The article below looks at the role of scientists in the acquiring and
awarding of research grants. The examples are from the life sciences,
however, much of what is described applies in good measure to the physical
and social sciences, and engineering. It is taken from The Scientist - The
News Journal of the Life Scientist,
[http://www.the-scientist.com/homepage.htm], 14:28, Nov. 13, 2000?
Copyright 2000, The Scientist, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with
UP NEXT: Silence and Structure in the Classroom
--------------- 1,514 words ----------------
RESEARCHERS IN ADMINISTRATION
There's much more to it than the proverbial paper pushing
By Karen Young Kreeger
Much of the administration of the scientific endeavor can be neatly placed
into two groups: those who work at acquiring the money, and those who work
at bestowing the money. Mostly at universities and colleges, the acquirers
direct offices of sponsored research, large research departments, or can be
vice presidents of research or graduate schools. The bestowers are primarily
program officers at such government agencies as the National Institutes of
Health and the National Science Foundation and private and corporate
The group bestowing money includes Lisa Brooks, a program officer in the
division of extramural research at the National Human Genome Research
Institute, who jokes that on a day-to-day basis, "I'm on the phone a lot and
I organize meetings." Seriously, her responsibilities, along with the
hundreds of other grant administrators across NIH, include handling grant
applications from the time they come through the door to when they're
awarded. Brooks is in charge of two programs--genetic variation and genome
The best aspect of her job, says Brooks, is trying to figure out where the
science of her programs needs to go. For example, the genetic variation
program deals with SNPs--single nucleotide polymorphisms. By interacting
with principal investigators (PIs) at professional meetings, they determined
a common set of research samples was needed for SNP-related projects. From
this, a targeted Request for Application (RFA) of grants could be prepared
to meet this research need.
Brooks, who was in the ecology and evolutionary biology department at Brown
University for seven years, was on review panels for NSF. They eventually
asked her to take on a program officer stint. She stayed for two and half
years. Then three and a half years ago, she moved to her current position
because it was a good fit between her experience and growing interest in
human gene mapping and NIH's
Administrators say there's no one way to systematically find a job in this
area, although some positions are advertised on the Web sites of
foundations, professional societies, and government agencies. Many note that
the experiences and skills needed are a broad educational experience,
curiosity, and the ability to follow up. Most positions, especially program
officers at foundations and agencies require a Ph.D. both for credibility
and to be able to make informed judgments about the direction of research.
Others say that on both sides of the administration of the scientific
endeavor, it helps to have already landed a grant. And most important, agree
administrators, is having good people skills and to be a good listener.
GIVING THE MONEY
According to Carl Dieffenbach, associate director of the basic science
program in the Division of AIDS at the National Institute of Allergy and
Infectious Diseases, there are two main categories of administrators at NIH.
Some, who review and write summaries of grant proposals, work in the Center
for Scientific Review (which used to be called the Division of Research
Grants). Another group consists of program administrators, officially called
health science administrators (HSAs), like Brooks, who shepherd grants
through the NIH grant cycles. When a grant arrives at NIH's doorstep, it's
assigned to the appropriate administrator and to an outside review group.
These are separate processes. After internal review, the appropriate
institute takes charge of the process. After external review, HSAs work
directly with PIs to answer their questions and interpret suggestions given
by the review panel.
Dieffenbach supervises HSAs in three branches: epidemiology, pathogenesis,
and targeted interventions. In all, there are 52 HSAs in the AIDS division
of NIAID, which does not include medical officers who oversee the safety
aspects of clinical trials. The overall role of medical officers, says James
McNamara, chief of the pediatric medicine branch for NIAID's Division of
AIDS, is to be a "dispassionate liaison" between industry, the PIs, NIH, and
the Food and Drug Administration to help move clinical trials safely
One of Dieffenbach's main responsibilities is to stimulate research in his
areas of responsibility. For example, in the area of AIDS pathogenesis in
humans, he helps to identify opportunities for research on reservoirs for
the AIDS virus. Big questions here are: Where is HIV hiding? What cofactors
affect the levels of HIV in a reservoir? In a nutshell, he writes RFAs of
proposals, to state to researchers that his program has a strong interest in
a particular area. Again, these needs are identified by reading widely and
keeping close contact with PIs.
