Re: How to become a Director of a research office? Deborah (Debbie) L. Smith 901 448-5587 18 Jun 1998 14:13 EST
For those who are still interested in this topic:
Research administration is an interesting and rewarding profession, and I think a good case can be made for coming to it from either a scientific or an administrative background. A scientific background may be more helpful, particularly if one aspires to a senior level position in, for example, a health sciences institution. The senior level research administration position on many campuses is combined with a graduate dean position; so certainly for those positions, experience in the faculty ranks (and a terminal degree) is necessary.
I came to my position via the administrative route (13 years ago), moving into a "central" administrative position from a position in the academic office of the largest college on campus . . . so I already knew most of the players here, which has been very helpful. I began as a coordinator of preaward services and have "worked my way up" to director, partly due to my inquisitive nature and my desire and ability to "handle" things rather than passing the buck, and partly due to the fact that no one else wanted the job :>)!
I had a master's degree in guidance (and bachelor's in business ed) when I began as a research administrator and have since earned a doctorate in higher education, which probably would have earned me greater respect at a comprehensive university than at a health sciences center (Not everyone here knows what an "Ed.D." is!). However, that process helped my own professional growth and gave me a greater understanding of the research process--and I had a great time! (Did my dissertation on use of indirect costs, so that was a nice tie-in.)
Certainly some legal background would be helpful . . . at least a couple of basic business law or educational law classes, as would at least basic business and/or accounting courses. Attention to detail also serves well, as does a "service" attitude (and thick skin) . . . and political savvy never hurts! And, as Jennifer mentioned, a sense of humor is ESSENTIAL!
Networking helps not only with securing new positions but also with daily problem solving; so be sure to stay in touch with other professionals . . . in whatever field you ultimately choose.
Good luck to all the newcomers to the profession (and the "oldtimers," who often need luck, too)!