Oct. 17, 2023
Behind the scenes, they help power VCU’s growing research enterprise
Research administrators are indispensable players as sponsored funding approaches the half-billion mark.
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Jose Alcaine asked his audience a simple question: How many of you had discovered your career by accident? Everyone in the room raised their hands.
Call it a happy accident – and an important one.
Alcaine, Ph.D., is director of research services for Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Education, and his recent audience – research administrators – are among the hidden heroes who help power VCU’s quest for knowledge.
Research administration is a broad range of careers that support research, scholarship and creative activity. The field encompasses the business side of making research projects happen, including identifying funding opportunities, developing grant proposals, ensuring regulatory compliance and overseeing finance and resource management.
Research administrators often work behind the scenes, but they hold together the many components that collectively advance VCU’s research mission. On Sept. 25, more than 100 gathered to mark National Research Administrator Day, where Alcaine and other faculty and administrators lauded their contributions.
“We can’t do this without you,” said John Ryan, Ph.D., associate vice president for research development, who noted that VCU’s sponsored, or external, research funding hit a record $464 million last year, up more than 70% in only five years.
Managing grant applications and funding requires a team of skilled experts who bring not only business acumen but also project management and policy expertise. Derek Chapman, Ph.D., interim director of research in the School of Medicine’s Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, recalled when its research administrator left for a new role.
“I realized at that moment how important research administrators were to the work that we do. Nothing got done, and the things that did get done were not done correctly,” he said.
Despite being an “accidental” profession, research administrators quickly learn the high value of – and the demand for – their expertise. Elizabeth Fortune, administrative director of VCU’s C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research, noted that research administration has been added to the critical roles targeted in research workforce development efforts by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, elevating the profession’s visibility in the research universe.
At VCU, the Sept. 25 gathering marked the second year the school has celebrated Research Administrator Day, which the National Council of University Research Administrators established in 2015. The VCU event was co-sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation and by Grants and Contracts Accounting, a unit of the University Controller’s Office.
During a panel discussion, associate deans for research Amy Salisbury, Ph.D., of the School of Nursing; Robyn McDougle, Ph.D., of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs; and Ram Gupta, Ph.D., of the College of Engineering discussed the challenge of managing resource constraints while experiencing unprecedented research growth. To ensure sustainable growth for the VCU research enterprise, they have worked diligently in their units to elevate the profile of research administrators, build partnerships with faculty researchers and foster a culture of collaboration to retain and attract research administration talent.
In addition to faculty presentations and insights from associate deans at the event, three awards – based on nominations and voting by peers – were presented to VCU professionals who have exhibited expertise and leadership in the field.
* Research Administrator of the Year: Maecy Richmond, assistant director of research administration at the School of Medicine.
* Outstanding Leadership in Research Administration: Glenny Escotto, senior project manager at the Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center.
* Rookie of the Year: Ryan Reikowsky, senior research administrator at the School of Medicine.
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