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View from the Top | In the World of Ordinary Mortals, Research Administrators Are Superheroes

By SRAI News posted 05-02-2019 03:41 PM

Kim Carter

Authored by: Kim C. Carter

SRAI President
University of Kentucky

As a child who loved to read and had a vivid imagination, I was fascinated with superheroes. I wanted to be just like Superman and fly across the sky and like Batman who had so many cool gadgets to play with. Most of all, I wanted to save the world just like they did. It didn't take me long to discover I didn't have the incredible physical strength or laser vision, so I probably wasn't qualified to be a superhero like in the comic books. I headed to law school after graduating from college thinking I would instead become a public defender and save at least one person at a time. My first job as a research administrator was a way to pay for tuition. I can honestly say I had no idea what a research administrator was at that point but since then I've discovered some things.

When submitting proposals, I use my ability to read minds and see the future. I interpret sponsor guidelines, develop budgets, and use my keen ability to sense danger and dodge obstacles while helping faculty manage their projects. I advocate for the best interests of the PIs, help them maneuver through the myriad of regulations (or laws) and provide support to my customers so they can focus on their research. I now feel like I'm saving the world, one Pl at a time. That's pretty good for a superhero wannabe.

After my first SRAI meeting, my supervisor asked me what I had learned. My response was that I now knew that I had entered a profession, not just taken a job at the university. I hadn't realized how many people were doing the same job as mine. Looking back now, I realize I could have also told her that I had just met lots of superheroes.

Through my involvement with SRAI, I have met amazing research administrators. Some of them have the special ability to see problems and situations from a different (some might say elevated) vantage point that enables them to see the bigger picture instead of getting lost in the weeds. Others excel at focusing in on the exact problem and many look past (or through) what's being said or asked to find out what is really wanted or needed.

Some of my colleagues are incredibly flexible and comfortable with our less than clear cut (or I guess I should say gray) profession. Others are not afraid to stand tall and be the first adopter of new policies even when they know the auditors will be watching. I have been amazed by the people I've met who have epic organizational and time management skills and can complete tasks with faster-than-light speed. Other colleagues have incredible strength in the face of adversity during budget cuts or job losses, are geniuses when working with new electronic systems, can effortlessly adapt their approach or demeanor to fit any situation, communicate extremely effectively with faculty, post-docs, sponsors and university bureaucrats, and most are committed to helping others and making the world a better place through research (by facilitating the research of others). In other words, in the world of ordinary mortals, research administrators are superheroes.

Personally, I don't have all of these extraordinary powers and abilities. I have been fortunate though to have been involved in SRAI. Through SRAl's educational programs and meetings, I have met and learned from my superhero colleagues who have been willing to teach me their special skills and share their superpowers with me.

I know that SRAI is a team of gifted research administrators with amazing superpowers and just as superheroes are stronger as a team, drawing strength and power from each other, so are SRAI's members. 

1 comment



05-09-2019 10:51 PM

This is my favorite article of the month. Great work.