Jim Basinger

All around the UnivRS

After three years of hard work, the UnivRS research management system is ready for its debut, and the early reviews are looking good.

By Michael Robin
"I had a grant to work on right away, so I tried it on the system," said Karen Schwean-Lardner, a researcher in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science who studies poultry management issues such as lighting, heat and population density in produc­tion barns.

Schwean-Lardner is among the initial researchers who were offered the chance to take UnivRS for a test drive, with orientation classes and support from Research Services and the UnivRS team.

"It's such an easy system," she said. "Everything just uploads and I don't have to run to get signatures everyplace. The first (grant) took a bit of time; the second one probably took me 15 minutes. It was very quick."

The multi-year, multi-mil­lion-dollar effort to bring UnivRS online was given the highest priority since it was initiated in 2012, said Jim Basinger, associate vice-president research.

"We were dangerously close, really, to a system collapse," he said. "There were enormous inef­ficiencies and frustration among faculty."

UnivRS is available now, but its use will be phased in to accommodate, for example, faculty that are mid-way through developing research projects under the old regime.

"What we didn't want to do was to cause people who had already started to generate an application, to force them to do something else with it," Basinger said. "We didn't want to force people to do things twice."

That said, Basinger cautioned this transition period has a definite expiry date—July 1, 2016—and people who are just starting projects now will need to use the new system.

Fortunately, the transition is expected to be fairly painless.

Gillian Muir, a neurosci­entist and head of the Depart­ment of Veterinary Biomed­ical Sciences, is another "beta tester" and member of the UnivRS steering committee. She explained three colleges were invited to participate, including the Western College of Veteri­nary Medicine (WCVM), Arts and Science, and Agri­culture and Bioresources. The first "hot test" was the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) grant appli­cations in October and November of 2015.

"In our department, we had two NSERCs that were submitted through the system," Muir said. "Obviously, there was some trep­idation. ‘What if it doesn't go through? Then I'm not going to get my NSERC. What if the thing crashes?'"

In the end, UnivRS performed flawlessly, and Muir received an automatic email confirmation of success.

At her office at the WCVM, she pulls up the system on the computer screen, showing how she can track the progress of her projects and those of the researchers in her department.

One of the more appealing features of UnivRS is elimination of pen-on-paper authorizations.

"I'd get faculty—and I've done this myself—calling with ‘Are you going to be in your office in the next half hour? Because I've got to get this grant done and I need you to sign it because it's got to go over and I'm not quite finished…' that kind of frantic running around that everybody does," Muir said.

"If this works, it will be great," she said. "Everybody has access who needs access to this grant, and as a department head, I just get an email when there is a grant that needs approval and I can answer that email wherever I am. I can logon to the UnivRS system, examine the grant and sign off on it."

Muir said there is some tweaking still needed. For example, all of the data from the older systems were migrated into UnivRS—including legacy information for researchers that have not been with the U of S for years.

Gillian Muir
Gillian Muir

"Those things might throw people off," she said. "That said, I think it's a good system so far."

Sarah Savage, functional lead for the UnivRS project, explained that the data migration erred on the side of inclusion, and that while some tweaking is to be expected, response has been positive so far.

"We have heard from those that have used the system that just being able to see their historical and current activity in UnivRS has been benefi­cial," she said.

Savage explained that since UnivRS is a core system, data integrity and confidentiality are top priorities.

"Staff in the Research Services and Ethics Office will have limited access to select personal data, such as gender," she said. "This is to help meet internal and external policies and procedures, such as Tri-Agency eligibility requirements."

Another attractive feature of UnivRS is the system allows multiple researchers at the U of S to work on a single project simul­taneously, ideal for large, collab­orative grants with a number of applicants.

Savage explained the initial suite of tools within the system will be augmented with more features as the system comes online and the team incorpo­rates feedback from faculty. These include the publications and CV modules expected later this spring, and the compliance module, which will allow human (behavioural and biomedical), animal care and biosafety appli­cations to be submitted and processed electronically.

UnivRS is launching with a full suite of training and support as well, Savage said. Training sessions are available through the ICT Training website, and backed up by hands-on training, manuals, FAQs and other online resources. Training videos are in production and the UnivRS Development and Training Specialist Brenda Meyer-Burt can be contacted directly at univrs.training@usask.ca.