In the world of available careers, “why research administration?”

It’s been an interesting year for my career. After my PI left for a glorious new job on the California coast, I had a number of job offers—all of which were more glamorous than staying in my departmental role. International travel, exciting new startups, and even ownership in a company that’s 5 minutes from my house. And yet, I’m still here. Why? Because I cannot think of a single thing that is more important in this world than pediatric research.

I know what you’re thinking—if pediatric research is so important to you, then why don’t you become a researcher? In order to fully explain it to you, I’ll have to show you some data—because that’s how we do it over in research.

In the last 25 years, there have been over 50 new research regulations and over 20 revised regulations which have directly impacted the conduct of research under federal grants and contracts, according to the Council on Governmental Relations (COGR). I understand to the non-research mind that doesn’t sound like a lot—only 50 new and 20 revised? But each of the new regulations and restrictions have lead to unimaginable implementation, interpretation, and management kerfuffles (and yes, I said kerfuffle). Frankly, it’s a Christmas miracle that any research gets done at all anywhere, let alone for kids.

Several groups have done studies to look at how all these changes affect the investigators and study teams. Here is a summary of the information from Mark Dutton:

The National Science Board (NSB) published the report Reducing Investigators Administrative Workload for Federally Funded Research in March of 2014 naming the top reported burdens:

  • Financial Management
  • Proposal Preparation and Submission
  • Required Reports – Progress and Others as Required
  • Effort Reporting

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) published survey results in 2013 in the report Findings of the FASEB Survey on Administrative Burden naming the top burdens:

  • Proposal Preparation and Submission
  • Personnel Management
  • Effort Reporting
  • Financial Tracking and Reporting

Federal Demonstration Partnership (FDP) published the report 2012 Faculty Workload Survey which focused on how faculty conducting research spent their time when focused on their research efforts:

  • 7% on Active Research
  • 4 % on Proposal Preparation
  • 6% on Post-Award Administration
  • 6% on Report Preparation
  • 7% on Pre-Award Administration

As you can see, the percentage of time that faculty spend conducting research vs. doing administrative tasks is a cavernous trench of unproductivity.

That is why I choose research administration—for the kids.

If I can help to close the cavernous trench of unproductivity for my investigators by handling some of the paperwork, that means actual research gets accomplished, cures get found and millions of kids are leading healthier and longer lives.

And in the end, that’s the most important thing.

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