A university’s senior research officer (SRO), who may have the title of vice president, vice provost, or vice chancellor for research, can have a variety of responsibilities, including overseeing institutional research safety and compliance, purchasing advanced research equipment, grant seeking and external funding administration, research ethics and integrity, strategic research directions, and procuring research workflow tools. The scope of this role is  broadening as SROs participate in federal and state research-related policy making and develop new partnerships with government agencies, industries, and foundations. To better understand the responsibilities, needs, and perspectives of SROs, Ithaka S+R has launched a new research project. Given the timing of the study, we will also be exploring SROs’ views on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the research enterprise.

We began this project with a literature review and an analysis of SRO job descriptions, organizational charts, and job postings. Based on this initial research, we will be initiating a series of interviews with SROs from US and Canadian research universities to understand:

  • Their key responsibilities and emerging priorities (including the potential impact of Covid-19)
  • How they collaborate internally and externally
  • Trends in research support services and resources
  • Research information management activities and workflows
  • Their challenges, gaps, and unmet needs

The interviews will be conducted this summer and findings will be made available in a public research report later this year. Research universities function in an environment marked by new opportunities as well as many financial, policy, and political challenges. Investigating the roles and priorities of leaders that steward the research enterprise will advance our understanding of how the technical and social research infrastructure is changing. We hope that this study will expand our understanding of SROs’ engagement with public access compliance, research workflow tools, and research ethics and integrity. The research is also intended to reveal emerging issues and challenges to help inform the various service providers who work with researchers. 

As we launched the project, we benefited immensely from a series of discussions with leaders from American Association of Universities (AAU), Association of Public and Landgrant Universities (APLU), and National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA), and we thank them for this support.  We would also like to thank Ex Libris for its sponsorship of this research. 

We will provide additional updates and look forward to sharing our findings and recommendations.