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RA Career Paths | RAAAP-3 Survey to Focus on Career Paths

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


RA Career Paths | RAAAP-3 Survey to Focus on Career Paths

Many who find themselves in a career in research administration didn’t start out in this field. This series will focus on the unique, and often winding, paths that led to a career in research administration. Do you have an interesting story about how you got into your career in research administration? Share it with us by submitting an article here!

You knew from the time you were a child you wanted to become a research administrator when you grew up, right?  No one in the history of ever has probably uttered those words.  Everyone is different and seems to meander into the profession along different paths. Unfortunately, there is no degree course to get you into the profession. The entry into the world of research administration is still uncharted territory, so how do we end up here, in “The best job of all”?

We were all interested in this and decided to see if we could answer the question more generally.  Some previous work has shed some light onto the question, for example the 2016 Research Administration as a Profession (RAAAP) survey asked the question “How important were the following factors in your choice to become a research administrator?” with various options such as “moving from research”, or “just applied because of the skill set”, and of course “other” - eliciting over 600 mini stories.  Some responses included “Accidentally”, “close location of university to my home”, “finance qualification transferable skills”, “Funding ended for a project I was managing”, and even “graduate program in research administration”.  These vignettes give a clue to the variety of routes into research administration, but they don’t tell the whole story.

Having a common interest in how others found our profession, the four of us got together to discuss how we could find out more - and we shared our stories with each other:

Simon’s story - After graduating and flirting with becoming a dot-com millionaire (I was a number of years too early) I went back to university to work on a couple of research projects.  These were large multi-partner and multi-national projects, so although there was a lot of research there was also a lot of research administration - so maybe I can add those five years onto my research management and administration experience?  Anyway, four years later my PI got a new job as Director of Research Development at the University of Sunderland, the projects moved and so did we.  Then he persuaded the university that he needed an assistant… the projects were finishing, and I liked working for him, so I applied, got the job, and became a full-time research administrator!  Did I know it was a thing? No.  Did it take me two years to realize that there were other people in other universities doing similar roles? Yes!  Over the 25 years since then I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in so many different things and work with so many great people, like Melinda, Madhuri, and Cristina!

Melinda’s story - In my last life, I was a stay at home mom, raising four kids and farming.  As the children became old enough for school, I realized I could re-enter the workforce and enhance my family’s well-being.  Having an accounting background, I applied for and got a job in post-award accounting at my local institution, Clemson University.  I learned the university systems and became proficient with the policies and procedures and was poached by a pre-award office four years into my newfound career.  I felt like I was drinking from a firehose most days that first year in a pre-award office.  No amount of onboarding can prepare you for the fast-paced, deadline driven pre-award life when your only experience is in accounting--pocket protectors have no place here!  Until my first post-award job, I had no idea research administration was a job, much less a career.  But I happily find myself on a career path I love, with variety, excitement, stress, and projects that challenge every facet of my personality. 

Madhuri’s story - I always felt a need for greater mentorship during my PhD training. My first job after doctoral and postdoctoral studies was a Grants Adviser at the DBT/Wellcome Trust India Alliance. There, I was able to facilitate capacity building training for young researchers in addition to imbibing skills in grants management. My next career path was driven by opportunities where I could engage with early career researchers, in addition to finding something useful to do in research management. In my current position at the George Institute for Global Health, I support research management processes.  In particular, I am involved in capacity building, course development, and also facilitate training. At the end of my career, I may not remember how many grant applications I facilitated, how many collaborations I built, or how many institutional processes I created - but I will always remember my bright, energetic, and resilient young colleagues, for inspiring me to do more, seek more and learn more, each day.

Cristina’s story - My love for science would always lead me to work in science related issues! That is why I studied to become a science teacher, and am now working in a pre-award office at NOVA University Lisbon. After finishing my graduate studies, I began work in the Portuguese funding agency for science culture, where I truly discovered our research ecosystem. I knew from the beginning that I was “doing research management” (that was the name of my fellowship!), but had no idea what “doing research management” really meant! After five years of very intensive work on that job (and a little bit of a disappointment with the politics in it), I decided to quit!  To become closer to the research community itself, my path led me to try out many RMA tasks.  For example managing projects, science communication and, later on, to focus on funding advisory and grant preparation - my current role. It was only after many years in the job that professional identity became clear to me, when I started to engage with other professionals, at national and international levels. Sharing best practices and professional challenges really gave me a sense of belonging, and I just love it!

Learning each others’ backgrounds and stories, we decided to use the RAAAP questionnaire as a basis for a survey to find out more about how research administrators around the world found the profession.  This idea morphed into the third iteration of the RAAAP survey - to be run in 2022, this time with a focus on “How I Became A Research Manager and Administrator” - HIBARMA.

What we hope to get from the survey

In this burgeoning profession, learning more about the pathways leading into our particular craft can help inform future curriculum developers, policy makers, institutional administrators, and indeed those trying to find the right profession for themselves.

It will also be interesting to look at the geographical contexts in getting to the profession and to suggest target actions, relative to each context.

Results from the survey could then lead to individual interviews where testimonials would be collected and showcased to the whole community and also for non-professionals who might be inspired to join our diverse profession.

Potential timeline for the RAAAP-3 HIBARMA survey

We hope to have the questionnaire developed, tested and approved by each IRB by the end of 2021.  We will run the survey in early 2022, and cleanse and analyze the data by the end of the summer.  We can then release the dataset for others to use, but we will of course be writing up the work ourselves.  And we also plan to do some more in-depth follow-up interviews - who knows, dear reader, you may be one of the stars of the show!

Watch this space: Research Administration as a Profession (RAAAP) TaskForce | INORMS.

Authored by

dutta.png Madhuri Dutta, Head CORE India, George Institute for Global Health, India fischer.png Melinda Fischer, Grants Administrator and Manger, Clemson University, US
kerridge.png Simon Kerridge, Founder, Kerridge Research Consulting, UK oliveira.png Cristina Oliveira, Funding Adviser Coordinator, NOVA University Lisbon, Portugal