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Skills needed for research administration ‘have changed’

Image: Grace Gay for Research Professional News

SRAI 2022: Research administrators told they must be more flexible and focused on impact

Research administrators have been told that the skills they need to do their job have changed in recent years, and that they need to be more flexible and responsive to the wider push to connect research with its societal benefits.

Speaking at the Society of Research Administrators annual conference in Las Vegas on 2 November, the group’s outgoing president Debra Schaller-Demers said that flexibility, which many research administrators mastered during the pandemic, is the “most important thing” they should retain from that period.

In a discussion about the skills needed in the profession, Schaller-Demers said it is key for research administrators to be open to new ways of doing their jobs in the face of constantly changing regulations.

“Being flexible and nimble and resilient [has taken on] more meaning since Covid,” Schaller-Demers said. “Regulations are constantly changing, so how do you keep abreast of the latest regulations? I always say, ‘lifelong learning’. Do not say, ‘Oh we have always done it this way’, because there is always a new way to do it depending on what the needs at hand are.”

At the conference, Schaller-Demers was officially replaced as president by Gloria Greene, who is vice-president of contracts and grants at the University of Alabama Huntsville.

Changing nature of research

Ian Carter, a UK-based research management consultant, said that the skills needed to be a successful research administrator had changed over the past 20 years, due to the wider push to connect research to its societal benefits.

The need to be able to explain how research will work for the greater good is “challenging” for both research administrators and academics, Carter said.

“There is more political tension in this space, as there is an expectation that research and innovation activities will solve grand challenge problems,” he said.

“We need to position ourselves in the context of this bigger picture: where do we add value in what we are doing and where does our office and staff add value into the broader picture?”