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Research Program Management: Jobs and Salaries


Scientists looking to break into grants administration and research planning have two options: government funding agencies and private foundations. Yet "it's not a large job market," warns Sarah Caddick, director of Award Programs at the Cancer Research Fund of the Damon Runyon Walter Winchell Foundation. Not all science foundations hire scientists to run their grants programs, and there's no central place for scientists to find out about employment opportunities in grants administration or policy and planning.

The good news: Opportunities are on the increase thanks to a booming economy. In the U.S., foundations are mandated by law to give away at least 5% of their assets each year, meaning they have more money to distribute when the stock market does well. At the same time, new dot-com capitalists are becoming philanthropists (the Gates Foundation is hiring) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) received another healthy budget increase. The result: more money for research scientists, and more administrative scientists needed to distribute the infusion of cash.

Jobs at foundations are scattered among hundreds of smaller philanthropic organizations (for example, the Cancer Research Fund and the Paralyzed Veterans of American) and behemoth foundations, such as the Wellcome Trust and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (both of which sponsor Science's Next Wave). Identifying opportunities can be tricky. In addition to reading the back of science journals like Science and Nature, some program directors recommend scanning the Chronicle of Philanthropy and searching the Council of Foundations jobs database.

For information on openings in Europe, try the e-mail network operated by the European Association of Research Managers and Administrators (EARMA) for its members. "This is especially useful if you would like to seek a job in a different country," says Cambell Warden, vice chair of EARMA.

"A typical starting salary for a junior program person at a mid-size foundation starts at around $50,000," says Caddick. But she notes that salaries vary widely depending on the size of the endowment and the region. Melinda Kelley, program director at the Paralyzed Veterans of American, adds, "you also have to consider the benefits--retirement, health, dental," which tend to be fair to generous at nonprofit and government institutions.

The easiest places to target are the large government funding bodies. The NIH, for example, advertises for research administrators, and scientists can also move from there into policy and planning positions ( Wendy Baldwin had to start somewhere). Use NIH's online job search engine to look for these, and any other kind of position, at the NIH. Former NIH administrator Sue Shafer says scientists at NIH tend to be hired at the GS12 or 13 level, which equates to around $58,000 to $60,000 to start.

While these salaries tend to be above typical assistant professor-level salaries, many of the program officers Next Wave talked to say they don't expect to get rich. Shafer, who spent 25 years at NIH, says that her salary went up more slowly than someone in academia. Nonprofit salaries are never going to be as high as industry, said another program director, but "the hours are infinitely better than research."