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Reflections from a Fellow in the Journal of Research Administration’s Author Fellowship Program

By SRAI JRA posted 12-09-2019 09:59 AM


Volume L, Number 3

Reflections from a Fellow in the Journal of Research Administration’s Author Fellowship Program


Angela J. Silva

With the completion of the third cohort of the Journal of Research Administration’s Author Fellowship Program (JRA-AFP), I suspect many of the Fellows are deep in the manuscript development stage, refining their ideas for a JRA submission. Just a few short years ago, I was doing the same thing—writing and revising my article as part of the first Fellowship cohort. You might be wondering what I thought about the program and what my overall experience was like. Let me share a bit of my journey with you.

For me, being a published author was always a dream and seemed almost unattainable. In my role as a senior research administrator, I had a broad scope of responsibilities and worked with clinicians to help them increase their capacity to conduct community-based research. I had limited time to pursue anything related to developing a manuscript and honestly had no idea where to even begin. Then, in the Fall of 2016, I saw the email announcement about JRA’s Author Fellowship Program. This six-month pilot program was offered to encourage more interest in the journal by matching research administrators (fellows) with published JRA authors (peer advisors).

Part of the JRA application process involves describing the steps you as a future fellow would need to complete and submit a manuscript. In my application, I wanted to primarily focus on defining strategies that I could adopt for developing my article while also considering how to frame and shape this article to ensure it would be relevant to a broad audience of research administrators. I want to emphasize that the goals are set by the future fellow. These objectives are not prescribed or dictated. The fellow decides and then drives the progress.

Beyond writing and submitting a manuscript, fellows may propose goals centering around many things such as building skill and confidence; developing a topic idea; conducting a literature search; defining a research question and direction for a future research project; or getting feedback on a draft article or manuscript. During the program, fellows and their peer advisors frequently connect to map out incremental targets and timelines to figure out what is needed to accomplish these goals, including a future manuscript submission to JRA.

This email from JRA piqued my curiosity and presented an opportunity that I never knew was available. If I was selected, I would be matched with an advisor that would help me figure out how to publish in the JRA. I was thrilled that a program to support would-be authors existed and quickly submitted my application. A few short months later, I began my journey as one of the inaugural Fellows in the JRA-AFP.

That’s when things got interesting.

The first cohort began in January 2017. I was one of seven Fellows. Being in this program gave me much-needed guidance and practical tools. Over the next six months, I noticed my mindset shifted. I went from a place of “wishing I could” to “I can” and “I did.” What kept me grounded and on track was my Peer Advisor, Alicen Nickson, Director of Research & Enterprise at Royal Holloway (University of London, UK).

Her mentorship was a critical contributor to my success. Alicen was a published author with similar interests. She provided some key insights during our regular calls and many email exchanges as I wrote and rewrote sections of my manuscript. In our initial discussions, we reviewed the goals I wanted to achieve during and after the Fellowship ended. As you read this, you might be thinking, why discuss goals for after the fellowship? I had the same thought. Alicen emphasized that developing a manuscript takes time. The Fellowship program was only six months long and while I would be working on my article, I needed to balance this with work and family commitments. Basically, I shouldn’t rush through the process or set unrealistic expectations. This was sage advice that I continued to be mindful of throughout the program.

In our next set of conversations, we discussed the process of developing the article. I needed to figure out the nuts and bolts of this process and build my confidence. We started with a simple outline of my topic. I took an extra step here and made sure I incorporated the specific JRA formatting requirements into each section of the outline. This would make it easier for me to finalize the manuscript and not have to figure out those details later. As the months progressed, I found dedicating time to work on the manuscript challenging. Trying to find time to think and write was nearly impossible. During these times, Alicen continued to check in with me via email and comment on the manuscript sections that I had drafted. Even if I made a little bit of progress, it was still progress and this was good.

Still, there were some doubts taking root. I was beginning to think my idea of becoming a published author was more fantasy than reality. What was I thinking?

Alicen’s steadfast guidance was so impactful during this time. She reminded me how resilient I am and kept encouraging me. She also reminded me that writing a manuscript takes both discipline and time. Her unwavering support kept me moving forward.

