Task force issues recommendations to address administrative workload in research

Wednesday, Nov 14, 2018
by Catherine Zandonella, Office of the Dean for Research

A task force to explore the administrative effort associated with University research has issued recommendations to streamline workplace practices for researchers and staff.

The Task Force on Administrative Workload in Research was charged with examining the effort spent by researchers on regulatory and compliance activities, while recognizing that compliance with applicable regulations is essential to the safe and responsible conduct of research.

The committee's principal recommendations were to improve the submission process for research proposals, simplify financial reporting, develop a systematic approach to training staff members involved in research administration, and consider input from faculty and staff when updating research-related electronic management systems.

Additional areas and processes in need of improvement were also identified and can be found in the full report.

The committee found that Princeton strikes an adequate balance between enabling research — by providing resources, facilities and trained personnel — and ensuring compliance with institutional, local, state and federal regulations.

"Princeton has worked hard to achieve a balance between enabling research and ensuring compliance," said Dean for Research Pablo Debenedetti, who chaired the task force. Debenedetti, the Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science and a professor of chemical and biological engineering, continued, "In general, these efforts have been successful and the current balance is about right, but our recommendation is that the University continue to seek ways in which to minimize the administrative workload on investigators, especially in light of escalating external regulatory demands."

The committee recommended that the University maintain a "broad administrative commitment to customer service," which includes consideration of the needs of those who utilize research-related systems and policies. The group also recommended that, whenever possible, researchers and/or department-level administrators and grant managers be included in the planning of new systems or consideration of new procedures.

In a statement accompanying the report, President Christopher L. Eisgruber and Provost Deborah A. Prentice wrote: "The report makes a convincing case for its recommendations. We are pleased that the task force recognized and respected both the need to reduce the administrative burden experienced by Princeton researchers and also the need to maintain full compliance with the University's legal and ethical obligations."

The statement instructs the Office of the Dean for Research and two of its constituent offices, the Office of Research and Project Administration (ORPA) and Research Integrity and Assurance (RIA), as well as the Office of Finance and Treasury and the Office of the Provost's International Affairs and Operations department to develop plans to implement the task force's recommendations.

The need to examine administrative workload was recognized during Princeton's multi-year strategic planning process, which involved exploration of institutional priorities across several areas of the University, including research.

One arm of that planning process, which looked at the future of sponsored research at Princeton, called for the establishment of the task force to identify internal mechanisms for reducing the administrative workload for investigators who perform federally-funded research.

Federal surveys published in 2007 and 2014 found that faculty members at major institutions estimate spending, on average, 42 percent of their research time on regulatory, compliance and proposal writing activities. A reduction in time spent on administrative tasks could allow faculty members to devote more time to conducting research and making discoveries.

The task force gathered input from a broad cross-section of Princeton's research community in the natural sciences, engineering, social sciences and humanities. The methods included an online survey and focus group for faculty, a focus group for grant and business managers, and discussions with central and departmental administrators.

The group surveyed the range of administrative tasks considered essential for the safe and effective conduct of research, including laboratory safety, conflict-of-interest reporting, financial reporting, research protocol approvals, and progress reports for funders, among others.

Work is already underway on the implementation of several recommendations.

Task Force Members

Chair

  • Pablo Debenedetti, dean for research; Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science; professor of chemical and biological engineering

Members

  • Craig Arnold, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; director, Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials
  • Nathan Arrington, associate professor of art and archaeology; director, Program in Archaeology
  • Susan Fiske, Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology; professor of psychology and public affairs
  • John Groves, Hugh Scott Taylor Chair of Chemistry; professor of chemistry
  • Yibin Kang, Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Molecular Biology
  • Bruce Koel, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering
  • David Leheny, Henry Wendt III ’55 Professor of East Asian Studies (now emeritus)
  • Daniel Marlow, Evans Crawford 1911 Professor of Physics
  • Elizabeth Paluck, professor of psychology and public affairs
  • Catherine Peters, professor of civil and environmental engineering; chair, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; director, Program in Geological Engineering
  • Jacob Shapiro, professor of politics and international affairs, Woodrow Wilson School
  • Olga Troyanskaya, professor of computer science and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics
  • Jennifer Widner, professor of politics and international affairs, Woodrow Wilson School

Sits with the task force

  • Steven Gill, assistant vice president for costing, analysis and policy, Office of the Vice President for Finance and Treasurer
  • Jason Knoch, assistant vice president for financial services, Office of the Vice President for Finance and Treasurer
  • Anastasia Vrachnos, vice provost for international affairs and operations, Office of the Provost

Secretary

  • Annette Tate, assistant director for finance and administration, Office of the Dean for Research