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What is a research core? A primer on a critical component of the research enterprise

Research economic aspects Research libraries Research institutes Universities United States of America

Notwithstanding the disruptions caused by the pandemic, the global academic research enterprise continues to grow. In the US, pandemic-related funding provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has already provided a boost for academic medical research, while the funding provided for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other agencies through general pandemic relief bills is expected to have a similar effect for research activities in other science, technology, and engineering fields that were stalled in 2020. Ongoing trends to improve research support for academic science therefore are taking on renewed significance and the importance of research support services is gaining more traction.

Against this background, research cores—shared research enablement facilities that are used on a cross-department if not institutional basis—merit special attention. As clusters of state-of-the-art instruments and research enablement services, research cores are not only the cornerstone of research activities at university campuses but also critical assets that provide competitive differentiation for their host institutions. However, these research cores are highly expensive for academic institutions to manage. Despite the growing recognition and impact of these research cores, there are few studies that describe the business models for sustaining and funding research cores or their increasing significance to the larger academic community. In this paper, the authors offer a landscape overview of research cores at large public and private institutions in the US, with the objective to reflect on the best practices and ongoing challenges for these universities to operate them efficiently.

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