A Principal Investigator (or PI) takes the lead on today’s cutting-edge research. Public or private grants typically support projects. As a result, she must adhere to funders’ legal and financial expectations. At the same time, her study is based at an institution, such as a university, city agency or private firm, which has its own culture and policies. A PI requires doctoral training and strong analytical, communication and management skills. She should also have a keen interest in investigating and addressing complex problems. Ultimately, a PI administers her study skillfully and imaginatively, making scientifically informed decisions along the way.
Conduct Original Research
A PI’s main duty is to plan and conduct original research. She must follow company regulations such as securing Institutional Review Board approval for her work with human subjects. She must also meet funding guidelines such as submitting quarterly progress reports. Whether her background is in psychology or chemical engineering, she brings a healthy balance of scientific knowledge and practical insights to the table. A PI’s research design always reflects her project’s overall goals. She’s also careful to meet budget and time constraints. Her day-to-day activities focus on directing the research activities of a team.
Manage Project Staff
A PI manages a highly motivated, intelligent team that includes a co-PI, research analysts and research assistants. She trains all project staff in the study’s technical protocols. At times, she serves as a mentor; in academic environments, many research team members are graduate students. A PI is also an organizational manager who selects and evaluates employees, subject to human resources directives. She heads regular project meetings and engages in more in-depth staff interactions. In addition, a PI coordinates with colleagues and external researchers to stay current on trends in her area of interest and obtain feedback on her efforts. She freely shares this information with her project team to improve its efforts.
Secure Grant Funding
Further, a PI regularly pursues grants to build on her body of work and increase her institution’s research capacity. She frames proposals around her solid research record and her project’s potential to add significance to the field. A PI also talks to people in her professional network to identify funding leads and partners for grants. It’s acceptable to delegate elements of the grant proposal to members of her research team. Her institution may also help to streamline the application process – providing key documents, approvals and technical assistance.
Disseminate Research Findings
The scientific results of a PI’s research are communicated through a number of channels. She may independently, or collaboratively, author a peer-reviewed article, abstract, chapter or book. She may also share findings by presenting at conferences or other professional gatherings. A PI often publishes white papers and policy briefs for a broader audience of decision-makers and practitioners. Her goal is to translate the lessons learned from her research into real-world improvements. When sharing proprietary information, a PI might also be responsible for developing patents, copyrights and information systems.
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