New RFD Director Brings Expertise to Grant Writers
Former researcher brings doctorate’s perspective to improve U of I grant proposals
Carly Cummings began her career on a traditional faculty trajectory, but opportunities along the way led to a path that is anything but traditional.
Cummings is the new director of U of I’s recently expanded Office of Research and Faculty Development (RFD), whose role is to help researchers across all colleges discover grant-funded research opportunities and get their proposals successfully funded.
With a doctorate in molecular microbiology and experience as an assistant professor, Cummings is in an excellent position to develop a program that closely meets faculty needs.
“I can empathize with faculty who are writing proposals. I understand they have multiple demands and a lot of time committed to research, teaching and other scholarly activities,” Cummings said. “I see it’s important to use that time in a way that’s meaningful and useful.”
Cummings and her staff like to view their work with faculty as a focused team effort, whether it’s helping early-career faculty develop winning proposals or teaming up with senior faculty, on and off campus, to obtain large scale, multidisciplinary grants.
“A lot of pieces go into this success,” Cummings said. “But the team is the critical part. Teamwork is needed to meet our charge to build the research enterprise of our university.”
She encourages early-career faculty to work with her growing team to start a new proposal, review and strengthen a current proposal, attend an RFD seminar, or set up a profile for Pivot, U of I’s powerful funding opportunities search tool.
“I want our office to be a natural part of the researcher’s thought process. As they get an idea or find a need for funding, I want them to come to our office first,” Cummings said.
To help get faculty through their doors even before the proposal phase, Cummings and other RFD staff are developing a curriculum, which includes training and working groups to build proposal expertise in the Vandal community.
“We want to build that ability to sell an idea,” said Cummings. “In their proposals, a lot of faculty tend to describe their research. We can help bring them into ‘pitch’ mode, where they present their research in terms of solving a problem in the framework that’s presented -- and provide the right amount of information, without overdoing it.”
Cummings encourages faculty office visits in all fields and disciplines, from the sciences to the arts.
“More successfully funded proposals means more scholarly activity, more outreach and more useful information for the scholarly community and the people of Idaho, the nation and the world.”
A winding path
Cummings was trained as a microbiologist, receiving her doctorate from Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Soon after, she moved to Castleton State University in Vermont, where she began teaching biology and building an undergraduate research program.
More than two years later, while Cummings was attending a conference, she heard a prominent speaker talk about the roles that scientists with doctorates can play in science policy.
“It was a transforming experience,” Cummings said. “We talked after her presentation, and she encouraged me to shift my career toward this new and interesting area of science policy.”
Cummings was soon awarded a fellowship at the Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in Washington, D.C.
After the fellowship ended, she decided to stay in D.C., landing a position at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where she managed the peer-review process of research proposals for strategic investments in science and technology, as well as large federally-funded programs for the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health.
The job tied together many elements that Cummings enjoyed, like reviewing proposals, providing guidance, helping people, managing processes and working closely with academics.
After nearly three years in D.C., Cummings was ready to take her experiences back to an academic setting. She moved to Mississippi State, where she served in pre-award administration in the College of Arts & Sciences, helping faculty members from the sciences and humanities write grant applications, working with their Office of Sponsored Programs, and building collaborative research teams with other colleges to get multidisciplinary grants.
Six years later, Cummings was tapped by Utah State University to build a proposal development program from the ground up. There she added new administrative roles to her repertoire.
After building a successful program at Utah State, Cummings is ready to do the same at U of I.
“It was very challenging to start with a blank slate,” she said. “But it was fun creating a mechanism for faculty’s success, one that was as efficient and effective as possible for them. Having the perspectives of a researcher, assistant professor and proposal development expert will help me accomplish this here.”