This specialization is somewhat of a technology focused paralegal track that is well-suited for geeks who enjoy helping researchers understand policies established by foreign and domestic governments and granting authorities. When the university and its stakeholders are compliant, they’re less likely to be ensnarled in litigation, which prevents pain, suffering and expense.
Since laws associated with research typically pertain to data and how they are managed, and the bar is elevated depending on the classification of data in question, compliance specialists must be well-informed about best practices associated with research data stewardship, storage, access and sharing. They frequently help principal investigators draft their data-sharing and information security plans and help technologists navigate technical controls on research facing services. They need to understand cybersecurity best practices, but they’re not in a policing role. In many ways, they’re more like a lawyer than a police officer. They will tell a PI if something they are doing is allowed, but they aren’t the one to penalize or prevent them from accessing resources if rules are broken. That said, they work closely with sponsored projects, cybersecurity and legal officers to ensure that the university isn’t compromised or taking on excessive risk. But for the most part, the compliance specialist is the campus go-to person who makes the call on whether or not a practice is allowed by a particular granting agency or within a geographic or government context.
What combination of skills and aptitude help someone succeed in this role? The ability to establish trust with diverse and distributed communities of practice requires patience, tenacity and assertiveness. An aptitude for learning is critical since policies are always changing, and new laws are presented on a regular basis. Effective oral and written communications skills are critical as much of the specialist’s time is spent communicating with stakeholders. The soft skills described here are more important than any specific academic or professional preparation. That said academic or profession tracks that provide experience in technology, compliance, and research are highly valued.