Research awards a culmination of collaboration

Research funding awards are the end result of an incredible amount of preparation, primarily by the lead researcher for the funded project. What cannot be forgotten is the behind-the-scenes legwork the Office of Research and Innovation Services (ORIS) does in support of these programs.

From advertising funding opportunities to helping with eligibility requirements, reviewing drafts and submissions, coordinating fund payments with financial services and filling out forms, forms and even more forms, ORIS plays an integral role in the process.

"We try to make it as seamless as possible for our researchers," says Penny D'Agnone, a Grant Officer for ORIS. "They don't need to know about the hoops and hurdles that can sometimes pop up behind the scenes."

D'Agnone is one of three grant officers. She works with Jane Allan and Chris Picken to co-ordinate pre- and post-award processes for the various funding agencies that help support research initiatives at the U of L. Her portfolio includes medical and health sciences agencies such as the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR). Allan is entrusted with the social sciences and humanities agencies such as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), while Picken looks after the natural sciences and engineering agencies such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

D'Agnone, Allan and Picken will either alert researchers to funds they think might be applicable to their studies or assist in the process already initiated by faculty. They'll help with eligibility requirements, read through draft applications and ensure all deadlines are reached.

"We're not experts but we do provide a non-expert opinion on readability, making sure the applications have all the components the agencies are asking for, such as budget constraints and all the letters of support," says D'Agnone. "Having worked on a number of applications, both successful and unsuccessful, our team has garnered some insight into the process that we are able to share with faculty."

In addition, the ORIS has many strong connections to the funding agencies and colleagues across Canada providing a network of support for faculty members.

D'Agnone also participates in a CIHR peer review program each year, giving her the opportunity to see multiple applications – valuable experience she can take back to faculty.

This experience is essential when dealing with the application process, which can sometimes be a long and complicated path not always leading to success. When peer reviewers deny applications, it can be discouraging but D'Agnone, Allan and Picken play a key role in keeping the motivation for applying and reapplying alive.

"For a lot of the motivation, you have to give credit to the researchers," says D'Agnone. "I know that a peer review is not personal but I don't know how you wouldn't take it personally. You're putting your life into it, it's what you do, and it's your passion. Then when you have a group of people come back and say it isn't good enough, that can be difficult to hear."

Often it's a lack of money that's the issue, not the application itself. The money simply runs out and only so many programs can be supported. In these instances, bridge funding can be awarded to keep initiatives alive. One such application was a proposal for funding put forth by
Dr. H.J. Wieden. Initiated in 2005, Wieden reapplied to CIHR on multiple occasions and received three bridge grants before finally being awarded a $515,416 grant over 5 years.

"I give him all the credit for believing in this project and staying with it," says D'Agnone. "It really is a lesson in perseverance."

D'Agnone is confident in the University's research excellence as it continues to evolve as a comprehensive institution and says the entire office is eager to support funding possibilities they know are on the horizon.

"We're still relatively young in some of these research areas," she says. "Health Sciences is a new faculty and I can see their research environment is expanding. People are starting to apply for planning grants to take the next step forward and they are seeing success so it is exciting to be a part of that growth."

This story first appeared in the September issue of the Legend. For a look at the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.