Northwestern University — Senior Associate Director, Research Contracts & Negotiations

Job ID: 42408
Location: Chicago, Illinois

Department: Office Sponsored Research
Salary/Grade: EXS/14

Job Summary:
As a professional staff member of Northwestern University Sponsored Research (SR), the Senior Associate Director for Research Contracts & Negotiations is an integral part of the institutional infrastructure that supports innovative research for ten schools, colleges, Centers and Offices across three campuses (Chicago and Evanston, Illinois and Doha, Qatar) at a distinguished AAU institution. Reporting to the Executive Director, the Senior Associate Director will manage, supervise and direct the research contracts staff and functions for Northwestern Sponsored Research (SR). The incumbent oversees the development, review, negotiation and execution of all Northwestern University sponsored research agreements relating broadly to research funded by industries, foundations and governments, both clinical and non-clinical, basic and applied research, with a variety of entities both commercial and non-profit. This includes developing, coordinating and maintaining systems and procedures that support the efficient drafting, negotiation, processing execution and tracking of Northwestern research support agreements in a timely manner to support research in compliance with Northwestern and sponsor standards.

As part of Northwestern University’s commitment to creating an inclusive and diverse campus community, Northwestern Sponsored Research is committed to being BRAVE (Battling Racism and Valuing Equity). Through deliberate words and actions we actively endeavor to acknowledge the humanity of and value each of our colleagues.

The Senior Associate Director will support the Office for Research mission and values by exhibiting the following: understand empathy, model accountability, ensure fairness, embrace community and value creativity. The incumbent will strive to provide excellent service when performing job responsibilities.

Specific Responsibilities:

  • Manages, directs and supervises the review, drafting, negotiation, and processing of a wide variety of research agreements based upon Northwestern policies and procedures, laws, regulations and government guidelines applicable to research.
  • Manage the negotiation of agreement terms with various internal and external contacts and stakeholders, and serve as Northwestern’s senior resource for those negotiations and other relationships associated with these agreements.
  • Construct a wide range of complex sponsored research agreements, contracts, subcontracts, and other legal documents.
  • Serve as expert in contractual terms and interpretation of contracts.
  • Provides timely, expert-level advice to Office for Research (OR) leadership, SR Executive Director, Principal Investigators (PI) and research teams regarding contractual requirements, liabilities, risks and impasses.
  • Consults with PIs and other central administrative offices, such as IRB, IACUC, INVO, Accounting Services for Research & Sponsored Projects (ASRSP), General Counsel, and Risk Management as appropriate.
  • Lead initiatives to improve processes and practices in research contracting and sponsored research administration.
  • Exercises signature authority for negotiation and execution of sponsored research agreements on behalf of Northwestern University, as delegated by the Executive Director of SR.
  • Provides approval or disapproval of agreements negotiated within SR.
  • Review, negotiate, and sign research agreements, clinical trial agreements, other award documents, and other administrative correspondence to sponsors.
  • Safeguards university interests with respect to indemnification, intellectual property, publications, export controls, liability, effort reporting, and compliance issues.
  • Ensure compliance and fiscal integrity of outgoing proposals and incoming awards.
  • Conducts review of complex award terms during proposal stage and provide alternative language; strategize and implement compliant solutions, and craft appropriate alternatives exercising sound judgment and professional discretion.
  • Network with university, industry, international government, and quasi-government individuals and entities to develop potential research opportunities.
  • Represent Northwestern Sponsored Research in meetings with principal investigators, school administrators, and senior university administrators in areas related to sponsored research.
  • Provide guidance and leadership on policies and procedures.
  • Work collaboratively across all sectors of the university, and among the university and its affiliated health system and research partners, to implement best practices, standard operating procedures, and tools for the benefit of the university community.
  • Present as needed to a variety of constituents including campus-wide and national meetings.
  • Work to ensure Northwestern is recognized as a leader and innovator in sponsored research contracting.
  • Support and develop Research Contracts & Negotiations staff (most with JD degrees) in the negotiation of complex projects and understanding of sponsored research administration including serving as the lead/expert negotiator when needed.
  • Advise staff on alternative solutions to contractual issues that arise in the context of negotiations and attempts to reconcile the often-conflicting perspectives of academia and industry within established guidelines and in a manner that complements and supports Northwestern’s overall academic mission and research policy.
  • Works with the Executive Director and Associate Directors to implement robust training, development, and practice guides to ensure compliance with policies and applicable laws and regulations.
  • Drives best practices in contracting while empowering staff to excel in their roles and careers.
  • Data Management and Metrics – Leads and participates in system improvement initiatives, monitors changes in sponsor requirements and impact upon interfaces with other Northwestern University systems.
  • Maintains appropriate electronic systems to track and manage agreement negotiations in a timely and accurate manner.
  • Reports metrics on agreement processing where applicable.
  • Develops and maintains up-to-date negotiation library (playbooks, etc.) to ensure consistency in negotiated terms and conditions.
  • Uses University systems to analyze qualitative and quantitative measures for continual improvement.
  • Identifies needs and proposes solutions; actively contributes to the further development and implementation of those tools and measures.
  • Works with electronic research administration to design, manage, and expand usage and reliability of reports.
  • Consistently leads initiatives to improve reporting, transparency (for faculty, administrators, and leadership), and efficiencies without compromising quality and compliance.
  • Training activities – participate in curriculum development and delivery of sponsored research administration training to SR staff, departmental staff and faculty.
  • Lead ongoing service excellence and continuous improvement initiatives, including business process reviews, streamlining, and working with the Executive Director and University leadership to strengthen a growing an effective sponsored research office.


