Gloria Garcia Negredo pictured at the Centre for Genomic Regulation’s headquarters in Barcelona.

Glòria García-Negredo assists grant-writing researchers at a biomedical institution in Barcelona.Credit: Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG)

After a master’s degree in neuroscience and a PhD in biomedicine at the University of Barcelona in Spain, Glòria García-Negredo embarked on a career in research project management. She is now a grants specialist at the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG), an international biomedical research institute based in Barcelona. From the sun-soaked terrace of the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park, which houses the CRG and six other public research centres, García-Negredo talks to Nature about her work helping CRG researchers to apply for European Union and international funding.

Where does your work at the CRG fit into the research process?

I’m a grant specialist in the pre-award area here at the CRG, with a focus on European and international grants. This means I try to make the process of submitting a proposal to the European Commission or funding agency as smooth as possible. That involves understanding the objectives of the principal investigator, as well as the requirements and policies of the funding agency.

More specifically, I help scientists to prepare grant documentation, making sure that it’s acceptable for the different key areas of the CRG — including legal, tech transfer, training and communications. I make sure that the proposed project is logistically and financially feasible, and that it suits the theme of the call for grant proposals. I started working at the CRG at the end of 2021. In the course of 2022 and 2023, I managed a total of 105 European and international proposals, worth around €63 million (US$68 million).

Part of my job is making connections within the institution as well as outside of it. At the CRG, we have experts on ethics, as well as working groups on gender, impact and sustainability. To better answer the calls for proposals from funders, part of my job is to bring all of that expertise together to develop an application.

On occasion, lab leaders have a clear objective in mind for their research, and they come to us to see if we have spotted any funding opportunities that would fit. Sometimes, it’s the contrary — they specialize in a specific area of science and they are looking for ways to apply their expertise to secure funding. They might fit very well in a consortium or collaboration instead of leading with their own research.

In that case, I might connect them with an institution in our network that is putting together a proposal, see if this lab might fit as a partner in the project and then facilitate the logistics of the collaboration. I start the conversation, then act as kind of a filter for what my institution can implement and what is feasible.

What led you to project management?

When I was working on my PhD, there was just one supervisor for around ten lab members, and a mix of PhD and master’s students. It was really crowded. That person was doing their best, but I felt I had to struggle to get time with my supervisor, and so did the rest of the students. I realized that this principal investigator (PI), on top of supervising the whole team and trying to do research, had to invest a lot of time in writing proposals for funding. There was a clear lack of support structure for PIs, who were working very hard. It was a systemic issue.

Another factor was that I didn’t feel aligned with how research was being evaluated at the time. I knew that I loved science and I wanted to be in contact with research, but instead of being part of that rat race, I wanted to try to change it, at the level that I could. My switch from wet-lab research to research management, where I could provide the support that I noticed PIs lacked and get acquainted with the policy side of research, was a way of trying to make those changes happen.

After making that decision and finishing my PhD, I worked in a few research-consultancy jobs that gave me perspective on the research ecosystem beyond the laboratory. My work has been different in each of these positions. Every time I started a new one, I felt like I was base-jumping into a different field. But all these experiences have contributed to who I am now and the expertise I have today.

What is the number one thing a PI can do to make your work easier or your collaboration more effective?

For me, communication is the key. When a researcher is proactive in communicating and active in listening, when we can trust each other, we can make great things happen. Working with someone who cares about communication and nurtures those channels of feedback between the lab and the strategy-and-funding team makes my job so much easier.

I recently had a great experience working with one PI. He was very clear on what was important for him and what he wanted to achieve, and I was able to translate that into a plan of action that worked for all the other parties involved. He trusted me to manage this process and lead the conversation with the European Commission while he led the conversation with the other research groups in the consortium. It worked very well.

What advice would you give to scientists interested in project management as a career?

Don’t undervalue yourself or your expertise. It’s easy to feel like you are unqualified to comment on a proposal that a PI brings to you, because you’re not a subject-matter expert. It can feel, to both of you, like you’re intruding on their area of expertise.

But you have to be assertive and make it clear that your job is to help them place their science in a larger funding strategy or call, to give them the best chance of getting the money they need to pursue their research question. That’s your expertise.