Finance’s “Navigate” Training Program

Research administrators are a crucial Business and Finance customer group at the University of Michigan. Research is one of U-M’s core missions, along with teaching and patient care. According to FY 2017 figures, U-M’s 1,800+ research administrators assisted faculty investigators in managing:

  • $1.48 billion in annual research expenditures
  • 8 million square feet of lab space for research and teaching
  • 444 new inventions

The Research Administration Advisory Council (RAAC) was founded in 2012 with the purpose of organizing and energizing the research administration community around pre- and post-award business processes. Pre-award activities include finding funding for research projects, developing research proposals, routing and submitting proposals, and setting up awarded projects. Post-award activities include the ongoing management of projects and, once complete, closing them out with both the university and external sponsors like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF). A graphic of the entire sponsored project lifecycle appears below.

With a membership of over 100 volunteers from across the university, RAAC dedicated months to the challenge of creating a more robust training program for research administrators through its Training Subcommittee. In 2015, this resulted in the creation of the Navigate Team, which currently includes five members from the Finance Division and the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects. Together, the Navigate Team and the RAAC Training Subcommittee are responsible for developing training programs and other key resources for the research community.

Research administrators help design and teach new classes in addition to their regular responsibilities. Many of them are involved in keeping the information up to date and relevant. These volunteers are the unsung heroes of the Navigate Program. On March 14, the next class of Navigate: Fundamentals, a course for research administrators across U-M with up to two years of experience, will be offered. The course is comprised of seven full-day, instructor-led sessions that cover the entire lifecycle of a sponsored research project.

The idea for this immersive, hands-on training program began when a gap was identified in the Research Administration Instructional Network (RAIN), the former professional development program at U-M. It also coincided with the rapid growth in size and complexity of U-M’s research enterprise and the need for effective training of research administrators to help mitigate any potential risks to the institution. Since Navigate: Fundamentals debuted in fall 2015, it has been offered twice a year and has had more than 120 new research administrators attend, with an overall satisfaction rate of 93 percent.

In addition to the Navigate: Fundamentals course, there are a number of other professional development offerings for research administrators. These include: Uniform Guidance Cost PrinciplesBudgeting BasicsAdvanced Budgeting I and II, and the Research Administration Mentoring Program (RAMP).  Also offered is the more informal Lunch & Learn series, which focuses on topics that are important to the research community. To date, Lunch & Learn topics have included: Financial Status Reports (FSRs); Subawards, Purchase Order, and Hybrid PO; and Effort Reporting and Certification, which was the first session to be livestreamed to participants across the university.

The continued support of the Office of Research and Business and Finance has been key in the program’s success and the future of the Navigate Training Program looks bright as it explores new subject areas and implements new delivery methods, all with the goal of providing high-quality programs for the U-M research community.  This video provides more information about U-M’s research enterprise.