Elliott selected for SPaRC Career Achievement Award

Siv Schwink

Celia Elliott poses with Professors Dale Van Harlingen (left), Liang Yang, and Paul Selvin (right) at the SPaRC Retreat at the I-Hotel in Urbana on Friday, September 16, 2016. Elliott was honored for her contributions to research administration at Physics Illinois.
Celia Elliott poses with Professors Dale Van Harlingen (left), Liang Yang, and Paul Selvin (right) at the SPaRC Retreat at the I-Hotel in Urbana on Friday, September 16, 2016. Elliott was honored for her contributions to research administration at Physics Illinois.
Celia Elliott, Physics Illinois’ director of external affairs and special projects, has received the 2016 SPaRC Career Achievement Award, for her significant and sustained contributions throughout her career to the field of research administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The award was presented by the campus’s Sponsored Programs and Research Compliance group on Friday, September 16, 2016, during the SPaRC Retreat at the I-Hotel in Urbana.

Elliott is widely recognized among the department’s faculty as the pivotal resource for all things pertaining to successful grant writing and administration. Her thorough expertise and tireless efforts in this area help to secure research funding vital to the department’s core mission of advancing fundamental science. Each academic year, Elliott works closely with faculty members to prepare or assist in the preparation of up to 50 research grant proposals, staying abreast of the complex and stringent submission and administrative requirements of federal research-funding agencies, foundations, and industry corporations.

Elliott’s unflagging dedication over the course of her 20 years on staff make her “the most irreplaceable employee” at Physics Illinois, according to Department Head and Professor Dale Van Harlingen.

“Celia is a remarkable woman and invaluable contributor to the department. Her unique skills, her work ethic, and her commitment to her job are truly remarkable,” Van Harlingen asserts. “She plays many vital roles in the department, but the one that most affects our extensive research enterprise is her role as primary contact of our faculty for identifying grant opportunities and writing and submitting competitive research proposals. It is a task of immeasurable importance to the department, one that she does with extraordinary excellence, style, and class, and one for which she has as much pride and takes as much responsibility as the faculty who seek the funding for their research.”

Once a grant is secured, Elliott continues to support faculty members through the grant administration process, helping them to prepare annual and final reports, budget revisions, and no-cost extensions.

Professor Brian DeMarco notes that Elliot’s efforts do more than secure grants for fundamental research: her support also grants faculty members greater focus on their science.

“I think of Celia as a powerful faculty multiplier. Her energy, accuracy, enthusiasm, and activity level are so high that she relieves faculty from the many tasks related to research administration that do not require our expertise. Hence, we are all left with more time for research activities and conceptualizing new and exciting research directions,” DeMarco comments.

Elliott’s expertise and eagerness to help with all aspects of research administration are perhaps most appreciated by junior faculty members who are new to proposal writing. In fact, her reputation for contributing to the building of physics careers is a selling point in recruiting new faculty members, DeMarco adds.

Elliott also works closely with faculty to provide training to students in technical writing, and specifically in grant-proposal writing, helping to guarantee the success of future generations of scientists. She co-teaches courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. But, as Associate Head for Graduate Programs and Professor S. Lance Cooper points out, her efforts extend beyond the classroom.

“Each fall semester since 2011, Celia has helped run an NSF/DOE grad fellowship proposal writing workshop to train graduate students in astronomy, physics, and materials science,” Cooper shares. “Each of the last 5 years, Celia has also helped run an NSF/DOE grad fellowship pre-competition, in which grad students from several departments have pre-submitted their fellowship applications for critical review. These efforts have been associated with a dramatic increase in the number of NSF Graduate Research Fellowships awarded to physics, astronomy, and materials science students at Illinois.”

Elliott’s instruction in technical writing and grant-proposal preparation and administration is in demand outside the department, nationally and internationally. She has presented numerous workshops at Sandia National Laboratories, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, and the National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan. She has also presented four webinars for the American Chemical Society and hosted two highly popular “Ask Me Anything” sessions on Reddit.

From 1993 to 2008, Elliott travelled to the former Soviet Union a total of 34 times to help scientists there in all aspects of integrating into the broader scientific community, helping to write technical reports and scientific papers in English, to prepare research proposals, and to establish collaborations with U.S. scientists.

Over the course of her career, Elliott has been recognized with several honors. She received the Doug and Judy Davis Award for Excellence in Teaching Undergraduate Physics (2013); was selected the grand champion of the American Physical Society’s Physics Haiku Competition (2004); received the Civilian Research and Development Foundation’s Recognition Medal (2005); was presented with an honorary doctorate in humane letters from South Ural State University in Russia (2003); and received the Chancellor’s Academic Professional Excellence Award from the U. of I. (2002).

The Sponsored Programs and Research Compliance group at the U. of I. is supported by the Office of the Assistant Vice President for Business & Finance and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research.

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