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A Small-Town Girl Having an Impact on World-Renowned Research | by Dara Little

By SRAI News posted 07-05-2023 04:07 PM


As a first-generation college graduate, I still remember the day when I realized that there was something special about being a research administrator. Like most of you, I did not embark on a career as a research administrator.

Yet shortly after receiving my undergraduate degree, my path led me to a grant specialist position at the University of Minnesota. I knew nothing of higher education and certainly not research administration. But I sensed something about the job was cool because I was emailing people at NASA. I quickly found my brother’s old NASA poster and proudly hung it on my work office wall. I was young and green, but something about interacting with federal agencies, like NASA, seemed quite special.

A few years later, I found myself working in the central office at the University of Illinois in Chicago. At that time, electronic research administration was a new term just picking up steam, and was emerging. NIH Commons and Fastlane were new, and the idea of submitting proposals and progress reports electronically was innovative. One afternoon one of our star researchers was struggling to submit their eSNAP report through the Commons, and it was due that day. After several unsuccessful attempts over the phone to help, I went to their office, sat at their desk, and walked them through the submission. I don’t recall the exact issue tripping them up, but I remember helping to fix it. They were profusely grateful. At that exact moment, I realized that my job, though it may seem to some as just clerical or administrative, matters. Since that day, I have taken great pride in being a research administrator and working on the administrative side of research. The notion that a girl from a small town in Minnesota who wasn’t even supposed to go to college could help a world-renowned researcher (and PhD!) filled me with immense pride.

So what does that story have to do with running for President Elect, and what can you expect from me as your eventual President?

SRAI has been a steady presence for me along my twenty-some-year journey in research administration, and I believe in giving back to the organization and field that has given so much to me. The Society has given me the skills and networks contributing to my growth as a research administrator. Our field has changed immensely since I hung that NASA poster on my wall, and a global pandemic has recently altered how we all work. Our field is at a pivotal point; our workforce is shifting, and the constant change in regulations and institutional expectations for external funding is putting more demands on research administrators at all levels and in all organizations. Having held several positions in SRAI, including co-chair of the Education and Professional Development Committee, I believe that SRAI is uniquely positioned to help administrators adapt to these changes through robust educational offerings while exploring ways to help shine a light on our important field so we can grow the next generation of practitioners and research leaders.

We are the quiet facilitators of our researchers’, scholars’, and artists' accomplishments. SRAI gives us the tools to facilitate that work and celebrate what we do.

I love being a research administrator. You can expect that I will bring that commitment, excitement, and pride with me in my role as President Elect and, eventually, your President.

Authored by Dara C. Little, Associate VP for Research, Executive Director Sponsored Programs
Northern Illinois University