Nathan L. Vanderford, University of Kentucky
Jennifer Taylor, University of Arkansas
Holly R. Zink, Children’s Mercy Kansas City
Celebrating 50 Years of Research Administration Scholarship
The Journal of Research Administration ( JRA) is turning 50 this year! Throughout the year, we will celebrate this half a century of research administration scholarship through a number of initiatives and events. First, we will be re-publishing the first issue of the journal in July 2019. Each issue published this year will feature a cover that harkens back to that of the first issue’s cover. We will also be publishing special commentaries throughout the year including Ira Goodman’s commentary in this issue in which he reflects on his 50 years working in the field of research administration. At the 2019 annual meeting of the Society for Research Administrators International (SRAI), we will host a number of sessions that will focus on the scholarship of research administration and we will take the opportunity during these sessions to further celebrate our golden anniversary.
In celebrating our milestone of publishing for 50 years, it is interesting to reflect on the general history of the development of research administration as a career. The story begins with the onset of research in higher education and the increased requirements for research regulatory reporting and regulations. President Roosevelt provided the first critical step in creating research guidelines and recognizing the importance of comprehensive and ongoing research (Campbell, 2010; Myers, 2008b). Many historians recognize this as the catalyst for the need for research administrators (Beasley, 2006). When professional societies began to surface in the 1950’s and 1960’s, SRA (“International” was added to the society’s name in 2000) was founded and additional support systems grew in direct proportion to the number of new regulations created to oversee America’s investment into research. Shortly after the 1980’s, the demands for research accountability expanded and the explosive growth of biomedical research during the 1990’s lead to an onslaught of regulatory compliance needs that faculty and non-research administrators could not fill and research administrators stepped in to fill the gap (Brandt, 1997; Campbell, 2010; Coscio, 2006; Kerwin, 1982; Myers, 2007). Finally in the 1990’s through today, research administration is truly a separate and recognized profession by peers, faculty, and societies and represents a critical piece in the conduct and management of research (Brandt, 1997; Kirby, 1995). As the field of research administration grows, it becomes more important to understand and formalize the education and training of research administrators. As such, it is important for us to continue publishing our research on research administration and management.
JRA was a natural extension of the founding of SRA in 1967. The founders of the society realized that the establishment of a journal was critical to disseminating the scholarship of its members and, as such, the first issue of the journal was published in July 1969 following the second annual meeting of the society. The first article in the inaugural issue of JRA was a report summarizing activities of the research committee of SRA. This committee was charged with establishing a set of professional standards for research administrators. Not surprisingly, no data existed on what a research administrator was at that time so the committee developed and disseminated a survey to over 400 individuals that was meant to serve as the basis for understanding the characteristics of a “typical” research administrator. The survey covered topics such as identifying the job sectors employing research administrators, the scope of their work, their job titles, their genders and ages, and their education background and levels. The committee concluded from the survey results that a “typical” research administrator at the time was most likely to be a middle-aged male that had postgraduate training in business administration and worked in an academic setting on functions that dealt with such activities as budgeting, accounting, salary administration, and employee relations (D’Agostino, 1969). The results of the survey and their reporting at the society’s 1969 annual meeting highlight some positives and negatives of our field in these early years. Suffice it to say that we now celebrate a much more diverse understanding of what it means to be a research administrator. In fact, we are so diverse that there likely is no single way to define a “typical” research administrator these days. Our diversity spans personal and professional demographic profiles and this diversity adds essential value to our profession.
In addition to the reporting of the aforementioned survey results, the first issue of JRA also published several other papers that speak to the heart of an emerging profession. For example, one article titled “Program of Research on the Management of Research and Development” builds the thesis that there is a need for research administrators to study and have influence on improving how research activities are managed in order to further improve how an organization manages these activities (Rubenstein, 1969). Does this sound familiar? The articles in the journal’s first issue are fascinating reads when you put them into today’s context. Interestingly, we are still thinking about and developing some of the ideas presented in these early articles. Over the years, since publishing the first issue of the journal, we have certainly evolved as a profession and we have sharpened our scholarship in the field, but we continue to face some of the same opportunities and challenges as our predecessors. We encourage you to read the first issue of JRA when we republish it in July and reflect for yourself on the past history of the society, the journal, and our field.
Looking into the future, research administrators will need to continue to enhance our current practices while, at the same time, dealing with emerging and expanding challenges, including but not limited to those relating to commercialization, partnerships with business and industry, intellectual property, interdisciplinary and multi-site efforts, and increasingly diverse foundation and for-profit sponsored program support. These will require the development of new models and approaches to sponsored support agreements that address such concerns as ownership of intellectual property and raw data, publication permissions, and indirect costs or alternative models for recovery of such costs. Additionally, the increasing levels of multi-site and transdisciplinary groups jointly pursuing funding will require the ability to rapidly and effectively develop grants and contract agreements that are able to address the nuances of apportionment of funds and recognition for leadership of various aspects of funded projects, as well as the differential processes and policies across participating institutions. Of course, as international collaborations with academic and for-profit entities continue to grow these challenges will be magnified, with the ever more complex issues confronting transnational intellectual property sharing. In addition to the content issues confronting research administration, we will also need to develop and implement increasingly complex and flexible electronic research systems that can be integrated with other systems of the organization, including both financial and compliance systems. These systems will need to also be ones that are careful to attend to decreasing the administrative burdens on investigator teams while at the same time providing for transparency, accountability and monitoring of projects.
In closing, SRAI, JRA, and all of us as research administrators have much to be proud of as we look back on 50 years of research administration scholarship. We have much to owe to our predecessors, particularly our colleagues who have held leadership positions in the society and journal. We now stand on the shoulders of the past editors, editorial board members, and society staff that made each issue of JRA possible. We are indebted to everyone that has dedicated significant time and effort to the development of this field and the journal. We can also look forward to the future with much confidence as new leaders emerge and as the field continues to swiftly mature and advance into new areas.