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Past and Future Challenges We Face

  • 1.  Past and Future Challenges We Face

    CAYUSE CHAMPION
    Posted 08-24-2021 15:56

    As we head into our new academic year, we find that the challenges and changes continue to come at an alarming rate.  Our faculty, staff, and students must remain agile and flexible to maintain their balance in the face of these challenges as our institution and society seek to keep moving forward in an ever-changing academic and research environment.

    I would ask my colleagues in this community what advice you might give related to the challenges you have faced in the previous year and the current strategic changes that you might be going through at this time?

    These might be related but not limited to:

    • Proposal development and process
    • Managing Awards from a remote location
    • Past and upcoming concerns for travel and conferences

    I look forward to your thoughts.


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    Michelle Davis, M.Ed.
    Research Administrator, Office of Research
    College of Health Sciences, Boise State University
    michelledavis3@boisestate.edu
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  • 2.  RE: Past and Future Challenges We Face

    CAYUSE CHAMPION
    Posted 08-25-2021 07:48
    Great points of discussion Michelle. Because of the large digital learning community here at Lamar we were able to navigate quickly and efficiently to a remote/distance office. At one point we had one of our pre-award specialists in Waco, TX, a college dean in Dallas, TX, and the PI in a completely different state for a proposal submission and subsequent award. Just a few months prior to the pandemic Lamar moved to a completely electronic submission process for internal and external grant submissions as well as IRB submissions. I credit our planning process during that time to the smooth transition we experienced when Covid sent us all working remotely in early 2020. Lamar has returned to face to face for the Fall semester and we have kept that plan in place in the event we find ourselves in the same position again.

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    Beverly Kemp
    eRA Research Coordinator
    Lamar University
    Beaumont 77710
    409-880-7670
    brkemp@lamar.edu
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  • 3.  RE: Past and Future Challenges We Face

    CAYUSE CHAMPION
    Posted 08-26-2021 08:26
    This is indeed an excellent topic for discussion.  For me, the biggest piece of advice would be to learn all of the ins and outs of the virtual meeting platforms that are used.  This was a big struggle for me as I had previously had staff who were tech savvy and handled such things and we didn't use them often anyway pre-pandemic.  When I changed institutions lost a staff member, I was faced with conducting virtual IRB meetings by myself and, being new to the institution, no one knew me so this was their first impression of me.  It wasn't pretty.

    Honestly, this is not limited to the virtual meeting platforms, learn all of the technology that is utilized in our environments. It took me awhile and I still am learning all of the things about Cayuse.  Carlos, in Support, was and still is almost like a lifeline.  I hope he and all of the others in Support know how appreciated they are.

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    Angela Bain, CIP, CIM
    Director, IRB Office
    Kennesaw State University
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  • 4.  RE: Past and Future Challenges We Face

    CAYUSE CHAMPION
    Posted 08-27-2021 10:52
    Maybe we have an usual situation.  (Gosh, what was my first clue???)  Officially, prior to the pandemic, OU had resisted electronic/digital almost everything.  There were few on-line classes, many internal transactions and approvals were handled solely on paper....  The Research Office/OSP was ahead of the game a little because we did have Cayuse and S2S.  But then, the whole university had to pivot - over a weekend- to electronic everything.  Everyone in the IT department was more than a little ragged around the edges, but we did it.  And it turns out, we're good at it.   Research administration and research development both proved that we can do this work well when we're working remotely.

    But there were challenges. It was harder to help people, meaning my staff, in real-time.  You know those thorny reseearch admin questions where you just go down the rabbit hole of weirdness?  It was harder to even know that someone was in that place, much less might need help getting back out.  So, some proposals went out with things that make me kind of hope they won't be funded.  (not really.... we'd work it all out on the back-end, but.... you know what I mean, I hope.)  All the grant and contracts officers act as AOR, and their proposals do not route to me for approval as part of the normal approval chain - because they're really good at their jobs.  But I think if we work remotely again, I'll change that - not because they suddenly lost skills, but more for the "fresh set of eyes" it could provide.

    Team maintenance/team building was also much harder.  I sent out a daily e-mail message every single morning - just a hello, a goofy picture of my dog, asking for suggestions for a book to read.... not work chat, more like the early-morning coffee room chat.  That helped - but only a little.  A few times a few of us button-holed the big-boss and said "we need an after-hours Zoom meeting just for conversation" and he was very accommodating.

