Spotlight: Q&A with Lauren Magruder, Director of Pre-Award, Office of Sponsored Programs
Lauren Magruder thrives on figuring out the best way to solve a problem and finds great satisfaction in succeeding to make an aspect of her job or others, better. In her role as a leader, she finds ways to encourage team members to recognize their importance in the process, which yields less stress in the end.
How does your background contribute to where you are right now in your career?
My background in sociology and public administration led me to research administration management. Originally, I had planned to become a social worker, but an internship my senior year of college started me down a different path. I worked with a community action agency grant writer and felt my curiosity and writing skills were better suited to grant writing.
I continued as a grant writer in the nonprofit sector for several years before accepting a position as a Grants Administrator at George Mason University. I knew very little about research administration, but I learned quickly that it was a good fit for me. When my husband and I relocated to this area in 2004, I was fortunate to join the Virginia Tech Office of Sponsored Programs as a pre-award associate.
Within a couple of years, I was promoted to associate director of pre-award and began managing a team of pre-award associates. During this time, I was also taking classes to obtain my master’s of public administration degree at Virginia Tech. I enjoyed the new management components of the associate director position and focused my final masters project on staff turnover and retention. This topic has become a special interest of mine and I continue to look for new opportunities to grow in both my research administration training as well as my management duties.
In 2011, the director of pre-award retired, so applied for the position and was hired. Since then, the team has introduced Summit, the Virginia Tech electronic research administration system. My team and I worked with the development team to create a system that would allow us to collect important proposal information in a more transparent and efficient manner. We have also worked on creative solutions to the ongoing staff turnover within the pre-award team.
What support do you provide for the research community?
Our team assists Virginia Tech faculty when they are planning to submit a proposal for external funding. Using the Summit system, faculty members notify us of their plans by initiating a proposal and completing some basic information. This allows us to review the requirements, develop an appropriate and accurate budget, and obtain needed signatures and approvals. We are also the team who “hits the submit button” for the university, so we are responsible for ensuring that the proposal meets the sponsor’s administrative requirements and gets to the technical review stage.
We work collaboratively with the other teams in the Office of Sponsored Programs, so the faculty can concentrate on their research. When sponsors initiate new requirements, we communicate that to faculty and staff in departments and provide resources and training for them. Our goal is to make submitting a proposal as smooth as possible, so faculty are more likely to submit more proposals and hopefully conduct more important research.
How has COVID-19 positively impacted the way you do your job today?
Research administrators are naturally very flexible and used to changing processes, so the transition to teleworking was almost seamless for our team. We use Slack to communicate with each other and I have been amazed at the teamwork that has occurred. Associates can ask a question and get a quick answer from a more experienced team member and all of us see the interaction and can learn from each other.
COVID-19 has made me more sympathetic to individual issues faced in our daily lives. It also highlighted the importance of what the Office of Sponsored Programs does on a daily basis. Research here at Virginia Tech has a big impact on the world and it is rewarding and exciting to be part of it. Going forward, I hope that we will continue to be more understanding and kind to each other.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by learning new things. I am naturally curious and eager to learn. Whether it be research administration, employee retention, or even personal interests like reading or history, I am motivated by gaining knowledge. Making connections between things I already know and new items, is something I enjoy. I also find it helps when trying to explain things or when teaching others.
My team also inspires me. They are a great group of clever people who handle a highly stressful and complex job with the most positive attitudes. They suggest changes to make things more efficient and I learn new things from each of them on a daily basis. They also amaze me with the volume of work they handle and their ability to help each other, and me, when someone is in need.
When do you think you are at your best, professionally?
I am professionally at my best when I am solving problems in high stress situations. I thrive on figuring out the best way to solve a problem or make something better. I believe that is why I enjoy research administration. There are daily opportunities to find answers to challenging situations and always a sense of satisfaction when I see something that I helped with, succeed. Encouraging others to recognize their importance in the process and not be stressed out is very important in my role as director of pre-award.
In what ways does Virginia Tech’s Principles of Community guide you?
Since joining Virginia Tech, I have carried a copy of the Principles of Community in my meeting folder. I see it as the guide for how to conduct oneself on a daily basis. If you are doing your best to adhere to the Principles of Community then you are coming at situations from a good starting place. I believe that when people are comfortable and secure enough to offer their input and suggestions, we all benefit and can learn from each other.