  • Performs other duties as assigned.

Minimum Qualifications:

  • Juris Doctorate degree and 6-8 years previous work experience in the administration of sponsored research at an educational institution, in the federal government, or other entity engaged in sponsored research.
  • 6-8 years of experience in drafting, reviewing and negotiating research-related agreements with a variety of domestic and international entities including companies, academic centers, and government institutions, for the support of academic research, including agreements providing funding for clinical or nonclinical research, and agreements for the transfer of proprietary materials, data and information to enable such research.
  • Capable of providing expert-level guidance to all OSR staff and University leadership.
  • Demonstrated ability to develop and coach effective teams.
  • Capable of representing OSR and the University at various meetings across campus including faculty meetings and campus-wide meetings and at national professional organizations (MAGI, UIDP, FDP, NCURA, SRAI, etc.).

Minimum Competencies: (Skills, knowledge, and abilities.)

  • Advanced knowledge and understanding of the administration of sponsored research/projects.
  • Experience administering, overseeing and negotiating contracts and agreements from federal, non-federal, industry and corporate sponsors, along with working knowledge of Federal Acquisition Regulation clauses applicable to agreements with educational institutions and of Uniform Guidance.
  • Advanced knowledge of federal and international regulatory requirements and guidelines involving clinical trials and those governing human and animal subjects in sponsored research.
  • Demonstrated expert knowledge of generally accepted contracting and subcontracting practices.
  • Demonstrated knowledge of intellectual property, copyright and patent law.
  • .Demonstrated knowledge of general management principles and practices, skill in dealing with others in work relationships involving mentoring, teamwork, conflict resolutions, and the ability to make difficult decisions.
  • Management and professional experience, business acumen, judgment and integrity to effectively serve investigators and sponsors, while continuously advancing the best interests of the University.
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills.

Preferred Qualifications:

  • Past experience in a leadership role within a central sponsored research office.
  • 8-10 years previous work experience in the administration of sponsored research at an educational institution, government, or other entity engaged in sponsored research.
  • Demonstrated ability to develop and conduct effective onboarding, training, and mentorship programs.  Demonstrated ability to effectively manage and motivate staff to achieve high levels of performance.

Preferred Competencies: (Skills, knowledge, and abilities)

  • Managing staff – empowers others through effective training and delegation of key tasks and functions; establishes clear understanding of roles and accountabilities, setting clear expectations, ensuring buy-in from staff, providing feedback and guidance, holding people and self-accountable
  • Strategic – possess strong industry and field awareness related to administration and management of sponsored projects and research. Demonstrated success in process improvement initiatives and process improvement in contracting activities.
  • Organization – plans, organizes and schedules in an efficient, productive manner; anticipates contingencies and pays close attention to detail; targets projects or initiatives that require special attention and focuses on key tasks, maximizing value and return, when faced with limited time and or resources.
  • Leadership – involves team members in solving problems and making decisions, inspires people to grow and be engaged in their work, obtains input from others, facilitates and leads change, inspires confidence and optimism through a clear vision and by personal example.
  • Customer Focus – regularly monitors customer satisfaction; provides suggestions to improve quality and value to the customer.

Please apply online at

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