PhD Alumni Profiles - research administration

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Diane Ambrose, PhD

Senior Associate Director of Research and Sponsored Programs; Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

Program at Penn: Pathology/Experimental Pathology
Graduation Year: 1994

Describe your current position and firm/organization and the career path you took to get there.

I have spend my entire career within an academic setting and have held many positions and been involved with many types of activities involving research. My current position is Senior Associate Director of Research and Sponsored Programs at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.  After graduating from Penn in 1994, I was a post-doctoral trainee at the Fox Chase Cancer Center until 1997 working on signal transduction pathways related to cell shape and movement. I decided to leave the bench and moved into a technology transfer position in Penn's Center for Technology Transfer, where I conducted primarily research contract negotiation and marketing of Penn inventions to potential licensees. I subsequently moved to the Rutgers technology transfer office in 1999 where I continued to negotiate research contracts but also managed the life sciences licensing activities. When new leadership entered the Rutgers research administration, I was offered the opportunity to work with the AVP of Research on a broad range of research issues and initiatives as a Special Projects Director. I continued on in this type of position for several years both at Rutgers and then at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. As a Special Projects Director, my responsibilities have included managing external research facilities, acting as Director of the research office and clinical research organization, developing education and graduate programs related to research, and facilitating the review and management of research misconduct and conflict of interest. I eventually transitioned into a research development position as Assistant Vice President for Research Development at UMDNJ where I was creating a new office within the central administration to provide programs, resources and services to faculty in all of the UMDNJ schools to assist them in reaching their research goals. Recently, I accepted the new position overseeing the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at Rutgers. This office is responsible for the grant submission process on behalf of Rutgers faculty. It provides pre-award advice to faculty and departments, accepts incoming awards, conducts negotiations for a wide variety of grant-related agreements, and provides regulatory expertise to the Rutgers community.

Previous positions held:

Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research Development, Rutgers, the State University of NJ (2012-2014)

Acting Executive Director, Rutgers Clinical Research Organization, Rutgers (June 2013-present)     

Director, Special Projects, Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (2006-2012)                                          

Program Director, Master in Biomedical Science Program, UMDNJ-Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (2010-2012)                            

Program Director, Clinical and Translational Science Master's Program, UMDNJ-Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (2007-2012)                           

Associate Director, Special Projects – ORSP, Rutgers, the State University of NJ (2001-2006)

Licensing & Contracts Associate, Office of Corporate Liaison and Technology Transfer, Rutgers, the State University of NJ (1999-2001)                              

Assistant Manager, Research Support Services, Center for Technology Transfer, University of Pennsylvania (1998-1999)                            

Technology Transfer Intern, Center for Technology Transfer, University of Pennsylvania (1997-1998)          

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Fox Chase Cancer Center (1994-1997)

What skills, strengths, or knowledge did your graduate training provide you that helped you on your career path?
Graduate training was absolutely essential to my career path. As a career university administrator in both the technology transfer and research administration fields, I not only serve the University but also the faculty. Having an advanced science degree is critical for this work, especially in technology transfer where one must understand and evaluate the invention disclosures of faculty and work with the inventor to develop a commercialization plan for said inventions. For research administration, having a solid research background and experience in writing grants and publications allows one to understand not only the science but also the special pressures and concerns of the faculty that one ultimately serves. Also key is having initiative and the ability to teach oneself a new area, skills we all hone as graduate students. The Penn environment is wonderful because graduate students are exposed to innovative research and have access to resources that few other institutions can provide. Moreover, a degree from an institution of Penn's caliber will open doors and afford opportunities to you that might not otherwise be available, that is, employers will be willing to take a chance on you.
If other graduate students and postdocs wanted to get a position similar to yours, what 3 specific pieces of advice would you offer them that they can be doing now while still at Penn?

My three pieces of advice: (1) Don't be afraid to explore other career paths outside the bench -- use the web to find out all you can about other careers that might interest you, talk to people who are in positions or doing work in which you might have an interest, participate in programs like this one, AAAS also has a lot of information about alternative careers for scientists; (2) If interested in certain careers, join the specific organizations for those fields and attend the meetings -- AUTM or LES for tech transfer, NCURA or SRA for research administration, NORDP for research development; and (3) Make connections and volunteer your time to learn more about a field that might interest you. Networking is key!

How can graduate students/postdocs at Penn find out more about your career field?
The professional organizations are a great source of knowledge, especially AUTM for tech transfer, NCURA and SRA for research administration, and NORDP for research development. All of these organizations hold annual and regional meetings that offer a range of sessions, many for those new to the field. Also, many have mentoring programs to help those who are just entering the field or new to their position.
What do you most enjoy about your current position, and what are you looking forward to doing at work over the next week or two?

I absolutely love working in the University environment. In the University, one is surrounded generally by very smart people and innovative thinkers so that one is exposed to cutting-edge research and new concepts and ideas on a daily basis. This is very exciting for someone like me who still loves science and enjoys the intellectual stimulation. I believe that the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a noble one, and even though I left the bench, I am still firmly committed to research. I am very satisfied to know that my work helps advance medical research and researchers. In addition to feeling that my work is integral to the research operations at Rutgers, I also enjoy the flexibility and freedom that working in an academic setting affords. Any idea I have, I can generally pursue as long as I can build the support, obtain the necessary funding (if needed), and am willing to put in the work to make it happen. Finally, my current position involves a lot of problem solving; I never really know what's going to come across my desk that I may need to find creative ways to solve. For example, Rutgers and UMDNJ (my former institution) merged last July. This was the largest integration of its kind, and transferring all of the programs, personnel, and grant awards from UMDNJ to Rutgers has been fraught with problems never before encountered by the University or its funding agencies. Over the next two weeks, I'll be attempting to solve several issues so we may finalize the transfer of several outstanding grant awards to Rutgers. I'll also be initiating a project to implement software that will revolutionize the research administration operations at Rutgers.