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Remembering 50 Years In Research Administration

By SRAI News posted 07-09-2019 10:25 AM


Ira Goodman_2018

Authored by Ira S. Goodman
Senior Administrator, Center for Novel Therapeutics
Moores Cancer Center - University of California San Diego

In a series of articles, we will present the newest in research administration from the Journal of Research Administration. Read the full JRA here.

2018 marks my golden anniversary in research administration. I started at New York University on July 15, 1968. Fifty years is a long time to spend in one profession. For me, it was a perfect match. I embraced academic research administration and witnessed transformative changes, a sampling of which is described below. This retrospective reflects my views on how research administration has evolved over a half century through regulations, technology, and professional practice.

Over the course of my career, I have held positions as a department administrator (twice), director of a grants office and administrator of NCI designated comprehensive cancer centers at two institutions—New York University and University of California, San Diego. Accordingly, I have witnessed the changes from the department, campus and research center levels.

Research Administration Hits its Stride as a Profession

When I started, research administrators per se didn’t exist. We had position titles of department administrator or coordinator, program manager, executive/administrative assistant, grant and contract specialist, fund manager, grant accountant, grant analyst and the like. Of course, many of these titles exist today. There was no Dean/VP for Research. The Grants Office was the administrative center of all things research. Over the years, to comply with increasing regulations, but also in response to significant increases in the federal budget, research administration became a highly specialized profession with on-site and multiple external sources of training and education. A college degree was not required for a management position; now certain jobs require advanced degrees. There are certificate programs and graduate degrees in research administration. Indeed, the profession of research administration has become so broad and complex that it contains subspecialties of compliance, research risks, ethics, sponsored projects pre- and post-award administration, clinical research management, and research finance, to name a few. In the past, an individual would be internally promoted into research management; today, research administration has become a sought after profession starting early in the career selection process.

The business dress has also been updated. When I started, suits and ties were the male uniform de rigueur. Today, a somewhat more casual dress is considered quite acceptable; ties are optional, as are jackets. However, jeans still are not widely accepted in the research administration office workplace (which is fine by me). Networking has been made significantly easier through the growth of professional organizations, the internet, and social media. Research administration career advancement was so much more limited back then as compared to the 21st century. However, it must be noted that the Society of Research Administrators (in its globally restructured form as the Society of Research Administrators International) celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017 and the Journal of Research Administration’s 50th anniversary is 2019. We grew up together.

So how much has research administration changed in 50 years? From my perspective, the greatest change has been in how it has matured. It now attracts and requires individuals from a wide spectrum of professional backgrounds including science, accounting, engineering, ethics, law, finance, and non-profit management. It now requires so much more knowledge and expertise. It has transformed from paper to digital communication, greatly facilitating the growth and speed of business. Research administration has developed into an essential leadership role at universities and not-for-profits. On the other hand, it has not changed in the challenges to provide specialized service to investigators and institutions alike, to respectfully respond to granting agency requirements, and to conduct our business by applying the most stringent means to meet all legal, ethical and public expectations. My deep respect for those who have flourished in this environment and my best wishes to all whose careers will further advance our profession and the products of the research we support.