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Research Administration Careers| Considering Getting a Certification? Reflection and Tips from a Research Administrator

By SRAI News posted 09-08-2022 11:57 AM


Research Administration Careers| Considering Getting a Certification? Reflection and Tips from a Research Administrator

This month’s Spotlight focuses on certification as an important component of a research administrator’s toolkit. Katrina Akioka shares her personal experience and offers valuable insights on deciding what type of certification to pursue and how best to prepare for that all-important testing day. 

I went into research administration with a Bachelor’s degree and a lot of work experience.  Working in academia, I was the minority in my department as I did not have a graduate degree and had no time or money to invest in a graduate program. I kept thinking, however, it would be beneficial to have at least some sort of certification under my belt.  

The shutdown that came with the onset of COVID forced many to rethink their careers and jobs; it did the same for me.  I knew I loved research administration and that it was my career path so I decided to finally pursue (and stop just pondering) getting certified. My participation in the SRAI Odyssey Program, as well as having attended several SRAI conferences, connected me with a great supportive community that helped cement my path.  I also knew there were many tools available through SRAI, such as the LevelUP Micro-credentialing Program, Coffee Talks, and webinars that would be readily accessible in my pursuit of a certification.    

I opted for the Certified Research Administrator (CRA) credential given by the Research Administration Certification Council (RACC). The CRA exam consists of 250 questions with four hours allotted and a 70% passing score. Several other available certifications are also worth pursuing. 

If you are considering some sort of certification and are qualified to sit for the test, here are a few tips and tricks I learned along the way, coupled with helpful advice from esteemed colleagues who went down the same path before me: 

  • Search the body of knowledge for the type of certification you are pursuing and really focus on the areas you are not a content expert in to learn that first.
  • SRAI’s own LevelUP program is invaluable as a study tool. A lot of what was covered in the CRA exam can be found in the various LevelUP modules. There is practice for test taking as each module has a knowledge quiz at the end. Inquire at your institution if they have access and if they don’t, maybe they would consider getting access.
  • To absorb any and all things related to research administration, sign up for the Research Administration Listserv:
  • Allow plenty of time to review what you know and learn what you don’t know of the exam content. I gave myself over a year to study (which seemed like a really long time) but I figured it was better getting very comfortable with the material rather than needing to keep retaking the test or giving up if I failed on the first try.
  • It can be difficult to study on your own. Find or create a study group (or multiple ones) that can help in your endeavors. In one of my study groups  we all learned so much from each other. With the virtual environment, it was great to have folks from all over the country joining. Another great resource is the free Virginia Tech CRA Study Team program.
  • If your certification offers a sample test, take it! This can give you a good idea of actual test material, as well as familiarize you with the testing system so you don’t have to worry about figuring that out on the day of the exam.
  • As the test day approaches, drive by a few days earlier if possible, to scope out the test site. Go during the same time so you get a sense of the traffic patterns.  On test day, get there plenty early.  I arrived about an hour early to my site (It was 45 minutes away in good traffic with no issues so I didn’t want to take any chances with a traffic incident.) I took my study materials to review as a refresher and had a lovely bite to eat nearby.
  • If possible, take off the day before the exam and do not study but do something that refreshes and relaxes you such as getting a massage, going out in nature, or reading for pure enjoyment. Make sure you eat well and get a good night’s sleep.
  • At test time, be confident in what you know based on your experience and what you’ve studied up on. If you don’t know the answer right away, just flag it and move on as you can go back to the answers later. I was pleasantly surprised at how many questions I could answer and tried not to let the stumpers get into my head. 

I was fortunate and thrilled to pass on my first try.  As soon as I got my certification, I added it to the end of my email signature line and updated my LinkedIn profile. I knew it would go a long way with building rapport with my PIs (you know they like initials after the name!) and colleagues, as well as provide potential opportunities down the road. I even got a promotion upon obtaining this which was a pleasant surprise. What I most liked about attaining the certification is that I learned so much about the breadth and scope of the research administration field. I am just a tiny piece of the research administration wheelhouse at my institution, but I now have a better understanding of the other pieces that my colleagues execute within this realm. This provides me with more information on if, how, or where I want to go next. I do hope if you are in the same boat as me and see this profession as your long-term career, that you consider some sort of certification. It is a great opportunity to network with others, learn, and stay current in your field with the continuing education requirements. 

Please feel free to reach out to me for further information on this topic; I am happy to connect.

Research Administration Careers will be an ongoing column this year. The Catalyst wants to hear your thoughts and articles on all of our topics throughout the year:
- Hiring
- Onboarding
- Training
- Education/Certification
- Office Structures
- Career Ladders/Tracks
Submit article or requests for collaboration to

Authored by Katrina Akioka, Research Administrator, Cancer Prevention Program
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center