Research Communication from VPDoR for Chairs and Directors - April 18, 2023

Dear Chairs and Directors 

We are writing to share positive updates to make research more affordable for PIs with sponsored projects and to ensure research continuity during emergencies. We want to thank the teams who worked together to explore ideas, investigate options, and propose broad-impact solutions. Please share this letter with any faculty or staff you believe would benefit from this information.

Increase in Stanford’s support of RA tuition on sponsored projects 

The rising cost of conducting research, especially supporting graduate students on sponsored research, deeply concerns us. During this budget cycle, discussions between the offices of the Provost, Vice Provost and Dean of Research (VPDoR), Vice Provost of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs (VPGE), and School of Medicine (SOM) led to a consensus-focused solution to alleviate this burden for Principal Investigators (PIs). 

In response to a recent analysis by the office of the VPDoR on the cost of funding a graduate student Research Assistant (RA) to a sponsored project, Stanford is changing its policy to support the RA tuition allowance charged from 40% to 55%, effective September 1, 2023.

This measure will help PIs expand their research fund to go farther within their labs. The analysis from the office of VPDoR revealed that the cost of a graduate student research assistant (RA) on sponsored projects has increased by 20% in the last five years, relative to an almost flat trend line of average single-investigator grants over the same period. The widening gap between the cost of an RA and sponsored funding available to support an RA and between Stanford’s cost and its peers present a disturbing problem related to research affordability and competitiveness. 

The increase to 55% for RA tuition allowance is the first since FY14 and will apply to all sponsored projects that bear the full indirect cost rate (i.e., F&A rate), and does not include the SOM. The budget impact to the university is estimated at $2.5 million in FY24. Please note that the School of Medicine has a unique funding model for Biosciences doctoral programs in which a majority of its students are fully funded without research assistantships during their first four years. 

Next steps of the Committee on Emergency Resilience for the Research Enterprise

After last summer’s electrical disruption, the Provost charged a Committee on Emergency Resilience for the Research Enterprise, composed of faculty, senior associate deans of research, and Land, Buildings & Real Estate (LBRE) leadership to develop proactive measures to mitigate known risks in the event of unexpected emergencies. This February, the committee presented to the Executive Cabinet its recommendations on the changes and investments needed to protect research.

The recommendations, a few of which are highlighted below, are the foundation of an implementation plan that is supported by school leadership and facilities directors. 

  • A 15-year, $300M electric reliability improvement project approved in Stanford's FY24 Capital Plan and led by LBRE to renew the existing 12 kV and 4kV electrical distribution system responsible for distributing power across campus from the Central Energy Facility (CEF) to individual buildings. This project will help address known deferred maintenance and improve the safety and stability of critical infrastructure in Stanford’s high-voltage electricity systems. In addition, University IT will accelerate the refresh and expansion of Wi-Fi for the academic campus and residences to ensure the availability and bandwidth of wireless connectivity services under a two-year, $15M capital infrastructure project.  

  • School facilities directors and LBRE are collaborating on an annual audit and will create an ongoing feedback loop on the backup generator-connected critical equipment loads in research buildings. LBRE has also launched a dashboard pilot to monitor generator fuel levels and burn rates. These efforts aim to ensure the reliable functioning of backup generators during an emergency. 

  • Under the direction and guidance of the Committee on Research, LBRE will also work on clarifying and refining the prioritization of research facilities during utility outage response and service restoration. 

We seek your cooperation to prioritize emergency and continuity planning. We encourage you to familiarize teams with emergency response guidelines and to document and practice roles, responsibilities, and communication protocols at a building level. Another essential step in building resiliency is to schedule annual emergency preparedness discussions at the department faculty meetings. To support team readiness, EH&S has received resources to lead emergency preparedness exercises and training programs that complement the efforts of local units. This cross-unit training and exercises for response teams will include designing and executing emergency exercises and drills and delivering dynamic training for different constituents.

We hope these actions on behalf of our research community continue demonstrating our commitment to investing in the growth and agility of our labs and teams across campus. 

If you have any questions about the above information, please contact Serena Rao.


Persis Drell   

Kam Moler         

Vice Provost and Dean of Research 

Stacey Bent                                  

Vice Provost for Graduate Education                       

Serena Rao

Sr. Associate Dean, VPDoR