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Interview with Janice Lagace, Deb White & Paul Newton

Monday, July 27, 2020
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Interview with Janice Lagacé, Deborah White & Paul Newton

For the month of July, we will be featuring the people of UMass who support our research. This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Janice Lagacé, Deborah White & Paul Newton. Janice is the Associate Director of Research Funding Services, and she signs off on all my grant submissions on behalf of the university. Deb and Paul are Grant & Contract Specialists II, and they help with my pre- and post-award budgeting/financials. We have worked together for many years, and Janice, Deb and Paul are awesome at what they do! They help so much with the financial portion of my research proposals, not to mention the research of many other investigators at UMass. Get to know them here!

  1. Can you tell our readers a little about your career and how you ended up in your current roles at UMass?

Janice: I joined the UMass Medical School in 1996 as a Staff Accountant in the Dept of Neurology.  It wasn’t long after that my career spun off into the world of Grants and Contracts.  I was fascinated at the process.  I worked in the Health & Criminal Justice Program under Commonwealth Medicine in support of both the Federal and State contracts for comprehensive medical services to inmates.  I then moved on to be an Administrator in the Dept of Medicine.  It was there that I gained full exposure to the NIH funding mechanisms.  When a position opened in what was then referred to as Research Funding Services, I jumped at the chance to be in a central office setting.  I was hired as a Grants Administrator in 2011.  I have since completed two in-house career ladder moves to my current position.  I absolutely love what I do and fully appreciate the staff in Sponsored Programs that I work with.

Deb: I have been with UMass for 29 Years. I started out working for medical records when the school and hospital were one entity. I slowly worked my way up to the position I am in now. I moved on to Accounts Payable department to General Accounting onto the budget office. At that time, an old coworker suggested I put in for a financial position in CIDVR (Center for Infectious Disease department). While working in that position, I worked closely with the grants and contracts person in the department. The accountant would show me her job and responsibilities, and I helped her as much as I could. She moved onto another department and I stayed to help with her position. My department then merged with the Department of Medicine and formed the ASG department. I am currently working in the ASG department as a grants and contract specialist for PIs (Principal Investigators) in the departments of Dermatology, Cardiology and Medicine.

Paul: I have been working as an administrator here at UMass for almost 15 years. I came in with no real grants experience; however I had an extensive background in budgets, finance and staffing from my time at Nashoba Valley Medical CTR, and the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge.

  1. You help UMass researchers with grant submissions and award management for our projects, which we are very grateful for. What is your favorite part about your job?

Janice: Finding errors in the application!  Some of the staff refer to me as “Eagle Eye” because I have picked up on inaccuracies within the elements of the administrative review that were not detected by others.  I am a signing official for UMass. I therefore take pride in ownership of every document I sign as a representative of the Institution.

Deb: I would say the best part of my job is learning about my PIs' research and being able to help them receive funding to move forward with their research.

Paul: I like several aspects of my job, but I would say my favorite part is working with the PIs around grant submissions and assisting them in their work. Submissions always bring new and different challenges.

  1. What is one thing you wish everyone knew about research funding?

Janice: We get very excited when an award is presented.  We feel that we have done our part to assist with the process to ensure that Research is successful at UMass.  Our participation starts at proposal stage and goes clear through to the closeout.  With NIH funding, this is normally a 5 year commitment of our time to the award management, which I don’t think everyone is aware of.

Deb: This job is very deadline driven, but it is also a great feeling to be able to help get a proposal sent out, and even more rewarding when it is funded, and the award comes in.

Paul: I think that something that gets overlooked in our support positions is all of the behind the scenes work that we need to do in order to try to take some of the burden off of the faculty we support.

  1. Any advice for people looking to move into a career in grants management/research funding services?

Janice: It’s not an area that is overly advertised.  It is seldom seen on University programs or course offerings.  It is a challenge in both Business Administration and Accounting.  It requires excellent organizational skills and the ability to work with a very diverse population.  It is a fast paced, deadline driven environment that in most cases goes right down to the wire of the 5pm submission cutoff.  That setting is clearly not for everyone.  It also requires that you maintain a good level of humor and never take yourself too seriously.

Deb: I think the advice I would give to someone looking to become a grants and contract person is to have patience and flexibility. Plan on being busy. You will need to make extra time during grant submission cycles to be able to help the PI with anything that is needed. Learn about their research!

Paul: I think it is important to have a good financial background, the ability to be flexible and to work well under pressure as things can change quickly.  You could have your day planned out to work on post award, and then find out that there in a new proposal and it has a short deadline.  

And we all appreciate you, Janice, Deb and Paul! You make our research possible!

Thanks to all research support staff!

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