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The Adventure of Research Administration in a Hybrid and Remote Work Environment

By SRAI News posted 20 days ago


The Adventure of Research Administration in a Hybrid and Remote Work Environment

I have been very fortunate during the past 25+ years to work in the field of research administration. I am currently the Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Administration at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. My adventure into research administration started when we still sent paper copies of proposals to the sponsors, and it wasn’t uncommon for someone to hop a flight to Washington, DC, in order to deliver a proposal before the sponsor’s deadline. Thankfully, times have changed, and there are very few mad dashes to FedEx at the last minute! The opportunity to work in this field provided me with fantastic opportunities in departments, in colleges, and at the campus level to work with faculty in developing and submitting proposals, reviewing and negotiating their awards, managing their financial accounts, and seeing them grow from early-stage investigators with big dreams to world-renowned scientists in their fields. These experiences prepared me for leadership roles overseeing the pre- and post-award functions of sponsored projects. 

During my adventures I have always learned from my colleagues at SRAI. I have participated in many of the SRAI activities over the years, which have provided intangible value to me in my career progression. In surveying the current research administration environment, I want to help develop the next generation of research administrators and believe that participating as an At-Large Board Member will allow me to engage in another way with the SRAI community. One area of focus for engagement that I really want to see SRAI pursue is helping individuals navigate our new work environments. Many organizations have moved to hybrid and/or fully remote work environments, which is beneficial in many ways but also adds complexity. As we think about educating and preparing our next generation of research administrators, we need to develop support mechanisms that accommodate this work environment shift. Examples of areas that may need focus would be developing opportunities for individuals to have informal connections when they have fewer face-to-face interactions with colleagues in their organizations and at professional meetings. Additionally, as a supervisor how do you navigate the expectations of your Vice Chancellor or Vice President for an office presence with the recruitment and retainment of individuals who want to have a hybrid or fully remote option? Over the next few years, I am sure we will all have stories of triumph and disappointment in this area, but I know that sharing lessons learned will help us all to navigate this changing dynamic. 

The future of SRAI should not only include the development of the next generation of researchers but also help the research community find ways to navigate and manage the evolving compliance landscape. Research administration is becoming more complicated for our organizations and our faculty. It is our role as professionals to provide guidance and practical solutions for our organizations to meet the sponsor’s obligations in these compliance areas.  

I look forward to working with SRAI colleagues to continue building upon the foundation of research administration as we explore new methods for developing future research administrators in the hybrid and fully remote work environments. Additionally, I envision that our next adventure will be navigating all the new compliance requirements!

Authored by Jean Mercer, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Administration
University of Tennessee, Knoxville