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Researchers Just Want to Do Research!

July 14, 2020

Did you know that some professors spend over half of their research time on administrative tasks? In fact, principal investigators working on federally funded research projects spend an average of 42% of their time on research administration rather than actual research.

In 2014, The Federal Demonstration Partnership (FDP) published a report that investigated the workload burden of research administration on principal investigators. The results they found are staggering.

So how does it look now, in 2018? The FDP just administered its third Faculty Workload Survey. The last survey in 2012 received over 12,000 responses from active faculty and its results correlated with the first survey from 2005. We hope the new results will show improvement with researchers spending less time on administration. The publication date has not been announced, but you can watch for updates here.

Frustrations In Research

One in four researchers say proposal and report preparation are the most frustrating requirements they deal with. Before a principal investigator begins a study, she must submit a proposal. Then the review process opens.

The review process begins with a committee of professionals who review the her project proposal, checking for things like conflicts of interest and correct research methods. Then, the principal investigator is either “awarded” the project, meaning that she can begin researching, or the proposal is flagged and the principal investigator must resolve the issue. This process often repeats itself multiple times.

Researchers are dealing with up to 23 different pre- and post-award administration responsibilities, according to the FDP’s report. Finances, general lab safety, personnel reporting and HIPAA compliance are among those responsibilities. IRB and IACUC regulations to protect human and animal subjects, the most time consuming responsibilities of all, are also included.

Consequences Of PI Workload

Over a 7 year span, the workload burden on principal investigators did not change at all! Researchers estimated they spent 42.3% of their time meeting requirements in 2005. Years later, researchers estimated they spent the same amount of time meeting requirements, although they used .6% more time on pre-award activities and .6% less on post-award activities. It is safe to say research requirement changes were next to none.

Workload burden didn’t change; so what? Well, one fourth of researchers are less likely to apply for a grant now than in the past. Researchers also wish there was an easier way to understand and comply with requirements. In a federally funded project, a research proposal must meet all the requirements set by the government to receive a grant.

Heavy workload burdens and the little change in this area does not bode well for the future of academic research. On top of that, funding rates have reached an historic low. Making a well-informed assumption, the FDP contended that fewer academics may choose to pursue federally funded research projects, or even research in general.

Lifting The PI Burden

A short answer exists that can lighten the burden of PI workload. It doesn’t require picketing, protesting, or petition signing. It is quite simple, from Kuali’s (only slightly) biased opinion; technological research assistance.

Researchers don’t need to spend half of their time on administrative tasks. PIs could save anywhere from 2 to 9 hours each week if they had some sort of assistance with their work. If researchers could use those hours for active research, they could do more of what they love and less of what frustrates them.

Lighter workloads don’t only favor the researcher – higher education institutions also benefit. A lighter workload means researchers can spend more time on research, which can result in awards that build prestige at a university or college. More active research time and less frustrating paperwork means content employees. It can also result in more time spent with student researchers.

Products like Kuali Sponsored Programs are designed to solve workload issues like the one explained. It can help researchers write more successful proposals; easily submit conflict of interest disclosures; prepare and manage human and animal protocols that comply with regulatory requirements with less time and effort; and easily manage awards, sub-awards, and deliverables that are communicated to all important parties.

To illustrate the workload burden and its effects on researchers, Kuali created the infographic found below to display the FDP’s findings.

Principal Investigator: holder of an independent grant and the lead researcher for the grant project, usually in the sciences, such as a laboratory study or a clinical trial.

Research Administration: includes tasks like managing personnel (hiring, evaluation), managing financial grants and contracts, and meeting a plethora of other government requirements when working on a federally funded project.

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