Shaw: Streamlining sponsored work
In his current letter to faculty, staff, students and other MSU stakeholders, Vice President for Research and Economic Development David Shaw offers an overview of several key federal and state regulations that affect the university's research enterprise, and also reminds researchers to share their success stories:
It is hard to believe that Spring Break is here, and that in two short months we will be graduating another class of Mississippi State students. Before we complete the semester, I would like to mention a few items and ask for your help in keeping our research program in line with federal and state regulations.
We want to share your success stories and can only do so when we know about them. We try to stay on top of accomplishments by our faculty, but need your help to do so. You can assist by letting us know about your success and accomplishments. Please don't hesitate to do that or think that we know about it already. I would rather hear about your success multiple times than not at all. In addition, I am often asked to give overview presentations of MSU's research program. One this past week asked me to "show some of the cool things happening at MSU". So, in addition to letting us know, send me a slide with a photo and description of the project and accomplishments. You never know when and where it might show up!
In recent weeks, we had two great events on campus the same day. The Investing in Innovations symposium brought together student and faculty entrepreneurs with the investment community to discuss how university R&D activities can move into startup companies and licensing opportunities. Attendance was outstanding, and many who had not seen our efforts before told me later that they were astounded by the activities at MSU. Gerald Nelson and his team did an exceptional job with this event.
At the same time, the Transportation Symposium was going on across the street in the Bost Center. Bill McAnally and his group put together a great program that included the Executive Director and every Commissioner for the Mississippi Department of Transportation. The symposium focused on the importance of transportation for economic development, community growth, and sustainability. Nearly 200 people attended this event.
Both of these are great examples of the expertise on our campus, and the leadership we're providing in the state, region, and nation.
Streamlining sponsored work
We are trying to move your contracts and grants through the university process as fast as possible, and we do pay attention to instances where that does not appear to be happening. We are always willing to look into a specific situation where you think the process has slowed. In investigating one such case this past month, we determined that the contract was being slowed by negotiations over intellectual property (IP) language. In the end, we determined that there really wasn't any intellectual property involved in the work, but that the internal approval sheet (IAS) had indicated that there was. I know that in many cases, the IAS is prepared by administrative support staff prior to the proposal or contract being submitted to SPA. When the block is checked on the IAS indicating that IP is involved in the work, this triggers an automatic review of the contract by our Office of Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer. Please help us out by insuring that we only check the IP block when IP is truly involved in the work product. We are also moving toward having more of the legal language review being accomplished within SPA and only sending contacts or agreements to General Counsel on an exception basis. Hopefully, we will have this in place in the not too distant future.
Striving for improvement
I received some feedback from my last letter (and am happy to know that you're reading the letters!) concerning delays being experienced between the time that an award is received and the time that a fund number and account is established by Sponsored Programs Accounting from which funds can be expended. Sponsored Programs Administration and Sponsored Programs Accounting are working together to try to improve this process. Meanwhile, I think it is helpful to set up a PAR (pre-award account request) when possible. This allows the establishment of an appropriate fund where charges can be incurred prior to the award being finalized. I realize this isn't a perfect solution, and we will continue to work toward improving the process.
Proper use of F&A return
When we receive external sponsored research funding at the university, we charge the sponsor an agreed upon facilities and administrative cost (F&A or sometimes referred to as "indirect" or "overhead"). There is a distribution of F&A within the university that is outlined in OP 80.12. In many cases at MSU, some portion of that F&A is returned to the PI and/or co-PI's that won the award. It is very important to remember that those funds are still university funds, and therefore are subject to spending restrictions by the state. For example, one cannot use overhead funds to purchase alcohol, pay for student tuition except for graduates who are on graduate assistantships, pay for equipment that is to be given away, or other such expenses. All expenditures of F&A funds must comply with State of Mississippi purchasing rules. When in doubt, please check with purchasing to be sure.
As always, I welcome your feedback on all of our efforts. Please feel free to contact me at any time with your suggestions, comments, or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org.