Ask Cathy Handyside to name the key to successfully executing sponsored research programs, and her answer is clear: electronic research administration, or eResearch.
“Research administration is often the unsung hero of the U-M research enterprise,” said Cathy.
However, some are singing its praises: Cathy was recently honored with the Distinguished Research Administrator Award from the U-M Office of Research, which recognizes staff for outstanding research service.
Among the accomplishments that led to her nomination was the creation and deployment of information systems designed to manage external funding proposals and conflicts of interest.
Cathy and her team at Information and Technology Services (ITS) are helping to advance the University of Michigan’s core research mission by helping faculty and staff navigate through complex and often misunderstood areas like research regulatory requirements and grant proposals.
When Cathy heard she had been nominated by the Research Administration Schools Committee (RASC), she felt both grateful and humbled. The members of RASC help to guide enhancements to the proposal management system, and Cathy meets with them on a regular basis.
Although Cathy received the Distinguished Research Administrator Award, she maintains that the recognition encompasses 10 years of work by a number of committed staff members.
“It’s not just me,” said Cathy. “Every single person on the eResearch team is dedicated to research efforts at this institution.”
The eResearch team is 23-strong, a small but critical group of staff employed by ITS, mostly based in the Boyer Building on south campus. Roles include business systems analysts, developers, and product managers, all of whom support four different eResearch systems. The team is highly functional, holding weekly meetings even with two members working remotely in Boston and Australia.
Beyond the eResearch team at ITS, Cathy is quick to point out how many people contribute to the success of university research: “There are lots of people on campus responsible for supporting U-M’s research mission—units, central offices, groups all across campus.”
“My job is to work with others to optimize business processes,” she said. She came to the eResearch team 10 years ago to assist with training and communications during the implementation of the first module. Prior to that, Cathy worked at Michigan Administrative Information Services in 2000 as a performance support analyst and consultant, senior business systems analyst, and senior IT project manager.
Outside of work, Cathy enjoys traveling, spending time with family and friends, and baking. She is inspired by the arts and musical theater. Last December she visited New York and attended five shows on Broadway.
The Future of eResearch
Looking ahead, Cathy believes the future of eResearch will focus on reducing administrative burden. Two studies estimated that faculty spend an average of 42% of their research time associated with federally-funded projects on meeting requirements rather than conducting active research. Even a marginal decrease in administrative work would ultimately save university resources and increase research productivity.
To accomplish this, the eResearch team is partnering with the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects (ORSP), a unit of the U-M Office of Research, and with B&F Sponsored Programs to leverage technology and explore ways to be more efficient with data. One new project—currently undergoing the capital funding process—proposes an online dashboard for research administrators. The tool would offer a glance at work in progress, reports, and the status of Institutional Review Board (IRB) applications, for example. According to Cathy, much of this information is currently housed in different systems. A unified dashboard would simplify workflow for faculty and administrators with a multitude of responsibilities ranging from teaching and research to managing budgets.
When asked about what fulfills her most about her work, Cathy responds admirably: “Helping people solve problems.”
Regarding her Distinguished Research Administrator Award, S. Jack Hu, interim vice president for research, said it best: “It would be impossible to maintain U-M’s status as one of the top research universities in the world without the expertise of dedicated people like Cathy Handyside.”