University of Pittsburgh

University Research Council

2004-2005 Activities Report


THE PROVOST’S CHARGE

Provost James Maher delivered the Council charge at the November 5 meeting.  He asked the Council to:

  • Consider the feasibility of an independent, interdisciplinary seed grant program (which is parallel in construction to the CRDF).
  • Serve as a focus group for the Office of Research as it develops InfoEd modules.
  • Provide guidance on selecting subjects for a research video series to be hosted on the University’s research web page.
  • Help develop a proposal to the Mellon Foundation that provides support for postdoctoral fellows in the humanities.
  • Create an ongoing series that brings a variety of speakers to the University to discuss current national research trends.

Over the course of the year, members of the Council developed the interdisciplinary seed grant program and advised the Office of Research.  Members of the Council worked with faculty from humanities disciplines to develop a proposal to the Mellon Foundation and studied how best to address research issues of national interest.  Work in the latter two areas is ongoing.

FACULTY ASSISTANCE

Central Research Development Fund (Small Grants Program)

The Council evaluated 50 proposals to the University’s Central Research Development Fund (CRDF).  The Council recommended funding for 31 of the proposals.  Nine of the 17 applications from health science fields were funded, nine of the 12 applications from the science and engineering fields were funded, and thirteen of the 21 applications from social science and humanities fields were funded.

Interdisciplinary Small Grants Program

The Council sponsored the first in an annual series of interdisciplinary small grant competitions.  The program is designed to enhance opportunities for the University’s faculty to engage in multidisciplinary research, scholarship, and creative endeavors.  The program encourages faculty with different skills and training to address complex problems that span the humanities, social sciences, engineering, physical sciences, and/or the biological and health sciences.  The Council funded one of the eight applications.

Electronic Research Administration

InfoEd is providing the software that the Office of Research is using to update its electronic administrative procedures.  The new system’s proposal-tracking module will be introduced this year.  Principal investigators will be able to submit proposals electronically, and Office staffers will be able to track proposals electronically.  The proposal-development module will be introduced next year.  This module will support both complete online proposal development and the electronic proposal formats of all external sponsors.

Federal Agencies Trip

Twenty-one members of the University’s social science, humanities, and education faculty and grant administration staff attended the annual federal agencies’ briefing on March 21.  Representatives from NSF, NIH, USAID, and the Department of Education, among others, spoke.  The speakers provided information on discipline-specific research programs, agency contacts, and proposal review criteria.  They also discussed undergraduate research programs, joint research and educational programs (e.g., IGERT), and teacher education programs.

A21 Regulations

Julie Norris, formerly of the Director of Sponsored Programs at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, visited the University on November 16 to discuss A21 regulations.  She is a highly regarded expert on issues related research administration.  A21 refers to the Office of Management and Budget’s Circular A21, which describes the types of costs that may be directly charged to grants and those costs that are considered to be incorporated into the indirect cost rate.  These rules apply only to federally sponsored projects.  

OFFICE OF RESEARCH

The Office of Research’s workload increases as the University’s research portfolio expands.  The Office processes an average of 450 proposals per month, but this number can reach 600 per month during January, May, and September.  NIH proposals are generally due in the aforementioned months.  The National Institutes of Health are the source of 50 percent of the University’s research funds.  The new electronic research administration system will help alleviate some of the burden associated with this workload (see discussion under “Faculty Assistance”).  Office staff will be able to track, process, and submit research proposals more efficiently.

The Office hired several individuals to help process its growing workload.  A new Assistant Director for Education and Training is developing a research administration certificate program.  Few universities employ someone to educate and train staff in research administration.  The Office of Research will benchmark the development of its program against the programs of the few universities that do employ such individuals.  A fully developed program should exist within three years.  A new corporate contracts officer and a new clinical contracts officer are processing contracts, and two new information technology specialists are helping to develop the Office’s new electronic administration system.

The Office of Research sponsored a forum for University research administrators at which policy and procedural changes and ITARs and EARs were discussed.  Between 150 and 200 individuals attended.  The Office continues to sponsor a series of National Council of University Research Administrators professional development teleconferences.  Teleconferences held this year included:

  • Conflict of Interest Management – September 14, 2004
  • Sponsored Research Financial Management January 25, 2005
  • International Sponsored Programs AdministrationMarch 8, 2005
  • Principles of R&D ContractingJune 14, 2005

COUNCIL RETREAT

Members of the Council met on June 23 to create an agenda for the upcoming academic year.  Issues of interest include:

  • Central Research Development Fund
  • Interdisciplinary Small Grants Program
  • Proposal-Writing Seminar Series
  • Post-Doctoral Support in the Humanities
  • Advising the Office of Research

INFORMATION SESSIONS

Electronic Library Resources

Dr. Rush Miller, Director of the University Library System, discussed the University’s electronic library resources.  The University possesses more than 150,000 individual items in its electronic databases and online resources.  University investment in and use of electronic resources generally exceeds its peer institutions investment in and use of these resources.  The library provides real-time, digital reference services; extensive access to electronic journals; an electronic thesis and dissertation database; and several electronic archives.  Electronic purchases account for approximately one quarter of all of the library’s material purchases.

