My peeve about how my university (and many others) report research success in research funding: Why do we have to mislead people?
I have a pet peeve regarding communicating that sponsored project awards are synonymous with research as my institution did in the attached press release (but they are not alone). But, I am very happy that we continue to break our own records, and build our strength as an R2 university. (see https://research.uncg.edu/spotlight/uncg-research-awards-climb-to-52m-highest-in-history/)
My pet peeve is that externally sponsored projects include awards for education, student support, community service and other things and are not just research. Higher education institutions should be completely honest, and should minimize hyperbole, because that is what is expected in an academic culture that values integrity and honesty (or at least not omitting information)
I see two problems: 1) There is a bit of hyperbole when communicating that all externally sponsored project are research, when that is not true; and 2) It downplays the importance of externally supported projects that support students, education and community service and the work of the faculty and staff who led those efforts.
In my opinion, research expenditures are a much better number to correlate with funded research activity. I understand that award data can sometimes be the responsibility of the chief research officer, while research expenditure data in the purview of the chief financial officer. And, sometimes there is not great communication between those offices. I also know that universities don't like to talk about, , what we spend - our stakeholders don't like that (unless the ranking on NSF research expenditure tables is high). Everyone loves to communicate all the new money that comes in (even if student tuition ends up paying for the administrative/facility costs of the research projects).
It is important to celebrate success and create a sense of momentum. Most people don't know the distinctions between sponsored awards and research, but I don't personally like taking advantage of them not knowing, and creating a bit of hyperbole on one hand, while not celebrating growth in awards for education or community service, on the other hand. But, I also know that the point is about growth, not about the actual number..
Here is an example. My institution has a pretty large difference between research expenditures and sponsored project awards (as do most). In fact, awards in 2020 (last data I found for in a quick search of NSF's expenditure rankings- I can't find the 2021 results anywhere) were almost twice as much as externally supported research expenditures. Sponsored project awards that year were roughly $42.5 million. Research expenditures were $29million and those expenditures included $6 million dollars of institutional funds. So externally supported research was about $23 million of the $42.4 million. was from external sources, and $6 million internal funds.. I learned after writing this that the difference between awards and expenditures is much lower in 2021 and 2022. That is good-- but sometimes that happens because of changing classification of project, or by more accurately counting institutional expenditures, and I haven't seen the full data.
In conflating sponsored projects and research, we take advantage of our constituents ignorance and downplay the importance of external support for students, education and our outreach mission. I think (for whatever that is worth) that is counter to our mission.