10.0        Research, Creative, and Scholarly Activities

Research and creative scholarship provide a vigorous learning environment for students and enhance the professional development of faculty—qualities by which the university is judged. They are vital components of the academic life of the university. Accordingly, all research and teaching faculty are expected to become involved in such activities. Departments frequently support research among the faculty by reducing teaching loads for persons who are engaged in research and by designating some departmental operating funds for research. The university provides services in support of researchers, such as computing facilities, laboratory support services, various items of high technology equipment, and library collections.

10.1        Procedures for Research and Scholarship

Research at the university is classified as departmental research, core research, and/or sponsored research. Individual research projects may receive funds under one or more of these categories, as described below.

10.1.1     Departmental Research

Research supported by departmental operating funds and/or through adjustment of teaching responsibilities is called departmental research. In this category, faculty are free to pursue research to enrich their teaching, scholarship, and greater understanding of their discipline.

10.1.2     Core Research

Core research focuses primarily on the needs of Virginia and is funded by state and federal appropriations through the instructional division and Virginia Cooperative Extension/Agricultural Experiment Station. There are six core research sub-programs: agriculture and forestry research, coal and energy research, environmental and water resources research, industrial and economic development research, veterinary medical research, and supporting research. Faculty, who believe their research relates directly to one or more of the sub-programs and is applicable to problems or concerns of the commonwealth, should contact their department head or chair about procedures for securing core research support.

10.1.3     Sponsored Research

Sponsored research is supported through awards resulting from proposals submitted, on a project-by-project basis, by university faculty. Such proposals are submitted to state and federal agencies, corporations, and private foundations. Through sponsored research, faculty obtain the resources needed to conduct expanded research programs and may receive additional months of salary support. Research time is charged when the work activity and work reported are during the same period.

Competitive awards add stature to the recipient and the university; thus, faculty members are encouraged to seek such support. The only restrictions for sponsored research are that it must not constitute undue competition with commercial testing and research laboratories or with private consultants, and that it is compatible with the primary mission of the university. Questions about the appropriateness of a specific research project should be directed to the department head or chair, dean’s office, or to the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation (OVPRI).

10.1.4     Preparation of Proposals for Sponsored Projects

The Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation assists faculty in obtaining research sponsorship. Policies, procedures, and pre-award contacts are available on the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) website. Faculty are encouraged to explore research sponsorships by viewing funding opportunities on the OVPRI website. OVPRI personnel consult with faculty regarding research support and help faculty locate programs and individuals at government agencies, industry, and private foundations.

Most funding agencies have their own scientific and technical priorities and funding restrictions. Therefore prior to writing a formal proposal, faculty are encouraged to review their proposal concept with the appropriate person at the agency to which the proposal will be submitted. Personnel in the OVPRI help the principal investigator find the appropriate person(s) for such discussions. Faculty may wish to discuss proposal preparation with the appropriate member of their college dean’s staff. Before final budget preparation, an OSP official must review the proposed budget. The OSP official provides information and guidance about university policies for cost sharing, budgetary matters, confidentiality, publication, and intellectual property undertakings.

Faculty should be aware that some agencies limit the number of proposals, frequency of institutional proposal submission or the total dollar amount of proposals that can be submitted by an institution in response to a research sponsor’s solicitation. Some sponsors also limit the number of active awards for a given program by institution. Additional guidance for these programs, along with deadlines and procedures for submitting internal notices of intent for these solicitations or program notices are available at the Limited Submissions website.

The required forms for proposal submission are available on the OSP website. Each proposal requires considerable processing. Deadlines for submitting proposals to OSP in advance of agency deadlines are also available on the OSP website.

10.1.5     Laboratory Services and Facilities

Several colleges and departments maintain shops and facilities for design, fabrication, maintenance, and repair of specialized equipment. The OVPRI can assist faculty in locating an appropriate facility.

Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) must be consulted before any laboratory is established in a university facility. The EHS staff will determine if the proposed laboratory meets all necessary facility and laboratory requirements. The EHS staff ensures that all personnel who will be working in the laboratory are familiar with the various university policies, procedures, and publications that cover laboratory operations. These may include chemical hygiene plans, laboratory safety manuals safe handling, use and disposal of Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2), or Biosafety 3 (BSL-3) agents, or when applicable, lab licensing and radiation safety manuals approved by the Radiation Safety Committee.

