CTSA Profile: Rebecca Brouwer – Setting Research Teams Up for Success

September 10, 2015

Rebecca Brouwer is passionate about good science. As associate director for research operations within the CTSA-supported Duke Office of Clinical Research, she oversees a team of seven staff who reach out to faculty and staff across the University about doing research efficiently and effectively. “Doing research well is a complicated business,” she says. “We try to set research teams up for success.”

Here, in her own words, is a description of how that happens.


How long have you been at Duke?

I started the position as Associate Director for Research Operations within DOCR a year ago. Before that, I was a research project manager at the Duke Global Health Institute, the Department of Community & Family Medicine, and the Duke Cancer Center.  In all, it’s been 15 years.

How did you choose a career involving research management?

During graduate work in clinical behavioral psychology at Eastern Michigan University I landed a research assistant role in behavioral medicine at the University of Michigan. The conduct of the research as well as developing the interventions both intrigued me. Over the years, I have found that I really appreciate the importance of well-done scientific exploration. I like being part of designing projects and ensuring that they adhere to the principles of conduct laid out for them. It’s a way of setting people up for success.

What’s an average day like for you at DOCR?

There is no average day. I am working on multiple projects, and they tend to be cyclical. For example, about a year ago we started DOCR’s Grant Development Support program, which ebbs and flows with NIH cycles. Although this service is available to all SOM faculty, we also partner with the Office of Faculty Development. We review proposals before they are submitted, to comment on the operational aspects of the grant. In essence, we ask ourselves, “If the grant were funded today, could it be implemented well? Is there enough money in the budget, are the methods feasible, and can it be done in the time allotted?”

What other projects are you involved with at DOCR?

Another initiative we have is Study Planning Visits. This is an opportunity for us to sit down one-on-one with teams as they start up new research studies. We review individual protocols and help them plan the most efficient ways to do the research. Navigating research at Duke can be complicated, so sitting down together around an active protocol brings relevancy to the process. We try to help connect the dots for researchers so they can focus on the science.

I also serve as a liaison to researchers at Duke outside of DukeMedicine. There are a surprising number of researchers from the School of Engineering, Global Health Institute, Social Science Research Institute, the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences and other interdisciplinary areas who want to do research that involves working in the clinical setting. We strive to make it easier for them to navigate the Duke University Health System Institutional Review Board, and to harmonize policies and training requirements. The Vice Provost for Research, Larry Carin, is championing this effort.

What do you spend your time on when you aren’t at Duke?

My 13-year-old daughter Anneke and my 11-year-old son Ethan are both involved in travel soccer, so our family spends a lot of time together around sports. I also have a passion for vegetable gardening and travel. This past summer we went to France and Iceland.

In your 15 years at Duke, what changes have you noted?

I’ve watched the role of research support folks become more of a profession than just a job. When I started as a Research Coordinator there wasn’t much of a rulebook. I asked colleagues for advice on the best way to do things. Now the regulatory and documentation requirements have changed drastically. To be a good research coordinator, you have to understand data security, ethics, research design, good clinical practice, study flow, and lots more. There is a lot to learn, and it is all constantly changing.  There is far more support now than there was back in 2000.

What is something most people don’t know about you?

While at graduate school in Michigan my husband Kevin and I lived in a fairly primitive log cabin on 14 acres. We heated with a propane tank, gardened a lot, and enjoyed being remote from the world. It was a good experience, but we moved once we started a family.

How do you claim time for yourself each day?

I usually run in the morning. And since January I have been taking the Triangle Transit bus from Mebane to work most days. It is great to have 40 minutes of wi-fi enabled alone time to get my thoughts together before I get to the office.


For more information about the Duke Office of Clinical Research, visit their website. DOCR is supported, in part, through the Duke Clinical and Translational Science Award (DukeCTSA).