The University Record, October 10, 1994

Plans point to new career track for primary research staff

By Mary Jo Frank

Plans to create a new career path within the research scientist track that would recognize some of the University’s top scientists have garnered praise and the unanimous endorsement of Senate Assembly.

Vice President for Research Homer A. Neal outlined the proposed plan at the Assembly’s Sept. 26 meeting.

Individuals on the new path within the research scientist track would be given the title research scientist II and enhanced bridging support, if required, between grants. They would be selected for the new designation by their department or unit, with the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) giving final approval.

Research scientists I, who remain in their current career path, would retain all present benefits, including some bridging support eligibility and membership in the University Senate.

Guidelines for advancement to the new path would be proposed by the units and approved by OVPR and could differ from unit to unit, according to Neal. Units and OVPR would share the bridging support commitment.

Since the primary research scientist (PRS) track was created in 1974, a number of problems have been associated with it, Neal noted.

They include:

  • Lack of national recognition of job titles.

  • Minimum level of job security even at upper ranks.

  • Less than complete membership in the academic community.

  • Non-uniform application of appointment/promotion criteria.

  • Insufficient “truth in advertising” of conditions of employment at the time of hire.

  • Inadequate career development counseling.

  • Inadequate recognition and compensation for non-research related activities.

    Since 1988, OVPR has implemented a number of policy and program changes to overcome some of the track’s shortcomings, Neal noted, including providing bridging support for researchers who are between grants and earlier layoff notice. Emeritus status is now available to primary research scientists. They also are eligible for three new faculty awards reserved for primary research scientists and are now allowed to serve on, and even chair, doctoral committees.

    OVPR has continued to work on refining the PRS track and last June released a report titled “Primary Research Scientist Track Interim Policies,” which spelled out the appointment process; the promotion review process and criteria; career development; and compensation and recognition for grant preparation, service and teaching. The intent of the interim policies is to enhance OVPR’s stewardship of the track by re-emphasizing the original philosophy underlying the creation of the track.

    For example, the interim policies require that the appointment process of each school for PRS faculty be parallel to, and equivalent in rigor to, that for instructional faculty. The appointment at the associate or full research scientist ranks must be approved by the OVPR before letters of offer are tendered. A copy of the Faculty Handbook should be sent with offer letters.

    Units also are asked to:

  • Review appointment and promotion procedures.

  • Provide PRSs guidance on promotion criteria.

  • Review PRS faculty periodically, as they do instructional faculty.

  • Consider the possibility of joint PRS/instructional appointments.

  • Refrain from using grant funds to support non-project efforts.

    Neal noted that for many years the University has provided bridging funds for three to six months, depending on rank and length of service. This program will remain in place. Under the proposed plan, however, bridging support eligibility would be extended for up to one year for research scientist IIs. As with the existing program, bridging support will come jointly from the unit and OVPR.

    Neal said he hopes institution of the research scientist II career path will help alleviate concerns of some of the University’s best research scientists who now feel underappreciated.

    He also noted that many individuals on the research scientist I track have an important role to play in the University’s research program and that several international-class laboratories are only able to carry out their work because of the talents of researchers who would likely remain on the research scientist I track.