Which Comes First? Business Administration or Research Administration?

FORTUNATELY, THE CHICKEN AND EGG QUESTION HAS BEEN DEFINITIVELY ADDRESSED BY SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH.

You might think that we’d start off this discussion of research and business administration with a metaphor that has no actual scientific answer – and I’m happy to say that we seem to know which came first. The chicken.

So can we answer the question at hand – business administration or research administration? Which comes first? I think we can.

Research administrators cannot operate successfully in the world of academics and medicine without business administrators first performing their essential responsibilities. It’s that simple. Business administration comes first. It is true that there are complex and close interactions, but at the end of the day, when it comes down to it, in order for research administrators to do their jobs successfully, business administrators first have to do their work well.

EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THIS HYPOTHESIS:

  1. Faculty appointments and position funding are the responsibility of business administrators, and managed jointly with research administrators due to their impact on effort reporting and sponsored research compliance.
  2. Business administrators manage department accounts that cover “over the cap” salary cost-sharing, the portion of administrative time that PI’s cannot cover on grants, the funds that are available to cover research staff who are not fully funded on grants. Without business administrators managing department funds successfully (and these days, carefully) investigators could not keep staff employed and research administrators would not be able to manage sponsored projects successfully.
  3. The process of ordering and accepting supplies, equipment and services is a business administration function that impacts sponsored research. Business administration staff often consult with research administration to check on an order placed by a lab tech or a research assistant to make sure that the costs are being allocated correctly, but these business staff are directing the purchasing process in order for the research administration team to later reconcile the purchases with the investigator.

While these processes are intricately related, we know now that – like the chicken and the egg – one is  present before the other. It is also important to realize that, like the chicken and the egg, business administrators and research administrators need to support and work together to ensure a successful outcome.

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