    And in the middle of it all, we hired a new grants and contracts officer.  Honest to Pete, I couldn't figure out how to on-board a new person remotely.  We just masked up, stayed in our offices with the doors closed, and if we needed to talk we used my office which allowed for social distancing.   A new research administrator can just get absolutely stuck pretty quickly if someone's not there to walk them through next steps - so back to the office I went.

    We COULD return to fully remote - and all kinds of good thing would happen.  But .... I wouldn't like it as much.

    A

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    Andrea Buford
    Director, Office of Sponsored Programs
    Oakland University
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  • 5.  RE: Past and Future Challenges We Face

    CAYUSE CHAMPION
    Posted 08-27-2021 12:25
    One of the strategies that we have developed at UA is related to what others have mentioned, the use of virtual meeting platforms and embracing them.  One way that we have found this particularly helpful is to offer "office hours" via zoom where people feel comfortable to pop in and ask a question and move on with their day instead of feeling like they have to schedule a dedicated meeting or attend an hour long session.  This allows us to remain customer service oriented but yet have flexibility to work as needed.  The ability to share your screen and work directly on something together has been very helpful and a big time saver! We have offered "pop up" sessions that are related to certain topics instead of the traditional presentation format and we have received positive feedback on that as well.

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    Jennifer Mills
    Senior Grants and Contract Specialist/ERA Administrator
    University of Alabama - Tuscaloosa
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  • 6.  RE: Past and Future Challenges We Face

    CAYUSE CHAMPION
    Posted 08-27-2021 13:10
    Jennifer,

    How do you handle it if someone pops into office hours while you're busy with someone else?  I would love to do this, but I got stuck on this point.

    A

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    Andrea Buford
    Director, Office of Sponsored Programs
    Oakland University
    ------------------------------



  • 7.  RE: Past and Future Challenges We Face

    CAYUSE CHAMPION
    Posted 08-27-2021 14:37
    We have a waiting room available that we can hold them in until we are finished with the other PI if is something very specific to their project.  We have mostly benefitted from the topic type of pop-ups so that everyone can come and go and ask questions as they wish based on that particular topic. The topic is announced via our Research listserv with the dates of the session.  This is also a great opportunity to involve other departments within the research enterprise as well as across campus.  For instance, we had a pop up session that involved discussing our faculty tenure and promotion reporting platform Digital Measures and the information that comes from our office that imports into that report.  We had members from Sponsored Programs as well as Office for Academic Affairs available to answer questions.  It was a great opportunity for the PI's to get information from several offices at one time and they didn't have to commit to an hour presentation.

    ------------------------------
    Jennifer Mills
    Senior Grants and Contract Specialist/ERA Administrator
    University of Alabama - Tuscaloosa
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  • 8.  RE: Past and Future Challenges We Face

    CAYUSE CHAMPION
    Posted 08-28-2021 07:23
    Shamelessly stealing these ideas!  Many thanks.

    A






  • 9.  RE: Past and Future Challenges We Face

    CAYUSE CHAMPION
    Posted 08-30-2021 06:37
    I had set this sort of virtual thing at my former institution.  I never had anyone show up but I did open the meeting in Zoom and just left hung out there while doing some other little odds and ends for an hour.  I'm not sure if the advertising of my virtual open house was adequate so my problem may have been that the students or faculty that may  have needed it did not know that it was there.  I am planning the same thing here at my new institution to give our investigators an alternative to face to face interaction with our office.  How did you get the word out that you were offering these office hours?

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    Angela Bain, CIP, CIM
    Director, IRB Office
    Kennesaw State University
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  • 10.  RE: Past and Future Challenges We Face

    CAYUSE CHAMPION
    Posted 08-30-2021 06:45
    I did not see your previous reply before I posted my question about advertising your office hours.  But will say that I had used our research announcements to advertise mine as well our website where I listed the dates and times along with a zoom link which never changed from date to date in hopes that would make it more accessible and less likely to screw up.  Still, no one came. I am absolutely delightful so I figured everyone would be flocking to each open session.

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    Angela Bain, CIP, CIM
    Director, IRB Office
    Kennesaw State University
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  • 11.  RE: Past and Future Challenges We Face

    CAYUSE CHAMPION
    Posted 08-27-2021 14:52
    Great question, Michelle!

    I'm on the pre-award side, so I can't speak too well on the award management part.

    We did okay with proposal development and processing.  Not necessarily great, but not too bad, either.  This was especially good since our office admin of over 20 years retired about 6 weeks into remote working.    It was planned, we knew well in advance, but we would have done things a lot differently if we'd known we wouldn't be in the office during her last weeks.  That woman was a saint and knew everything!

