Dean Gerstein Receives National Science Foundation Research Grant

Marston Quad view of Big Bridges

Dean Gerstein, director of sponsored research, has received a $1,884,361 research grant from the National Science Foundation to design, conduct and analyze a national sample survey on research development and research administration at U.S. colleges and universities.

At Pomona, Gerstein works with faculty members to secure external grants, which serve as a significant source of funding for faculty and students to carry out research.

Through the grant he has received, Gerstein will look at how institutions throughout the country do what he does at Pomona. The project will focus specifically on the challenges faced by researchers at emerging and primarily undergraduate institutions, and the results will inform funding agencies as they seek to strengthen the participation of these institutions.

The three-year project is titled “Collaborative Research: RD/RA Support Networks at Diversified Research Institutions (SUNDRI).” Pomona is the lead institution, and Gerstein is the principal investigator, with colleagues from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, Seattle University and Research Triangle Institute.

This grant is part of the National Science Foundation’s efforts to level the playing field, Gerstein says. He explains that at large research institutions, there are “whole infrastructures and very specialized workforces” who help bring in funds from agencies like the National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Institutes of Health.

The challenge for smaller, undergraduate colleges such as Pomona, Gerstein says, is that “we are often competing with and subject to the same environment as these large research institutions.”

“The research developers and research administrators at many of these small institutions are constantly trying to figure out, ‘How do we maintain strong competitive positions for our faculty, our research enterprise, and ultimately, our students? As research assistants and in their senior capstone projects, they want and deserve to participate in the excitement of the leading edges of academic creativity and discovery?’” says Gerstein. “This is part of NSF’s effort to make sure that researchers, wherever they are, will compete on a somewhat equivalent basis when applying for external support.”

Current knowledge on research development and administration is based on anecdotes and small numbers of case studies. The more Gerstein and his colleagues investigated what was known, the more it became apparent that a clear enough picture of the landscape does not exist.

The grant will allow Gerstein and his colleagues to conduct a national survey of nearly 1,000 colleges and universities to obtain more systemic data. Their goal is to develop a comprehensive picture of how research development and administration functions are distributed and performed at four-year colleges and universities. They hope to learn what pressure points exist, what assets people are using to solve their problems and ultimately how stakeholders like the national funding agencies can better serve the country’s institutions of higher education.

“We’re looking for a much more sophisticated understanding,” says Gerstein. “It’s easy to do a survey and ask people questions; it’s not so easy to find answers that really help.”