The Secret Life of a Research Administrator | The Lifelong Student: Welcome to the First Day of the 24th Grade
“The Secret Life of a Research Administrator” column is meant to facilitate more personal connections between SRAI members through the Catalyst newsletter. If you would like to share with the community or know of someone who will, please submit your article here.
I am in a passionate love affair with learning. Many years ago, I decided to spend my life advancing science and medicine through research administration. Part of that journey includes going back to school, yet again, this time for my doctorate. But the hard truth is, being a lifelong student is hard work.
Like you, I am many things. I am a wife, a mother, a researcher, a writer, and an explorer. I am a human being, a woman, a leader, and a friend. Yet, while all these roles intersect, connect, and overlap, there is one role that saturates every aspect of my life: the role of a lifelong student. A seeker of new knowledge. The eternal apprentice.
I love learning and will always be drawn to the process of learning. For ultimately, it is the process, more than the content or result, that is the most exciting. The outcome, an academic degree, has always been less significant than the journey of “getting there.” Learning is the art of discovery. Every human being needs expansion of capacity, capability, or of understanding to feel satisfied. Humans need to grow and make progress, or they will become bored.
Yet inherent in this pursuit is the acknowledgment that there is no absolute knowledge. All information is imperfect, and we must treat it with humility. The pursuit of knowledge is personal, and we must always be prepared to acknowledge that we might be mistaken. When we forget that, we forget ourselves and the very worst can happen.
Lifelong learning also comes with the obligation of adaptability. As the new spring blossoms, we must be willing to pick ourselves up from the roots, shake off the dirt, and settle into a new larger pot with fresh soil and space to grow and think new thoughts. We must be willing to leave our current situation and follow a new opportunity, whether it be a new job or a new educational degree, in order to continue our professional and personal growth. Lifelong learning is about exploring the full range of our own potentialities for sensing, wondering, and aspiring.
Lifelong learning requires immense courage to start over again over and over again, learning something new each time. It requires unconditional acceptance of your full self, the bright and shiny parts of yourself that you celebrate and embrace, and the dark and cloudy parts that you have abandoned and forgotten. For you cannot challenge new truths without integrating all aspects of yourself, accepting that life and knowledge is a beautiful work in progress.
I believe that lifelong learning is the most important life skill. I have seen a great many things in the world, but only a handful of decisions truly define our lives. Despite the struggles and tears, finishing this doctorate will be an achievement of my own making. And what an achievement it will be.
This fall, my love affair with learning enters its third year on my doctoral journey. My dissertation topic has changed 23 times, mostly without my permission. I currently understand about 2% of the statistical calculations that will be required. I constantly go between having anxiety attacks about my GPA and trusting the sad fact that no one cares. Although I have several scholarships, my student loan makes me cry. While it is true that I know more than anyone in the world about this one teeny tiny thing, it is also true that I am the only person in the world who cares about this one teeny tiny thing. In most of my classes, there is never one right answer, and yet, I always seem to be wrong. Oh, and let us not forget that there is a global pandemic, and all the libraries and coffee shops have now closed.
Yes, it is true that being a lifelong student is hard work. The limits of my personal discovery, adaptability, and courage have been tested in every measurable unit these last three years. And yet, going back to school and balancing the roles of mother, research administrator, and lifelong student is part of my secret life, and it fuels my passion. I know that if I want to continue to collaborate with physicians, scientists, and professionals in my community and around the world, I will need to continue this love affair with lifelong learning.
Authored by Holly R. Zink, MSA, ACRP-CP, (Ph.D. Student), Medical Research Writer
University of Kansas Medical Center, Department of Surgery
SRAI Journal of Research Administration Associate Editor