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Day in the Life of a Research Administrator: Avoiding Fire Fighter Burnout

By SRAI News posted 12-11-2019 02:25 PM


Day in the Life of a Research Administrator: Avoiding Fire Fighter Burnout

I was on the bus home the other day and when I told a fellow rider I was a research administrator, and asked, “what is a research administrator”? 

I told her that a research administrator essentially manages all of the business aspects associated with research; however, our field is so much more than this. We are servant leaders, the protectors of our institutions, the torchbearers for our faculty, and the advocates for our staff.  It’s so easy to get bogged down by the endless list of re-budgets, reconciliation, and proposal submissions, and miss our greater purpose, thinking narrowly of ourselves only as paper pushers.

Today was a prime example for me. Despite a well-intentioned plan, only one item on my to-do list was completed, as I was interrupted all day with one problem after another. One hundred and twenty emails later, 10 problems resolved, and with nothing really to show for my day but one item on my list, I was discouraged. My day started with a call from our Procurement office about issues on a $238,000 purchase request. It continued with an impromptu effort meeting with a new faculty member, helping another unit with a complex cost-share problem, and answering a myriad of questions from staff. It ended with completing one item on my list; final close-out analysis for a research project that ended September 30, and for which we didn’t receive the final award until September 27. 

Sometimes, especially as managers, and particularly after a crazy day of putting out one fire after another, it’s easy to forget that my agenda isn’t what really matters. My sense of accomplishment needs to come from more than checking off a list. Rather, my purpose should be reflected in the good I did for a day, helping my fellow colleagues, staff, faculty, students, and institution to be successful, even if it wasn’t on my list.

Authored by: Ruth Halsey, Post-Award Financial Manager; President-Elect Midwest Section
University of Michigan, Division of Cardiology