    We didn't miss any deadlines, and most of the proposals were in fairly decent shape.  The biggest challenge was files... since we were still pretty paper-based.  We had many things available electronically, but not the official files.  We still have an occasional "oops, that didn't get filed properly from remote work time" moment.  But we now have electronic files as well, so I think it would be somewhat easier if it happened again. We're still determining our official University policy on electronic files, so we are maintaining paper as well, but I think it is actually helping my staff with the transition.  That, of course, depends on the individuals and the level of expertise, among other things.  I am hoping next year will be only electronic files.

    I did get approval to go into the office a couple of days a week for a few hours last year before we officially returned to campus, and that helped some.  We worked short-handed for months, but hired a new staff member a few months after we returned to the office last fall.  Training was challenging with social distancing and masks, but at least we were actually there together.

    We just got approval to start travel again this summer, but with budget cuts, I don't know how that will play out this year.  While I am thrilled that we can attend conferences remotely, I did find that I got interrupted and missed sessions and was usually too busy to go back and watch the recorded versions.  Of course, we were down a person when I tried that, so maybe that will improve in the future!

    ------------------------------
    Pamela Vargas
    Director, Research & Grant Development
    Southeast Missouri State University
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  • 12.  RE: Past and Future Challenges We Face

    CAYUSE CHAMPION
    Posted 08-30-2021 09:32
    I'm loving the stories and ideas!  I'll add one more, sort of related to the "office hours" thread:

    At the very beginning of the pandemic, the institution as a whole embraced Slack and strongly suggested that everyone sign on to the institutional account, as that's where immediate updates would occur.  There are different "channels" for general information and Covid-19 references, but also social justice, pets, and cooks, among others!  Our department started a private one just for internal communications amongst our team of 11, one for grants funding that is public, and another private one for communications between grants administration and research accounting (we have a separate financial post-award office).

    Some of the nice features of Slack are that it alerts you (how and when, you decide) if there is a message, and you are able to direct message ("Slack-chat") and make phone calls to other Slack users.  The phone calls may be audio only, or include video, and may even incorporate screen sharing if necessary.  We let our PIs know that if they needed time with us, either Slack-chat or email us and we could usually accommodate them within minutes, or set up a mutually agreeable time.  This also saved many of us from "having" to give our personal cell phone numbers to PIs (I have a very strict rule about that for myself).  It's also easier/quicker to use Slack than set up a zoom for just two or three (or more, if necessary) people.

    We were briefly back in the office long enough to resume our digitization of files and see a few people in person, but are back out again because of a renewed indoor mask mandate, so nothing's changed, much...

    Stay safe, everyone.

    Best,
    -Lisa

    ------------------------------
    Lisa Churchill
    Grants Administration Manager/Signing Official
    The Salk Institute for Biological Studies
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  • 13.  RE: Past and Future Challenges We Face

    CAYUSE CHAMPION
    Posted 08-30-2021 12:37

    Good points from everyone and such a great discussion topic. We are returning to a hybrid model this Fall and one of the first observations I made when the team returned to the office, was that there is another onboarding phase when the new staff member transition into the in-person office environment.

    We have not yet made decisions for staff professional development that may involve travel. But I did notice that the increased number of affordable online training and conference opportunities changes the approach to attendance. When events are online more of our staff has signed up for conferences, which is great, but we have to consider coverage and also allowing the staff member to attend. We are trying to set some guidelines/create a culture for who/when one can attend and what the expectations are when attending. It is so much easier to be distracted when attending online continue to work and respond to emails.  



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    Vibeke Svensson
    Director, Office of Sponsored Programs
    American University
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  • 14.  RE: Past and Future Challenges We Face

    CAYUSE CHAMPION
    Posted 09-01-2021 08:36
    Here at UC Irvine, we've transitioned to electronic 'everything' pretty seamlessly. Prior to the pandemic, we were already in the process of going paperless in as many areas within our purview as we could. In terms of our workforce, upper management had already began piloting alternative work schedules & setups - for example, working from home, or 9/80 or 4/40 schedules. Once the pandemic hit, we were actually pretty prepared for the change. We actually ended up terminating the lease to our office space, and everyone was approved to work remotely. It has been a success and there really haven't been any 'hiccups.'

    My advice would be to be flexible, provide opportunities for internal training for those users that aren't comfortable utilizing all the online resources to help get work done.

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    Jonathan Lew
    ERA Officer
    University of California, Irvine
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