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Business Officer Magazine
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Rotational Training Expands Staff Competency

Spotlight: Research Institutions, from "Business Briefs" department in the March 2011 issue of Business Officer

By James B. Aumiller

Creating administrative efficiencies is paramount for Johns Hopkins University (JHU), Baltimore, the largest recipient of federal research dollars in the country. That challenge intensified in spring 2009, as we were planning resources to handle the large volume of grant proposals resulting from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Using facilities and administration (F&A) funds to be earned from ARRA awards, we established the Research Administration Training Program, which is managed by a chairman and an executive committee made up of senior leaders at the university.

The two-year, full-time program allows qualified candidates to work in six-month rotations through the various offices involved in research administration, providing hands-on experience along with formal classroom training. The initial results have exceeded our expectations.

Selection and Structure

We established a fund of $250,000 to seed the program, covering salaries, benefits, and some travel. For the program's first cohort, we hired a diverse group of five trainees during a job fair the university hosted in spring 2009. The program calls for each trainee to take the full complement of Johns Hopkins courses that involve research administration, gaining a fundamental working knowledge of all administrative components.

In addition, trainees' schedules include shadow days, during which they visit staff experienced in areas, such as effort reporting, technology transfer, internal audits, and clinical trial administration. Other such days allow for time to be spent at each of their four colleagues' sites to experience the environment and responsibilities of the different settings.

Supervision and Expectations

We assign each trainee to a senior staff research administrator to mentor the individual and monitor his or her progress throughout the rotation cycles. During each rotation, the trainee is assigned to a specific supervisor who specializes in the particular area. Expectations are set by the mentor and supervisor before the start of each rotation.

At the conclusion of each program segment, the mentor and supervisor conduct 360-degree evaluations. The chair of the executive committee meets regularly with the mentors and trainees, reporting any significant findings or issues to the committee, which also routinely meets with the cohort and supervisors.

The university's expectation is that at the end of the two-year experience, the trainees will be highly qualified to apply for any number of vacancies that are typically available throughout the university.

Results and Resolutions

After the first six months, the program was so successful that it was repeated for the 2010–11 academic year. It's a model that gives low-risk opportunities for both employer and employee, but it has the potential for very high reward.

The only issue has been a logistical one. Each trainee would love to start in the proposal phase first, but it's too large a burden for one department to handle multiple new hires at one time, so we must stagger the initial starting point.

From this highly collaborative project, we expect to produce skilled, competent staff possessing a complete understanding of the research administration process as well as a network of colleagues who will be invaluable to future work performance. So far, our goal seems to be realistic: Three trainees are applying for and likely to receive offers within JHU; another has been hired at the JHU Applied Physics Laboratory; and the other has been hired by an outside firm.

SUBMITTED BY James B. Aumiller, associate dean of finance and administration, Whiting School of Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore