Recognizing the Administrators Supporting Pitt Research

As seen in the Pitt Research November 2021 Newsletter

Nicole Webb

Virtually every unit in the University of Pittsburgh -- from physical sciences to humanities to health sciences-- pursues and manages research funding from government agencies, private foundations and the university itself. Thousands of administrative steps must be carried out; responsibilities that fall on the research administrators who accomplish the financial, legal, policy and regulatory functions that make research possible at Pitt.

Nicole Webb, director of submissions and research analytics at Hillman Cancer Center, says, “Every department and school has people who administer the accounting, reporting and negotiating of funding. The administrators help researchers get their funding, maintain their funding, and accurately use their funding.” In FY 2021, research administrators at Pitt participated in managing more than 4,700 funding proposals, more than 1,500 new awards, and more than 6,000 existing awards.

Webb is president of Pitt’s Committee of Research Administrators (CoRA), a group of certified research administrators who are advancing professional networking and educational opportunities focused on the ongoing recertification requirements laid down by the national Research Administrators Certification Council {RACC). CoRA also provides resources for other staff members to prepare for the RACC’s four-hour-long certification exam.

Research administrators represent a wide range of skills, and they reach their roles from many different starting points. CoRA was formed in 2017 in order to bring that diverse group together.

Jennifer E. Woodward, vice chancellor for sponsored programs and research operations, is the sponsor of CoRA. “Traditionally, there has been no typical career path for research administrators. It’s a broad field with highly transferable skills. Part of the goal of CoRA is to professionalize that career path. We want CoRA to be a resource for research administrators, and to build a community that shares training and spreads expertise.”

In September, CoRA hosted an annual event to mark National Research Administrator Day, with speakers from the National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA) addressing equity and inclusion in the research enterprise. The virtual event drew more than 100 attendees from Pitt and UPMC to hear Dr. Marianne Woods from Johns Hopkins University, chair of NCURA’s Select Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and NCURA Board Member Rashonda Harris from the University of Connecticut.

Laura Kingsley, director of the Office of Sponsored Programs, helped organize the event, along with Nicole Webb and other officers of CoRA.

“We wanted the topic to be specific to research administration, for us to see through their lens as research administrators. Their presentation was well-received. Equity and inclusion were presented as a matter of listening and reflecting on your own organization to recognize when something is not going well and what you should do individually. It gave us a lot to think about.”

Webb explains, “We wanted a day to say, ‘Thank you for all you do’ to our colleagues. The equity and inclusion presentation was not intended to be a feel-good moment. We wanted to talk seriously about the benefits for the research community of creating a diverse environment. A diverse workforce can only enhance the research community.”

One technique described in the discussion particularly resonated with Webb – reviewing job applications blinded, without names attached. “We talked about how to use that technique to focus only on a candidate’s skills, without being aware of any identity that could be recognizable through a name reflecting a certain ethnic or cultural group. I would like to work with our Human Resources recruiter to put that kind of technique in place.”

CoRA members appreciated the opportunity to network with research administrators who may have different experiences.

“As research administrators, we’re in the background,” says Kingsley. “We’re not doing the research – we’re supporting the research. It was good to have a day to acknowledge each other and hear from people who are so accomplished.”

 

CoRA hosts regular training opportunities, including NCURA webinars, and networking events, as well as provides opportunities for research administrators to apply for travel awards.