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Staff Q&A: Mary Beth Tull, director of Research Oversight and Compliance at NUDACC

Mary Beth Tull

Mary Beth Tull, director of Research Oversight and Compliance at the Northwestern University Data Analysis & Coordinating Center (NUDACC), coordinates and oversees research administration at NUDACC. 


Where are you originally from?

I am originally from Waterloo, Iowa. I came to Chicago for undergrad and stayed because I love the city.

What is your educational background?

I double majored in Psychology and Philosophy for my undergraduate education. I obtained a Master’s degree in clinical counseling psychology, thinking I’d become a counselor. I enjoyed my counseling practicum — I went into the homes of people who hoarded and used cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques to help them clean up their living spaces.

But, the practice of counseling just wasn’t enough to hold my attention; the philosopher in me was more interested in the underlying justification of those counseling techniques. This interest in efficacy research led me into a career in research operations. I soon realized that the coaching techniques I learned during my training as a counselor were a great asset as a manager.

Please tell us about your professional background.

My research operations career started at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where I interviewed adolescent girls, their mothers and their romantic partners about their trauma histories and STI-risk behavior.

Then I wanted a new challenge — working on those complex clinical drug trials — so I came to the Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern in 2014 as a research project manager. After assisting with the team’s 5-year grant renewal, I saw the announcement for NUDACC, and decided to apply for the staff leadership position. I’ve been with NUDACC for three months now, and I love the work of helping to build a new center.

Why do you enjoy working at Northwestern?

My work at Northwestern combines my dual passions for practicality and intellectuality. Medical research is grounded by the goal of actually implementing new clinical care practices, but is driven by the innovation and creativity of a lot of smart people. My colleagues’ intelligence and drive pushes me to challenge myself every day.

How do you help scientists and/ or research students at the medical school?

My job is to focus on the research operations, so our scientists can focus on what they do best: the science. If I can help the team’s staff members think through and implement an elegant solution to a complex administrative problem, the project’s scientific leaders are free to make sure the study’s design answers the question they want to ask. Innovative ideas require innovative methods of implementation, so the better I am at my job, the more creative the scientists can be in their research.

What is your favorite part of the job?

I love creating an ambitious and supportive environment where the team’s staff can develop new skills, knowledge, passions and initiatives in their work. The best part of the job is seeing staff succeed, develop, and then move on to bigger and better projects.

What exciting projects are you working on?

We just launched the development of a large, multicenter, observational study to learn more about gestational diabetes. More than one thousand women across the country will wear continuous glucose monitors during their pregnancy. At the moment, our team is running four weekly meetings as different groups of scientists discuss and negotiate the study design. We hope to start accrual later this year!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

During the summer months, you’ll find me bicycling the Wisconsin kettles.