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Elyse Wagner

picture of Elyse Wagner

I have worked at the Space Telescope Science Institute for 11 years. I was hired in 1985 as an Accounting Technician for the Finance Department. After two and a half years, I applied for an open position in the Budget Department and became a Budget Analyst. Two years later, in 1989, I applied for a Grants Specialist position in the Grants Administration Branch and I have been there ever since.

As a Senior Grants Specialist, I issue grants to United States Institutions for the support of astronomers who use the Hubble Space Telescope. What is a grant? A grant is a gift of money given for a particular purpose. In this case, it is money to support the scientific research on images and spectra from the Hubble Space Telescope that was approved by the Director of Institute. How much money? A Financial Review Committee helps the Director decide on the amount of funding that is needed for each Program. I am an exofficio member of that Committee.

There are many facets to my position. One facet is filled with the rules and regulations that govern grants. Because this grant money is taxpayer money that is provided by NASA there are NASA requirements, Federal Government Regulations, and Space Telescope Science Institute Policies, Procedures, and Standard Practices to be followed. These rules and regulations help to keep the grant process fair for all astronomers who wish to participate. The Institutions receiving the funds to support the astronomers (grantees) must comply with the requirements of the grant. So, can an astronomer just take the grant money and go on vacation or buy a sports car? No! The astronomer must produce scientific results and is expected to publicize the results by writing papers and giving talks.

Other facets of my job include supervising personnel, authorizing payments to the Institutions, authorizing changes to the terms and conditions of the grant and keeping track of the total funding.

I always enjoy helping the astronomers get the resources (people, equipment, supplies, etc.) that they need to do their research. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the Johns Hopkins University and will never be a scientist, but being a Grants Specialist gives me an opportunity to participate in an exciting and rewarding scientific endeavor.

The one thing that I do not enjoy about my job is having to tell astronomers that they did not get the amount of money that they requested for their Program. This happens frequently because there is not enough funding to give everyone what they think they need to analyze the data.

I did not decide to make my career in grant administration. I came to the Institute with a strong background in accounting and one position became a building block to another. Accounting skills were necessary to prepare budgets and budget skills were needed to be a Grants Specialist. Often, the skills we learn for one job are used years later in another. The Budget Manager and the Manager of the Grants Administration Branch have positively influenced my career because they each took their time to mentor and help me to develop the skills necessary to be successful.

When I was growing up, I was very interested in art and nature. I loved to draw and watch worms crawing, or ants carrying leaves. I was very curious about the world and how it worked. Today, I still like to draw and enjoy hiking and traveling. I especially like hiking in New Mexico, exploring the Anazazi Indian's cliff dwellings and seeing the ancient petroglyphs carved on the walls of the caves.

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