Irene Eckstrand, a health science administrator for the National Institute
of General Medical Sciences, says what she loves best about her job is that
she gets to "work with the smartest researchers in the country," and what
she likes least is reading progress reports that aren't well written. In
early 2001 she will have been at NIH as an HSA for 20 years. Eckstrand has a
Ph.D. in evolutionary biology and genetics, but after her two-year postdoc,
she and her husband, who is also a scientist, had to contend with the
"two-body" problem of working couples. They both began to look for
administrative jobs so they could live in the same state. Her husband,
Stephen Eckstrand, is a program officer at the Department of Energy.
Grants administration is similar in the private sector. Victoria McGovern, a
program officer at the Burroughs Wellcome Fund in Durham, N.C., says she
also feels as if she's making a difference in the direction of the science
she covers. She oversees grants in infectious diseases, toxicology, and
pharmacology. McGovern says that the "most fun" part of her job is calling
new awardees and giving them the good news about winning a grant.
Administratively her duties include handling the yearly cycle of the grants
process, moderating committees of reviewers, and dealing with the board of
directors so grants reflect the fund's mission. She also answers
grant-writers' questions and stays current in her fields of responsibility
by reading widely and going to meetings.
RECEIVING THE MONEY
Research administration at universities covers a lot of ground, from
accountants to zoologists. Lynne Chronister, director of the office of
sponsored projects at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and immediate
past president of the Society of Research Administrators (SRA), notes that,
according to a five-year-old SRA survey, about 20-25 percent of its members
are science Ph.D.s. They work in government, universities, and private
foundations, with titles such as grant administrator, compliance officer,
vice president of research, and director of sponsored research.
Victoria Molfese, the current SRA president and former director of the
office of sponsored research at the Southern Illinois University in
Carbondale, says that a minority of directors of sponsored research offices
have Ph.D.s, some have M.B.A.s, and others have B.S. degrees, but directors
at larger universities tend to have terminal degrees.
For this end of research administration, says Molfese, who is now the
director of the Early Childhood Research Center at the University of
Louisville in Kentucky, "It's difficult if you haven't been a grant-getter
yourself." She adds that "You need a good idea of what goes on in the
primary funding agencies, as well as an understanding of intellectual
Many Ph.D.s, says Chronister, have come to administrative positions via
graduate education offices: "Many get tired of teaching and research and are
attracted to the security and better salaries." Generally vice presidents or
deans of research handle policy as it relates to research--for example
issues in the misconduct of science--while offices of sponsored research
handle the implementation of grant policy.
Kenneth Hunter, vice president for research at the University of Nevada,
Reno, and dean of its graduate school, has been in these positions for the
past 11 years, but he will be going back to his microbiology research
full-time when the new dean comes on late this year. In his capacity as vice
president, he has two broad responsibilities, which are common with others
in his position: the promotion of research on his campus and the
coordination of the administration activities for research. The latter
responsibility covers the offices of Sponsored Projects, Grants and
Contracts, Human Subjects Research, Technology Liaison, and Environmental
Health and Safety. To raise the visibility of research at UN-Reno, Hunter
works with legislators and business leaders to advance the
value and importance of research and spends time in Washington, D.C.
interacting with congressional delegates from his state as well as funding
agencies staff, among other responsibilities.
After 11 years, he feels as if he has done what he's set out to do and now
has some burning research questions that need his full-time attention.
Hunter mentions that most science colleagues at his level of research
administration tend to go back to the faculty more readily than other senior
administrators because they keep active in the lab. "You can't get a
vice-president-level position if you don't have some research credentials,
and most still keep their hand inthe research," he explains.
No matter where you find yourself in the business of the scientific process,
Molfese notes that administrators of science at large are facilitators above
all else. "We don't want to get in the way of>research," she emphasizes.
Department of Energy
Federal Jobs Digest
National Institutes of Health
National Science Foundation
Society of Research Administrators
National Council of University Administrators
National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges
Karen Young Kreeger (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a contributing editor for The