By MELISSA SCHILD
This month, we welcome Jennifer Woodward, vice chancellor for sponsored programs and research operations, to discuss the vision for Pitt’s new research concierge program initiative and how it supports the Plan for Pitt.
Q: What is the research concierge program initiative and why is it needed?
The research concierge program initiative will help faculty, staff and administrators navigate our large and decentralized University as they pursue research endeavors. The goal is to reduce the time spent on administrative functions and to increase the likelihood of success of research proposals and project execution. The research concierge program concept is not new. Some of our peers already have these services, and as a top-funded R1 university, we need to provide services that ensure our researchers can compete effectively for funding.
In 2018, the Federal Demonstration Partnership conducted a faculty workload survey which indicated that faculty spend 44 percent of their time on administrative tasks rather than conducting research. This is an overwhelming statistic. We want to help our researchers be as successful as possible in securing and executing research awards by minimizing administrative burden when navigating Pitt’s research infrastructure, operations, compliance, training and services. The plan is to design a program that will provide personalized customer service to faculty and staff; streamline processes to increase operational efficiency; enhance the quality of services provided to the research community; and improve the flow of information and communication between central offices, faculty and administrators.
Q: How do you envision the concierge program initiative advancing Pitt’s strategic objectives in research?
The research concierge program initiative will execute the vision of Senior Vice Chancellor for Research Rob Rutenbar to expand our research resources to address Pitt’s strategic objectives to advance solution-sized, multidisciplinary research. The program will expand Pitt’s research development initiatives in hopes of strengthening our institutional ability to apply for and be awarded complex proposals. Faculty need help in both developing large and/or multidisciplinary proposals and in getting awarded projects off the ground. The research concierge program will position Pitt to be more competitive in proposal submissions and execute awards successfully.
The initiative will have two major streams of effort. First, we’ll provide a “front door” service designed to connect researchers, administrators and collaborators/partners with the resources necessary to conduct their research more efficiently and effectively by identifying and facilitating use of existing research support resources. Second, to help schools and departments prepare more strategically for external funding, we’ll expand research development. These new services will align with the broad categories of programming and outreach, research analytics for decision-making, project management and proposal development.
Together, we hope that these efforts will lead to less administrative burden and frustration for faculty, research administrators and other staff and to an increase in research proposals and funded awards. All these efforts will lead to researchers being able to focus more time and energy — with greater likelihood of success — on their research.
Q: How are you engaging the Pitt community to ensure this program meet critical research needs?
We are engaging actively and expansively internally and externally to understand the needs of Pitt’s research community. To give us a baseline for comparison, we benchmarked concierge programs at 14 other institutions and conducted one-on-one interviews with nine external research concierge administrators to understand their services. Unlike those programs, we want Pitt’s concierge program to be broad and inclusive beyond a STEM or health sciences focus and be applicable University-wide and for all types and disciplines of research.
We’re currently collecting insights from Pitt faculty — we’ve invited 37 faculty so far from across the University to participate in individual interviews with us and are conducting 12 faculty focus groups encompassing all schools and regional campuses. We will also undertake focus groups with research administrators and research service providers. We want to understand what their current experiences are when applying for funding or using research resources at Pitt, where they look for information or help and what tools or resources would be useful to help them seek future funding. We’ll use the feedback we gather to help determine which research resources and tools are most needed. At the same time, we will also expand our staff as concierge services are implemented.
We are excited about this effort, and we welcome feedback and engagement. If anyone has questions or would like to provide their insights, I encourage them to reach out to Assistant Director of Strategic Initiatives Kerri Jackson, who is spearheading this project.
Do you have questions about the Plan for Pitt or suggestions for implementation? Reach out to Plan4Pitt@pitt.edu.
Melissa Schild is associate vice chancellor for strategic planning and performance and leads the University’s strategic planning efforts.