Research involving Select Agents and Toxins (SATs) are governed by regulations established by: (1) the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], and (2) the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS). Acquisition and use of SATs cannot occur without prior notification and review by the university’s designated responsible official (the biosafety officer in EHS), and review and approval of proposed uses of those materials by the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC). Inspection and authorization by CDC and USDA APHIS is required for labs where SATs are proposed to be stored and used.

Research and teaching animals may be housed and maintained in college herds or flocks, in departmental or researcher-maintained housing, or is designated centralized animal vivaria. Researchers who want to house animals in new areas or facilities not currently used for that purpose must request inspection by the attending veterinarian and approval by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) before animals are ordered and housed in the new facility/area.

10.1.6     Ownership and Control of Research Results

The university asserts its right to the results of research funded wholly, or in part, with university resources. University ownership of intellectual properties is covered in University Policy 13000, “Policy on Intellectual Property.” These ownership rights extend to all permanent, visiting, or research faculty, staff, wage employees, and students.

The faculty principal investigator or project leader is expected to manage the university’s ownership of research results and material (including all data) that best advance the standard routes of publication, presentations, and other usual means of dissemination of research results for that particular field. Creation of intellectual property must be disclosed to the university by submitting an IP disclosure form, which is available on the Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties, Inc. website.

It is the responsibility of the faculty principal investigator as project leader to preserve the research material and results in the manner that is customary to the field. This includes all notebooks and files (independent of whether they are in analog or digital format), computer files, samples, specimens, prototypes, etc. germane to the veracity and validity of the research claims. Sponsored research projects may require additional document retention based on sponsor requirements or fulfillment of the project’s data management plan, included in the original proposal and as required by state law.

Additional requirements concerning ownership and control of research data, results, and related records are set forth in University Policy 13015, “Ownership and Control of Research Results.”

10.1.7     Research Involving Human Subjects, Animal Subjects, and Biohazardous Agents

The Virginia Tech Office of Research Compliance (ORC) provides administrative support to the university’s compliance committees responsible for reviewing and approving research involving humans, and animals used in teaching and research, recombinant DNA, and biohazardous agents. The ORC ensures institutional compliance with applicable federal laws, regulations and guidelines by providing training to researchers, staff, and students, and by performing post-approval monitoring of approved protocols. The following compliance committees are supported by the ORC:

The Virginia Tech Institutional Review Board (IRB) has general oversight responsibility for the university’s compliance with its federal-wide assurance with the Office for Human Research Protections in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the ethical principles established in the Belmont Report, and human subjects protective regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations title 45, part 46 (45CFR46). All human subjects research, as defined in 45CFR46, conducted by Virginia Tech faculty, staff, or students, regardless of funding source (including non-funded research), must be reviewed and approved by the IRB before subject are recruited and research initiated. In accordance with federal law, the Virginia Tech IRB has the authority to approve, disapprove, or require modifications in protocols before approval is granted. For expedited and full review protocols that are active for more than 12 months, the principal investigator must seek annual/continuing IRB approval prior to the 12-month anniversary of initial approval. No changes may be made to approved protocols without amendment submission to, and review and approval by the IRB.

The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) has general oversight responsibility for Virginia Tech’s compliance with its approved animal welfare assurance on file in the National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, its approved research facility registration with USDA Agriculture, Animal, and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Public Health Service (PHS) Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, and the PHS principles for the utilization and care of vertebrate animals used in testing, research, and training, and the federal Animal Welfare Act and animal welfare regulations. All proposed research and teaching uses of vertebrate animal species, regardless of funding source (including non-funded research), must be reviewed and approved by the IACUC before animals are acquired and research initiated. In accordance with federal law, the Virginia Tech IACUC has the authority to approve, disapprove, or require modifications in protocols before approval is granted. No changes can be made in an approved protocol prior to amendment submission to, and review and approval by the IACUC.  Researchers/instructors must provide annual/continuing review information each year as requested. In accordance with federal regulations, protocols can only be approved for a three-year period, after which a new submission must be received, reviewed, and approved by the IACUC. The IACUC must, per federal law, inspect those areas where animals are housed or used (e.g., labs where animals may be taken) every six months.

The Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) provides compliance review and oversight of research and instructional activities that involve the use of infectious agents, recombinant and/or synthetic nucleic acids, transgenic organisms, biologically derived toxins, and the culturing and/or manipulation of human and/or non-human primate cells and tissues. In accordance with federal law, the Virginia Tech IBC has the authority to approve, disapprove, or require modifications in protocols before approval is granted.  Protocols are approved for a period of three years, after which a renewal protocol must be submitted for review and approval by the IBC. No changes can be made in an approved protocol prior to amendment submission to, and review and approval by the IBC. The IBC coordinates it activities with EHS, specifically the biosafety officer (who is also the designated responsible official for select agents and toxins), and other lab safety professionals. University Policy 13030, “Virginia Tech Recombinant DNA and Biohazard Research Property,” establishes requirements for the safe, secure, and compliant use of recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules and/or biohazardous materials. These requirements are intended to protect university personnel, the public, as well as the environment.

10.1.8     Classified Research

The U.S. government occasionally seeks the expertise of Virginia Tech faculty to engage in classified research. Faculty must realize that working in classified or controlled unclassified research requires that they relinquish opportunities to disseminate the knowledge gained in this effort without prior approval from the sponsor. However, the university does recognize that individual investigators may wish to work in areas that have classified or controlled unclassified aspects, and cannot conduct the research in compliance with applicable federal statues and executive orders without access to classified or controlled unclassified information. To accommodate this need, the university has a continuing compliance and security program administered by the Office of Export and Secure Research Compliance in accordance with government regulations. Virginia Tech policy and procedures for complying with U.S. export and sanctions laws in research and other university activities are set forth in University Policy 13045, “Export and Sanctions Compliance Policy.”

10.1.9     Special Circumstances for Theses and Dissertations

The university may withhold from publication theses and dissertations for up to one year for the purpose of obtaining a patent or for other proprietary reasons. To exercise this option for a thesis or dissertation, an electronic thesis/dissertation (ETD) approval form must be completed and signed by the thesis or dissertation author and by his or her advisor, with a request that the thesis or dissertation be withheld from public release.

In cases where theses or dissertations contain export controlled or national security information, students and faculty advisors should consult with the Office of Export and Secure Research Compliance in the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation.

10.1.10   Publication of Research

Because of its importance to the faculty, department, and the university, assistance is offered faculty in publishing the results of creative scholarship and research. Department heads or chairs can help determine how best to complete and publish the results of research projects.

10.1.11   International Travel Supplemental Grants Program

The supplemental grants program provides funds to support faculty travel to international conferences for presenting invited papers and for establishing international collaborations. Designed to promote professional development, to encourage the involvement of faculty in international activities, and to enhance the international reputation of the university, the program supports requests from tenured, tenure-track faculty, and selected ranks of research faculty. The program is administered by the OVPRI. Requests are submitted no later than 30 days before the traveler’s departure date. Additional information, application forms, and guidelines are available on the OVPRI website.

10.2        Policy on Misconduct in Research

The university endorses high ethical standards in conducting research to ensure public trust in the integrity of research results. The university recognizes that deception in research erodes the credibility of an institution and the confidence of those who might benefit from the research. The university takes all reasonable and practical steps to foster a research environment that promotes the responsible conduct of research and research training (and activities related to that research or research training), discourages research misconduct, and deals promptly with allegations or evidence of possible research misconduct.

10.2.1     Definition

Misconduct in research (or research misconduct) means fabrication, falsification, plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research; or in reporting research results.

Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them.

Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.

Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words, including those of a student, colleague, or mentor, without giving appropriate credit.

Research misconduct does not include honest error, differences in opinion, or disputes over authorship except those involving plagiarism. It does not include issues relating to sexual harassment, personnel management, fiscal errors, or the reporting of poor effort. It also does not include abuse or improper procedures with laboratory animals or human subjects.

10.2.2     Activities Covered

University Policy 13020, “Policy on Misconduct in Research,” applies to allegations of research misconduct (fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results) involving a person who at the time of the alleged research misconduct was employed by, was an agent of, or was affiliated by contract or agreement with the university and was engaged in research under the auspices of the university at the time of the occurrence of the alleged research misconduct. In addition, any student engaged in sponsored research is covered by this policy.

