Lynn Brown, Research Administration Manager
Lynn has been with DPAG since June 2015, joining us from the Nuffield Department of Population Health (NDPH), and heads up the Research Administration team. She is responsible for overseeing the department’s entire research portfolio, managing the pre and post research awards process to facilitate the full cycle from research application to the fruition of a new research project. Interview on Thursday 24 October 2019.
How did you start your career in research administration?
I moved to Oxford 12 years ago and got my first job at the University in Research Services, which was research administration at an entry level grade. Over the next four years I moved up within the Medical Sciences team before a short stint in the European Commission Team. In 2012, I made the jump into a department and I haven’t looked back. First, I worked in the Nuffield Department of Medicine (NDM), and then I moved on to join the Nuffield Department of Population Health (NDPH).
What brought you to join DPAG?
Tania basically! I really enjoyed working in NDPH and wasn’t looking to move on, but then I saw the job advertised at DPAG and thought it would be good to work for Tania. I knew of Tania from when she worked in the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences, as she has a great reputation as a manager who supports training and developing her staff. I was really excited at the idea of taking everything I’d learned over my many years at the University and coming here.
What were your first impressions of the department?
My first impression was that there was a lot of work to be done. I found it really challenging at the beginning due to the size and complexity of the research portfolio. Added to this, the team comprised of one full time post, one part-time post and one temp! The first thing I had to do was plough through a massive backlog, put a lot of processes in place and then build up the team we have today.
What does your job entail?
I am responsible for the management of the department’s pre- and post-award research activity and support the PI’s through the entire life cycle of grant administration, from application to award. This means my team and I provide support and advice to PIs applying to both external and internal sponsors (assisting with budgets, grant conditions, collaborations, etc.) and seeing the proposal through departmental and institutional approvals to submission to the funder. The post-award activity involves managing the department’s research portfolio, assisting with reporting, advising PI’s on eligible spend, forecasting and preparing staff plans for research groups, etc., all while adhering to the sponsor’s terms and conditions.
I also support MTAs, CDAs, research collaboration agreements, audits, industry contracts, fellowships and anything else that might fall under the umbrella of research. I work closely with Research Services, Research Accounts and colleagues in academic departments across the University.
What is the most satisfying part of your job?
Knowing that I play a small part in some of the major scientific breakthroughs that this department undertakes. I also like to see our PIs bringing in Fellowships and establishing their independence, watching their portfolio growing and moving onto bigger and better things. I also like to be kept busy and it’s never ever quiet!
What has the highlight been for you so far?
I have two main highlights. Firstly, being in the position to change University process, for example we had a lot of issues with the BHF grants as they were set up in a way that was quite difficult to manage. We took it upon ourselves to change this and now the University adapted this way of working and rolled it out across the whole university. Now, whenever anyone in the University sets up a BHF award, they set it up in the same way that we do.
My second highlight has been establishing a strong working relationship with the HR and Finance teams. We have to work closely with them as our three areas are very closely interlinked.
What is the hardest part of your job?
We are under immense pressure from funders and Research Accounts to make sure that every penny spent on every grant is eligible and within the awarded budgets because of the sheer number of audits that the University is facing. We therefore have a reputation for being rather bureaucratic or a hindrance when we tell a PI they cannot do something. One of our biggest bugbears is ineligible costs ending up on grants. Our portfolio is made up of 60-70 different funders, which means we have to abide by 60-70 different sets of terms and conditions. This makes things extremely complicated, time consuming and can make us unpopular with the researchers. Ultimately, we’re here to help, but unfortunately, we have to share unpopular messages on behalf of funders.
What do you wish people understood about your job?
We are here to help although it appears we’re a hindrance at times. I wish researchers appreciated that the deadlines are there to help us help them. We need people to be aware that even if we spot a mistake and remove it, it still triggers queries from auditors, so it would be great if it wasn’t in the grant in the first place. Every query we send is in anticipation that the grant will be audited, we need to plan for them rather than react. The take home message is there’s no such thing as a daft query on a grant application or research award, if you’re not sure ask!
Do you have any additional responsibilities outside of your official role?
I’m an official mentor on the professional board of the Association for Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA) and I’m currently mentoring someone at the University of Sheffield. I am also about to take over the Introduction to Research Administration training workshop and Financial Management of Research Awards training session, both of which are part of the Research Services training programme. Within DPAG, my other commitments include sitting on the Departmental Culture Working Group.
What do you get up to outside of work?
I’m at my absolute happiest when I’m home in Scotland and out walking, so all our holidays are walking holidays in Scotland – so far we’ve walked the West Highland Way and Great Glen Way. Oxfordshire is a very pretty place, so I do a lot of walking at weekends with my husband, but it’s quite flat! I also enjoy photography, my kit gets added to at Christmas and birthdays!
Tell us about what’s coming up for you this year?
Brexit will have an impact on the funding landscape, which is changing all the time. Funders are getting stricter, grants are getting trickier to get, and funders are wanting to see more collaborations, which in itself brings up a lot of complexities. That will have a knock-on effect for the UK funders as we’ll probably see an increase in applications to those funders. People can expect to see a lot of changes next year.
DPAG needs to be on guard as I’m looking to put together a green impact team! We’re going to try and make the department as green as we can, for example, raising awareness of recycling and see what we can improve across the department. Keep an eye on the Digest towards the end of the year as I’ll be rallying the troops!
Finally, it’s worth warning people that we’ll be short staffed in the New Year, and January and February are our busiest times. However, I hope to be recruiting new team members soon.