The “Four R’s”​ of Global Research Success!

by Rick Nader, Ph.D. & Warren Burggren, Ph.D.

Below are four points – the Four R’s – for faculty, principal investigators (PIs), and the Research Development Offices that support them to consider when pursuing funding internationally, or domestically with an international dimension.

Global research is both increasingly needed to address global-scale research challenges, and, ever more important for addressing globally-relevant research questions. Institutions whose faculty successfully engage in global research can add 20-30 percent to their bottom line in funded research awards over a purely U.S. funding portfolio. The number of university faculty seeking international grants and contracts is also growing, and many, if they had support for international ambitions, would become excited about submitting research and development proposals.

While most (90 percent) of the key factors for success in pursuing funding internationally are the same as those for seeking domestic grants, that small (10 percent) difference can be the reason proposals for international work are successful, or not. I call these dimensions the Four R’s and have seen first-hand that these four components are actively considered by proposal reviewers. Therefore, it’s best to think about them early in the process of developing a proposal for international research activity.

RELEVANCE – Does the Principal Investigators’ (PI) research align with domestic and international priorities?

It isn’t enough to only check one box for addressing the funding priorities of a U.S. or an international funding agency. Both contexts must be considered.  The U.S. and international funding agencies typically use “tax” dollars to award grants. Therefore, there must be a clear and articulated rationale for the international work, a discrete benefit for each side, a mutually beneficial intellectual contribution, or access to a unique research resource made available through the collaboration. It will be important for the PI to consider how s/he will answer the question “Why is this mathematics research project important to do,” for example, “in Bangkok, as opposed to right here at home in Boston?” And, “Is mathematics research a priority for Thailand and the United States? What value does the international context bring to inform the domestic circumstance or vice versa?” Some countries have articulated joint (bilateral or multilateral) funding priorities, on which PIs can rely. However, if not the case, be sure to have an answer to the relevance question.

RISK – If the project is relevant, do we understand the risks?

Inevitably, international projects may be riskier, take more time and generally be more difficult to accomplish. The project’s relevance must therefore be considered within the international risk context, especially in light of foreseeable disruptive situations in the partner country (including the United States!) One foreseeable risk is failure to check deemed export or Treasury department lists. Another is a PI’s adherence to new conflict of commitment regulations.  Health and safety risk mitigation generally, including threats of kidnapping, or detention if research is occurring near a geographically security-sensitive area, must be considered. Not all risk is foreseeable. I recall a case where a research project was going well until the Russians invaded South Ossetia, as part of the Republic of Georgia’s ongoing territorial dispute. Research offices do not typically have the international affairs intelligence that might be required for excellent risk mitigation. There are also financial risks, like the post-award capacity to accommodate a variety of business and transaction modalities in other countries.  Usually, PIs with deep experience in these countries can mitigate threats to the accomplishment of the research but can be a bigger problem for less informed PIs or institutions without access to knowledge of international business practices. In any case, the PI and/or the institution should take steps toward preventive and/or responsive risk management for all international research projects.

RELIABILITY – If the project is relevant and risks are manageable, are you and your partner reliable and trusted?

Many, especially new international partnerships, fail due to PI’s misunderstanding of a partner’s motivation, circumstances, or mistaken assumptions about the capabilities and infrastructure supporting the partner PI. This is made especially obvious when the international partner is not familiar with U.S. regulations and practices related to Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR), human subjects, or animal welfare and safety. It also becomes obvious when the U.S. partner is unaware of EU regulations, for example, on privacy. Even publication rights and expectations of authorship for future manuscripts should be clarified upfront. Each side, while acting with the best intentions, should be sure to ask a series of questions designed to test assumptions and expectations, and to articulate these in a written MOU/MOA format. These simple steps can build a foundation for trust, and mitigate the chances of downstream surprises. Institutions that support a robust research infrastructure for partnership development can assist PIs on both sides to be reliable partners or should seek outside assistance in providing these services.

REWARD – If the three R’s above are accounted for, then how will the project be sustained? Will the research lead to or leverage additional funding or research resources?

