What’s the hardest thing to learn about research administration? It depends.

There’s a joke that every research administrator laughs about – and that’s this: every answer to every question you have in sponsored research management seems to be the same, regardless of how easy or hard the situation is. “It depends.”

That’s the hardest thing to learn about research administration.

It would be so nice to take an exam, or a slew of training classes and say “Voila! I’m ready, sock it to me!” and go back to our offices and start doing the work –  but it’s all about the situation you find yourself in. What is the research project about? What is aim of the clinical trial? What’s under or overspent? Where’s the problem you’re trying to solve? What are the terms and conditions you’re working within – which agency is funding the project?

New research administrators can sometimes expect the job to be really straightforward – “hey, these are the rules, this is what I do, problem solved!” Yeah. Not so fast. It could be. Or…wait for it… It depends.

There’s no automatic answer or “one size fits all.”

This is why working with a team of experienced colleagues in central offices and peers who you can talk to is so important, even necessary. We all share our knowledge and can problem solve to ensure that the job is being done right, and that all aspects are being considered. No one person has all the knowledge needed to be successful in research administration without being able to interact with other experienced research administration staff.

Experienced research administrators need input, especially on complicated situations. It’s too easy when we work alone to say (yes, we’ve all done it…) “that’s so complicated, I’m not sure what to do, I’m going to get back to that tomorrow.”

And tomorrow becomes next week.

And next week becomes a month.

And a month becomes… (eeek) 90 days.

Reaching out to colleagues to ask questions and get information is vital. We all learn something new – and come away with a strategy for preventing an issue in the future. When we work together, we create a culture where we are in a continuous learning mode, where we acknowledge that there several strategies to address the challenges we face to be compliant, and that information sharing is the key to building strong teams and successful organizations.

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