Grants managers: Don’t take them for granted
By Stephen Doster
Welcome to our first support staff shoutout! The Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Basic Sciences is a premier research institution, and the research and daily functioning of the school could not happen without the work of dedicated support staff. Each issue, we’ll be introducing you to a different group of staff members who help enable our research and keep everything running smoothly behind the scenes. Images courtesy of the featured grant managers.
Research grants don’t just exist in a vacuum: grants managers assist faculty, staff, postdocs, and students with managing the often-complicated life cycle of sponsored research grants and contracts. They help researchers find funding opportunities and navigate the application process, and ensure that Vanderbilt remains compliant with funding agencies’ requirements. So, who are the people behind the grants management curtain?
Beth Rivas also derives satisfaction from submitting grants and seeing them get awarded. “It makes me feel like I am a small but essential piece of the huge overall research process,” she said. Rivas appreciates that Basic Sciences faculty are patient and understanding as they try to work through any new guideline and process changes that come up. The pre-award team she manages has submitted more than 1,900 grants, contracts, and subcontracts in the past five years. In addition to her evident dedication to her work, Rivas is a world traveler who has visited 30 countries. Her favorite destinations include Buenos Aires, Argentina; Istanbul, Turkey; Madrid, Spain; Athens, Greece; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Budapest, Hungary; and Venice and the Amalfi Coast, Italy.
The lifelong Nashvillian is the fourth male in his family to be named Robert E. Dortch, but he’s the first whose hair color matches his initials. He enjoys training new faculty, postdocs or students on the grants submission and management processes and concepts. And he’s seen technology advance over the years. “When I first arrived at Vanderbilt, most, if not all, applications were done on paper and often involved last-minute trips to a FedEx location to meet deadlines. Now, basically every application is submitted via websites. We quite literally no longer need a copier as a tool for a grant application!”
Susan Hotaling came to Nashville via Louisville, Kentucky, and has worked at Vanderbilt for 22 years. “It’s very satisfying when the applications that you work so hard on are funded,” Hotaling said. “But it can be frustrating when you learn about a grant application and have very little time to prepare it.” Thankfully, it doesn’t happen too often, and, so far, everything has always worked out. When she’s not working, Hotaling spends her downtime at the Williamson County Animal Shelter walking and working with dogs. She also helps a dog and cat transport organization, picking up animals from rural shelters and transporting them to northern and eastern parts of the country.
“We are fortunate to have a dedicated, super-talented group of grants managers who facilitate every step of the submission process right up to funding. They routinely go above and beyond the call to make sure grants are submitted on time and that they adhere to all agencies’ requirements. We literally couldn’t function without them. I am really proud of all of them.” — Larry Marnett, Dean of the School of Medicine Basic Sciences
Alicia Davis was born in Nashville but has lived in Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, and Germany. Davis finds it very gratifying to help faculty get funding. Filing paperwork with outside institutions can make the job challenging, especially when deadlines are tight, but living in Music City provides outlets for venting those frustrations. “I like going to Musician’s Corner in Centennial Park and to Live on the Green,” she said. “I don’t usually know who the bands are, but there’s nothing like a free outdoor concert.”
Daniel Quimby, a transplant from Long Island, New York, has been at Vanderbilt for five years. The “dreaded” deadline days are the downside to his work. Once, he said, he submitted a grant at “literally 5:00 p.m.” on the deadline day. “That was wild and incredibly stressful.” It’s all worth it for Quimby, thanks to the relationships he develops with faculty and his coworkers. Additionally, he has some canine companions to help him de-stress. Like Hotaling, dogs play a significant role in Quimby’s life, but in his case, it’s through the dog boarding business he runs with his wife.
Stephanie Clapper came to Nashville seven years ago by way
of San Antonio, Texas, transitioning from evaluating clinical trial participants for drug side effects to grants management. “It’s the best feeling when someone receives their first grant, or a grant they have been really working to get funded,” Clapper said. Clapper enjoys spending time at home with Mac, her 12-year-old, 27-pound cat.
For Tracya Humphreys, knowing that she is instrumental in the beginning processes that lead to a faculty member receiving funding for a grant makes her job worthwhile. Humphreys, who moved from Memphis five years ago, loves live music—and it’s all about the bass. “I’ve always wanted to play the bass guitar,” she said. “When I listen to music, I tend to focus more on the bass sound if I can hear it.”