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The scientific research team is a group of individuals, working to complete a research project successfully. When run well, the research team members work closely, and have clearly defined roles. Every team member should know their role, and how it plays into the project as a whole. The principal investigator is responsible for every aspect of the project, ultimately.
In this article, we’ll review research team roles and responsibilities, and the typical structure of a scientific research team. If you are forming a research team, or are part of one, this information can help you ensure smooth operations and effective teamwork.
The research team is just that. A group of individuals working toward a common goal. In this case, the goal is the successful research, data analysis, publication and dissemination of meaningful findings. There are key roles that must be laid out BEFORE the project is started, and the “CEO” of the team, namely the Principal Investigator, must provide all the resources and training necessary for the team to successfully complete its mission.
Every research team is structured differently. However, there are five key roles in each scientific research team.
1. Principal Investigator (PI):
this is the person ultimately responsible for the research and overall project. Their role is to ensure that the team members have the information, resources and training they need to conduct the research. They are also the final decision maker on any issues related to the project. Some projects have more than one PI, so the designated individuals are known as Co-Principal Investigators.
PIs are also typically responsible for writing proposals and grant requests, and selecting the team members. They report to their employer, the funding organization, and other key stakeholders, including all legal as well as academic regulations. The final product of the research is the article, and the PI oversees the writing and publishing of articles to disseminate findings.
2. Project or Research Director:
This is the individual who is in charge of the day-to-day functions of the research project, including protocol for how research and data collection activities are completed. The Research Director works very closely with the Principal Investigator, and both (or all, if there are multiple PIs) report on the research.
Specifically, this individual designs all guidelines, refines and redirects any protocol as needed, acts as the manager of the team in regards to time and budget, and evaluates the progress of the project. The Research Director also makes sure that the project is in compliance with all guidelines, including federal and institutional review board regulations. They also usually assist the PI in writing the research articles related to the project, and report directly to the PI.
3. Project Coordinator or Research Associate:
This individual, or often multiple individuals, carry out the research and data collection, as directed by the Research Director and/or the Principal Investigator. But their role is to also evaluate and assess the project protocol, and suggest any changes that might be needed.
Project Coordinators or Research Associates also need to be monitoring any experiments regarding compliance with regulations and protocols, and they often help in reporting the research. They report to the Principal Investigator, Research Director, and sometimes the Statistician (see below).
4. Research Assistant:
This individual, or individuals, perform the day-to-day tasks of the project, including collecting data, maintaining equipment, ordering supplies, general clerical work, etc. Usually the Research Assistant has the least experience of the team. They report, typically, to the Research Associate/Project Coordinator, and sometimes the Statistician.
This is the individual who analyzes any data collected during the project. Sometimes they just analyze and report the data, and other times they are more involved in the organization and analysis of the research throughout the entire study. Their primary role is to make sure that the project produces reliable and valid data, and significant data via analysis methodology, sample size, etc. The Statistician reports to the Principal Investigator, and typically the Research Director.
There may be other team members, like clinical research specialists, interns, student researchers, lab technicians, grant administrators, and general administrative support staff. As mentioned, every role should be clearly defined by the team’s Principal Investigator. Obviously, the more complex the project, the more team members may be required. In this case, several Principal Administrators and Research Directors may be involved.
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