Research Administration Is. . .Departments

Today’s post is the third in a series that looks at all facets of research administration within the Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

Part IPreface

Part IIFaculty



Name:                  Scott Hubbard

Department:         Mental Health

What is your position/title:          Research Associate/Assistant Administrator


What is your step-by-step process when you are contacted by a PI that wants to work on a contract or apply for a grant?

The first thing we ask for is the program announcement or RFA. The Key Dates section lists the date the application is due, and also gives us information on when it can be funded, which is important for planning our budget.  This document also helps us determine what pieces are required for the application, such as appropriate forms and assurances. Knowing this in advance allows us to make sure we have answers well before the deadline; we don’t want any surprises the day before the grant is due to ORA.

We see our job as taking a great deal of stress off of the PI and allowing the PI to devote his or her energy to the research plan. The things we try to do early are to finalize the budget, confirm the investigators on the grant and identify any subcontractors.  This information allows us to pull salaries, get a draft budget together and work with other universities to get the required information, not only for the funding agency but for JHU as well. Planning this part in advance is a key to having a successful application. As information comes in, our department creates a hierarchy on our shared drive for keeping applications together, which includes Research Plan, Budget, Biographical Sketches, Letters of Support, Subcontract and Other Documents.

During these initial stages, we typically schedule a meeting to go over key personnel, budget and subcontracts.  We also like to get the title of the application so we can initiate the internal compliance forms required by JHU.  From there, we are in constant email contact with the PI. We try to use email so that we have documented records for each application, in case we have any compliance questions down the road.

Our staff has taken a customer service perspective on submitting grants and working with faculty and ORA to make the process as easy as possible considering the time constraints.  For example, the staff works with each PI on a timeline, allowing a weekend, if possible, before submitting to ORA. This extra time allows the PI to be able to have a concentrated amount of time and leads to successful submissions.

When, within this process, do you generally work with ORA?

For high volume deadlines, we email our ORA representative a list of upcoming applications three to four weeks in advance so that ORA can plan for the amount of applications coming in for a deadline. If we get requests after that, we contact ORA to let them know. Most of the work with ORA revolves around new funding sources, such as foundations that have different requirements than NIH.  We work with ORA during the pre-award phase, making sure that what we submit through COEUS is as complete as possible.  Through email, we maintain a dialog with ORA until the grant is submitted successfully.

What are some of the most important things to be conscience of during the pre- and post- award process?

For pre-award, we really need to know who is on the grant and what their role is on the application. This allows the staff to get subcontracts moving and to draft a budget. Also, getting a title for the application allows things to progress while the PI works on the research plan. Once those are started, a PI has the time needed to work on the meat of the application.

For post-award, having human subjects applications submitted would be top of the list. Getting a grant set up requires this approval. Depending on the funding level of the grant, meetings to determine how to handle budget cuts or changes in key personnel are all things that are completed once we know a grant is getting funded. Managing grants post award has many levels including tracking, audit concerns and reporting. We meet quarterly with each PI, and during each meeting a review of each account balance and personnel is completed.

What advice can you give to other Departments and PIs in order to make this process easier?

My position was added at fifty percent effort to assist the faculty with the nuts and bolts of grant submissions. A practice seminar every third Thursday of the month was used to disseminate this information to faculty, postdoctoral fellows and research staff. By making a research based position available to the administrative staff, the department has put itself in the position of not only being able to advise on NIH guidelines and procedures, but has also added a dimension of assistance for the actual grant process, such as resources, budget justifications and submission strategy.

Adding a Research Associate level gives the department a position who understands both sides of the process, which assists with communication and strategy. There are people doing this type of work for other PIs in our School, but it is usually someone who works directly with a specific PI. I’ve found that the senior faculty typically are the ones who have the additional research positions working with them on their existing grants. Centralizing this position provides assistance to junior level investigators as well as senior level investigators, which in turn leads to better grant submissions.

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