Still, this wasn’t an easy journey. Over the next several months, I spent many an evening and weekend writing and rewriting various sections. When I submitted the manuscript to JRA, I felt like I had just completed 26.2 miles of a writing marathon. I gave myself a big pat on the back for this accomplishment. “I did it!

Then, I got the JRA editorial review board’s comments and the “do-over” process began.

I approached the manuscript revision in phases. For the first several months, I looked over reviewer comments and let them soak in. These comments were very comprehensive and there were many areas of the article that I needed to fine-tune. I had lingering bursts of self-doubt: “Can I do this? Is it worth it?” In one moment of self-reflection I reminisced on one of my conversations with Alicen Nickson. I could almost hear her reminding me that developing an article for a peer-reviewed journal is a process. I needed to accept the high points and the low points and stay the course.

It took courage and self-discipline to get back on track. After I reconfirmed my commitment to getting this article revised and published, I spent several more months reshaping each section. It was at this stage that I found the reviewer comments very helpful. These comments helped me realize that I needed to explain things a bit more clearly. I shifted my perspective and started to think about writing in a way that would make my work relatable and interesting to a broad audience of research administrators.

My manuscript was based on a two-part pilot survey project that I completed during my doctoral dissertation in 2015. In this scholarly research project, I really wanted to learn how aware the broader research administration (RA) community was of Peter Senge’s Five Disciplines model and the extent that universities, academic medical centers, community hospitals, federal and state facilities, and for-profit and nonprofit institutions used this model. In the JRA article, I shared the results of what I learned.

One of the last steps I took during the revision stage was to share the working draft with SRAI colleagues outside of my home institution for their critiques. The feedback from this peer-review circle was a critical step and helped me ensure that the themes and recommendations I presented were relevant to the broader RA community. I edited and updated my manuscript based on their feedback.

The resubmission process was much smoother, and my manuscript, “Research Administration Organizations: Results from and Investigation into the Five Disciplines,” was published in the Fall 2018 edition of JRA (Volume XLIX, Number 2). I learned that I was the first Fellow from my cohort and the Author Fellowship Program to publish in the JRA. At first, this felt a bit unbelievable, but then as this news sunk in a bit more, I became really proud of what I had accomplished. My experience in this program, combined with solid mentorship, sheer willpower and tenacity helped me get to this point. I doubt I would have ever published my manuscript without this opportunity.

The JRA Author Fellowship Program was meaningful to me personally and professionally. I was very happy with my experience. I tend to have a leap-before-looking approach to my work and just dive into whatever I am doing. The Fellowship program provided me with the structure and guidance I needed. I also had a lot of autonomy and ownership in the process. There was no requirement for me to publish within the six months of the program. I got to set my goals and work with my peer advisor to figure out how to accomplish them.

The JRA-AFP also provides an opportunity to give back and help develop other would-be authors. I am continuing to learn and grow through this program. This year, I served as a Peer Advisor to Ms. Allen Mukhwana, MBA, Research Systems Manager at The African Academy of Sciences. I enjoyed mentoring Allen and supporting her goal to become a published author.

Shifting from a Fellow to a Peer Advisor requires a thoughtful approach. I combined some of the mentoring techniques I learned from Alicen along with my personal experiences. I shared these experiences with Allen. I am so proud of how her confidence has grown while in the program and I look forward to continuing to champion her success as a peer-reviewed author.

I am also interested in continuing to share stories in peer-reviewed publications. In 2017, I transitioned from a Senior Grants Administrator to a Research Project Manager II role. This allowed me to shift from a purely administrative role to one where I am directly involved in conducting the research. I have learned so much about designing, implementing, and keeping projects on track. I am excited to author and co-author manuscripts to other peer-reviewed journals to share the results and experiences from this work.

So, what I want to share with you as I bring this article to a close is to encourage you to lean in and embrace the unknown. Leap before you look and be open to the amazing opportunities that we have in the broader RA community. When I was asked to write a Voices of Experience article for JRA, I didn’t hesitate. I wanted to share my story and hopefully this will inspire you to take the same leap of faith I did. The journal’s editorial team is very supportive and always looking to promote the scholarship of those who work in our innovative field.

For me, I know there are many more stories to come. I wish you well on your journey to authorship.