Border collie running across grass

This Halloween, I’m dressing up as a border collie

Border collie herding sheep

I’m not one of those people who love Halloween, so I’m probably not really going to don a costume today. But if I were to dress up as a border collie, my experience as a research administrator would help me embody the character. How are research administrators (RAs) similar to border collies? Read on to find out.

Direction

Border collies are perhaps best known for their ability to keep a flock together and moving in the same direction. Much like border collies, research administrators help keep their communities moving toward strategic goals established by their institutions’ leadership. We develop policies and procedures that guide researchers in certain directions, we create checklists that keep faculty headed in the right direction with proposal submissions, and we design programs and incentives that encourage the pursuit of certain paths.

Safety

Border collies help keep their flocks safe from predators. Safety is also an essential function for research administrators. The policies and procedures we develop and enforce are created, in part, to protect our researchers and institutions from outside forces that could harm them. Our guidance documents and decision trees help investigators make informed decisions about things that impact their research. We work to ensure no one is caught unawares by disadvantageous sponsor terms or becomes subject to legal action as a result of inadvertently violating federal and state law. Those of us in research compliance protect the human and animal subjects that are part of our research communities by seeing that relevant federal guidelines are followed. Contract negotiators strategize to balance the interests of the investigator with those of the institution to arrive at an optimal final agreement.

Growth

Sheep may give more thought to the border collie’s potential to nip at their heels than they do to her potential to herd them to new grazing grounds, but that’s another essential function for these dogs. A flock that keeps grazing the same depleted pasture will not be nearly as robust as one that has access to fresh forage. The same is true for research, and RAs pave the way for new opportunities. Investigators often see ours as the office of “no,” but the truth is that RAs find creative ways to make “yes”s happen. Without the financial management expertise of post-award staff, far fewer sponsors would be willing to award funds in support of the research at our institutions. Without the keen eyes of pre-award staff, far more proposals would be returned without review for non-compliance. Without those who manage research compliance and review protocols, fewer studies would meet the ethical requirements of sponsors. And, of course, without the dedication and determination of research development staff, our institutions’ investigators would have access to – and be competitive for – far fewer opportunities.

Inclusion

With a border collie on the job, no sheep is ever left behind. The dog helps keep the flock intact by spurring on stragglers and rounding up those who have become lost. RAs also spur on stragglers. We search for those who are lost, reaching out to check on investigators we haven’t heard from in a while. We encourage those who got disappointing reviewer comments to take those comments to heart, tweak the proposal, and resubmit. Finally, we work to remove barriers for those who might not be submitting proposals at all.

Boundaries

Border collies use their experience and intuition to determine when one of their flock has crossed an unseen boundary and to recognize where their pasture ends and the next begins. Likewise, research administrators – whose unofficial motto is “it depends” – are relied upon to know where the boundaries are. Where does funding cross the line from gift to grant? When does one use a vendor vs. issuing a subaward agreement? What, exactly, are the allowable and allocable expenses that can be included in a budget?

Although border collies have a natural instinct for herding, it often takes a lot of time and effort to develop a dog’s skills so that she becomes a true partner. Likewise, research administrators devote a lot of time and effort to developing our skills. We are always thinking, learning, and growing so that we can own our place as true partners to our investigators and our institutions. Without us, the research enterprise would be more chaotic and less productive.


Adapted from “Research Without Border Collies,” written by Heather Beattey Johnston and Robyn Remotigue and appearing in the Oct./Nov. 2019 issue of NCURA Magazine.

Running border collie photo via Pixabay. Shepherding photo by SheltieBoy via Flickr. Both used under Creative Commons license.

Tubes of different colors diverge out from a center circle.

Structure of Graduate School and research office to change

Two brick-paved paths diverge in a wood.

At its September 19-20 meeting, Miami University’s Board of Trustees approved a resolution submitted by Provost Jason Osborne to separate the positions of dean of the Graduate School and university chief research officer. The current position of Dean of the Graduate School and Associate Provost for Research and Scholarship will be reformed into two positions: Associate Provost & Dean of the Graduate School and Vice President for Research & Innovation. Each administrator will lead their respective areas, and both positions will report directly to the Provost.

“For Miami to meet the ambitious goals of the Strategic Plan, we need two people focusing energy on innovation in these two related but distinct areas,” said Provost Osborne during the Board’s deliberation of the resolution.

Effective October 1, I assumed the title of Vice President for Research & Innovation. The title “Vice President for Research” is in line with that of chief research officers at other universities in Ohio and across the nation. The new title will also provide clarity to individuals and organizations in and outside of Miami as to the role this position plays within the university.

