Research Administration

What it is

Research must be funded, managed, coordinated, regulated, reported and sometimes ultimately commercialized. Collectively known as research administration, these activities surround and influence every stage of research. Research administrators work in many settings, including universities, hospitals, government agencies, corporations, medical schools, and non-profits. They raise funds, make funding decisions, ensure compliance with standards and regulations, write regulations, coordinate projects, investigate ethical issues, and many other related tasks.

Starting points

Entry-level positions can be found in Grants Administration, Research Integrity and Compliance, and Institutional Review Boards (IRBs). There is always a need for bright, talented people with actual research experience, so entry points for PhDs are not hard to find. Your Ph.D. will definitely have value.

Advancement

Advancement typically leads to a Directorship of one’s research area, or perhaps Dean of Research at some institutions. You may need to move to another organization to advance, as usually either there are not many RA positions in any one institution. Some fields within RA have professional certifications that will help expand your options. You can also become a freelancer given enough experience and connections.

Disciplines

All STEM disciplines can enter this career. Subject matter knowledge is a plus if related to the position, especially if the job requires you to interact with researchers, but knowledge of the research process itself is primary.

Personality and outlook

All personality types can find a place in research administration because of the diversity of available roles. Detail-consciousness and a tolerance for paperwork can helpful; social skills are key because research administration is a very cooperative field, centered on implementing shared standards as opposed to making individual decisions on a whim. You will be working together with others nearly every day, especially at critical junctures.

Preparation

Offer to help your PI with a proposal. Take classes in bioethics, responsible conduct of research, or grant writing. Conduct informational interviews with research administrators, and with researchers, too; ask about their interactions with research administrators and about what makes a good research administrator. Join professional societies for research administrators and attend meetings.