Ten Commandments for Research Administrators

Thou Shall Tell the Truth.

Without this, what else do we have? The truth doth set you free. I’d love to be thought of as a genius that knows everything about everything in research administration, but the truth is, there’s no test that makes you a genius. If I don’t know something, I tell the PI I’m going to find out the answer. If I made a mistake, I’m going to admit it, and fix it. I’m not going to cover it up, because that’s how bigger problems are created. Find it, fix it and move on.

Thou Shalt Not Take All the Credit for Thyself. (Thou Shall Give Thy Shout Out to Thy Colleagues).

I have never, not once, accomplished something as a research administrator without asking for and receiving help from my knowledgeable colleagues. I make sure to give credit where credit is due – and ensure that I spread the love and thank you’s far and wide as often as possible. In the thick of battle, a PI can often say thank you to the person in front of them, and forget the rest. It feels good to be that one person. But you know darn well you’re the one who has to pass it on to the rest of the team.

Thou Shall Cultivate A Very Thick Skin.

The job we have is stressful enough – don’t take it personally. Do the best job you can, and let it go. It’s not our job to be popular or liked.

Thou Shalt Not Forget that Investigators are the Reason We are Here.

I do wish I could help some of my colleagues who are still trying to figure this out. If an investigator wants to change the position funding of their staff, or manage their budgets a certain way, or apply for more grants, or whatever…they are your investigator. Get to know them, work with them, anticipate their needs. They are not a bother, their needs are their needs. We are there to provide them with excellent service and to assist them as they utilize their grant funds in the best possible way.

Thou Shall Possess A Strong Moral Compass in the Face of Adversity.

Have you been tested? I have. We all have to have a strong moral compass in the face of adversity. The PI that says “JUST GET THIS DONE I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO!” And you think you can’t take any more, and you do. I am not going to bend the rules just because you are asking me to. If you pass the small tests, the big tests aren’t any easier, but at least you can recognize them.

Thou Shalt Not Become Discouraged in the Face of Bureaucracy and Seemingly Silly Rules.

We work in a dynamic environment with creative, energetic researchers who are expanding their careers. Our jobs are to assist them to apply for research opportunities and manage awards which have an abundance of guidelines, rules and regulations, within the structures of university policies and medical practice plans. It’s a mess we signed up for, but one our investigators are easily discouraged by. We can choose to transmit our frustration to them (and to magnify their frustration), or to manage their frustration and make their lives easier. I choose the latter. I know I’m more satisfied when, at the end of the day, I can help a PI by freeing up their time to do more research and make the process seem easier and quicker for them.

Thou Shall Cultivate Healthy Boundaries.

I used to have a faculty member who called me all the time – and every time he called I’d pick up the call, no matter where I was. If it was the weekend, evening, whatever. The faculty member would call me for the smallest thing, something that could wait until the next day.

One day I was washing my hands in the ladies room and my phone rang, it was him. I decided to let my phone ring to voice mail. I realized that I didn’t have to pick up every single time he called, and I could ask the faculty member to schedule a meeting to discuss his ideas with me instead of calling several times a day. It’s important to be accessible and provide excellent service, but it’s also important to set priorities.

Thou Shalt Not Stop Learning, Ever.

Staying ahead of the curve is key in our line of work. Maintaining current knowledge through networking, reading and attending conferences is vital. NCURA anyone?

Thou Shall Always Help Thy Colleague Whenever Possible.

Consider this like making deposits in a bank – the interest always comes back to repay you when you need help. Northwestern has a tremendous environment of collegiality that I’ve always enjoyed- you can call anyone and they will help you with almost anything you need.

Thou Shall Rest and Regain Thy Senses as to Return to Work with a Clear Head.

I love my job, and I love it even more when I’ve had some time to think about something other than my job.

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