Tracking the thousands of grants worth hundreds of millions of dollars that fund thousands of projects and hundreds of professors and researchers requires an eye for detail and a commitment to dotting every i and crossing every t. Manny Amaral, Sheila Doyle, and Beth Vitale of Research Finance, Office for Sponsored Programs (OSP) discuss how they accomplish this.
What do you do and what is your team's biggest contribution?
Beth Vitale: I’m a financial analyst on the University Area Team, which handles Harvard sponsored awards that are not at HMS or HSPH. I have a portfolio of departments whose sponsored awards I maintain. I work with departmental grant managers on invoicing and financial reporting requirements, ensure compliance with federal and sponsor regulations, and monitor the cash flow on each award. We are responsible for maintaining sponsors’ confidence in the accuracy of our grant accounting – it makes them more likely to award grants to Harvard in the future. I also try to facilitate communication with my clients through regular office hours and trainings on challenging sponsored topics.
Manny Amaral: I’m a financial analyst on the HMS Team, so I do the same work as Beth, but for HMS and the Wyss Institute. It’s our job to make sure the money comes in and that the numbers we report to our sponsors are reliable.
Sheila Doyle: I am the Manager of Sponsored Financial Reporting, Billing, and Collection (FRBC). We collect the approximately $870 million annually due to Harvard from sponsors, based on the terms of our sponsored grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements – following the work of the portfolios teams, which Beth and Manny work on. We collect funds on all sponsored agreements for all Harvard schools from sponsored federal awards and non-federal awards.
What don't people know about you and what your team does?
Sheila: My team is comprised of five people who work to ensure that cash comes in for sponsored awards, and to ensure that cash is applied to the appropriate award as received from the sponsor. This often involves research, for example in cases where we receive a payment with no information indicating what it’s for. It’s fun and rewarding, like a puzzle!
Another interesting thing is that, due in large part to the Financial Reporting Application Portal, which has automated most invoices, we have successfully decreased the length of time that our sponsored receivables are outstanding, even as our invoiced awards have grown as result of a growth in the non-federal sponsored area.
Manny: We have our hands in more areas than people are aware of. We have an overview of the whole process, which lets us be a bridge between departments and sponsors, or departments and pre-awards functions. We get can help with many generic questions. Also, people don’t know about all the ad hoc reports we run proactively so that we can bring concerns to departments’ attention before they become problems.
Beth: People don’t realize that creating financial reports is often the quick and easy part of the process. We also look for a number of issues on each account, from invalid code combinations to overdue receivables. These cause problems one way or another and can have real consequences for the University. By keeping our accounts clean through regular review, we hope to avoid any surprises.
What is the most challenging thing about your work?
Beth: Balancing many competing priorities. Between scheduled reports and ad hoc requests, often there is simply more work than can be accomplished in the time required. I’ve had to adjust to knowing that there will always be more on my plate than I can finish.
Sheila: As with most aspects of research administration, the most challenging thing, which is also the best part, is that it is constantly changing, and you have to keep up with the changes. There is so much to learn, that it is never boring.
What are the professional backgrounds of your team members?
Sheila: On our team, we have people hitting 25 years to those who have been here less than two years. Most of us have worked in finance or accounting roles within a School as well as for Central Administration and several are graduates of the REACH program, a Harvard program that provides training on sponsored grants management. I’ve been at Harvard for 13 years, and have loved every minute of my “second career” (my first career was touring with my alternative rock band). I started as a grants manager at HMS, and worked in FAS Research Administration Services (RAS) office before coming to OSP.
Beth: Our two senior analysts have both been at Harvard and at OSP for years. Their breadth and depth of knowledge is invaluable. The other analyst and I are new to the sponsored world. I worked in corporate tax accounting, where I liked the work but not the work-life balance. I wanted a job with a mission behind it – I’m happy that I can lend my financial skills to support the research here.
Manny: I came from public accounting, doing both tax and audit work in small and large firms. Others on the HMS team have backgrounds in finance or banking and my manager has had a long career at Harvard in sponsored research roles.
What does your best day look like?
Manny: For me, it’s maintaining a low past-due list, a low unreconciled list, having accounts receivable in line. It’s not a single day, it’s just having these important accounts well managed.
Beth: My best day involves making progress against my schedule of reports and bottomless inbox, as well as helping my departments resolve their issues. I like when I can work with my clients on challenging questions and try to train them to help themselves where possible.
Sheila: A successful day is one in which you do your best to get your job done, and work with others as a cohesive unit to further the mission of the University. Even on days when things feel like they aren’t going your way – or perhaps especially on those days – there is an opportunity to learn how to do things better or in a way that benefits everyone’s goals.