Strategic and Program Development

Sheila Rathke, Assistant Provost for Strategic and Program Development, discussed strategies for publicizing the University’s teaching and research efforts.  She used the field of nanotechnology as an example.  Numerous researchers at the University conduct high-profile work in this field, but some individuals outside of the University community are unaware of these researchers’ accomplishments.  Ms. Rathke is helping to develop a message that will inform lay individuals, local and development officials, and state and federal legislators of this work.  The message will describe the types of nanotechnology research conducted at the University, illustrate how research at the University differs from research at other universities, and demonstrate the University’s long-term commitment to supporting this research.

Research Accounting

Caroline Correa and Mark Stofko from the Office of Research Accounting and John Elliott from the Internal Audit Department discussed accounting compliance issues.  Compliance is becoming increasingly important because the federal government is monitoring federally financed research expenditures more closely.  Recent events, such as NIH site visits and the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, have brought these issues to the fore.  The University is educating members of the faculty and staff about the potential pitfalls associated with these issues through training sessions, compliance testing, continual communication, etc.

Bridging the Life and Physical Sciences

Dr. Jeremy Somers from the Office of Research, Health Sciences, attended a joint NSF/NIH conference entitled “Research at the Interface of the Life and Physical Sciences: Bridging the Sciences.”  In the first breakout session, meeting participants discussed the need to 1) develop an understanding of biology as a complex system, 2) use this understanding to develop predictive methods, and 3) develop new physical approaches to compete the aforementioned task.  In the second breakout session, meeting participants discussed ways to foster collaboration between the life and physical sciences in order to address the challenges identified in the first session.

ISSUE DISCUSSIONS

Members of the Council repeatedly discussed several issues during the academic year.  These issues included:

National Preparedness

The Department of Homeland Security is sponsoring several multi-university, interdisciplinary academic centers dedicated to the study of national preparedness.  Annual funding for the centers varies from $3.0 to $5.0 million per year over approximately five years.  DHS released several RFPs during the last academic year.  Members of the Keystone Alliance, several non-Pennsylvania universities, and several non-academic partners collaborated on these proposals.  Penn State coordinated a proposal for a Center of Excellence for Behavioral and Social Research on Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism, and the University of Pittsburgh coordinated a proposal for a Center of Excellence for the Study of High Consequence Event Preparedness and Response.

Material Transfer Agreements

A material transfer agreement (MTA) regulates the transfer of research outcomes – e.g., a chemical compound, a cell line, a reagent, a tissue sample, or any other tangible product of research.  It is a contract whereby the owner of a particular material (usually the University) agrees to transfer that material to an external entity, subject to the limitations and conditions set forth in the agreement.  MTAs are negotiated through the University’s Office of Research.  The Office is negotiating dramatically larger numbers of MTAs with external companies.  Negotiations are becoming more complex due to these companies’ concerns about industry secrets.  The Office has developed a model MTA in order to simplify the negotiation process.

ITARs and EARs

International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITARs) and Export Administration Regulations (EARs) have become increasingly relevant in the post-9/11 world.  EARs, promulgated and enforced by the Department of Commerce, and ITARs, by the Department of State, prohibit the unlicensed export of specific technologies for reasons of national security or protection of trade. The Office of the Provost and the Office of Research are educating the University community on these issues.  The Provost’s memo on ITARs and EARs is located on the Provost’s website.

MEMBERS

Chair

George E. Klinzing, Vice Provost for Research

 

 

Representing the

 

Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Irving J. Lowe

 

Daniel Shaw

 

Craig Wilcox

Graduate School of Public and International Affairs

John Mendeloff

Graduate School of Public Health

Meryl Karol

Office of the Provost

Janelle Greenberg, FAS

 

Steven Husted, FAS

 

Esther Gal-Or, KGSB

School of Dental Medicine

Robert J. Weyant

School of Engineering

Patrick Loughlin

 

Mike Lovell

School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Rory A. Cooper

School of Information Sciences

Michael Lewis

School of Law

Mike Madison

School of Medicine

Michael Cascio

 

Guillermo G. Romero

 

Pei Tang

School of Nursing

Janice S. Dorman

School of Pharmacy

Raman Venkataramanan

University of Pittsburgh at Bradford

Gregory L. Page

University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

John D. Beuthin

University Senate

Patricia W. Dowling, Medicine

 

Gene W. Gruver, FAS