Plans to reinvent research administration at MIT

September 10, 2019
Martin A. Schmidt, Provost, 2014–2022 | Maria T. Zuber, Vice President for Research, 2013–2024 |

To the members of the MIT community,

At MIT, our current sponsored research framework was conceived in an era when federal funding dominated the portfolio. An increasingly complicated federal landscape — coupled with the growth of complex, multi-investigator programs, as well as collaborations with corporate sponsors and international entities — demands that our systems and processes adapt.

We write today to share the plan to reinvent our research administration infrastructure and reimagine our engagement with the Institute’s faculty and staff, and with sponsors, collaborators, and supporters of MIT’s mission.

  • By spring 2020, we will launch and stand up two organizations — Research Administration Services (RAS) and the Office of Strategic Alliances and Technology Transfer (OSATT) — to replace and expand on the work of the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP).
  • Significant additional positions will be added in the coming months to address critical needs.
  • Additionally, we have added training and mentoring programs for research administration staff across campus, and are developing career paths for research administrators. 
  • We have also launched a new project to develop a principal investigator (PI) dashboard and portal for faculty and staff to access the information and resources that they need to manage their portfolio of awards and agreements.
  • Additionally, the VPR will expand and consolidate research compliance activities, including export controls, conflicts of interest, and data security, under the direction of a chief research compliance officer. Research Compliance and the Systems and Support teams will continue to support the entire research community.

This plan was developed with thoughtful feedback over the past year from faculty, school deans and other school leadership, MIT’s senior officers, and staff from many offices and departments across campus.

In this planned new structure, the key functions and staff of the OSP will be preserved. These functions, with streamlined processes and additional services, will now be provided by the two new offices. RAS, reporting to the Office of the Vice President for Research (VPR), will manage pre-award administration of grants and contracts sponsored by the federal, state, and local governments, as well as some philanthropic foundations, and post-award activities for all sponsored programs. Federal grants and contracts support 60% of MIT’s research volume; our capacity to provide enhanced support for faculty as they compete for and launch federal and other government-funded projects is critical, especially in light of growing concerns regarding foreign influence on U.S.-funded research. Colleen Leslie, who has overseen OSP’s operations this past year, will lead the new RAS operation. We look forward to her continued dedication to MIT’s faculty and staff in this role.

OSATT will provide new services to MIT faculty in the development and stewardship of agreements and programs with non-federal sponsors, and will also be the new home of the existing Technology Licensing Office (TLO) and Office of Corporate Relations (OCR). TLO and OCR will remain key parts of MIT’s ecosystem, complemented by these additional faculty-centric services. This new organization will report to Associate Provost Krystyn Van Vliet. OSATT’s leadership will include three directors, who bring deep experience in academic research agreements, technology transfer, and engagement with external sponsors and collaborators. Lesley Millar-Nicholson will serve as director of catalysts, responsible for faculty engagement and agreement development, while continuing to serve as director of the TLO. Meghan McCollum Fenno will serve as director of strategic transactions, responsible for negotiations, while continuing to serve as counsel in the Office of General Counsel. Karl Koster will serve as director of alliance management and continue to serve as executive director of OCR.

OSATT will focus support on negotiated agreements for research, education, and capacity building, such as those with for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, including industry and some foundations, as well as international entities, including foreign governments. New services will assist faculty in catalyzing potential agreements and in managing the important next steps for establishing operations at MIT that will meet the shared goals and expectations. MIT review of international engagements and agreements will continue to proceed through the International Coordinating Committee, which will now include OSATT participation.

We will use the fall semester to work through the details of establishing RAS and OSATT, recruit new staff, revise business processes and systems, and develop the needed workflow coordination between OSATT and RAS, and other MIT offices that facilitate our engagements with external sponsors and partners. We appreciate your patience and look forward to working with the MIT faculty and staff as we develop this new administrative infrastructure and roll out new services through the 2019–20 academic year. While planning is underway this semester, faculty and staff should continue to use their current contract administrators as their first point of contact.


Martin A. Schmidt, Provost

Maria T. Zuber, Vice President for Research