Research Administration Community

by Zoya Davis-Hamilton on Tuesday, November 29, 2016

This month we asked our fellow research administrators whether they feel a sense of belonging to the research administration community at their institutions, as well as to the broader research administration community. We also asked what they think makes up the larger research administration community. To contextualize our results, we asked survey participants to share their job title. This anonymous survey was distributed to the subscribers of the RESADM-L listserv.

The survey was open between October 5th and October 19th, 2016 and collected 201 responses. Below, we describe what we have learned from our colleagues.

Survey Participants
Approximately half of respondents (49%) described their title as “research administrator”, indicating that this job title may be the most widely-used in our profession. This was followed by the number of participants in the job title of pre- or post-award specialist, as well as department manager/administrator (17% each). Other titles reported included compliance officer (5%) and project manager/coordinator (1%). Titles that were grouped under “Other” (10%) included leadership titles (such as director and associate dean), training- or education-focused titles, and titles that focus on electronic research administration, clinical trials, research development, and consulting.

Sense of belonging to research administration community at own institution
There is a formal and robust research administration community at many of our participants institutions. When this is the case, 45% of the survey participants reported that they have developed a sense of belonging to their institution’s research administration community. An additional 30% of survey respondents report that they are informally connected to other research administrators at their organizations, which currently do not have a formal research administration community. Fifteen percent of the survey participants are at institutions that either do not have other research administrators or where there is no formal research administration community. Discouragingly, 3% of respondents choose to not participate in their institutions research administration community, (or, in one instance, felt they could not because “manager does not encourage participation in the formal and robust research administration community”).

Several respondents (8%) chose other, with many reporting that they are from institutions working toward or that have just begun to develop a community of research administrators. Others responded that those belong to a “formal” but not “robust” research administration community at their organizations, those who were in institutions with two few research administrators to form a community, and, sadly, responses indicating that in some organizations it is difficult for individuals in departments to join a central research administration community.

Sense of belonging to a larger research administration community
Slightly more than 80% of the survey participants stated that they either agree (55%) or strongly agree (25%) with the statement that they have a sense of belonging to the larger research administration community. In contrast, 17% disagreed (14%) and strongly disagreed (3%). Responses in the category “other” emphasized the need for management and institutional support to allow for such a connection, as well as the need for travel funding. The highly positive result is unsurprising given that respondents were drafted from the subscribers of the RESADM-L listserv, a piece of our community. They therefore may not be fully representative of those who are less connected to the research administration community electronically.

What is the larger research administration community?
Our respondents felt that the larger research administration community is represented by professional organizations (91% of responses), online communities and listservs (83%), colleagues at other institutions (80%), and to some degree (35%), by journals and other publications. The response “other” also included the CRA community, and specifically pointed out at meetings and conferences as an opportunity to network. This demonstrates that our colleagues feel that personal connection, either in person or virtual, is the most desired form of research administration community, with less interactive methods less prized.

Our results show that many of our respondents feel a sense of community among research administrators at their institutions. Moreover, four out of five respondents felt connected to the research administration community nationally, thinking of it as represented by professional organizations, listserves, and colleagues. The gap between a sense of community locally versus nationally indicates that more can be done at the local level to create robust communities of research administrators at our institutions.

The Pulse is written by Zoya Davis-Hamilton, Director, Research Administration Initiatives, and Sarah Marina, Assistant Director, Office of Research Development, at Tufts University. We will continue to check the "pulse" of research administrators on various topics periodically. The results will be published in the SRA Catalyst in 2017.

If you have any topics or questions that you want to see addressed in Pulse in the future, please let us know. Send feedback, ideas, questions and inquiries to Zoya Davis-Hamilton at