Research Administration

History of Research Administration

Research Administration is the profession dedicated to the successful administration of professional and academic research endeavors. The profession has progressed through four major eras over the last forty years.

The inception of Research Administration as a profession began with the onset of research in higher education. As with many others, the profession continued to evolve as funding agencies increased their demand for research regulatory reporting and regulations (Campbell 2010).

Expansion Era, 1940-1960

Research Administration begins with President Roosevelt. When the government first started to fund a spattering of uncoordinated research projects in the early 1940’s, mounting frustrations soon made it evident that additional regulations and control would be necessary (Myers & Smith, 2008; Campbell 2010). A federal organizing body was created to coordinate research efforts (Bush, 1945). President Roosevelt would provide the first critical step in creating research guidelines through the National Research and Defense Council (NRDC) report (Zachary, 1997), which was later reorganized into the Office of Science and Research Development (OSRD). President Roosevelt charged Dr. Vannevar Bush (1945) to define “a proposal by which both military and non-military research could be conducted during periods where war was not paramount” (p. 1). Many historians believe this recommendation was the catalyst for the need of research administrators (Beasley, 2006).

Transition Era, 1960-1980

Professional societies began to surface in the 1950’s and 1960’s to support the emerging profession. The National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA) and the Society of Research Administrators were both founded during this period. The support systems for research administrators grew in direct proportion to the number of new regulations created to oversee America’s investment into research (Bowonder, 1980; Brandt, 1997a; Cosico, 2006; Kerwin, 1982; Landen & McCallister, 2002; Myers, 2007). During the 1970’s and 1980’s, it became increasingly clear that scientists could not handle the administrative and regulatory burden alone and that office business professionals could not readily fill the gap. And thus, a formalization of the research administrative professional solidifies and the profession is born.

Para-Professional Era, 1980-1990

Shortly after the 1980’s the profession began to shift and take on a true and unique identity as the external demands for research accountability grow. The explosive growth of biomedical research during the 1990’s lead to an onslaught of regulatory compliance needs that faculty and non-research administrators could not fill (Campbell 2010). Research Administrators stepped in to fill the gap and began to specialize in different forms of administration. The separation of central and departmental research administration also takes place during this era.

Independent Professional Era, 1990-2018

Finally in the 1990’s through today the profession becomes truly a separate and recognized profession by peers, professionals, and societies (Brandt, 1997b; Kirby, 1995; White, 1991) and represents a critical piece in the conduct and management of research. Today, law and policy often require the presence of a research administrator before federal funds are awarded. The establishment of this precedence represents a radical shift from the early days of research administration (Campbell 2010). As the profession and field of research administration grows, it becomes more important to understand and formalize the education and training of research administrators.

Research Administration has progressed through four major eras over the last forty years. I, for one, am excited to see where it will go next.


  1. Beasley, K. L. (2006). The history of research administration in Research Administration and Management (p. 9-27). Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett.
  2. Bowonder, B. (1980). The research manager and his roles. Journal of the Society of Research Administrators, 12(1), 17.
  3. Brandt, E. N. (1997a). Research administration in a time of change. SRA Journal, 29(1/2).
  4. Brandt, E. N. (1997b). Research administration in a time of change. SRA Journal, 29(1/2), 33.
  5. Bush, V. (1945). Science, the endless frontier. A report to the President. Washington,:U.S. Govt. print. off.
  6. Campbell, Daniel Ray. (2010) The Role and Development of the Research Administration Profession in Higher Education. Master of Arts in Educational Administration, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington.
  7. Cosico, J. (2006). The legacy of a colleague: reflecting on who we are and what we do. Journal of Research Administration, 37(1/2).
  8. Kerwin, L. (1982). The research administrator: shield and promoter. Journal of the Society of Research Administrators, 13(4), 5.
  9. Kirby, W. S. (1995). Understanding and managing sponsored research administration as a system. SRA Journal, 27(3/4), 25.
  10. Landen, M., & McCallister, M. (2002). Evolution or revolution? Examining change in research administration. Journal of Research Administration, 33(3). Research Administration in Higher Education 54
  11. Myers, P. P. (2007). Celebrating the first forty years of the Society of Research Administrators International. Journal of Research Administration, 38.
  12. Myers, P. P., & Smith, M. C. (2008a). Research administration in history: The development of OMB Circular A-110 through Joseph Warner’s COGR Subcommittee, 1976-1979. Journal of Research Administration, 39(2).
  13. Myers, P. P., & Smith, M. C. (2008b). Research Administration in History: The Development of OMB Circular A-110 through Joseph Warner’s COGR Subcommittee, 1976-1979. Journal of Research Administration, 39(2), 15.
  14. White, V. P. (1991). The paradoxical role of the research administrator. Journal of the Society of Research Administrators, 23(3), 7.
  15. Zachary, G. P. (1997). Endless frontier: Vannevar Bush, engineer of the American Century. New York: Free Press.

Article publié pour la première fois le 09/12/2019

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