Research Grant Implementation (continued)
Staff Development as a Tool to Accomplish Research Activities
Public and professional interest in a grant may create a high demand for presentations that the PI and coinvestigators find difficult to fulfill. Key staff members can help by meeting requests for speeches from local agencies, which allows more time for the investigators to prepare for refereed presentations. Some staff members also may have the background and experience to collaborate on presentations at professional meetings. The PI should guide the staff in preparing the presentations and provide resources to help them present effectively. Selby, Tornquist and Finerty (1989a, l989b) provide helpful guidance for organizing and presenting a research speech. The staff members should be given opportunities to practice, perhaps at staff meetings, until the PI is comfortable with their ability to represent the project favorably and to address questions that could arise from the audience.
Most presentations will require visual aids such as slides, handouts, or posters. These materials should help establish the identity of the project and convey critical information in a manner appropriate for the audience being addressed. Because poorly designed visual materials detract from a presentation and reflect unfavorably on the project, the PI should become familiar with the processes for preparing visual aids and should educate the staff regarding these processes (Selby et al., 1989b) and provide a useful overview for this purpose. With supervision and experience, staff members can accomplish the following: learn to format slides, posters, and other visual materials; communicate needs to media specialists; and proof final materials. As staff acquire proficiency, the PI will appreciate being able to delegate more of these detailed tasks.
Research also must be disseminated through peer-reviewed publications. To facilitate publication, staff participation in authorship should be considered. Coauthorship has the added benefit of helping staff feel a sense of partnership and pride in the grant (Selby, Donat, Hubbard, 1992). The PI can outline a manuscript, explain the purposes to be achieved and the concepts to be communicated, and then allow staff members to write initial drafts of portions of the manuscript. Resources to writers (e.g., books by Tornquist, 1986 and the American Psychological Association, 1983) should be made available to the staff. Guidance, feedback, and rewriting by the PI will be needed as the manuscript progresses. Involvement in authorship helps employees acquire skills in conceptualizing reports, planning and organizing material, writing clearly and concisely, editing written work, identifying potential outlets for publication, composing query letters, and following manuscript submission guidelines. The benefits of authorship extend beyond a specific manuscript. Employees who have learned to write for publication are valuable assets when scientific reports and continuation applications are due, and they are excellent personnel resources for future grants.
Over the course of a research grant, experiences and findings will point to the need for additional studies. Staff members, especially students with thesis or dissertation requirements to fulfill, can be encouraged to propose supplemental studies; some studies might be designed as pilot tests for future research planned by the PI. If a small study will help explain the findings of the existing grant and will fit within the objectives of the grant, it may be feasible to perform the proposed study with current resources. If a study exceeds the aims of the grant, the PI might help staff members or students to prepare applications for supplemental funding for the current grant or, on their own time, to apply for additional grants.
As staff members enhance their skills and become more valuable to the project, a promotion or other change in job description should be considered. Support for advancement helps the staff see the value placed on their work and provides strong motivation for them to invest in their jobs. If an employee clearly excels in the job but the grant budget or the institution cannot support salary increases, the financial constraints should be made clear to the employee. In this case, staff satisfaction and loyalty may be enhanced if the PI expresses appreciation for a job well done and continues to provide a creative, stimulating work environment that supports the employee's professional growth (Weiss, 1989). An employee also may appreciate a change in title or job description even if the change does not involve a salary increase; such change formally acknowledges the employee's accomplishments.
If a promotion or a revision in job description is warranted, it is important for the PI, the supervisory staff, and the employee to understand that the institutional processes required may take considerable time and effort. The requested documentation may be extensive and must justify clearly that the position requires different skills and responsibilities from those specified in the current job description. The involved employee should assist in writing the new job description. Collaboration in this process clarifies the employee's new skills and responsibilities for the PI, the supervisory staff, and the employee, as well as for the institution. The experience of writing the job description also helps the employee develop skills that are useful for preparing personnel sections for continuation or other grant applications. Ultimately, staff development and promotion will help prepare the employee for a more advanced position in a future project.
To accomplish the aims of a research grant, a PI must rely on project staff to complete many research activities. Thus, the scientific integrity of the grant is influenced by the ability of the staff to perform these activities in the manner proposed in the research plan. Effort invested wisely in hiring, training, and developing staff capabilities will help ensure timely and scientifically sound completion of the grant and will establish a mechanism to help meet personnel needs for further grants.
Mim Kelly, Ph.D., Health Science Administrator, Center for Medical Effectiveness Research, AHCPR, and Ralph Sloat, Chief, Grants Management Branch, AHCPR provided editorial review for this manuscript and added valuable insights into staff development from the funding agency perspective. The authors gratefully acknowledge their contributions.
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Maija L. Selby-Harrington, Dr.P.H., R.N., is associate professor and director of research, School of Nursing, University of North Carolina at Greensboro Greensboro, NC.
Patricia L. Donat, M.A., is social research associate, School of Nursing, University of North Carolina at Greensboro Greensboro, NC.
Heddy D. Hubbard, M.P.H., R.N., is a health science administrator, Center for Medical Effectiveness Research, Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, U.S. Public Health Service, Rockville, MD.