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Program to support research professionals

BY: LESLIE HAST

10/30/2009 - A new program designed to support research professionals with the knowledge, skills and experiences crucial to job performance is getting under way.

Administered by the Office of Grants & Contract Management (GCM), the Vanderbilt Research Administrator Certification Program (VRACP) offers consistent training to all research administrators at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“The people who are hired as administrative staff and grant managers are often on their own in the departments,” said Libby Salberg, J.D., GCM director. “Their training is haphazard, and then the work we see coming into the GCM is uneven — some is great, but some has to be passed back and forth several times before it is compliant.”

“This training is a win-win situation because the research administrators are gaining knowledge and then whatever they produce is in better shape when GCM gets it prior to submission,” Salberg said.

When it is fully launched, the VRACP will offer training on three levels.

The first level, called Research Core Competencies, is currently undergoing a pilot phase. It will cover the basic knowledge a research administrator should have about the research enterprise, the mechanisms for supporting research at VUMC, and how to correctly administer various forms of research support.

The first level is a broad overview. Higher levels will focus more in depth on specific job duties.

The second level is called the STAR Academy, which stands for Specialized Training for Administrators of Research. The third level focuses on advanced institutional policy topics and will include 24 online learning modules.

The pilot cohort, which began training this month, is made up of 20 research administrators from the Departments of Medicine and Finance.

Participants in the program attend daylong classes two days per month for three consecutive months and complete out-of-class activities. They are assigned a mentor to answer questions, and they must pass a final exam.

Classes include presentations, small group discussions, case studies and other activities. Each day ends with an experiential activity, such as a tour of a lab or clinic, so that the administrators can “see what their efforts lead to, not just the pushing of paper,” Salberg said.

In developing the curriculum, Sam Gannon, education and training manager for GCM, studied similar programs at other institutions, held focus groups with research administrators, explored deficits in the existing body of knowledge and used instructional design practices.

“I knew from the research, the focus groups and my own experiences that the program had to be engaging, experiential, learner-directed, job-relevant and assessment driven,” he said. “I think we've achieved all our goals with the VRACP.”

A second level-one pilot is scheduled to begin in January. Salberg expects to test level-two training in summer 2010, with the third level following in 2011.

For more information on the program, visit www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/gcm.

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