Misconduct in non-research activities and other ethical violations are covered by separate policies. Ethical misconduct, including self–plagiarism, of faculty is covered in chapter two, “Professional Responsibilities and Conduct,” which describes the principles of ethical behavior. Violations of ethical conduct by graduate students are guided by the constitution of the graduate honor system, which is available on the graduate school website. Violations of ethical conduct by undergraduate students are guided by the university’s honor system, as outlined on the undergraduate honor system website. Standards of conduct and performance, as well as procedures for dealing with alleged violations of unacceptable conduct and grievance procedures for staff, are available on the Human Resources website.

10.2.3     Procedures for Reporting, Investigating, and Resolving Misconduct in Research

The university has established detailed procedures for reporting, investigating, and resolving misconduct in research. Those procedures are available in University Policy 13020, “Policy on Misconduct in Research.” The research integrity officer is responsible for overseeing the procedural process. Any questions regarding the policy or procedures should be addressed to the research integrity officer in the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation.

10.3        Removal of a Principal, Co-Principal, Lead Investigator, or Equivalent

Funding agreements are legal contracts between the sponsor and the university rather than an individual, thereby obligating the university to ensure compliance with any and all applicable policies, regulations, or specific conditions attached to the funding. Removal of an investigator from a sponsored project may be necessary or warranted under unusual circumstances such as incapacity (unable to carry out the responsibilities as an investigator), misuse of funds, failure to comply with university and sponsored programs’ policies or state or federal regulations, failure to disclose or appropriately manage a significant conflict of interest, or in response to a request by the sponsor of the project.

The removal of a principal, co-principal, or lead investigator is governed by University Policy 13025, “Removal of a Principal, Co-Principal, Lead Investigator, or Equivalent.” Funding agencies and sponsors vary in their requirements; the terms of the specific contract with a sponsor guide the university’s actions whenever this policy is invoked. This policy applies to investigators who hold identified responsibilities as principal, co-principal, lead investigator, or equivalent (hereafter referred to collectively as the investigator).

10.4        Effort Certification and Salary Charges to Sponsored Grants and Contracts

10.4.1     Effort Certification

The purpose of effort certification is to confirm after the end of the reporting period that salaries and wages charged to each sponsored agreement are reasonable in relation to the actual work performed. University Policy 3105, “Effort Certification,” describes the procedures for required effort certification in accordance with federal regulations. Individual investigators, departments, and other university administrators have specific responsibilities under the policy for certifying effort, monitoring compliance, and assuring that only allocable charges are made to grants and contracts. Federal audits have made clear that only effort directly related to a project can be charged to that project and salary expenditures on behalf of the project must occur during the effort reporting period. The university takes its obligations to comply with federal regulations very seriously; failure to comply may mean severe financial penalties and/or loss of opportunity for future grants from the federal sponsor. To be consistent and fair to all sponsors, the same kind of accountability applies to non-federal grants and contracts.

Salary costs for faculty, staff, and graduate students are one of the largest cost categories for sponsored projects. Internal controls over salary costs include procedures to ensure that salary costs are in compliance with federal regulations and University Policy 3240, “Costing Principles for Sponsored Projects.” That is, all salary costs charged to a sponsored project must be reasonable for the work performed, necessary for the performance of the project, allowable per sponsor and university policies, and allocable to the project.

Effort certification is particularly complex for instructional faculty members who manage multiple responsibilities simultaneously, seamlessly moving from class to supervising graduate students, to conducting research and developing the next proposal in the same day or week. Indeed, most instructional faculty members are engaged in teaching, administrative tasks, or other duties in addition to their work on sponsored projects, even during the summer. Yet only activities directly related to a sponsored grant or contract may be charged to that grant or contract; institutional activity must be supported by other, non-sponsored funding (or may be uncompensated during the summer).

If the faculty member (regardless of type of appointment) has responsibilities for competitive proposal writing or participation in well-defined, regular teaching or administrative duties (e.g., committee work, hiring, advising, tenure review), a 100 percent allocation of the salary to sponsored projects would be prohibited during the effort reporting period in which such activity occurred. Incidental, inconsequential non-project activity performed rarely may be considered de minimis and need not be part of full load for purposes of effort reporting.

Proposal writing for new competitive awards and competitive renewal awards may not be charged to sponsored projects, nor would such proposal writing be considered de minimis activity. Preparation of non-competitive, continuation award proposals (progress reports) may be charged to the applicable sponsored project.

