The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a $2 billion non-profit corporation. The Institute’s revenue includes tuition and gifts, as well as a significant amount of funding from external research sponsors, including the federal government, industrial sponsors and foundations. The research enterprise can be characterized by a “cradle to grave” process. This process begins with a concept or idea that is turned into a proposal, followed by an award, the performance of the project, and several other steps that ultimately lead to the closeout process. Understanding the entire process will help you to become a more effective research administrator.
The Principal Investigator (PI) has overall responsibility for the technical and fiscal management of a sponsored project, including the management of the project within funding limitations, and assuring that the sponsor will be notified when significant conditions related to the project status change. While responsibility for the day to day management of project finances may be delegated to administrative or other staff, accountability for compliance with MIT policy and sponsor requirements ultimately rests with the PI.
The Research Administration Services (RAS) is the central administrative office responsible for submitting proposals and accepting awards on behalf of MIT. Sponsored project proposals may only be submitted, and awards accepted, by individuals authorized in RAS to sign the necessary documents. Because proposals are submitted, and awards are granted to the Institute and not individual PIs, PIs and administrative staff are not authorized to submit proposals, accept grants, or execute contracts on behalf of the Institute. Questions in this regard may be addressed to the Director of RAS.
After a proposal has been accepted by RAS and submitted to a sponsor, and the proposal is selected for funding, the negotiation and acceptance processes begin. Awards are reviewed and, if necessary, negotiated by the appropriate Institute official to ensure the terms and conditions are acceptable. As appropriate, RAS will consult with the PI, department/laboratory/center (DLC) administrators, and other administrative offices, such as the Technology and Licensing Office or the Office of Intellectual Property Counsel. The negotiation process can take as little as a few days or a long as several months.
This is the core of research administration. While the research is underway, the project is being administered and monitored. Expenditure statements are reviewed and reconciled. Effort and salaries are distributed and certified. Activities such as subaward setup and monitoring and procurement of materials and supplies, need to be performed during the course of the research.
At the end of each project, the Institute must go through the closeout process. It is important to submit all deliverables (including technical reports and patent/intellectual property reports) to sponsors in a timely manner, and to assist RAS and the Vice President for Finance (VPF) office as requested, as all reports normally must be completed and submitted within 90 days of the end of the project. Every project’s records must be kept a minimum of 3 years from project closeout for audit availability, and longer in certain instances. Audits may be performed during the life of the project or at completion, and any specific project may be selected randomly for a systems audit.