Provost Osborne expects to name an interim dean of the Graduate School to serve while a national search for a permanent dean is conducted. A national search will also be conducted for a Vice President of Research and Innovation to replace me, when I retire from Miami University effective June 30, 2020. Both positions are expected to be filled by July 1, 2020.


Abstract divergence image by anonymous via Max Pixel. Diverging paths image by Richard Schwier via Flickr. Both used under Creative Commons license.

Four people, each holding an oversized puzzle piece, fit the pieces together.

Get to know Grants and Contracts staff on National Research Administrator Day

September 25, 2019 marks the fifth annual National Research Administrator Day. Last year, we began a tradition of commemorating the event by profiling staff in various research administration units at Miami University. This year, we introduce you to the team in Grants & Contracts, who set up and manage financial aspects of awards made to the university. They have 55 years’ of research administration experience at Miami between them! (To learn more about the research administration profession, check out this post from our archive, by former OARS team member Tricia Callahan.)


Cindy Green

Cindy Green, Senior Staff Accountant

How long have you been a research administrator?
September marks my 18th anniversary in the Grants & Contracts office.

Describe your job in five words or less.
Can be challenging at times

What’s something that seems obvious to research administrators, but is often misunderstood by other people?
Different agencies have different policies that must be followed.  We are always busy trying to keep people compliant with their particular grant guidelines, especially knowing that federal, state or agency audits are always a possibility.

What is your research administrator superpower?
My superpower is helping others follow and adhere to agency guidelines.

If you weren’t a research administrator what job would you have?
I would like to be a travel agent.

Portrait of Kathy Kihm in her office
Kathy Kihm

Kathy Kihm, Staff Accountant II

How long have you been a research administrator?
I have worked in the Grants & Contracts office for five years.

Describe your job in five words or less.
More than a number cruncher

What’s something that seems obvious to research administrators, but is often misunderstood by other people?
Awards are like individuals; no two alike. Awards may have the same funding agency, yet still have varying contractual obligations. Each one must be handled on an individual basis. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.

What is your research administrator superpower?
My superpower is an innate willingness to help others. Accounting isn’t in the wheelhouse of most of our PI’s, so to be able to assist them with that aspect of their awards benefits all.

If you weren’t a research administrator what job would you have?
I would probably be either a docent or a tour guide. It would be fun to share knowledge as well as learn from others. Plus I would probably be in an interesting place amidst people who are vacationing and happy and uplifting!

Linda Manley

Linda Manley, Assistant Controller

How long have you been a research administrator?
This past July marked my 20 years here at Miami in the Grants and Contracts Office.

Describe your job in five words or less.
It is demanding at times

What’s something that seems obvious to research administrators, but is often misunderstood by other people?
We have all types of funding sources; federal, state, private and local, and they each have their own set of rules. The Grants and Contracts Office’s main responsibility is financial compliance. When we ask questions related to your grant expenses we are trying to ensure that we keep Miami out of any audit comments or findings.

What is your research administrator superpower?
Being able to resolve grant issues/problems when they occur.

If you weren’t a research administrator what job would you have?
I always wanted to be an airline stewardess.

Paula Murray

Paula Murray, Staff Accountant II

How long have you been a research administrator?
I have been a research administrator for 12 of my 19 years with Miami.

Describe your job in five words or less.
Every day brings new adventures!

What’s something that seems obvious to research administrators, but is often misunderstood by other people?
All external funding comes with different expectations of its application. Our job is to be able to validate Miami utilized those funds as expected of us.

What is your research administrator superpower?
My superpower is to lead PI’s through the federal effort certification process.

If you weren’t a research administrator what job would you have?
You would find me as a Fairy Godmother at the Disney Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.


Puzzle piece photo public domain via Max Pixel. Photos of Grants & Contracts staff by Paula Murray, Grants & Contracts Office, Miami University.

Four people, each holding an oversized puzzle piece, fit the pieces together.

Get to know OARS staff on National Research Administrator Day

September 25, 2018 marks the fourth annual National Research Administrator Day. Beginning this year, we will commemorate the event by profiling staff in various research administration units at Miami University. We decided to start right here at home, by introducing you to the team in the Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami’s central pre-award research office. (To learn more about the research administration profession, check out this post from our archive, by former OARS team member Tricia Callahan.)


Amy Hurley Cooper in her office
Amy Hurley Cooper

Amy Hurley Cooper, Assistant Director of Proposal Development

How long have you been a research administrator?
I’ve officially been a research administrator for about a year, but looking back, much of what I’ve done throughout my career was research administration.

