The Secret Life of a Research Administrator | Cindy Shirley
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Race weekends are fast-paced, deadline driven, and stressful.
As research administrators, we lead challenging work lives with proposals, deadlines, award negotiating, managing, and closeout. Always navigating complexities. My outside life has many similarities.
I am a 17-year veteran of the Miss Madison Racing Team, a nine-time National Champion unlimited hydroplane team owned by the citizens of Madison IN and currently sponsored by HomeStreet Bank. Our boat is powered by a Lycoming T-55 turbine engine and is propellor-driven. The boat can reach speeds over 200 mph. Don’t worry, unlike sailing, our crew stays on the beach and the driver is the only one in the boat!
Race weekends are fast-paced, deadline driven, and stressful. Rather than dealing with proposal deadlines, I have race deadlines. On our hydroplane team, I manage the driver’s safety equipment, the boat’s batteries, and talk to the driver while leaving the dock and returning. So much spray goes over the boat’s windshield when approaching plane and coming off plane, that it is difficult to see. Previously, I held the boat chief and crew chief roles as well.
This is my vacation.
Summers, for me, are not the same without racing. We travel the country to races in Alabama, Indiana, Washington state, and California. Typically, we set up our boat and pit area on Thursday, test and qualify on Friday, test and race on Saturday, and test and race on Sunday. Sunday evening, we pack it all back up. Unlike car racing, where the field runs one race, we run a series of heats and gain points in hopes of making the winner-take-all final heat on Sunday afternoon.
And when I say summers are not the same without racing, this was also our family vacation growing up. I attended my first race when I was 10 years old and that was it…I was hooked.
Research administration taught me how to stay calm and collected under pressure. When we are working against a proposal deadline and we have problems, maintaining focus is important to avoid mistakes. As with boat racing, panicking is not an option. If the boat comes back damaged from a run, we immediately get to work fixing it so we can make the next heat, which may be less than an hour later.
Many years ago, we were racing in San Diego. I was up working on the boat and my dad asked me to come meet someone because “she does what you do.” How many people have you met at some obscure place who are research administrators? Normally when using the word grants, people automatically think student grants. I finished up my work and headed down there to meet this person. She introduced herself and handed me her card. It was Sandra Nordahl, Director, Sponsored Research Contracting and Compliance at San Diego State University Research Foundation and former SRA International President! She and her husband were volunteers at the race! Very small world.
Authored by Cindy Shirley, Director, Office of Research
University of Washington, Bothell
Western Section Immediate Past President