From the Editor's Desk
Jennifer E. Taylor, MBA, PhD
Tennessee Tech University
The Journal of Research Administration (JRA) is the premier scholarly publication in research administration and management. We publish timely work that covers all facets of our discipline. In addition, the Journal is an important educational and career development platform. Our authors share research on best practices, innovative means of performing research administration and management work, and thoughtful discussions of cases and their experiences solving pressing concerns in our fast-paced, ever-changing environments. Their hard work and important submissions also help them enhance their careers and obtain feedback from colleagues through publishing peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles.
As the current Editor-in-Chief of JRA, I am always aware that the current success of JRA is built on the hard work and dedication of our incredible staff, editors, reviewers, and the SRAI communication committee members, as well as all of those who served in those roles previously. The continuing excellence of the contributions we receive for inclusion in JRA reflects the growth of the field that so many in SRAI and our field, more broadly, have nurtured over the more than 50-year history of JRA and SRAI. As we move further into our second half-century of JRA and face the changed landscape and new challenges that research administrators and institutions confront in the post-COVID world, we hope you will continue to turn to JRA as a source of new ideas and valuable suggestions for the ongoing enhancement of your work.
For the current issue, we have been fortunate to receive contributions from our authors that address the broad range of topics, challenges, and contexts that frame the work of research administrators. I am grateful to our authors, editorial board members, and staff, for all the time and effort they have provided as we put together what we think is another exceptional issue of JRA. As in previous issues of JRA, it draws on the work of research administrators from across the globe, working in institutions that reflect a broad array of research activities. Again, the high-quality, important manuscripts will enable another step forward in the knowledge base for Research Administration and those who depend on that work.
This issue’s manuscripts range from those whose focus is on the recent challenges and complications that a sudden pandemic brought to our work and the work of those we support, to others that are more closely focused on some of the most important issues that research administrators continue to address as we seek to enhance the efficacy and success of the investigators we support, of our own work, and that of collaborators in other units. As always, we hope that researchers and research administrators across the international membership comprising SRAI will continue to view JRA as a preferred outlet for their work and a source of critical conceptual and practical scholarship to guide that work.
Our first article comes to us from South Africa. In their article “Knowing, Doing and Being: Transferable Competencies for the Research Management Profession,” Williamson and Dyason start from a research management (RM) professional competency framework, anchored in continentally anchored RM praxis in Africa, and they focus on the transferable (soft) skills articulated in that framework. Building on the Southern African Research and Innovation Management Association (SARIMA) Framework (2016) that includes nine key ‘technical’ competencies for respective RM organizational levels (administrative, management, and leadership), they extend and enhance the focus to more “human” transferable, “soft skills.” They argue that their article provides a timely shift in focus to what RM practitioners offer as ‘human-being’ professionals, not only knowledge experts, and more fully integrates the personal into the professional practice architectures. Critically, they underscore that it will more fully enable us not only to “know” and “do” within our profession but also to “be” a professional.
Natasha Wiebe, Heather Pratt, and Nicole Noel address how research offices can support investigators in responding to pressure to “publish or perish” in higher education. In their article, “Writing Retreats: Creating a Community of Practice for Academics Across Disciplines,” they discuss an effort by the Office of Research and Innovation Services at the University of Windsor (Canada) to provide a cost-effective biannual, interdisciplinary writing retreat for faculty and staff across the disciplines, along with the results of evaluations of that effort. A central finding was that participants developed a supportive community of writing practice that reshaped the ways they write elsewhere and increased collaboration on projects with other retreat participants. Additional benefits identified in the evaluation were significant and included but were not limited to protected writing time and developing a sense of community. The paper also provides further detail on developing and implementing these successful professional development efforts.
Our third offering addresses the issue of how research administrators can address barriers to compliance within the context of liberal arts colleges and predominantly undergraduate institutions. In the article, “Building a Culture of Compliance at Liberal Arts Colleges and Predominantly Undergraduate Institutions,” Beth Jager from Claremont McKenna College notes that all academic institutions that receive government funding must abide by the same federally imposed rules and regulations for financial assistance, whether for student aid or sponsored projects. She argues that universally imposed grant requirements are fundamentally flawed because they assume that all colleges and universities operate with similar structures. Although less research-intensive, predominantly undergraduate institutions must meet the same grant and other compliance requirements imposed on larger institutions, research administrators at these establishments often lack the infrastructure and institutional investment to manage compliance effectively. The author goes on to discuss a survey of the field that shows that a culture of compliance can be achieved through a shared commitment at the individual, institutional, and federal levels, offsetting, at least in part, a lack of structural support and resources in addressing compliance requirements.
