Debbie Knight

It takes a village…

In observation on October 1, 2011 at 12:12 pm

As Mary wanders through our lab, searching for trash bins to empty, I can’t help but think that she, along with countless other maintenance staff, is part of my research team.

She may not know how to isolate RNA or grow cells in tissue culture, but she does help the lab and its research run smoothly by carting the trash out, cleaning the floors, etc.

But Mary works almost invisibly in the background, touching not just my life, but the lives of many researchers working in the building.

Then there’s Ernie, the “light bulb guy”, who has been around since I can remember and without whom we would be working in the dark.

I used to see him pushing a utility cart filled with various sized fluorescent tubes, stopping and replacing tubes as he moved along the hallway. Nowadays, I see him carrying a clipboard, noting what fixtures need bulbs. Apparently the new and “improved” work flow has him writing down the location of fixtures and the number of bulbs that will be needed which then goes through a lengthy approval process before he can bring his cart around to actually replace the light tubes. Well, that’s “progress” for you.

Then there’s Mike, the autoclave guy, who we often call to fix the steam sterilizer that is on the fourth floor of our building.

And there’s Randy who we call when our ultralow freezers need service.

And countless others we depend on to keep things running, including maintenance personnel I’ve never seen, such as the repair dudes who somehow find a way to eek out another few months from the aging rooftop air conditioner units or the guys from “Otis” who keep the building’s elevators running safely.

Their services aren’t free. A large chunk of grant money goes toward this upkeep. If I read the financial records on my lab’s NIH grant, it looks like 52.5 percent of the grant goes toward facilities and administration costs each year.

While their jobs may not be glamorous or glorious, these people, whether they know it or not, are a part of research and I certainly appreciate their efforts.

Yes, it takes a village of people to keep research running smoothly.

  1. Without a doubt my favorite post of yours. I haven’t read them all, but this is great. In all systems of society there are these “layers” of cooperation that are necessary for work to be performed. And in a lab, work doesn’t get done if lights are out or garbages are full. All layers, or levels, deserve recognition. Well done Debbie!

    Random questions, when you’re talking about 52.5% of your grant going to admin and facilities, are your financial records public? Theoretically, could I look at them, since it is NIH (public taxpayer) money? Are there oversight or regulatory committees that keep an eye on where your grant money goes?

    Good job, I put this post on twitter and my facebook pages (letUbeU).

    • Good question, Tom.
      The records should be public, theoretically. But I’m not sure where you would look for this information. I know you can look at the grant proposals and the awards on the NIH website. I also know that there is extensive oversight of grant money at my university. This is done by a hard-working unit called “The Research Foundation.” They ensure that grant money is used properly. They document purchases and other expenditures because the university is frequently audited — sometimes internally, but often externally. I sometimes hear rumblings through my department when there’s an audit scheduled. I know that oversight is more intense than it was when I first started working at the university because of the changes I have seen over the years (i.e., the amount of red tape required to order supplies for the lab). As to how the chunk of change, the 52.5%, that goes to administration and facilities is followed, I don’t know. All this is WAY above my pay scale (wink!).

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