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A Message from the Vice Chancellor for Research

Data are a critical asset that are the foundation of most scholarly outputs. Federal and non-federal sponsors have become increasingly focused on ensuring that all universities and principal investigators become stewards of research data resulting from funded projects. In a policy that took effect in January 2023, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that ‘Responsible data management and sharing has many benefits, including accelerating the pace of biomedical research, enabling validation of research results, and providing accessibility to high-value datasets. Some sponsors have recently begun to require data management and sharing (DMS) plans as part of competitive proposals, and other sponsors have announced plans to implement similar policies soon. Sponsors like NIH have stated that these DMS plans will be considered as part of the proposal review process and may impact whether a project is funded or not.

These new policies represent a significant challenge requiring institutions to quickly design and implement support resources for faculty to comply. The infrastructure and efforts required to perform these tasks represent real costs that the existing Federal indirect cost model does not recognize. Fortunately, to ensure that new requirements don’t represent unfunded mandates, the NIH has permitted individual project budgets to include costs related to data management and sharing. While it is helpful that sponsors recognize the need for dedicated budget for these activities, it is essential for us to be strategic in our implementation of support infrastructure to ensure that it will scale to serve the needs of our research enterprise, but also serve the data management and sharing needs of individual projects long after those projects have ended. Thus, there is a need for more comprehensive and coordinated data management support than has been previously available to achieve these goals and for which support at the institutional level can be provided at an economy of scale.

Currently, Carolina has many resources to support research data-related activities, but the landscape may seem confusing for research teams who are often left trying to figure how to navigate these resources. To help coordinate UNC’s efforts on research data management and sharing and to ensure the University remains compliant with these new requirements, we are launching a new Research Data Management Core.

The Core will support research data management for the entire campus community and will closely coordinate with existing resources across the UNC community to develop a campus-wide research data ecosystem. This new Core will also directly provide data services and solutions to help lower the burden of existing and future data management and sharing policies, and will also serve as a ‘switchboard’ for faculty, staff and students who may have research data-related questions. The Core will support researchers with services throughout the research lifecycle. These services will begin with assistance in developing compliant DMS plans during the proposal submission process and continue throughout the funded project by coordinating with research teams to ensure DMS plan compliance. By infusing domain expert knowledge with curation best practices, we will empower researchers’ data enabling those data to be shared creating new research partnerships and opportunities.

To leverage economies of scale and to ensure adequate support for this new Core, a new data management fee will be applied to most funded research projects beginning in November 2023. This fee will apply to monthly modified total direct cost (MTDC) expenditures and will initially be 0.38%. The fee will be evaluated annually to determine if minor adjustments are necessary. Services provided to all UNC campus projects through the Core fee will include data deposit of up to 2TB per project; long-term preservation and storage of shared data; access to tools and platforms administered by the Core to support data management across the research lifecycle from planning to collection to analysis to archiving and sharing; training and resources for project teams; and a network of data stewards and domain experts working and consulting directly with projects. Specialized projects and projects with very large-scale data may require additional and tailored support that can be borne as direct costs on a project-by-project basis. A full listing of services covered by the Core fee will be available via the Research Data Management Core website, which will be launched this Fall.

This approach will ensure a coordinated approach for our campus and will likely lower the overall costs to individual projects. Further, this model will enable the University to ensure support and compliance for projects long after individual project funding has ended. The advantages of a coordinated effort to identify, describe, preserve, and share these valuable resources will outweigh the actual cost. Increasing the visibility of our research outputs will certainly lead to new partnerships and collaborations that will generate new discoveries and solutions to problems facing North Carolina and the world. Together we will manage our data resources to the maximum benefit for the UNC community and the society we serve.

This message is sponsored by: Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research

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