Reconfiguring the Research Administration Workforce: A Qualitative Study Explaining the Increasingly Diverse Professional Roles in Research Administration

Holly R. Zink, Dorothy Hughes, Nathan L. Vanderford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The research administration profession is in a time of significant change. The traditional jack-of-all-trades role has become more fragmented into specialized advanced roles, with a more recent focus on research development. Workflows are increasingly becoming more electronically automated. The introduction of graduate degrees and professional certifications has introduced a new complexity within the office hierarchy. Moreover, recent global events have shifted the profession into a remote working environment, causing industry-wide voluntary employee turnover as employees consider new opportunities, work/ life balance, and cost of living ramifications. This qualitative study used semi-structured interviews to capture research administrators' experiences within four research questions: 1) how is a traditional research administration professional role defined today; 2) how does the chain of command respond to new professional roles; 3) how has the standardization of professional knowledge through education and certifications impacted the workforce; and 4) how does the distribution of tasks become fluid to get work done between the different research administration professionals? Practical implications of this research include understanding that traditional research administrator roles are flat with no hierarchy or room for professional growth within the individual or collective research offices. The creation of promotion opportunities in order to provide professionals a pathway to rise in ranks and achieve higher titles and commensurate wages is vital to the future success of the profession. Another practical implication of this research is the call to begin raising awareness of the professional certifications outside of the research administrative profession in order to gain further distinction and notoriety within the research landscape. The increased need for educational degrees, especially doctoral-level work, in order to gain academic reputation is restrictive to the future of the profession. The profession of Research Administration is in a time of rapid expansion. The aim of this study is to clarify the development of new professional roles in research administration. In doing so, this research maps the emerging extended professional roles and provides insight into the social and administrative processes that drive the development of these extended roles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-140
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Research Administration
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, Society of Research Administrators International. All rights reserved.


  • certification
  • education
  • professional roles
  • research administrators
  • workflows
  • workforce
  • workforce development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Strategy and Management


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