Research Administration (RA) at the Department Level

by dennigm@auburn.edu on Thursday, August 31, 2017

“Stuck in the middle with you”……………….

Ok, so now is that song playing in your head?!!?  For the young RA’s this song is from 1972! Some days working in the department you can feel stuck between your faculty and central…how do you promote a cohesive environment?

“Well, I don’t know why I came here”…isn’t that true with all of us! Who set out to be in an RA position? I know I did not—just a few short years ago, I had never even heard of Research Administration; let alone think it would ever be how I would want to spend my time!

“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right”….kidding—just wanted to keep that song going for you!

One of the best steps I took was to attend CRA training sessions. A bonus is that you get to make new friends that are in the same situation. This step was a personal choice I made to obtain all of the information I could about exactly what it is that I do in my daily work. This also reflected to my direct supervisor (Department Chair) and faculty that I am here to do the best job I can on their behalf, what I can do for them that will free up time for research and that time spent in class with students. As we all know, there are some PI’s that want to do it all when it comes to “their” funding; and then there are the PI’s that just want to do the research and want someone else to worry about “their” financials. How in the world do you find a balance?

“Yes, I’m stuck in the middle with you
And I’m wondering what it is I should do
It’s so hard to keep this smile on my face,
Losing control, and I’m all over the place.”

With new faculty members it can be very rewarding to make a point to schedule time to actually sit down and talk with them about your institution’s/department’s process for submitting proposals well in advance of actually submitting a proposal—this step will start you and your faculty on the path of a rewarding proposal relationship. I find that new faculty members are eager to be guided in a direction instead of floundering around from one office to another trying to determine how to put all the pieces of a proposal together. As it has been said, many times…one stop shopping—that should be you at the department level. You should be the contact point for all questions pertaining to proposal submission, budget, budget justification, once funded—allowable and/or unallowable expenditures, etc. Not that you have to have all of the answers, but I am sure you know where to find the answers if you do not know it right when it is asked!

Once the process is defined, learn how you can help PI’s….learn their preferences. Keep notes so you do not have to have a face to face for every proposal. In my situation, I sometimes get a very brief budget outline—I can work with that—tweak it with the current rates and provide back a complete budget.  I can get the basic budget justification ready so the PI can add their own tweaks—such as lab items that will be needed for the requested supplies amount. For some faculty members, I keep an ongoing current and pending support file so it is always ready to go at a moment’s notice. I try to do what I can so the PI can focus on the technical part of the proposal. Of course there are some PI’s that I’m not even aware of a proposal until it is sent to the pre-award office—those, you just have to learn to roll with the punches!  If there are any issues, provide any help that you can to resolve, these are usually found out about by me (from the pre-award office) right before the due date (and time)!

Here is where it should be stated—keep a very open, positive relationship with your pre and post award offices! Chances are the people in those offices were once in a department, and they understand your position! In addition, I don’t think there is anything that those offices have not seen/dealt with before so they are your experts to go too! I hear that home baked goodies hand delivered works well for these relationships!

“Trying to make some sense of it all
But I can see it makes no sense at all.”

If you have ever tried to explain RA to someone that is not involved with it, you have no doubt received some blank stares and polite nods of agreement. Somehow, it always seems to work out—even though some days it can be hectic! Keep your sense of humor, and remember that we all help each other! Once in a training session, the organization flow chart was being shown to reflect that as departmental people you were on the bottom—there were some groans—then a very wise woman stated—the bottom has to provide a solid foundation. So as a departmental RA you are providing a solid foundation for your faculty to submit and receive funding—it is a partnership—a rewarding partnership that goes beyond the walls of the building you reside in.

“Yes, I’m stuck in the middle with you.”

To be honest I cannot think of a better group to be stuck with! Always be appreciative of other offices that help you and your department! Get involved with all areas of Research Administration, on and off your campus! RA’s are here to help and find solutions!