Research Support Fund Profile: Major Projects Office
For almost twenty years, Sara Swenson has been helping SFU researchers get the funding they need to carry out their research programs. As Director of SFU’s Major Projects Office (MPO), Swenson and the MPO staff leave no stone unturned, from providing critical reviews of grant applications to trouble-shooting unfunded applications for re-submission.
“Some of the projects coming through this office are potentially worth millions of dollars, so we feel a sense of responsibility to ensure all funding criteria are addressed,” says Swenson, whose team possesses a broad a range of skill sets to serve researchers from all disciplines. “Today, our work goes well beyond critical review; we have to be able to demonstrate to governments and funding organizations that the proposed research will have potential benefits to all Canadians, as well as being of strategic importance to our university.”
The Research Support Fund (RSF) has been crucial in supporting staff salaries in this highly-capable and highly-utilized office, which plays an important role in improving the likelihood of success in major grant competitions.
Swenson notes that the RSF has also enabled the university to hire SFU students and to cover funding for co-op student stipends; this provides another dimension to research training as it allows students to become a part of the entire grants facilitation endeavor – from brainstorming ideas, to developing the framework of the grant application, to polishing the final document, to submission. Charlene Allard was one such student, who began working with Swenson in the MPO in 2004. After graduation, Allard managed a research laboratory for an SFU professor for three years before returning to the MPO in a continuing position as the Canada Foundation for Innovation budget development facilitator in 2011. Charlene’s position has grown since to include developing budgets for proposals to the Western Diversification program and the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.
“I enjoy my job because I have the opportunity to meet many different people and learn about new research every day,” says Allard. “There is a lot of responsibility in my position and we have to keep deliverables moving to meet funding and reporting deadlines.”
Reflecting on some of the more rewarding aspects of her work, Swenson adds, “It is really satisfying to help researchers receive funding – particularly new researchers and those who have been without core support for a while. It is also extremely exciting to see research proposals that have come through the MPO develop into breakthroughs years later. This makes some of our long hours so worthwhile.”