I am a research administrator—I help medical students, residents, junior and senior faculty develop research ideas, find funding and target journals, complete their research projects, and write up the results of their projects for peer-review journals. I am also an investigator—I have published a peer-review paper every year for the last five years, and I am currently working on two studies (quantitative and qualitative) and I keep a running list of research ideas. I enjoy presenting at conferences and teaching at grand rounds and coffee talks.  

Many research administrators don’t see the possibility of becoming an independent investigator in their own right. This opinion is further strengthened when institutions require faculty names to be listed in the IRB submission (don’t get me started on that subject). Anyone can conduct meaningful research and contribute to their field. I want to repeat that: Anyone can conduct meaningful research and contribute to their field. Research administrators are in a unique position to create new research as they already have a wealth of tools and knowledge at their disposal.

“I am not smart enough/have the skills to do that.”

The two top excuses that I’ve heard from research administrators as to why they cannot conduct their own line of research are as follows. First, “I am not smart enough/have the skills to do that.” This is just crazy talk. You have more knowledge about the practice of research than every single faculty member you take care of on daily basis. Research is about learning. You absolutely have the skills to conduct your own investigation, take those skills and do something amazing!

“They think I’m an expert, I can’t ask for help.”

The second top excuse that I’ve heard from research administrators as to why they cannot conduct their own line of research has to do with imposter syndrome. At any moment, you think your faculty members are going to wake up to discover that you are absolute fraud and you don’t deserve to be in the office. Wrong, again! As a research administrator, you are an expert in many many things—submitting a complex R01 grant, for example—but other things, such as submitting your own IRB for the first time, you are learning alongside your faculty. Asking for help to submit your own investigation makes you a more confident and self-assured professional. Faculty will respect you more if they know you are an investigator in your own right and have walked the path they are on. You do not need to know every piece of information before you start a project. Asking for help does not mean you are a failure or a fraud.

Reframe Your Thoughts

It is time to reframe your thought patterns and begin valuing yourself and what you can bring to the profession and your field of research. Remember, the more you practice a skill, the better you will get at it. The practice of research is more than just the administrative bubble in which our job description was created. Do not let doubt control your actions. Find something that interests you—an observation that the literature cannot explain. Find a way to measure it and then create a study. Ask a friend to look it over. Ask me to look it over. And then, do it! And, have fun doing it! Then, write it up and get it published in a journal.

Make a new goal for 2021, it’s not too late—start a new research project this year.