Article by Dawn Underwood, Ph.D., Assistant Vice President for Research at Chapman University
On 24 July 2017 I travelled to Budapest to Europa Media offices thanks to the NCURA/EARMA Fellowship Program for an exchange experience from Chapman University (California). The NCURA/EARMA Fellowship program has two objectives: the training of research administrators and enhancing global research collaboration. My experience in Budapest served to further these goals.
During the first week of the fellowship I attended Europa Media Group’s (EMG) Funding Academy. EMG is a unique company, providing administrative and management services for EU funded projects, implementing several projects utilizing in-house researchers and providing expert advice to clients around the EU. Reflecting EMG’s broad reach and experience, attendees were from various countries within the European Union. For example, I met individuals from England, Norway, Finland, the Czech Republic and Belgium. The training course combined lectures and discussions with hands-on practice workshops. The first two days of the training focused on building partnerships and writing a competitive proposal. The second two days focused on the financial management and EU audit concerns. Participants were able to get to know each other better through evening activities such as a boat trip on the Danube and dinner at a famous Hungarian restaurant. Each attendee received a participant list with a list of participant names, organization and email addresses which was a very useful starting point for networking with other attendees.
During the second week of the fellowship I was focused on giving insights on how the US funding schemes work and meeting potential collaborators. I presented information about U.S. funding sources to the EMG staff. In slides and via email, I provided links to online tools and resources to help potential European partners identify federal programs that allow foreign applicants and partners. Approximately 12 individuals attended the 1.5 hour presentation, which was followed by a questions and answers session.
For week two, Krisztina arranged in person and Skype meetings with key players in the Hungarian R&I scene or long-time collaborators of EMG group from Bar-Ilan University (Israel), Bay Zoltan Nonprofit Ltd., Hungarian Science Academy and Singularity University. During these meetings, we discussed research interests and grant experiences with both EU and US funding sources, the NCURA/EARMA connection and enhancing international collaboration. Through these meetings, I collected background materials and additional contacts that will be shared with researchers not only at Chapman University, but at other NCURA member institutions as well.
This fellowship experience taught me that research administrators in the EU and the US have a lot in common. As we worked through workshop activities, training participants shared their experiences with faculty, internal offices (such as legal affairs, purchasing, etc.) and with auditors. Although accounting rules vary and program priorities differ, the principles of grant stewardship seem constant. Challenges of planning, documentation, reliability and communication between multiple partners define research administration on both sides of the ocean. Finding collaborators with shared interest, enthusiasm, and the ability to get the job done is crucial to our success, especially when we endeavour to partner at great distances.
There were a few differences noted in proposal writing and development and implementation. The H2020 program refers to “participants” where U.S. sources would use the phrase “partnering” or “collaborating” organizations. Budgeting for H2020 programs requires the calculation of average hourly rates (including benefits) for groups of similarly paid individuals. Post-award financial reports use actual hourly rates, but for partial years do not allow recovery of incremental salary increases. Recipients of H2020 usually report actual hours worked on the project. However, those individuals who are contribute 100% effort on a H2020 project sign a certification of effort instead. The topic of time budgeting and effort reporting came up in several conversations. EMG staff were interested in how faculty effort is reported in the U.S., since faculty time is not tracked on an hourly basis. Where and how fringe benefits are included in the budget differs slightly as well, and could be a source of confusion for foreign applicants to U.S. agencies.
All in all, I would like to express my sincerest appreciation to NCURA, EARMA, Europa Media Group, Krisztina Tóth, and Chapman University for the opportunity to participate in this fellowship. I look forward to sharing with the NCURA community and Chapman faculty and staff all that I learned and experienced in Budapest. The connections will serve to increase partnerships and collaborations in many fields. Researchers address global issues, and to do so, they must reach beyond borders.
Dawn Underwood, Ph.D.
Assistant Vice President for Research
One University Drive
Orange, CA 92866