Department Spotlight: Office of Research Support

Group helps faculty and staff pursue funding for research

The Office of Research Support helps to secure funding for projects at Duke like this one by graduate Student John Hunt, left, and post-doc Tom Driscoll at right. The pair fabricated a unique material, known as a metamaterial, that acts as a “lens” t

Department: Office of Research Support

Years at Duke: 22

Number of employees: 20 - staff assistants to assistant directors who manage portfolios of grants, contracts and research proposals for campus-based faculty and staff.

Who they are: The Office of Research Support oversees the university's administrative areas for research. It focuses on assisting Duke's grant managers and faculty with the work performed to apply for grants or awards to help fund research at Duke. The office handles three primary areas - identifying grant opportunities, pre-award proposals and compliance to make sure Duke and federal protocols and policies are followed which includes managing Conflict of Interest Committee and research with human subjects internal review board.

What they're known for:  The office helps faculty and staff work through federal and Duke regulations and offers training to new faculty members who are new to the grant proposal process.

"I'd like to think we're known for helping faculty through the bureaucratic hoops of the process," said Keith Hurka-Owen, director of the Office of Research Support. "We don't consider ourselves barriers as much as facilitators to the people at Duke looking for funding."

He added, "The fun part is seeing all the research that's happening at Duke. It's nice to consider yourself a part of the overall effort of a great university doing great work."

For example, the office recently helped M. Susan Lozier, professor of physical oceanography and chair of Duke's Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences, receive an award from NASA. Funding of $648,736 will be awarded over 36 months for a project entitled "Non-local physical controls on subtropical marine productivity."

What they can do for you: The Office of Research Support offers assistance on an ad-hoc basis, so grant managers and faculty can request help whenever they'd like. They also partner with other institutions when collaborative work is done. Hurka-Owen said about 100 sub-contracts for partnerships take place each year, many of which are between Duke and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. "A lot of contracts are going up and down 15-501," he said.

In all, Office of Research Support staff help bring in between 1,200 to 1,300 new or non-competing grants a year, totaling upward of $200 million.

Doris B. Jordan
A daily stack of mail arrives each day for Office of Research Support staff members.

Hidden department fact:Staff members who handle pre-award grant applications meet for an hour every day at 10 a.m. to sort through mail. "After we pull all the files for the day, we probably end up with about 2-feet of paperwork to go through," Hurka-Owen said. "It could be contracts coming in or going out. It sounds horrific, but the amount of work we get done through the process is astounding."

Significant achievement: "I think it's the fact that we get all the proposals out the door," Hurka-Owen said. In addition to the roughly 1,800 grants and contracts compiled by the Office of Research Support, staff members also go through training to stay up-to-date on industry information. Professional development includes topics like radiation safety, research policies and more.

Big goal: Because the time commitment to complete funding proposals can be lengthy, staff in the office often find ways to make the process more efficient. That could mean utilizing databases to quickly share information or using technology to automate part of the workflow.

How they make a difference: "Our work is all about compliance while minimizing the impact on Duke's faculty and staff so they can focus on their research and work," Hurka-Owen said. "If we do our job right, they may not even know we exist."