Enhancing faculty productivity through a centralized communications and project management infrastructure: A case study at the University of Kentucky Markey cancer center.

Author:Russell-Simmons, Heather N.
Position::Report - Abstract

Abstract: Academic careers and institutional reputations are closely linked with the ability to secure funding and publish work. In today's competitive environment, it is essential for research to be clearly communicated. In our experience, many researchers need assistance with communication skills, and institutions that offer professional services in grant, manuscript and project management have an advantage in the development of their faculty and trainees. A review of the literature shows that some institutions offer centralized proposal development resources and personnel to assist with grant writing, some institutions offer workshops and lectures designed to improve researchers' writing skills for grants and/or manuscripts, and fewer institutions offer departments focused specifically on editing manuscripts. In the fall of 2009, the University of Kentucky's (UK) Markey Cancer Center (MCC) developed an infrastructure, the Research Communications Office (RCO), to enhance faculty productivity. The RCO exists to provide: expertise in scientific editing of manuscripts for academic publishing; editing and management of research, training, and career development grants; project management for multi-component and institutionally complex grants; facilitation and tracking of all MCC pilot funding mechanisms; tracking all research outcomes; preparation of graphics for presentations, posters, publications and grants; marketing and design expertise for outreach endeavors; the planning and execution of internal and external communications; and MCC web content creation and maintenance. A successful and valued service for MCC, the RCO has totaled more than 1,400 projects over six years, growing from 189 projects when tracking began in 2010 to 294 in 2015. This article will discuss why and how the RCO was created at the MCC, and in doing so, provide a framework for how the RCO model can be successfully implemented at other institutions interested in offering professional editing and management of grants and manuscripts.

Keywords: research communication; faculty productivity; academic support services; editing; project management; pre-award grant administration; content management; professional graphics

Enhancing Faculty Productivity

The research productivity of an academic department is primarily measured in terms of total publications and grants awarded (Souba & Wilmore, 2000; Souba, Tanabe, Gadd, Smith, & Bushman, 1996), making writing and publishing key to successful career development and academic survival for faculty and trainees, as well as for disseminating expertise and accomplishments (Derish, Maa, Ascher, & Harris, 2007). In today's competitive environment, where resources are limited and competition is fierce, it is essential for research to be clearly communicated. The burden of clarity rests with the author (Stephens Sc Campbell, 1995); the reader's job is to follow the author's thinking and to agree or disagree, not to decode and reconstruct the paper (Zeiger, 1999). The pressures of securing grant funding, conducting research, and publishing may be further compounded for faculty and trainees who were trained internationally or abroad, are nonnative speakers of English (Wang & Bakken, 2004; Pagel, Kendall, & Gibbs, 2002), or lack scientific writing experience.

Pressure to produce is not new to research institutions, and many have adopted resources to assist their researchers. Major medical centers across the United States, such as The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, offer a wide range of editorial, educational and publishing services for faculty and trainees (Stephens & Campbell, 1995). Larger institutions have developed entire departments for editing and teaching scientific writing skills to nonnative English speakers. Other institutions, such as the University of California, San Francisco, have developed courses in scientific writing for surgeons, individual writing consultations and editorial review with the objective to improve participants' ability to write reports of research and clinical observations for publication in scientific journals (Derish et al., 2007). More broadly, the William H. Welch Medical Library offers fee-based editing services for affiliates of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions (including the School of Medicine, School of Hygiene and Public Health, School of Nursing and the Johns Hopkins Hospital). These editing services are designed to address the lack of a central resource to help scientists develop and improve their writing skills (Stephens & Campbell, 1995). The School of Information Studies at Syracuse University offers a two-day intensive Grant Writing Workshop to support both grant writing and salesmanship of a proposal idea (Deitz & Stanton, 2016). Prior to this two-day workshop, a research administrator was hired to assist with proposal submissions throughout the school. This individual became a key facilitator of administratively burdensome activities, but there remained an expressed interest among faculty and students for instruction in the art of grant writing (Deitz & Stanton, 2016).

The individual programs offered at these institutions each touch areas of need for researchers: editing, improved writing skills, and grant writing and management. The University of Kentucky (UK) National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Markey Cancer Center (MCC) developed the Research Communications Office (RCO) as a crucial piece of infrastructure to help cancer researchers secure grants and publish their research by offering services in these areas of need. The office is staffed with experts in scientific editing, production of high-quality graphics, timeline management, grant guideline interpretation, publishing specifications, as well as grant and manuscript submission at no charge for all cancer-related work.

RCO Creation and Service Evolution

In 2009, physician-scientist B. Mark Evers, MD, accepted the role of Director of the UK MCC, and moved to Lexington, Kentucky, with his 32-member research team. In addition to increasing the number of MCC researchers at UK, his arrival also brought an increase in the number of multi-component projects, grants and research outputs such as publications, abstracts and presentations. With this influx of activity, a more efficient infrastructure - one that added...

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