Pushing a Cart Up the Hill: Continuing Education in Research Administration

By SRAI News posted 08-11-2021 03:42 PM


Pushing a Cart Up the Hill: Continuing Education in Research Administration

How does one decide to enter this field, and further how does one determine whether advanced education, professional certification, and/or a terminal degree is required?

Stephanie Blackmore pondered these same questions and shared how she determined the best course to continue her education in research administration.

Research administration is a relatively new field in the world of education.  While it was only after World War II that the need arose for professionals to help with the administrative processes in sponsored research, this need has grown into a professional discipline that has begat training programs since the 1970’s.  Today, there is professional certification in research administration, as well as Master’s degrees in the field.  It is thrilling to see our discipline become a career option nationally and internationally.  Yet, how does one decide to enter this field, and further how does one determine whether advanced education, professional certification, and/or a terminal degree is required?

For many, continuing education is a deeply personal decision that involves many factors. These factors are limitless, but may include time, money, family, drive, and fear. Stephanie Blackmore pondered these same questions upon graduating with her Bachelor’s degree, and made a promise to herself to return to school at some point to further her studies.  Like most of us post-college, establishing one’s identity melded into the need to identify work and pay for expenses.  However, in the process, per Stephanie, “I started a career path that I fell in love with:  Research Administration.”

Like many who “fall into” research administration, over time Stephanie questioned her role and place among her peers.  “I came across many people in Research Administration whom I admired, many of whom had higher education along with various certificates, which made me eager to fulfill my promise from years back of returning to school to continue my education.”  After researching certificate programs, “I thought I could appease that promise by obtaining the Certified Research Administrator (CRA) credential. I started studying with a group at my institution and passed the exam.”  And, how has this benefitted her?  “One benefit was allowing me to glimpse everything research administration encompasses, well past what I encounter in my current position. The CRA has provided me with a good sense of knowledge, confidence and respect from my peers. When I passed, I was elated, and I wanted more.”

While certification is but one professional credential, many research administrators working at academic institutions, which value higher education.  Speaking with faculty and leaders, they naturally encouraged pursuing graduate-level studies.  There are many national online Master’s programs that provide a foundational education in our field.  After reviewing options (business, psychology, health administration, etc.) and what would best fit her career, Stephanie remarked, “I decided on a Master’s degree in research administration in one of the newer programs now available, an online program for Master of Science in Research Administration and Compliance (at CUNY School of Professional Studies). She frankly shared, “I was nervous.  I had been out of school for nine years and the world had been dealing with COVID-19.  I thought - What if the school rejects my application? What if I fail? Can I do this?  I felt the push of my promise, but also the fear. Despite this, I persisted and submitted my application. I was accepted to the Master’s program, and I will be starting this Fall term.  The nervousness remains, but pales in comparison to my excitement.”  With the promise of a Masters in a couple of years, what benefit does she see?  How will this help her career?  “I eventually will find myself in a position of mentoring others, and I see this as a means to improve both career knowledge and my mentorship skills.”

In the end, research administration remains a field taught through apprenticeship, repetition, and experience.  Nevertheless, the options available to us are heartening.  Continuing education is important for individual growth.  Certification and graduate programs will provide standardization of knowledge of research administration and well as legitimacy of this discipline as a true field of education and study.  Though exploring the options, this creates communication and discussion among research administrators, which can only facilitate expanded awareness and expanding the breadth of the field.    

Authored by

blackmore.png Stephanie Blackmore, CRA, Senior Research Administrator, University of Michigan mlucas2.png Mark Lucas, Chief Administrative Officer, UCLA Department of Neurobiology & Computational Medicine