George Washington University recently hired Jennifer Pelt Wisdom as the university’s associate vice president for research. Dr. Wisdom has a background in clinical psychology and health services research, and is an alumna—she earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from GW in 2001. She comes to her new role from Columbia University, where she was assistant dean for research resources, directing initiatives to improve the research infrastructure at the Mailman School of Public Health and mentoring faculty on grant submission. Dr. Wisdom works in the Office of the Vice President for Research. She spoke to George Washington Today about her priorities for the coming year and why she’s excited to be back on the Foggy Bottom Campus.
Q: What does the associate vice president for research do?
A: My role will be looking at sponsored projects administration, as well as the research enhancement unit to improve support to faculty who are applying for grants. The research enhancement unit staff members help match faculty with good grant opportunities and do a fabulous job helping faculty submit grants. On the sponsored projects side, the staff work on grant submissions, called pre-award, ensuring people meet the many requirements, and also work on the post-award side, which includes setting the awards up in the financial system and working with everyone who needs to collaborate on the project to get it rolling. Our team also assists with the post-award financial management of these projects. All of us work with federal funders like the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health as well as foundations and other funding entities that provide research funding.
Q: What exactly is a “sponsored project”?
A: That’s a good question. A sponsored project is funding in exchange for some sort of deliverable, such as a service, research findings or product development. For research sponsored projects, federal agencies, corporations, and foundations, among others, give the university funds to conduct a specific set of research tasks. That’s different than development activities, which are gifts to the university. In general, a gift is “no strings attached,” while with a sponsored project there are strings. The strings are certain deliverables or aims that need to be achieved.
Q: What are your goals or priorities for the next year?
A: I have been charged with improving infrastructure on all aspects of the grant process—from finding funding to assisting in the development of the proposal, to getting it through the administrative requirements of GW, to getting payroll and equipment rolling once it’s funded. I’m really delighted to do this. I love infrastructure, and as a researcher, I studied infrastructure and organizational functioning, and how you improve services and make them more efficient.
At every university there are processes and policies that can be improved. GW is uniquely positioned to really take off—there are fantastic faculty who are really starting to become more comfortable with research, and others who have been brought in and are already doing fabulous work here. Moving forward, we want to make it easier for faculty to do research. Ideally, we will have the researchers doing the research and administrators doing the administrative work. It’ll take a while to get there, as the system is in transition. But GW is growing in wonderful ways because the researchers are doing such great work.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background. You’re a GW alum, right?
A: Yes. I received my Ph.D. in clinical psychology from GW in 2001. Then I moved to Oregon and worked at Oregon Health and Science University for the first two years as a postdoctoral scholar studying health services research. I earned my M.P.H. in biostatistics and epidemiology and then joined them as faculty. I worked on research and directed a center on health and disability policy, which is what really got me interested in administrative work. On the one hand, I was studying how to improve the quality of care and service delivery for mental health and substance abuse treatment—that was my research—and on the administrative side, I was interested in how we improve the university’s delivery of research services.
In 2007, I moved to Columbia University and worked there getting involved in similar research improving health delivery systems. In my last year there, I was assistant dean for research resources in the Mailman School of Public Health. My role was to identify how to improve the way the school provide assistance to faculty on research, how to make the systems more efficient. Moving here, this gives me the chance to do the same thing on a larger scale.
I’m really excited about research. My own area has expanded from clinical psychology to health services research to public health. I’ve also worked with an amazing organization, the Federal Demonstration Partnership of the National Academies, which is a collaboration between federal funders and universities across the country with a goal to streamline and improve the process of research. In my work at all levels, from faculty to administration to the national context, my main question is, “How do we make it better?”
Q: Are you looking forward to being back on the Foggy Bottom Campus?
A: Yes. There have been so many changes! It’s amazing to see so many new buildings going up. It’s great to see the expansion and I’m especially excited about the expansions that will be used for research, like the Science and Engineering Hall.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like the George Washington community to know?
A: My interest is in making things work better. I encourage anyone who’s conducting research or who wants to conduct research and who’s running into a snag—don’t hesitate to give our office a call or get in touch with me. We have a fantastic group here and they really led to me wanting to come back to GW. Research always has challenges, and here at GW we have a great team that is dedicated to research. That’s the most important thing.