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IN CONVERSATION WITH: Maria Nicula, Research Coordinator

Oct 29, 2019

Maria Nicula

Research staff support researchers in the School of Nursing in a variety of ways to produce results. Many people contribute to research projects, including our research coordinators. We sat down with one of them recently to learn about this important role.

Q: How long have you been with the School of Nursing?

I started working for Dr. Sharon Kaasalainen as a data analyst/research assistant in May 2018 after graduating from McMaster’s Honours BSc program in Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour, in the Mental Health specialization. My position evolved into more of a research coordinator role in May 2019.

Q: What does a research coordinator do? Could you describe your role?

I can’t speak for all research coordinators, but in my experience in the role – it can vary! Broadly speaking, in our team, I help coordinate several research projects. My role involves recruitment and follow-up with participants, data collection site visits, and leading team meetings with the staff at our sites to make sure that everything is going according to plan. I ensure that all qualitative and quantitative data gets collected the way we proposed we would and that it is organized and cleaned for ease of analysis. I prepare summaries of the more descriptive data and help to analyze the more complex data. I also help Sharon draft ethics documents and help to prepare changes as needed. In meetings, I clarify any study-specific details, take minutes, and organize everyone’s thoughts into a plan that outlines next steps. Lastly, a lot of my time is spent helping the students and research assistants organize and complete their tasks.

Q: What skills are important for a research coordinator?

There are many important skills necessary to be a good research coordinator. However, I would say emotional intelligence is one of the most important. I am on a team with people of all academic and professional levels. It takes emotional intelligence to know how to work with members from each of these groups to produce research. When interacting with those in long term care homes, the topics we discuss – end of life and palliative conversations – can be very sensitive. I can recognize when I may need to soften or slightly re-word some of the language we use. Time management and large-scale organization is crucial too. As for hard skills, we currently use Microsoft Excel and SPSS, which I learned in my studies.

Q: What other skills did you learn in your undergraduate degree that you use in your role?

Although McMaster’s Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour program prepares students for a future in clinical psychology, its curriculum highly emphasizes clinical practice, research methods, and statistics, all of which I use as a research coordinator. My thesis project and research experience in my undergraduate degree also prepared me for the level of research Sharon’s team does: adhering to the scientific method, knowledge translation, following correct research methods and ethics, and more.

Q: What do you like best about your job?

I really enjoy finishing things to reach an end product, and this job allows me to do this on a regular basis. When all the data is collected and summarized or when a meeting that took a lot of preparation finally happens, I like seeing the results. Also, I was able to travel with members from my research team to Vancouver for a national team meeting for one of our projects. I am also lucky enough to travel to some of our sites across the country to help finalize data collection. Overall, in this position, I feel heard by Sharon and the rest of the team. Our team members come from different academic and clinical backgrounds, and we use this to enhance our work. I feel like my input has worth in our projects, and the work that I do is contributing to something bigger.

Q: What is one of the rewards of working at McMaster University?

Not only in this position, but during my entire time here, it is clear that McMaster University values diligence, hard work, and teamwork. The emphasis on these values breeds a huge community of faculty, students, and staff who work together well to create strong research, and this inspires anyone working at McMaster University to want to do well at their job.

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