Dr. Karen Scarpinato and Jeanne Viviani, MPH, from Florida Atlantic University and Research Ingenuity, LLC, argue that research administrators operate in a context in which the ever-growing and changing external demands to adapt to rules and regulations of sponsors along with the pressures to increase research numbers make it difficult to look at how we operate rather than just what we do. In their article, “Is It Time to Rethink How We Support Research: Teams, Squads and Mission? – An Opinion,” they point out that these pressures may also lead us to lose sight of our mission and goals, which arguably are not to be found in metrics and rankings but are rooted in our researchers and the support we provide them. They go on to underscore the importance of making an effort to make changes that address our core behaviors rather than just focusing on our rules and regulations. Such changes are posited to be essential for the sustained long-term success of academic research and its support infrastructure. Finally, they suggest that the global trend toward team-based approaches may be helpful in accomplishing these shifts, proposing a change in how we operate to embrace a non-sequential workflow that focuses on mission and objectives.
Our final article, ”Understanding the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Research Administration in Canada,” is from Dr. Anita Sharma at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC, Canada. This piece provides us with a study of how research administration professionals dealt with the disruptions from the sudden changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic 2020 in Canadian post-secondary and affiliated organizations. She goes on to offer some possible lessons for how we might adapt to a similar situation in the future and the ongoing challenges brought on by the pandemic. Through a national survey, the research administration community reflected on the following themes: i) Challenges experienced in setting up the new working environment; ii) Technostress; iii) Workload, productivity, and work-life balance; iv) Relationship among colleagues and with faculty; and v) Adaptability to the reality and future work culture desire. Among the multiple key results of the survey were findings that indicate that although Canadian research administration professionals experienced challenges due to abrupt shifts in their workplace, they were creative, resilient, and flexible enough to steer through this testing period. In addition, the inherent/acquired technological capabilities, efficient communications among coworkers and faculty, and strategies they used to stay productive and efficient helped most of them adapt well to this situation. These and additional findings provide important data to help us move forward as research administrators in the years after the initial adaptation to the ongoing COVID-19 challenges.
IMPORTANT NOTICES: I want to draw your attention to two process issues regarding the operation of JRA.
- I am pleased to inform you that after a long and complex process of negotiations and clarification of operational processes, JRA will be moving to a new process for the submission and review process. In the near future, we will be moving to the use of the ScholarOne system for processing manuscripts. This will lead to a significant increase in efficiency, speed of review, and ease of communication with both authors and reviewers. Please watch our webpage for notice of when we will “go live” with this new manuscript handling system and for email and webpage notices about changes in the review process that may accompany that milestone.
- Updated author guidelines will soon be taken into effect as we release the ScholarOne System. Please refer to the journal webpage below to ensure you are using the guidelines that are in effect if you are submitting a manuscript or intending to do so in the future.
As Editor-in-Chief of JRA, I continue to be excited about the opportunity to work with our authors and reviewers who make such significant contributions to moving the knowledge base so essential to our field forward. We continue to receive submissions that provide guidance for continuously improving the work that has been core to our field, responding to new challenges for implementing new technologies, addressing emerging policies and processes required by sponsors, and areas where research administrators are increasingly providing leadership. In addition, we are fortunate to receive and be able to present to our readers the incredibly diverse and exciting array of manuscripts we receive that reflect the work of so many talented and committed professionals.
Please email me directly with any input, questions, or suggestions you may have. Once again, I want to highlight how critical the hard work and contributions of the many people who support the production of JRA are. Producing the JRA, constantly reviewing and improving our policies and procedures, and developing our infrastructure for the future require a broad and committed team. I have been privileged to have their collaboration in continuing the tradition of excellence of this journal. It is the team behind the Editor that is essential to the success of the Journal. The administration of SRAI and the communications committee of JRA provides essential guidance and input on all phases of the Journal, both for intentional efforts and as a vital resource for addressing unique situations. Holly Zink, who serves as Deputy Editor, is a full professional partner and an important source of personal support in what would otherwise be an overwhelming task. Holly’s hard work and willingness to always take on whatever task we ask of her, on the shortest of notice, is critical to moving the journal forward on a day-to-day basis and in unexpected pinches. The Editorial Board members are unflagging in their willingness to provide time and guidance in ensuring that the manuscripts that appear in the Journal are exceptional and that they make valuable contributions to the work of our readers and the field of research administration more broadly. They are true partners in this process. As the journal submissions have increased, our Editorial Board members have gone far beyond what is reasonably expected in responding quickly and with great expertise. The Author Fellowship Committee and the Author Fellow Advisors, now under the guidance of Holly Zink, provide essential support and advice to the Author Fellows as they develop and publish their first scholarly articles. I am grateful they will continue providing this unique and vital work for JRA. Many behind-the-scenes SRAI staff have shared their knowledge, guidance, and expertise to my work as Editor-in-Chief. Although behind the scenes, it is impossible to thank Gina Snyder for her essential contributions to all aspects of getting JRA produced. She works tirelessly, always quickly, thoughtfully, and with kindness. I have been very fortunate to have her as a partner throughout my editorship. As always, she merits special recognition and thanks. She is, as I have said previously, and I continue to believe, the day-to-day beating heart of JRA – who ensures the production of the Journal meets the highest professional standards.
Lastly, as always, if you are a non-SRAI member and wish to have the Journal delivered via email, please sign up through the online system at http://www.journalra.org.