Sponsored Research Posts Gains In '90s

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

The 1990s have proven to be a boom time for sponsored research at Boston College, with the University again setting new highs during fiscal year 1995 for the number of sponsored awards and total funding received.

According to the Office of Research Administration, the University had 156 awards funded for a total of $19,480,283 during the period. Those figures surpass the milestones established in 1994, in which 149 proposals received $16,531,422. The previous benchmarks had been set in 1992, with 138 proposals and over $14,557,000 in total funding.

In the past decade overall, ORA Director Stephen Erickson said, the number of contract and grant awards received by the University has more than doubled, and the funding amounts have increased at almost the same rate. Another encouraging trend, he said, is that more faculty are submitting proposals or working with his office on proposal development and award administration. While it is unlikely that the tremendous rate of growth in awards and funding can go on indefinitely, Erickson said, continuing faculty participation is critical to meeting institutional goals in research.

"I am very happy and gratified by the progress we have made," said Erickson, noting that the 229 faculty proposals submitted in 1994-95 represents an increase of 8 percent over the previous year, and 38 percent over the 1991 fiscal year. "What people must understand is the only way to prevent a regression is to continue submitting proposals. The competition for sponsored projects will likely become greater in the near future and the University must be willing to show its presence in this arena."

Erickson predicted the current fiscal year would probably see a slight leveling-off, but no serious drop in awards and funding. One major factor affecting sponsored research throughout American higher education is uncertainty over what public funding resources will be available, given the tumult over the operation of the federal government in the past several months.

"The federal fiscal year is almost half-over and many agencies do not know what their budget is," Erickson explained. "It is likely that most will receive level-funding, but we just don't know the specific allocations within each agency."

In the meantime, Erickson said the ORA will work in several areas, particularly the use of computer technology, to aid faculty efforts in locating and obtaining potential sponsors. He noted, for example, that the office has developed electronic proposal forms. The ORA is also utilizing the World Wide Web, providing links to public and private funding sources for research and other areas such as patents and technology transfer, he said, and is hoping to make available a sophisticated database of sponsors.

The ORA will also seek to increase the number of informational workshops on topics such as proposal writing, funding searches and administering contracts and grants.

Even while it strives to meet individual needs, Erickson said, the ORA is reflecting on broader institutional issues involving research. He pointed to the recent University Academic Planning Council draft report of long-term goals, which states research should be central to the University's mission.

"[ORA] followed the progress of the UAPC study and attended a few of the open meetings," Erickson said. "We appreciate the support for sponsored projects evident in the draft report, and we know this also represents a challenge for us to help BC achieve its aims in research.

"Clearly, as an institution we will have to be creative in searching out alternative funding sources," he continued. "This means faculty will need to carefully consider the scope of their projects, and how to tie in funding with a project's different stages. We certainly hope to lend as much assistance as possible as they consider these questions."

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