What are the top-of-mind issues for CROs in 2018?

Each year, the University Research Forum asks chief research officers (CROs) and their teams about their top up-at-night issues, as well as which EAB services and resources they most value. We use a quantitative survey as well as in-depth phone conversations to understand how best to serve members in the coming year.

This year’s process yielded four insights about the current interests and priorities of CROs.

1. Growing and diversifying funding is (always) a top priority—but the ways in which CROs are planning to execute on this goal are changing

As expected, CROs are particularly focused on growing and diversifying their funding portfolios in 2018. This was the top-rated category in the survey, with 84% of all respondents indicating they are very interested in research on the topic. Institutions with research expenditures exceeding $100 million were particularly focused on this challenge, with 94% reporting they were very interested and the remaining 6% indifcating they were moderately interested.

In order to achieve this goal, CROs prioritized two strategies: pursue federal funding opportunities that their institution has not traditionally sought and deepen industry partnerships.

Our conversations with CROs suggest that the Department of Defense may be a particularly lucrative future source of funding for those institutions that have the necessary infrastructure and capacity for different types of classified research projects.

Industry partnerships also remain a promising strategy to grow the research enterprise. URF conducted a full study on this topic as part of last year’s research agenda—our researchers will continue to look to update this in the future.

2. At the bottom of the priority list: Preparing doctoral students for non-academic careers

Preparing doctoral students for non-academic careers was the lowest ranking topic, with only 11% of respondents indicating that they were very interested in research on the subject. However, this result may reflect CROs’ limited span of control, as opposed to lack of importance. For many CROs, this task falls outside of their job purview. For others, it simply cannot compete with other pressing priorities and challenges.

3. While effectively building and managing research infrastructure is a universal challenge, higher expenditure and lower expenditure institutions have differing priorities

Survey respondents were asked to prioritize their top three research topics for 2018. Results showed that three of the top five most frequently cited topics in these rankings were related to research infrastructure. Overall, respondents from lower and higher expenditure research institutions graded these topics very similarly—research infrastructure therefore seems to be top-of-mind for most CROs and their staff regardless of the size of their institution’s research enterprise.

However, our conversations with CROs at institutions with varying research expenditures suggest that the ways in which they strategize and prioritize their research infrastructure investments differ. Smaller institutions look to invest in a variety of research infrastructure areas to create a strong overall foundation, whereas larger institutions plan to shore up their foundation and double down on their investment in areas they know will attract faculty researchers and yield additional funding opportunities.

Within the research infrastructure category, survey results showed that core facilities are particularly top-of-mind for CROs, especially at higher expenditure institutions: 43% of respondents from higher expenditure institutions ranked this topic among their top three priorities whereas only 31% of respondents from lower expenditure institutions did so. URF’s white paper explores creating a strong foundation for core facilities and we will continue to investigate the topic in 2018, with a particular focus on budget models.

4. Faculty development is an area of particular interest for CROs and research staff at institutions with research expenditures below $100 million

Most institutions recognize the importance of supporting early career research faculty: 95% of all respondents indicated they were very or moderately interested in research on the topic, and 31% of respondents from institutions with lower research expenditures identified it as one of their top three priorities. However, our conversations with CROs have also revealed that many are seeking to engage and boost the productivity of mid-career faculty.

As a result, we have included this topic in our 2018 research agenda. Please reach out to Caitlin Blair or Ramon Barthelemy if you’d like to discuss faculty development or if your institution has a well-developed and innovative faculty development program or practice.

Moving forward, we will use these results to inform our 2018 research agenda and ensure that we support you with ready-to-use resources and practical tools.

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