Faculty members need support from colleges and universities to grow their funding throughout their careers. And with the budgets of the largest federal funders (HHS, NSF, etc.) remaining stagnant or decreasing, faculty researchers need more guidance than ever on how to develop relationships with new funders, complete unfamiliar proposal processes, and align research with new funder goals.
To support faculty in overcoming funding challenges, colleges and universities should help faculty pursue funding from mission-driven federal agencies and develop faculty-industry partnerships.
Help faculty navigate mission-driven agencies
This resource is part of the Build a Comprehensive Faculty Research Development Program Roadmap. Access the Roadmap for stepwise guidance with additional tools and research.
Mission-driven agencies may offer new funding opportunities for faculty researchers. The Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Energy (DOE), and NASA fund more than 20% of all federally sponsored higher ed research. And in 2016, DoD overtook the National Science Foundation (NSF) as the second largest federal funder of higher ed research.
Agencies do things their own way, and it’s important for colleges and universities to educate faculty on how agencies’ processes and culture differ from traditional federal funding sources.
One faculty understand the nature of mission-driven agencies, research offices should help faculty navigate the funding process. There are four ways chief research officers can support faculty in pursuing mission-driven agency funding:
Educate Faculty and Deans
- Raise awareness about opportunities for funding
- Train on how the process for securing funding is different from traditional federal funding sources
- Share specific opportunities for engagement with program officers and contractors
- Identify high-potential faculty and specifically alert them to appropriate opportunities
- Support interactions with program officers
- Connect senior faculty who have secured mission-driven agency funding with interested junior faculty
- Establish working with mission-driven agencies as a priority, and include in strategic plan
- Garner buy-in from deans and faculty about the value of this type of research
Research universities should also go beyond basic training to prepare faculty to secure federal funds from mission agencies. For instance, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) created a “Mission Agencies Boot Camp” in 2018 to provide faculty with training and support to pursue support from mission-driven agencies.
For RIT’s boot camps, faculty members first prepare and submit a white paper for admission to the boot camp. Having an application process ensures researchers could articulate their ideas and plan. The white paper requires a cover letter and a 100-word overview of the project, and researchers may include up to three slides for the presentation portion of the boot camp.
Accepted faculty members participate in a day-long boot camp, where they present their proposed research to a panel. Sessions feature a speaker with significant experience and expertise with mission-driven agencies, and a panel discussion features multiple successful researchers who share their experience and lessons learned. Participants then work with peers and experts to hone their pitch to mission agencies, and they present their pitches to a “Shark Tank” style panel, competing for financial support
The session helps participants learn to communicate their ideas and answer questions in the moment and prepares faculty to work with program officers. Participants with successful pitches then receive funding to travel to meet with program officers.
Develop an industry-faculty partnership curriculum
In addition to pursuing funding from mission-driven agencies, research universities should also capitalize on increasing industry investments in university research. Corporate partnerships yield not only financial benefits, such as sponsored research and licensed technology, but also other benefits such as sabbatical support and advocacy partnership.
There are two ways colleges and universities can better position themselves to engage with industry:
Business Development: Finding Best-Fit Partners
- Identify emerging demand and link ongoing university research to the needs of prospective partners
- Present a single face to industry partners and make the case for a long-term partnerships
Relationship Management: Deepening Long-Term Relationships
- Develop systems for the ongoing management and growth of current partners
- Differentiate levels of service and hardwiring opportunities for ongoing, two-way communication to add value to new and existing industry partnerships
Kansas State University (KSU) sought to increase collaboration between the university and industry to diversify their funding portfolio and grow overall research expenditures. So, the Office of the Vice President for Research, in collaboration with the KSU Foundation and Institute for Commercialization, created a training curriculum for faculty and staff on industry partnerships.
The training curriculum broke down each step in the process of working with industry partners, offering teaching to address the challenges associated with each step:
- Faculty and deans have varying perceptions of the value of industry funding
- Industry funding is deemed less prestigious than traditional sources
- Educating faculty and deans that industry funding should be weighed the same
- Assessing opportunities available to faculty of all levels
- Researchers need to be more proactive in identifying potential funders
- Faculty members don’t know whom to contact, either on campus or at a company
- How to identify funders that align with research focus
- How to communicate with industry contacts
- Disconnect between faculty research topic and industry need
- Different process for securing funding than traditional funding sources
- Understanding how to adapt research focus to align with company needs
- How to develop a partnership
- Understanding IP issues and who owns what
- Different expectations for reporting and deliverables
- How to manage outputs and expectations
- How to ensure a productive outcome for both faculty and industry
To make the content easily accessible to all, KSU deployed mobile workshops across campus. Workshops are able to be customized to meet audience needs in a number of ways:
- Sessions can be 45 minutes to 2 hours and can be tailored to the audience
- Workshops are conducted in the location chosen by the requested unit
- Workshops can be more interactive and can include case studies relevant to the audience
- Mobile sessions provide an opportunity to reach faculty who might not have self-selected to attend the boot camp
The benefits KSU experienced even extended beyond the workshops. The training curriculum created opportunities to connect with industry partners, increased staff knowledge across campus, and improved communication and processes.
Benefits of the workshops to KSU
Industry partner connections
- New K-State Research Showcase serves as a venue to connect faculty with industry
- Research office works with faculty on deliverables and materials to share with potential partners
Staff knowledge increased
- Administrators and staff have learned more about industry partnerships and can better serve faculty
- Administrators gain a greater understanding of the faculty experience
Improved communication and processes
- Developing boot camp content required campus-wide collaboration between multiple offices that work with industry partners
- This process helped create stronger connections and more clear processes within this group