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Academic Leadership

LuAnn Etcher

Effectively manage grants

To be a successful in academic leadership, functioning at high levels within the domains of teaching, scholarship, service, and practice is essential. Achieving and maintaining high levels of function in some domains may be more challenging than others. One example from scholarship is grant management, which while essential, involves skills we may not use as frequently as other aspects of scholarship. 

The initial stages of learning how to effectively manage grants happens over time for most of us. We start off with small grants. We master the role of primary investigator (PI) in those small grants, doing most of the work ourselves, laying the groundwork for larger grants. We have senior faculty mentors from who we learn as we observe them managing their large grants on a day to day basis.

Finally, the day arrives: we open our email and there it is…the notification of our first NIH grant award! Along with the feelings of accomplishment and excitement, many early stage academic researchers in the role of PI may also have feelings of uncertainty about their ability to manage their moderate to large grant award effectively. The PI is the one who is ultimately responsible to ensure that project activities remain in compliance with the financial and administrative aspects of the award and this can be an intimidating prospect. Good grant management requires that the PI possess an understanding of the specifics of the grant award in terms of timelines, reporting requirements, what the finalized budget consists of, and any other requirements that are specific to the funding agency so that plans can be made to achieve successful project completion.    

So, what are some practical tips to good grant management? It may sound simplistic, but effective grant management actually begins pre-award with writing the grant proposal application. As the PI, you need to be sure that you can realistically carry out and complete the activities within the time frame, budget and staffing parameters you propose for the project. 

Once the grand award notification is made, it is important to begin preliminary work, so that when the monies become available you will be able to embark on your project activities.  Examples of activities you can undertake awhile waiting your award disbursement include:

  • Discussing the details: meet with your grants office to discuss your budget, post-award monitoring and reporting requirements, and any particulars you need to be aware of in ordering supplies, equipment, or staffing.
  • Staffing your team: if you need to staff your research team, find out how to go about locating and hiring the necessary personnel within your organization.
  • Securing your space: if you require a laboratory space or research office to house equipment, supplies, or data, now is the time to have those talks.
  • Allocating your time: if the grant award is buying out a portion of your time, you should decide whether you will need a workload reduction. If the answer is yes, be sure that you follow up on the talks you began about this when you submitted the grant application.  
  • Preparing for start-up: taking the time to put in place everything needed to begin project work is one of the most important things you can do to secure your success. Activities such as obtaining IRB approval, developing your coding dictionary, finalizing your study protocols, putting together your resource handbooks, delineating job responsibilities for staff, deciding how staff training will be accomplished and by whom can help you avoid wasting time, money, and energy.  

In terms of carry through while the grant is in process, it’s essential that you assure that your project is running according to the established timeline, that reports are submitted as scheduled, and that spending remains within budgetary guidelines. Once the project is completed, you will need to follow through with the process of closing the award out with the sponsor, IRB and grant office at your University.

Finally, knowing the areas where you might benefit from additional training or support is important.  You can improve your grant management skills, and there are many resources available online for those looking for information and training on effective grant management. Below are a few excellent resources for those interested in further information:

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