The other side of research

Exploring research administration careers
Martina G. Efeyini
Jan. 10, 2020

There are many career options beyond research in the laboratory. Research has to be funded, regulated, supported and managed. This is the other side of research: research administration. There are research administrators at all experience levels and at every stage of research.

Research administration encompasses everything related to research — compliance, funding, coordinating, managing and strategy. All of these pieces come together so that research can happen. Research administration positions are collaborative and require very good attention to detail, strong interpersonal skills and strategic thinking.

How to prepare for a research administration career

Think about your scientific skills in a different way. Yes, you are a scientist, have a lot of research experience and have worked on a research project or two. Look at your research projects and think about all the moving parts that made them happen. Who was involved? What was the budget? Who benefited from the research outcome? How did you guarantee research compliance? These are all the questions you will have to answer as a research administrator. 

Step up to the plate. Research administrators are responsible for leadership, management, administration and funding, so you should gain experience in those areas. If you are serious about a career in research administration, start while you are in graduate school. See if you can assist your supervisor/mentor with grant writing, budgeting and research proposal preparation. Learn about the ins/outs of what they do day to day to run a laboratory. Join a university or nonprofit leadership team so you can learn how to work with stakeholders and understand how these institutions work.

Gain grant writing experience. Securing funding for research is one of the cores of research administration, so getting grant writing experience is essential! Many universities and scientific societies offer courses and workshops on grant writing and communication. And there is plenty of advice on the web.

Get certified! Depending on your skills, experience and your area of focus, you might want to get a research administration certification or specialized training. Certifications prices and requirements vary, so confirm with others in the field to see which certifications you might need — and which providers to avoid. Check out the Research Administrators Certification Council and the Society of Research Administration International for more information. Some of the jobs below require the following certifications: Certified Research Administrator (CRA), Certified Pre-Award Research Administrator (CPRA) and Certified Financial Research Administrator (CFRA) Certification.

Apply for a fellowship. Fellowships are a good way to gain experience. For example, for those of you who are at the University of Michigan, the medical school is looking for two research administration fellows. This is a two-year program with core rotations that connect science and business to prepare scientists for research administration careers. Requirements: Must be a recent Ph.D. graduate or junior postdoctoral trainee in a biomedical-or life-science-related field from UMich. Deadline: Jan. 20.

Job openings

Research administrators work at the pre-award and/or post-award levels. Here are some current openings.

  • The Nevada System of Higher Education is seeking a research administrator (grants administration) to provide pre-award/post-award research administration and management of research programs. Requirements: Bachelor's degree, experience in nonprofit/higher education grants management and experience managing multiple programs. A CRA is recommended. Deadline: Jan. 12 with the approximate start date of Feb. 15. 
  • The University of Pennsylvania is looking for a director of pre-award research administration for the Perelman School of Medicine Office of Research Support Services. The director will focus on proposal-development management and all proposal submissions. Requirements: Bachelor’s degree and minimum of seven to 10 years of experience working with grants and contracts at a university, hospital or research setting. Also, knowledge of post-award grants and certification (CRA/CPRA) is a plus.

Scientific review officers (SRO) and scientific research administrators manage grants and contracts and make sure the funds are used efficiently and strategically.  

  • The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health has a few openings for scientific review officers to manage scientific peer review of research grant and contract proposals. Requirements: Doctoral degree, experience managing an independent research program and strong oral and written communication skills. Also, strong basic or clinical research in one or more of these areas: immunology, allergy or infectious diseases. 

Visit to look for openings at various government agencies.

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Martina G. Efeyini

Martina G. Efeyini is a science communicator, STEM education advocate and careers columnist for ASBMB Today.

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