(Previous discussion continued)
Re: How to become a Director of a research office? Herbert B. Chermside 16 Jun 1998 07:59 EST

Re: How to become a Director of a research office? Herbert B. Chermside 16 Jun 1998 07:59 EST

Now that the spam is back in the can, I'll share my comments based on a
career in research administration.

>>The question is... just HOW does one become director of a campus
>>office of sponsored research services?

A lot of more senior people "just ended up here"!  We got into doing
something, followed it deeper, and found that, first, we enjoyed it, and ,
second, we were creating a profession.  It has only been in the last, say,
ten years that I have gotten comments suggesting that younger individuals
are looking at this as a profession to enter.

>>1) Does a degree help?

ABSOLUTELY-- A minimum of a Bachelors is expected by every employer, these

 What degree was your campus administration
>>looking for when they interviewed you?

 Some seek a "business" related degree; others seek a science related
higher degree.  In my opinion, there is no need for a generalist research
administrator to have specific degree, although there are courses that can
be helpful:
Business Law gives a good background for understanding both agreements and
the general impact of many factors on the "business" of your organization.
A comprehension of accounting is useful because one usually deals with
costs and tracking them -- but most of us work in organizations that use
different accounting practices than are taught in B-school courses;
accounting from a public administration track may be more useful.
We handle so many aspects of an organization's activities that there is a
lot of information/technique useful from disparate sources:  personnel
administration and organizational design,  to mention a couple.

What degree do you have? (this
>>is my main question as I consider getting additional training/education)

I have a BA in Psychology, because that's what seemed interesting when I
was doing that, though I had lots of extra courses scattered in areas where
my curiosity took me -- and I've probably used something learned in each in
my career. I have a MA in Higher Ed  Administration -- because one
university where I worked had such a program and they allowed me some
interesting lattitude (by then I had 10 years varied experience in the
field).  I started a DPA, but dropped it when control of the department
shifted from those who envisioned it as an applied degree to those who
thought it should be a policy research degree, and who refused to consider
works on practical research administration or university technology
transfer as appropriate subjects for a dissertation.

>>2) What kind of experience was your campus administration looking for
>>when they interviewed you for the job?  What kind of experience did
>>you have at that time?

I "grew" into my first job from being a lab tech and a project manager.
Thereafter, my previous experience was much more important than education
in being selected for a position.  In each job I expanded my generalist
skills, which made me better prepared for the next oppoortunity.  The other
thing that sold me was that my references always pointed out how I'd
provided SERVICE and SUPPORT FOR RESEARCHERS in the previous job.


>>3) Did networking help?  did they already know you, or know of you?

Yes, networking helps.  So does a willingness to be geographically mobile.
My last three positions were in the same state's universities, so my
references were known (either personally, or at least by reputation) by my
prospective employer.

>>4) Was it a big "jump?"  that is, were you working at a position that
>>was a step or so down from being the boss?  And how about
>>geographically? did you travel far to get the job?

My career steps were:  running a research project, departmental
administrator in a high research department,  central proposal office,
central pre- and post- office, director of central office.  I know few of
our nationally  recognized senior research administrators who did not
"climb the ladder" professionally, though they have come from many
different beginnings!

>>5) Did certification help? If so what kind.

There has not been a useful certification in the research administration
arena untill the establishment of the Certified Research Administrator
(CRA) six years ago.  The profession is very broad, and one of the most
difficult parts of generating the certification was establishing the
"baseline" of exactly what a generalist needs to know, and how deeply she
needs to know each area.  We believe that the CRA serves that purpose at
the first step above entry level.  The 3 years experience minimum was set
because only dealing with "real life" situations will make an inexperienced
research administrator understand how many matters may influence one
practical decision on the job.
>>.....ANY other advice would be appreciated.  I really value all the
>>terrific feedback that folks provide on this serv!  I've worked in
>>research administration for about 15 years, the promotions have been
>>hard to come by, but I am starting to think that two things would
>>help:  a) advice from this group and b)further education...(but what

I suggest that advancement for the person with 15 years experience will
come from asiduous job seeking, an expectation of the need to relocate, and
any expansion of professional skills that can be gained.  At this point
professional training (e.g., professional meetings/workshops, etc.) in
areas different from your previous experience will be more important than a
specific degree, though the profession is probably too mature for one to
become the senior research administrator in an organization without a
Bachelor's as a minimum.

>>Thanks everyone, for sharing your success stories and
>>telling us how you did it!


Herbert B. Chermside, CRA
Director, Sponsored Programs Administration
Virginia Comonwealth University
PO BOX 980568
Richmond, VA  23298-0568
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