There is always a worry that continuation funding may not be available. This can be addressed by longer-term planning, and building a funding forecast that considers a variety of funding opportunities over time, and is inclusive of U.S., international, public, and private sources, wherever in the world they may be. A funding forecast can serve both partners as a guide for sustained and predictable funding. It will be important for PIs to accurately interpret the requirements or expectations for sustainability for each side, and be sure to include your international partner’s perspectives over longer time horizons. Often, other than grant funding benefits come with international collaboration: new graduate students, funded fellowships, reduced costs for research materials and personnel, and access to unique research equipment not otherwise available at the home campuses, etc. PIs and research offices should consider broadly and holistically, multiple potential ways to sustain the rewards deriving from global research.

In summary, U.S. PIs and their partners are advised to jointly and fully consider these additional (10 percent) dimensions – the 4 R’s – to maximize the chance of getting funding and maintaining the partnership’s ability to sustain meaningful global research collaboration.

This blog was reprinted with the permission of the authors. View the original here.


Rick Nader, Ph.D.
Global Proposal Solutions

Principal Consultant Dr. Richard (Rick) Nader has 25 years of experience developing and writing proposals to federal, private, and corporate foundations and international funding sources at Texas A&M University, University of North Texas, and Mississippi State University.  He previously served as a program manager at the Office of International Science and Engineering at the National Science Foundation. Nader has served as PI and Co-PI on NSF, Department of Education, State Department, as well as public-private funding, including awards from Japan.

Nader has significantly contributed to competitive awards across a broad range of funding agencies: NSF, DoD, Department of Education, State Department, Department of Health and Human Services, State-level health and education agencies, corporations, and foundations.

While at Texas A&M in the 1990s, Nader worked closely with the Proposal Development team at Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) while he was director of the Community Grant Support Center (CGSC) located at the Public Policy Research Institute, also at Texas A&M. The CGSC staff worked directly with community-based organizations to consult and develop proposals to secure primarily federal funding. Nader carried out evaluation research while a Senior Research Associate at the Public Policy Research Institute and specializes in evaluating study abroad curricula and research design in cross-cultural settings.

Nader served as Program Manager for East Asia (China) in the Office of International Science and Engineering at the National Science Foundation (NSF).  After his term at NSF, he became founding Director for Research Development at the University of North Texas (UNT), and most recently supervised and advanced the Global Research Development units at UNT and Mississippi State.

Nader’s experience includes designing and delivering workshops on how to be successful in competing for grants and contracts, what makes for a successful international research or development proposal, understanding the review process, and evaluation of study abroad, and building your institution’s “Global Research IQ.”  He has directly helped hundreds of faculty be successful with proposals to federal agencies, private foundations, and foreign funders, including strategies for fundraising, international development, and engaging corporations and foundations.

Rick has a BA in English, a Master’s degree in Public Administration, and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration.

Warren Burggren, Ph.D.
Global Proposal Solutions

Dr. Warren Burggren is a University Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of North Texas.  His 40+ year career as a university researcher, educator, and administrator has included faculty positions at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the University of North Texas.  Additionally, Burggren has been a visiting researcher at universities in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Mexico, Panama, and Taiwan, and has given hundreds of hundreds of invited and plenary lectures in more than a dozen countries.  Academic honors and recognitions that Burggren has received include: Fellow, American Physiological Society;  American Physiological Society Krogh Lecturer; Fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science; Regents’ Researcher Citation of the Nevada Board of Regents; National Science Foundation Advisory Board Member,  Biology Directorate; Distinguished Visiting Professor of the Mexican Academy of Sciences; Invited Participant in the Commandant’s National Security Program, US Army War College, Rector Honoris Causa (Honorary University President) of The Autonomous University of the State of Mexico. Burggren has published more than 250 journal articles and book chapters and has written edited or co-edited nearly 20 books, including a widely used textbook in Animal Physiology that has been translated into several languages. Additionally, Burggren has been the major advisor of more than 50 post-doctoral fellows and graduate students during his career.

Burggren has been Department Chair, Dean and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, holding this last position at UNT until his return to faculty in 2015.  As a result, he has deep experience in the assembly and management of large, complex research and administrative teams, including those pursuing and successfully acquiring both public and private research funding.

Burggren’s biological research projects have been funded by multiple agencies during his career, including a highly unusual ~40 years of continuous National Science Foundation funding.  He currently is supported both by the National Science Foundation (public) and the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (private).

He received his B.Sc. degree from the Univ. of Calgary, Canada, and his Ph.D. from the Univ. of East Anglia in Norwich, England.

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