human Subjects)
- Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee
- Conflict of Interest
- Research Misconduct
- Radiation Safety
- Export Controls
- Financial & Costing
- Award Management
- Sponsor Terms and Conditions and Contract Negotiation
- Intellectual Property
- Human Resources
- Accounts Payable
- Grant Billing
- Grant Accounting
- Subrecipient Monitoring
- Internal Audit
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.  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:
- Strengthen the University's research support infrastructure to better manage existing awards.
- Reduce the administrative burden, allowing faculty to devote more time to research activities and proposal writing.
- Support research across disciplinary, departmental, college and campus boundaries by standardizing and refining research processes.
- Build a sustainable environment to support an expanded and improved research mission.
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  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:
- Departmental Business Process Standardization Workgroup
The standardization and documentation of the University's business processes will be accomplished by developing user-friendly procedures and manuals. Standardization will also increase efficiency in inter-departmental research.
- Reporting Workgroup
Research administrators must have project-based fiscal reports that facilitate the effective management of sponsored awards. The workgroup will identify useful departmental generated reports, determine their transferability across the research community, and document additional reporting needs.
- Education and Training Workgroup
An intensive training program for staff development must be created that covers the research administration life cycle, incorporating institutional processes and enterprise business system functions. This program will provide clear objectives and career paths that motivate personnel to accomplish targeted milestones.
The primary training and development goals of this initiative will be to provide scenario-based research administration training to USF staff performing their functions by:
- Identifying positions performing research administration functions and reviewing how they align with defined research roles and responsibilities.
- Determining research-related competencies within USF's business processes.
- Creating scenario-based business process training for each research-related competency.
- Developing training plans for various research positions.
- Communications Workgroup
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.
- Additional workgroups will be formed as needed.
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:
- Deans, Chairs, and Directors to provide release time for TRAIN participation.
- Human Resources, Organizational Development and Training to assist with needs assessments, training administration, and marketing.
- Commitments from subject matter experts in central service areas that impact the research enterprise to serve as trainers and/or participants
- Space/facilities (meeting/training rooms and labs).
- Research materials (literature books, best practices).
- IT resources (business system optimization, maintenance, upgrades, and alignment of research business processes with system processes).
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:
- Developing consistent practices and a network of highly competent, well-informed research administrators to support research across disciplinary, departmental, college, and campus boundaries.
- Creating and communicating best practices and procedures to ensure compliance with sponsor guidelines and reduce financial risk to the University.
- Providing increased service and research administration expertise to the research faculty.
- Reducing the administrative burden on faculty, thus allowing them more time to focus on developing proposals and seeking additional funding. Strengthening the networking opportunities within the USF research community and improving cross-departmental relationships. Clarifying and building ownership and accountability into roles and responsibilities that will further mitigate risk and protect the University.
 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.
 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).