Should I join a professional society for research administration?
December 27, 2012 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Should I join a professional society for research administration? I oversee a social science research center at a prestigious Midwestern university. We're funded through a NIH P01. I started at this institution as an editorial type about 5 years ago, and thanks to some fortunate coincidences and active campaigning on my part, I now supervise the day-to-day operations of a staff of about 15. Along with other duties, I am responsible for many of the administrative aspects of active and prospective grants (overseeing ledgers, creating budgets, preparing progress reports, etc.) My title is "associate director," but I think the generic term for what I do is "research administrator."

I like my job, and I'm at an age (32) where I'd like to do what I can to make this a career, and I wonder whether it would be worthwhile to join a professional society. (There seem to be two: the National Council of University Research Administrators [NCURA] and the Society for Research Administrators [SRA]. I can't tell what sets them apart from each other.) I know that one of my predecessors was involved with one of them, but in what capacity I'm not sure.

Arguments for joining/going to conferences include network building (I don't know many other research administrators), learning things, and demonstrating some commitment to this line of work. Arguments against include cost (maybe ~$1k annually for membership and travel, likely subsidized by work) and the hassle of having to attend conferences.
I also wonder how applicable most of this will be to me, since there aren't a lot of compliance issues since I don't deal with animal studies or human subjects, and I'm not in a position to influence anyone's policies.

I'm very interested in all thoughts about my situation and/or professional societies in general - and if anyone can tell me why NCURA is better than SRA or vice versa, I'd love to know!
posted by ndg to Work & Money (5 answers total)
Is there a good reason not to join both? It looks like they cost around $200 apiece to join. That's not free, I realize, but it's like $32 a month to join both, which doesn't seem overly burdensome. You can always NOT renew one or both if you find them useless.
posted by axiom at 11:04 AM on December 27, 2012

I actually have some related knowledge (and I too am at a large midwestern research institution, know what a P01 is, etc etc). Our senior person is a member of NCURA; someone else who is up-and-coming is a member of SRA.

I would suggest joining, especially if you're female - one thing I've noticed is that women research administrators get treated as less professional and paid (often dramatically, as I discovered via gossip) less than male administrators, so if you're a woman you need to step up your game. (If women do it, it's secretarial even if the job class is professional and you get to retirement making what a top-class secretary makes; if men do it, it's professional and you get to retirement making upwards of $20,000 more a year. Even at a liberal institution.)

Anyway, look into which one offers more local mini-conferences near you. And definitely go - I have no idea how much meaningful networking you can do, as I've never gone (my job parallels grants admin but isn't quite) but they definitely boost your professional credibility. I believe both offer some online conference stuff too, which at least you can "attend" at your desk.

(Honestly, I don't actually do too much animal subjects or other fancy compliance stuff myself, but I got sort of into learning about all the rules and regulations. And as someone who is more than a secretary but not quite an administrator, learning the extra stuff opened up a lot of opportunities for me.)
posted by Frowner at 11:13 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Arguments against include cost (maybe ~$1k annually for membership and travel, likely subsidized by work) and the hassle of having to attend conferences.

You should look at it as the opportunity to attend conferences rather than the hassle of doing so. Also look into how much your employer will subsidize your professional society membership. Hopefully it will be the entire cost. You will also get subscribed to journals/magazines that cover your field which will keep you up to date about issues in your profession, as well as list open jobs that you might be interested in.
posted by deanc at 12:02 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks to all who have responded thus far. Frowner's point about local meetings is a great one; it looks like NCURA has one in April that's within 100 miles, so I'll probably start with them.
posted by ndg at 12:15 PM on December 27, 2012

For what it's worth, I recently stepped up from a position somewhat like yours (overseeing a single P50 program) to a university-wide research position. It was useful in the interview and on my resume that I am a longstanding member of both organizations and was familiar with and interested in participating in SRA's certificate programs, even though my previous job did not afford me the travel time to do so.

If you want to stay in research administration as a career, these can be some useful signifiers to future employers of your interest in and commitment to the field.
posted by Stacey at 2:37 PM on December 27, 2012

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