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Managing CR staff requires finesse, attention to details
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Sometimes the most difficult aspect of managing a clinical research organization or a research office in a university is dealing with the various investigators working together in difficult deadline scenarios.
"When you're dealing with faculty pulled in so many ways, the most difficult part is getting things done on time, or getting them done early," says Elsa G. Nadler, EdD, director of grants development at the University of Toledo in Toledo, OH. Nadler spoke about how to best manage faculty at the 2009 Society of Research Administrators (SRA) International Annual Meeting, held Oct. 17-21, 2009, in Seattle, WA.
"The other most difficult issue is getting all of the required subcontract paperwork done," Nadler adds. "All universities have some standard documents that they want back from anybody who is going to be a subcontractor on a project, and obtaining these on time sometimes can be a little difficult."
For example, if an investigator at a different institution plans to do a significant portion of the research work in his own laboratory, then that investigator has to meet all of the same regulatory requirements as the institution that is the leader in the project, she explains.
"And the investigator has to send the paperwork to us in time for us to complete the entire package," Nadler says. "The deadline might be the first of November, but I need his stuff two weeks before then."
"There are a lot of details involved, and every agency and sponsor has a different set of rules and requirements," he says. "I've gone through 70 to 80 pages of text to make sure everything is correct."
When dealing with an organization's own staff, a research director or manager typically should have a good understanding of the various personalities involved and how they work together, Nadler suggests.
"You have to know what their past history is, how they get along with each other, and who does or doesn't play nicely in the sandbox," she says.
And when conflicts arise, a manager needs to know who to go to for help.
For instance, there might be a situation where a brainstorming session is hijacked by one investigator, jeopardizing the group's ability to meet its goals. This is where a manager needs to go to his or her supervisor and request assistance in repairing any damage that's done.
"So part of the solution is knowing who you can go to for help, especially when you see something is not going as smoothly as it could," Nadler says.
"Sometimes you have to smooth ruffled feathers, and sometimes you simply have to be assertive and say, 'Look, this is what we're going to do,'" she adds. "But there's also a great deal of straightforward organization involved in doing something like this."
Organizing tasks and roles can help prevent personality issues and deadline problems. Here are some of Nadler's suggestions for how research organizations can improve the process of meeting deadlines while managing a variety of personalities:
• Create lists with dates and details: "I keep two lists; one list is made of pieces of the whole proposal and the ideal dates," Nadler says. "The other list contains details, like biosketches, current funding."
The biosketch has a two-to-four-page description of the person's professional background, as well as their current and recently completed research projects, she adds.
"Some agencies ask for information about studies that were closed within the past three years, and some ask for information about studies that were submitted, but not awarded yet," Nadler says. "The list can become extensive, depending on the sponsor."
The biosketch also might include a list of collaborators, she adds.
"I create a template and send it out to everyone so all of the biosketches look uniform and present a coherent picture," Nadler says. "These have to be done for each research grant proposal."
Nadler's proposal list includes each piece of what is needed for a research project, such as a project description, equipment description, resources, and abstract.
• Use a timeline to track deadlines: It's important to keep a research project well-organized, tracking who is responsible for what and by which deadlines, Nadler notes.
"I like to create a timeline, and I like to be sure everybody who is a partner in the project knows what they're supposed to do," she explains.
The timeline includes tasks and persons responsible and dates when the tasks should be done. When each person involved completes a task, it's checked off the list, Nadler says. "When I get a biosketch from someone, I can check them off my list."
Having a timeline that lists responsibilities and deadlines makes it easier to remind investigators of what's needed.
"If I haven't gotten something within 24 hours of when I'm supposed to receive it, then I send out a general reminder by email," she says.
• Deal quickly as problems arise: When a problem arises or a deadline is missed, Nadler quickly notifies the researcher involved.
"I send an email or pick up the phone if I have to," Nadler says. "I'm good at reminding people that I haven't gotten what I need from them."
University faculty often miss deadlines because of their full schedules, so this is an ongoing issue, she notes.
"When it gets down to the wire, I get a little nervous, and I tell them we have to move on this project," Nadler says.
University research directors often have to deal with faculty from other institutions since increasing numbers of research projects are collaborations between investigators from different institutions. This complicates things, Nadler says.
Research directors have to make certain outside researchers follow all of the university's rules and requirements, as well as the state and federal regulations, she says.
"The university I came from had a policy whereby if the proposal wasn't in the central office by a certain date, the policy said there was no guarantee it would get submitted," she adds.
"Every university I'm aware of requires faculty to have their chairs and deans sign off on a proposal," Nadler says. "The reason is because the proposal really is a legal document, and the faculty member is not the awardee, the institution is."