For many of the largest universities, the research enterprise is an essential component of the mission. And during this year of pandemic related disruptions, it has proved to be one of the most resilient sources of university revenue. In recent years, major universities have established senior research officers to provide a unitary source of leadership for this vital work. Today, my colleague Oya Rieger and I are publishing a major examination of the role of the senior research officer at the largest research universities in the United States. 

Our key findings:

  • Research offices have grown substantially, but there is considerable institutional variation.
  • Research revenue and research competitiveness are vital strategic priorities.
  • Research support–including large investments in space, technicians, and cutting-edge laboratory tools–provides a major competitive edge but presents a management challenge.
  • Growing tensions with China have produced a spike in compliance work and concerns about talent flows.

It is our hope that this report will help university leaders, including presidents, provosts, and the senior research officers themselves, reflect on organizational structure, budget and funding models, and strategic priorities. We also believe that this project will be of substantial interest to others involved in providing research infrastructure and support through partnerships with research offices, including library leaders, research data services managers, and outside vendors. Over the past few months, we have published several papers that look at the challenges and risks the research enterprise is facing:

And, in early 2021, we will publish a report on the perspectives of chief financial officers at research universities. If we can help you interpret this work for your organizational context, or provide guidance on how to strengthen research support and the research enterprise at your institution, please let us know.