Mary Caspillo-Brewer is Research Co-ordinator at the UCL Institute for Global Health and responded to Piirus’ recent survey. Mary started her career in the academia as a technical researcher in the field of fisheries and food engineering. These days, Mary is a member of ARMA, is enrolled on the Certificate in Research Administration programme and has a Research Co-ordinator blog. We asked her some questions about her role, and research collaboration.
What does your role as Research Co-ordinator involve?
I’m responsible for the finance and administration of research grants (large collaborative grants, contracts, fellowships, small grants, PhD studentships) at IGH. These are worth over £20M and funded by the Wellcome Trust, Big Lottery Fund, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Department for International Development, the European Commission and the UK Research Councils, amongst other sources. I also assist the Institute Director in planning the expansion of research activities, so I scope for funding opportunities in global health and consider human resource requirements especially focusing on soft funded research staff. I am involved in assessing the financial commitments and requirements of research projects. Another important aspect of my role is working closely with local in-country partners in the financial management of grants.
What are “soft funded research staff”?
Soft funded research staff are grant-funded (as opposed to permanent HEFCE funded staff). As a Research Coordinator, I work closely with line managers and PIs to ensure that grant funded staff (both researchers and admin staff) posts are funded for as long as possible. Most of our projects are not able to fund a full time post so there is quite a substantial work involved in ensuring that staff costs are properly costed into grants.
What’s your favourite part of your role?
The variety of roles that I get to do. A snapshot of my day: I start my work day by checking emails and responding to straightforward queries; then I check the fund balances of grants; approve purchase orders and expense claims; book travel for a researcher travelling to India; review and approve a quarterly invoice from a Malawian project partner; start drafting the script for a video on Intercultural Communications that I am presenting to a group of research administrators I met at a previous meeting in Ljubljana, in March; I raise a project costing for application for our work in China to be submitted to MRC in two weeks; book a venue for the Research Support Forum at UCL. At the end of the day, if I still have time, I search for relevant readings and papers for the Certificate in Research Administration course that I am doing.
How important are building relationships to your role? Do you find this is becoming increasingly important in the research funding landscape?
Building relationships are extremely important in my role as the departmental Research Coordinator. In a global department such as Institute for Global Health, I work with academics and researchers who are not just based in the UK but also based in our different research sites overseas. I work closely with colleagues across all stages of proposal development. The level of support that I provide depends on the level of experience of the PI, the scale of their project and the type of grant they are applying to. Issues such as the kind of support that academics would like and the kind of support that I can provide in preparing and processing proposals applications should be clarified at the outset. I also need to build good relationships with our project collaborators based in developing countries overseas. I need to ensure that financial reports submitted to me are correct and timely and to ensure that invoices and fund transfers are done promptly from our end.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?
I do like to variety of roles that I get to do but sometimes a 36.5 working week is not enough to fit all the activities in.
When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?
I sweat all my frustrations and stresses away by practicing bikram yoga at least 3 times a week! I also enjoy making jewellery, and my husband and I cycled from London to Brighton in support of the British Heart Foundation on three different occasions. Also, I have recently completed a scuba diving certificate so I am hoping to explore more of the underwater world.
Thanks Mary, it’s been good to hear about your role!
Mary Caspillo-Brewer is the second ARMA member to feature on the Piirus blog. Did you also read our interview with Alex Challis?