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Secret Skills for the Secret Research Administrator

By SRAI News posted 12-09-2021 09:26 AM


Secret Skills for the Secret Research Administrator

What skills does a research administrator need to succeed in their field? While many fundamental skills – good organizational, financial, project and time management – can be cited, there are others that are equally as valuable. It is these “add-on” skills that can take one to the next level. 

I’m often asked what skills a research administrator needs to succeed in their chosen field.  While anyone reading this article can cite many fundamental skills – good organizational skills, good financial skills, good project & time management skills – there are other secret “off the menu” items that in truth are equally as valuable in success.  However, many of these are not obvious from a curriculum point-of-view yet are essential once learned and applied.  It is these “add-on” enhanced skills that I believe take one to the next level.

  • A general understanding of clinical psychology is essential to understanding the different personality types that we often are required to work with.  Understanding where a faculty member may be coming from when they obsess about minutiae or express anxiety about a new policy is greatly beneficial in managing their stress.  Pre-award is a stressful task for all involved, while learning tools to lower the temperature are beneficial for all involved.
  • One can make a joke about research administration being like stand-up comedy, but in truth improv is about much more than humor.  Improv teaches flexibility and learning how to re-act to random events.  It is a great tool for loosening one up and seeing the fun in any situation.  And, key to research administration, it teaches one to pivot and think in the moment. 
  • The purpose of yoga is to build strength, awareness, and harmony in both the mind and body. Research administration is a field that tends to promote disarray, chaos, and stress.  Through the tools taught in yoga, be it Bikram Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, or Anusara Yoga, the fundamental skill emphasized is to align mind and body.  Yoga is beneficial in ensuring that the daily anxiety research administration can create does not remain to cause harm.
  • Yes, the “Star Wars” jedi master.  Through a study of his philosophies, one can relate and handle the issues that arise better.  “Do or do not, there is no try.”  “Named must be your fear before banish it you can.”  “The greatest teacher, failure is." And, “Fear is the path to the dark side.”  Master Yoda can teach any padawan the truth path to enlightenment. 

I’d also recommend a good “rolodex” of colleagues to whom you can reach out and share tips, tricks, hacks, and secret messages, in order to unleash the knowledge that others have.  Networking is sharing. And, as Barney the dinosaur once taught us, sharing is caring. 

Once you unlock the secret skills inherent in research administration, you can overcome any obstacle that your faculty or the NIH throws your way. 

Authored by Mark Lucas, Chief Administrative Office
UCLA Departments of Neurobiology, Computational Medicine, Pharmacology