It Was the Best of Times; It Was the Worst of Times | Part 1
This iconic literary opening is the first thing I thought of when pondering the current state of our profession. In a lot of ways, it truly is the heyday of research administration. The amount of US R&D has gone from $156B in 2002, to a 2023 request of $193B. Regulations such as the Federal Financial Accountability and Transparency Act have significantly increased the amount of administration and reporting required for sponsored projects. Due to the increasing complexity of sponsored projects administration, there are far more specialized offices and positions at institutions. Research administrators are less often generalists than they were twenty years ago, resulting in increased administrative efficiency and better depth of knowledge of an area by an administrator.
Our field is more visible and recognized than it ever has been, Certified Research Administrators (and CPRAs and CFRAs) are everywhere, and professional organizations have proliferated and have become centers for effective training and network-building. Federal sponsors such as NIH, NSF, and NASA have begun programs focused on supporting an institutions’ infrastructure for sponsored projects, finally realizing that providing resources only to investigators is only addressing half the problem. And one of the biggest questions in our line of work was the idea that research administrators didn’t need to be on campus in order to do their job. Instead of being a result of a long, tedious, possibly redundant, study of time and labor, the answer was provided quickly and unequivocally when the pandemic hit. When everyone was looking for ways to pivot (remember that term?), our field went completely remote almost overnight, and showed the work could not only be done remotely but also could be done well!
The pandemic, like many other things, changed our profession forever. When we started working fully remote in 2020, I personally found a true work-life balance for the first time in decades. Not only did I have more time for personal concerns and even (gasp!) self-care, but I was far more efficient with work as well. I think many other people felt the same way, and few have any interest in going back to any model that doesn’t have remote options. The confirmation that work could be done remotely also created more opportunities for research administrators. Prior to 2020, after a certain point, if you wanted to progress in the profession, you had to move to another institution, and probably a different city. This was a huge deterrent and kept many research administrators at the same institutions for years. Now, with remote positions available, there are opportunities for promotion and advancement that don’t require moving, places that were never an option for many before.
With all the above going on, this should be a glorious time for the field, but it isn’t. We are actually facing a fundamental crisis as a profession, one that can affect us for years to come. The problem itself is very easy to identify, a simple lack of people. But why should we have a shortage of bodies at a time when the field is at its best? That answer, unfortunately, is far more complex and harder to derive.
Check out next month’s issue for Part 2!
Authored by Sean Scott, Founder
720 Consulting LLC
SRAI Distinguished Faculty