At this week’s CNI meeting, we presented findings from several recent studies we conducted about the academic research enterprise (video is available here). Taking an inclusive approach, we offered a broad working definition of the research enterprise: “the systems, services, policy, and staffing for the work of the university to generate knowledge.” In the session, CNI’s Clifford Lynch asked us to probe a little more deeply how this term can be scoped. Here, we review some of the other means of scoping the academic research enterprise that we have encountered through our projects on US research universities.

Revenue. For some, the research enterprise encompasses the set of research activities at the university that generate or lead to external funding. Given that senior research officers increasingly are taking responsibility for the generation of research related revenues, this is not an unfamiliar scope for some. 

Science. The vast majority of externally funded research is in the scientific, engineering, and medical fields, so the research enterprise often seems to center on these fields. The research enterprises at some universities are more weighted towards biomedical sciences, while others are more weighted towards engineering, but in both cases for many leaders “science” principally means laboratory science. 

Beyond Science. Given the push by some key research funders for more interdisciplinary approaches and the opportunity to expand funding for underfunded fields, some leaders are trying to be more inclusive of additional fields, including the humanities and professional areas such as business and social work. In some cases, this includes increasing research revenue for fields beyond the sciences, although this is comparatively unusual. 

Research Support. It is impossible to operate today’s research enterprise without the people, systems, and facilities that provide research support and enablement services. These include compliance operations, research administration, research cores, research computing, and research data. Support and enablement services are typically within the scope of the research enterprise. Many of the services and collections of the research library are also integral for research support, but senior research officers are less likely to see the research library in this way. 

While the “research enterprise” does not have an unambiguous definition, and it may vary to some degree across institutional settings, today it seems to be used to describe an important subset of all the research activity taking place in a university.