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NSF to target administrators with new funding scheme

Image: Rachel Magee for Research Professional News

SRAI 2022: Proposed $50 million scheme could enable institutions to hire staff

The National Science Foundation in the United States plans to target research administrators with a new and unusual $50 million scheme.

Funding for the scheme was requested as part of president Joe Biden’s proposed $205 billion federal R&D budget for the 2023 financial year. Speaking at the Society of Research Administrators International annual conference in Las Vegas, an NSF office head revealed more details about the scheme, including that funding could enable research institutions to hire staff.

During a talk on 3 November, Alicia Knoedler (pictured), who is in charge of the programme, said she wanted research administrators to serve as principal investigators on the grants.

“I would love to see research administrators be PIs on these grants. [You] spend all this time helping other people write proposals; write your own,” Knoedler said. “This is not traditional NSF.”

While the specifics of the scheme—called NSF Granted—have not been finalised, Knoedler said it has been developed to address nationwide issues in the research administration workforce, such as people leaving the profession.

She set out that the three goals of the scheme are: enhancing research administrator support infrastructure, developing research administration leadership and partnering with national and regional professional societies, such as SRAI.

Targeting workforce problems

“I hear people are leaving the profession, they are going for remote jobs, and they are being stolen away from small universities to big ones. We have a big enterprise issue: we do not have enough new people coming in, we do not have enough training programmes, we do not have enough people who can advance in their career, Knoedler said. “We have to address [these issues], we have to solve them.”

According to Knoedler, the plan is for the scheme to be started by the NSF and for other federal funding agencies to then join, making it much bigger than the initial $50 million.

Knoedler revealed that she already has a “teeny tiny” pot of money that she could use to award grants through the scheme “soon”.

Other potential funding ideas for the scheme, she said, include holding “convenings” such as conferences and workshops for research administrators.

NSF looking at gender categories

Knoedler also revealed to conference delegates that NSF is “trying to fix” the gender categories it uses to collect data on grantees. When collecting data, the NSF currently provides only three gender categories: male, female and do not wish to provide.

“That is not very accessible, that is not very inclusive, we want another category or several other categories would be nice but that takes a long time to get other parts of government to agree to that,” Knoedler said.