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Kathleen Thompson, an 'essential part of our research machine,' to receive 2010 Marsh O'Neill Award

Thompson, director of the Research Management Group at the School of Medicine, is one of two winners of the 2010 Marsh O'Neill Award, which will be presented at 4 p.m. on Nov. 8 at the Faculty Club.

L.A. Cicero Kathleen Thompson

Kathleen Thompson is the director of the Research Management Group at the School of Medicine.

BY KATHLEEN J. SULLIVAN

Gifted leader. Enthusiastic collaborator. Steadfast, dependable and indefatigable. An "essential part of the research machine." Bright and compassionate.

Those are some of the stellar qualities attributed to Kathleen Thompson, winner of the 2010 Marsh O'Neill Award, which honors staff members who have made outstanding contributions to Stanford's research mission.

Thompson, the director of the Research Management Group at the School of Medicine, was one of two people chosen for the award this year.

The other winner is Lori McVay, associate director for finance and administration for the Program on Food Security and the Environment at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

Thompson, who arrived at Stanford in May 1988, first worked as a grant associate in the Office of Sponsored Research.

As director of the Research Management Group, she now oversees a staff of 49 people who work on the second floor of the International Building in the Stanford Menlo Park complex on Ravenswood Avenue.

When asked to name the three things she likes most about her job, Thompson cited the opportunities it provides for facilitating and supporting medical research; for working with great colleagues in a variety of offices and departments across the entire campus; and for being involved in the complex world of research administration – work that is both interesting and challenging.

"I am extremely honored by being chosen for the award," Thompson said. "I'm proud to have made a positive impact on research and a little embarrassed by the attention."

Essential part of Stanford's research machine

David Stevenson, a senior associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Medicine, described Thompson as "one of the most steadfast, dependable and indefatigable administrative colleagues" in the school.

"She is an expert at what she does for us, and is a 'can-do' person while being attentive to the need for compliance," wrote Stevenson, who is also the Harold K. Faber Professor of Pediatrics, in a letter nominating Thompson. "When she does something, you know it will be done right. She is an essential part of our research machine."

Norbert Pelc, professor of radiology and of bioengineering, said Thompson takes a "constructive approach" to problems.

"The issues I tend to bring before her are often complex and very unusual – and not  infrequently they come up at times that are stressful to her and her organization for other reasons (e.g., major deadlines)," Pelc wrote in a letter nominating Thompson.

"She always makes herself available and, more importantly, is constructive in finding solutions, rather than finding reasons why the unusual problem cannot be solved," Pelc wrote. "Our school prides itself in our research productivity, e.g. measured in NIH [National Institutes of Health] support per principal investigator-eligible scientist. I suspect that if we measure NIH support per pre-award staff,  we would be off the charts. Kathleen richly deserves this recognition."

Handling the 'ARRA crunch'

Renee A. Reijo Pera, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, said that in the three years she has worked at Stanford one thing has become apparent – that Thompson is a "true treasure."

Pera, director of the institute's Center for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research and Education, described Thompson as the best in the league of upper-tier universities in her ability to meet the needs of faculty, staff and the administration.

In her letter nominating Thompson, Pera said two examples stand out.

"First, Kathleen handled the crunch during the ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009] application and award period with real dedication to the dissemination of critical information, assistance to the faculty and realization of the regulations governing the funding," Pera wrote.

"Second, in the area of human stem cell research, she has continually clarified the details of funding, application process and accounting."

In 2009, the Research Management Office submitted more than 600 proposals under the ARRA – in addition to 2,000 regular grant proposals, Thompson said.

The Medical School, which has received more than 190 ARRA awards totaling about $113 million, is using the grants to search for cures for cancer, develop stem cell therapies and gain new insights into the causes of heart disease.

A superb 'client service' focus

Ann Arvin, the dean of research and the Lucile Salter Packard Professor of Pediatrics and professor of microbiology and immunology, said she "benefited enormously" as a faculty member in the School of Medicine from Thompson's work.

"Kathleen's work reflects an extraordinarily detailed knowledge of the research programs of individual faculty in the School of Medicine, acquired over her years of service in sponsored research administration at Stanford," Arvin wrote in a letter nominating Thompson.

"In creating the Research Management Group, she has developed an organization in which the staff share her approach and values, incorporating careful attention to detail and expert knowledge about NIH requirements, along with unlimited patience with the faculty's need to revise and re-revise our proposals up to the last minute before the deadline."

She said Thompson has worked to continually improve the administrative support for the large fraction of Stanford research supported through NIH grants, contracts or cooperative agreements handled through the Research Management Group.

"The remarkable management by her office of the flood of research grants and contracts that had to be assembled and submitted in response to the ARRA funding opportunities is just the most recent evidence of her exceptional leadership on behalf of Stanford and its faculty and students," Arvin wrote.

"I can attest that Kathleen is always generous with her time and energy on behalf of the university as a whole, and that she consistently seeks ways to improve processes and optimize communication across the several offices that contribute research administration at Stanford."