Updates from HQ: Introducing our New Executive Director

by SRA International on Thursday, August 30, 2018

We are pleased to announce Evan Roberts as the new Executive Director of SRAI, effective immediately.

Evan brings years of experience to the organization and has a proven record of executive leadership, organizational assessments, and research strategy support. Furthermore, Evan has an extensive background in change management, research compliance and process improvement projects, pre- & post-award research administration; and enterprise financial, research administration & compliance system installations & support. Evan has been engaged in research and research administration since 2002, working most recently for Temple University as the Associate Vice President for Research. His consulting portfolio includes many organizations ranked in the top 100 of the annual NSF HERD survey, regional hospital systems, non-profit institutes and international commercial companies.

We sat down with Evan to get his vision and expectations this week.

HQ: What are some of your strengths that you bring to SRAI?

Evan: My experience in research and research administration is one of my key strengths that I am bringing to the Society. I have worked in nearly every facet of the research universe, including writing proposals and conducting research, pre- and post-award administration, regulatory compliance from both the department and central perspective, and financial compliance. I have had the good fortune of working in research administration during a time of rapid change, including the emergence of electronic research administration systems. These combined experiences have given me the opportunity to see and participate in the challenges the research community faces daily. These interactions have provided insights into the impact changes in regulations and requirements have on organizations at all levels that in turn have shaped my perspective on resource deployment, change management, and strategic planning.

HQ: What motivated you to become part of SRAI’s HQ team?

Evan: I liked the opportunity the Society presents for me to support the education and career development of research administrators globally. Most of us do not start with a career in this industry in mind, requiring research administrators to possess a unique combination of resiliency, grit and determination to find our way and support the research being conducted by Investigators. I was fortunate to have many individuals and University leaders that took the time to teach me, support me, and challenge me to realize my potential. Because of that, I am excited to be able to provide support to my peers and colleagues across the industry.

HQ: Where do you see the field of research administration heading in the next ten years?

Evan: The field of research and research administration is heading towards a bright future, though it is a future that will also face significant challenges. Advances in technology have revolutionized the way we process work and led to increased efficiency. However, financial pressures, regulatory requirements and obligations, and increased collaboration on multi-disciplinary research across organizations that span the country and globe have put tremendous strain on organizations that have absorbed these responsibilities with marginal increases in budgets and staffing levels. We are also entering a major shift in the labor market with a generation of baby boomers approaching retirement. The talent of the future will have to be developed today.

Investment in the future administrators and leaders has never been in greater need. I also believe that traditional models of funding (grants vs. block funding) and overhead recovery (negotiated vs. flat rates) may be under pressure in the coming years as taxpayers seek greater accountability and fiscal responsibility. Finally, IT systems are ever evolving and have the potential to be of great use in our field. However, to realize that potential it is essential that research administrators be able to articulate precisely what they do, why they do it, and clearly explain their functionality needs in order to derive maximum benefits from technology.

HQ: What book are you reading now? And what is your favorite book at all times?

Evan: I am currently reading Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio. Ray Dalio is an investor that grew one of the largest and most successful hedge funds in existence today. One of the things I am most enjoying about the book are the insights he provides on his personal journey towards excellence, which certainly is not a straight-line path. Aspiring leaders often see their role models as infallible. Dalio takes the reader through the trials and tribulations of building his organization with an emphasis on how he learned to deal with failure, uncertainty, and a rapidly changing world. He establishes early on that he believes he is not a genius, and that he has rarely known what he needed to know when he needed to know it. His focus and path to success is grounded in building a strategy and principles that facilitate success, self-awareness, and personal and professional growth. Through failure he found a path to success, and he encourages the reader that this is possible for them as well. I highly recommend reading this book if you are looking for ways to improve your personal and professional development.

And my all-time favorite book is The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. What can I say, I am a nerd at heart that loves a good tale of the little guy overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds.

HQ: How do you keep a healthy work/life balance?

Evan: Work/life balance is a challenge for all of us. I am not sure I handle this in the best way, but one thing I do that has helped is unplugging from technology when I can. Technology has made such a positive impact on our professional lives; however, it has also seriously blurred the lines between personal and work time. I began my career conducting research in behavioral psychology, and that time in my life has helped me to understand how reinforcing and addictive technology can be on our behavior. To combat the potential negative effects of technology I have tried to put a few rules in place. I try to avoid checking my phone during meals, meetings and events.  I rarely check my email after 8 pm and unplug on the weekend most of the time.

Our connections to our families, friends and community should not be overshadowed by our internet connections and work demands. Otherwise we risk doing both poorly. I’ve also learned that good communication and trust in your team is vital to work/life balance. By empowering others, we can extend our own productivity while developing confidence and the underutilized talent in our teams. And the best part is we all get more than 3 hours of sleep a night, at least most of the time.

Welcome Evan as the new SRAI Executive Director in Orlando, FL at the 2018 SRAI Annual Meeting in October 27-31. And connect with him on LinkedIn here.

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