Describe your job in five words or less.
No two days the same.

What’s something that seems obvious to research administrators, but is often misunderstood by other people?
The need to track a lot of information for each proposal — to a researcher, it can seem like busy work, but we really need that information, often to ensure we are following sponsor guidelines.

What is your research administrator superpower?
Empathy — I’ve done such a variety of proposal related tasks (planning, writing, editing, submitting on various platforms, managing funded projects) that I can usually relate to issues facing PIs or research team members.

If you weren’t a research administrator what job would you have?
Editor — I spent many years writing proposals but I really don’t enjoy starting with a blank page. I love helping others to convey ideas clearly and effectively.

Vanessa Gordon at her desk
Vanessa Gordon

Vanessa Gordon, Assistant to the Associate Provost for Research and Scholarship

How long have you been a research administrator?
I am in my sixth year of research administration.

Describe your job in five words or less.
Interesting, supportive, fun, collaborative, and rewarding

What is your research administrator superpower?
I would have to say that my superpower would be the records gatekeeper. I check and assure all data entered in the Cayuse system is correct for report generation and assure consistency.

If you weren’t a research administrator what job would you have?
There are so many options out there to chose from, but I am going with being a detective. I love a good mystery and solving puzzles is where I like to shine. I would find that to be a very rewarding job for me.

Heather Beattey Johnston in her office
Heather Beattey Johnston

Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director of Research Communications

How long have you been a research administrator?
Just about six years — since I came to Miami in November of 2012.

Describe your job in five words or less.
What humanities programs teach matters.

What’s something that seems obvious to research administrators, but is often misunderstood by other people?
Although we might appear to be mere bureaucrats, research administrators really do care about facilitating research. We work hard to protect our institutions and steward sponsor funds because we want to ensure continued access to the resources our researchers need to do their work.

What is your research administrator superpower?
Editing. Concise, clear sentences with active verbs not only make for more authoritative and logical arguments, they also take up less room in a proposal narrative!

If you weren’t a research administrator what job would you have?
I think it would be awesome to be a forensic linguist. I have always been a language nerd, and as an undergraduate student I considered becoming an attorney in part because the law is a profession that is, at heart, really about language. I also love to solve puzzles. Forensic linguistics is a field that combines language, the law, and puzzle-solving.

Anne Schauer in her office
Anne Schauer

Anne Schauer, Director of Research and Sponsored Programs

How long have you been a research administrator?
25 years

Describe your job in five words or less.
Multi-tasking on steroids.

What’s something that seems obvious to research administrators, but is often misunderstood by other people?
Guidelines really are meant to be read and followed! While that does seem obvious, a lot of the investigators I have worked with tend to rely more on their expertise and past proposal submission experiences to guide them. In our current highly-competitive funding climate, it is critical for investigators to submit totally complaint and error-free proposals. A lot of the errors I encounter are administrative in nature (i.e. formatting issues, unallowable attachments, etc.) that would not occur if only the submitter took the time to read and follow the proposal guidelines. The notion that their program officer won’t care, or will overlook such minor oversights is false and could produce a very real negative result if that is their guide. So . . . before you start to write a grant proposal . . . please read the guidelines and follow them to the letter!

What is your research administrator superpower?
I really am the knower of all things when it comes to research administration. I actually am not, but I have become quite adept at knowing exactly where to look for the answers to most questions that investigators pose. I have a well catalogued list of resources and browser bookmarks, as well as colleagues at various institutions throughout the U.S. where I can easily turn to get issues resolved in a timely fashion.

If you weren’t a research administrator what job would you have?
Full-time glass artist. Creating stained glass, fused glass and lampwork glass art and jewelry is something I have been doing in my spare time for many years. I totally enjoy the creative process as well as participating with other artists in art shows and interacting with customers.


Puzzle piece photo public domain via Max Pixel. OARS staff photos by Heather Beattey Johnston and Vanessa Gordon, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Miami University's Hamilton campus. A building is seen through an arch with "Miami University" signage.

OARS’ newest staff member shares her experience

Amy Cooper and three other people stand behind a table that holds Regionals-branded tote bags among other items.
Amy Cooper (second from right) worked at Miami’s Regional campuses for 25 years before coming to OARS.

My new position in the OARS office feels a lot like coming home for me. I first arrived on the Oxford campus as an undergraduate in 1986. After earning a degree in professional/technical writing, I spent the next 25 years at Miami’s Regional Campuses.