Faculty members who receive summer salary from sponsored projects must certify to the effort expended on those projects during the summer period. Work done on the sponsored project during the academic year cannot be counted toward summer effort on the project. 

Failure to follow the provisions of University Policy 3105, “Effort Certification,” may subject the individuals and departments responsible for the violation(s) to administrative and/or disciplinary actions in accordance with university disciplinary procedures. Sanctions for non-compliance may include, but are not limited to:

If effort reports are not completed and returned in a timely manner, salary costs associated with uncertified grant activity may be removed and charged to a departmental account.

Following appropriate notice, faculty members with delinquent or improperly completed effort reports may be placed on a suspension list by the Office for Sponsored Programs and denied eligibility for OSP services, including but not limited to proposal preparation, account set-up, and budget transfers, until effort reports are up to date and properly completed and certified.

Certification of effort reports that are known to be materially inaccurate may expose the individual who completed the reports to personal disciplinary actions.

10.4.2     Compliance Issues Related to Summer Research Appointments for Nine-Month Faculty Members

Faculty members on academic year (nine-month) appointments are permitted to earn up to three months of additional salary for effort related to sponsored projects, subject to sponsor policies and appropriate internal approvals. Summer funding may be accomplished by research extended appointments or as summer wages.

University Policy 6200, “Policy on Research Extended Appointments,” outlines the requirements and procedures for faculty members to extend their nine-month appointments to 10-, 11-, or 12-month appointments depending on the availability of sponsored funding for additional months of salary and full fringe benefits. Although the sponsored funding supports the extended employment contract, salary must be charged to reflect a reasonable estimate of effort throughout the entire appointment period, not just the summer. Given the continuation of some typical university responsibilities during the summer, such as meeting with graduate students, attending professional conferences, or preparing future grant proposals or coursework, faculty members should have a mixture of sponsored and institutional funding to support their summer activities. This can be accomplished by making appropriate charges to the project during the academic year, and deferring some institutional funding to the summer period. Faculty members on research extended appointments earn annual leave proportional to the length of their appointment, and they must record the use of annual leave whenever used during the appointment period (all 10, 11, or 12 months). There is no payout for accrued annual leave at the time of reconversion to the base academic year appointment or at the time of separation from the university.

Instead of research extended appointments, academic year faculty members may receive support from sponsored grants and contracts as summer research wage payments, without full fringe benefits. This would typically be the case for faculty members with one or two months of “summer salary” included in the funded grant project. For those with three full months of funding, project effort during the academic year may be charged to the grant (with attendant changes in the fringe benefit rate), thereby allowing departmental salary savings to support non-project related responsibilities during the summer. Faculty members certify their effort across the entire summer period, and some flexibility is allowed as long as the overall effort and salary charges during the period are consistent.

10.4.3     Compliance Issues for Research Faculty Members

As described above, a research faculty member with regular, well-defined responsibilities for new proposal preparation, teaching, or administrative duties is prohibited from charging 100 percent of salary to sponsored projects during an effort reporting period in which such activity occurred, unless those activities are specifically allowed on the sponsored project.

Research faculty members are typically on standard 12-month appointments, which earn and accrue annual leave by university policy. Use of annual leave is recognized as an acceptable charge to a sponsored project when such leave is part of the standard university appointment.

10.5        Policy on Intellectual Property

Publicly (state) supported universities have the multiple missions of teaching, research, support of the public interest and fostering of economic development of the area/state in which they are located. Scholarly activities in a university setting create intellectual properties (IPs). IPs include research papers, books, software programs, new inventions, journal articles, etc.

The university's mission includes dissemination of IPs in the most efficient and effective manner possible. The identification and optimization of opportunities for the industrial/commercial utilization of some IPs is also part of this mission, as is the protection of the ownership rights of both the individuals and the university.

While many IPs are best disseminated by publication and placing in the public domain, there are a significant number that are most effectively handled by protection under the IP laws (i.e., patenting and copyright) and licensing (or other transfer) to private sector entities, with attendant financial considerations.

University Policy 13000, “Policy on Intellectual Property,” outlines intellectual property (IP) ownership criteria, resolution of ownership questions, and responsibilities of university employees concerning intellectual properties. Policy 13000 also sets forth the authority and responsibility of the Intellectual Property Committee (IPC), the chair of which is the vice president for research and innovation or his/her designee. Membership of the IPC is set forth in the bylaws of the University Council.