I was with the Center for Chemistry Education on the Middletown Campus for many years. We worked with educators from preschool through college level to make chemistry fun for all students, with more than $15 million in grant funding received. The experience I gained in proposal development and managing large-scale funded projects (along with some difficult lessons learned) helps me advise faculty and staff on avoiding pitfalls in project planning.

More recently, I was the grant writer and then the director of proposal development for the Regionals. After 18 years of chemistry, all day and every day, it was an exciting adventure to support external funding efforts across all disciplines. I was privileged to work with a lot of dedicated faculty and staff members who put students first, including many non-traditional and first-generation students with a broad range of life experience and some unique challenges.

An accomplishment I’m very proud of was coordinating the Regionals’ successful application for a US Department of Education Upward Bound grant in partnership with Hamilton High School. Students at the high school will be helped to see college as a viable option and provided with step-by-step support to apply and enroll in college, at Miami or elsewhere.

Throughout the years, I worked closely with OARS staff, who ensured that proposals were in line with funders’ and Miami’s guidelines. At first, their work seemed very mysterious to me. Over time, I grew interested in research administration, particularly when Tricia Callahan or Anne Schauer caught an issue that might have doomed a proposal. They were generous in answering my questions about how they did their jobs.

As a new OARS team member, I’m thrilled to be starting on this latest Miami adventure, back where my Miami life started. I’m very interested in how faculty members on all campuses build a research agenda and garner funding to support that work. I want to help make the process as straightforward as possible. I look forward to working with you!


Written by Amy Hurley Cooper, Assistant Director, Proposal Development, Office for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, Miami University.

Photos by Miami University.

Head-and-shoulders portrait of a woman.

Third annual National Research Administrator Day to be observed Monday

September 25, 2017 marks the third annual National Research Administrator Day. To commemorate the event, we’re re-publishing Tricia Callahan’s overview of the research administration profession.


Research administration is a profession that involves the “development, management, and implementation of research initiatives.” Research administration touches all aspects of planning for research programs, whether they are basic or applied programs, instructional programs, or public service programs. It also involves preparation and submission of proposals to secure funding for research, as well as project management, contract negotiation and management, financial management and oversight, and compliance with federal, state, and entity regulations and policies.

Thousands and thousands of people work in research administration across the globe. They may work in hospitals or institutions of higher education; they may work in not-for-profit agencies or in business and industry; or they may work in municipal, state, or Federal governmental agencies. Possible job titles in the profession include:

  • Vice President/Provost for Research
  • Sponsored Programs Director
  • Research/Proposal Development Coordinator
  • Program Manager/Coordinator
  • Contract Manager
  • Research Compliance Officer/Director
  • Research Integrity Officer
  • Export Controls Officer
  • Technology Transfer Officer/Director
  • Grants Accountant
  • Fiscal Administrator

The profession of research administration is supported by several organizations, including the National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA) and the Society of Research Administrators International (SRA). According to NCURA, Research Administrators Day is “the day that will recognize the significant contributions made by administrators in support of research innovation, inquiry, and discovery.”

Research administrators can receive certification in their area of expertise through the Research Administrators Certification Council (RACC) and can earn their Master of Science in Research Administration through Johns Hopkins University, Rush University, or the University of Central Florida.


Written by Tricia Callahan, Director of Proposal Development, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Video by NCURA via YouTube. Photo of research administrator Linda Manley (Miami University’s Grants & Contracts office) by Miami University Communications & Marketing.

Graffiti on a door. The dominant visual is a hand with a pointing finger. The words Return to Sender are written on the hand.

Avoid administrative return without review by following NSF PAPPG

Cover of the NSF Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide. Text: The National Science Foundation. Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide. NSF logo. Effective Date January 30, 2017. NSF 17-1. OMB Control Number 3145-0058.
The newest version of the NSF Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide takes effect January 30, 2017.

Anecdotal evidence from other institutions suggests that the National  Science Foundation (NSF) is becoming more stringent in enforcing administrative compliance for proposal submissions. To avoid administrative returns without review, all researchers submitting to the NSF must carefully follow the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedure Guide (PAPPG).

It’s important to note that several new policies take effect for proposals submitted on or after January 30, 2017. OARS Director Tricia Callahan provided an overview of those changes in two posts published last year. You can find them here and here. In addition, you might find this NSF checklist provided by Arizona State University helpful.

As always, the most important thing to remember is that your OARS consultant is an expert in the PAPPG and can help ensure your proposal submissions comply with all administrative regulations. Contact Anne Schauer (513-529-3735) or Tricia Callahan (513-529-1795) if you have any questions.


Return to sender photo by Evan P. Cordes via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.