SRA Leaders Speak on the Future of SRA – Elliott Kulakowski

This is a repost of an SRA News issue featuring interviews with five key SRA officers. The original issue included the five interviews in the same article. For our purposes, we have separated the original post into a five-part series.

This issue of SRA News features interviews with the five keys SRA officers. The SRA leaders discuss the future of research administration and the challenges that lie ahead. The SRA leaders include 2000 President Victoria Molfese, 2000 President-Elect Elliott Kulakowski, 2000 Immediate Past President Lynne Chronister, 2000 Secretary Marcia Landen and 2000 Treasurer Fred Mesler.

Elliott Kulakowski (2000 President-Elect)

SRA News: As a member of the SRA Executive Committee, describe your vision of what SRA will be like five years from now.

Kulakowski: This is a very interesting and thought-provoking question. However, it is nice to be in a position to look into the sky and try to create a vision from the clouds as to what SRA as an organization will be five years from now. Even more exciting is to have the ability to see this vision become a reality in 2005. SRA has a very rich history and it has experience tremendous growth in its 33 years of existence. It is this foundation and the dedication and hard work of the membership that can turn the vision into reality.

My vision for SRA five years from now is that of a very financially stable and dynamic organization, which continues to serve the diverse needs of our expanding membership. My vision is of the society maintaining its fundamental mission, while expanding into new strategically important roles in the following areas:

  1. A leadership role in academic research and sponsored programs administration. However, focused growth will occur in areas of hospital and biomedical research institutes, industry participation, and non-profit organizations. A new area for government administrators and grant givers may emerge.
  2. Education will continue to be key to SRA activities as it develops programs for new and senior members, and for education of the community and government through an expanded advocacy role. Many programs will continue to be offered through the popular workshops, through a dedicated faculty. However, with technology development, there will be expanded video conferences and Internet-based learning programs. As integrated science, business and technology programs are offered at more and more universities, research administration will emerge as a part of the formal curriculum with courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels.
  3. SRA will become a proponent for research to the external community and provide an educational and advocacy role in the development of national science and technology policy.
  4. As an international organization, SRA will develop a closer alliance with EARMA and Australia. Alliances will be built with the research communities in Japan and in South America.

In summary SRA will undergo many changes, yet it will hold true to its founding mission. I am excited to be part of it.

SRA News: What would you say is the most important thing SRA should accomplish in the year ahead?

Kulakowski: SRA needs to focus its attention on the biomedical area as a means to attract new members and to provide services to a changing biomedical research environment.

There has been tremendous growth taking place in the biomedical area that includes increased funding by the federal government for biomedical research. The biotechnology industry is on the verge of a major expansion with nee developments that will capitalize on the knowledge of the human genome. The pharmaceutical industry has one of the largest if not the largest number of potentially new therapeutic agents that are to be tested over the next few years. All of these activities will continue to build the national biomedical research enterprise in the United States.

Because of the tremendous growth that is taking place, new non-traditional institution s are becoming more involved in biomedical research. SRA traditionally had the biomedical segment of its membership from medical schools. However, more and more biomedical research is occurring at independent hospitals and research organizations.  Currently, for-profit hospitals involved in clinical and basic research and physician practices are establishing research groups to conduct clinical trials.  These groups traditionally have little experience in dealing with biomedical and pharmaceutical companies as customers. At a recent pharmaceutical meeting. I met a physician who establish his own research center for clinical trials. He was eager to learn more about SRA and the process of becoming a member.

The biomedical area is showing an increase in membership from hospitals and research institutes, and SRA plans to reach out to them. In the next year, SRA will host at least one teleconference on this subject on this subject. The growth in membership from these new organizations involved in biomedical research may lead to the creation of a focus group or division in this research area. While there may be emphasis on the biomedical area because of the current external climate, SRA will not neglect its important relationship with academia, the grant givers, other not-for-profits and industry. In fact, these segments of SRA also may gain from this area if opportunity.

SRA News: What greater outside forces do you see changing the profession of research administration and what can SRA do to address those challenges?

Kulakowski: Changes in the economy and government policy will have the greatest impact on research and the way research administration is conducted. SRA can play an important role through an expanded advocacy effort. The United States has experienced a period of economic growth in the 1990s that has suppressed the expectations of even the most optimistic economists. This growth has been fueled in large part by advances in technology with growth in computer technology, communications and the promises of biotechnology that are yet to be fully realized. The growth of these industries is due in large part to the advances that have occurred through research supported by industry and government, which originated at universities and research institutes, and which were developed by individuals who benefited from their training at our universities.

If the economy should undergo a slowdown, or should there be a recession, history has shown that financial support for research is one of the first areas to suffer. Support for start-up companies by venture capitalists and the banking industry is reduced and is available only at higher rates that can be prohibitive for new companies. New technology-based businesses are less likely to start. Government and industry support for research and technology development would be reduced.

The most beneficial role that SRA can serve is as a proponent for increase support for research and technology and for government support of small business development, which uses new technologies. Support for these areas would be a stimulus for economic recovery. SRA, together with other organizations that advocate for academia, for government support of research, and for science and technology policy would seek to increase public support for research and technology. SRA could also be an advocate for small businesses that depend on research and government support through SBIR grants and other programs. As an advocate for science and technology at universities and research centers, SRA can provide educational information to government leaders on the success of prior support for research and the need for future investments in research through the appropriations process. SRA also would provide comment and testimony in support of legislation that would support small technology businesses, the SBIR program, joint industry-academia partnerships and investments in economic development efforts, which are based on research and technology advancements..

SRA News: What do you see as the greatest strength of SRA?

Kulakowski: The greatest strength of SRA is by far the diversity and dedication of its memberships who share the common goal of the professional development of research administrators, the promotion of the profession and the enhancement of the research enterprise. The diversity of SRA’s members comes not only from the organizations that are involved but also from the individual members in the various organizations. SRA members include small colleges to large universities, from small start-up companies to large multinational conglomerates from grant giving organizations to research centers, from small local government to the federal government, from U.S. institutions to international institutions, and from the consumers of research services to the providers of service to the research community.

The diversity also exists in the perspectives and responsibilities of the individuals in their institutions. Members include departmental administrators to presidents of research organizations, from administrator’s at large universities who may have highly defined responsibilities, to administrators at smaller universities, who have small research programs and who must be proficient at many different tasks. I can site several other examples of the diversity of our members, but you get the picture. Despite all these differences, we all share a common theme of providing the infrastructure for the research enterprise.

The membership of SRA is not stagnant, and we have experienced both growth and changes. We survives, however, is the culture of the participation in our society. We do this more that most organizations. Members share their knowledge through participation in concurrent sessions and workshops at chapter, section, and national meetings. Our members serve on chapter, section, and national committees. They write articles for the newsletter and journal. Senior members devote time to be mentors for new members, and we get new members who are willing to serve on committees after their first meeting. We do get paid for our efforts. We do this because we believe in the mission of SRA and we believe SRA provides us with the resources to improve the way we do our job.

Members also have a common bond that develops through informal networking that takes place through their association with SRA. The commonality allows members to easily exchange ideas and concepts for continued improvement in research administration. Through networking, a member becomes a stronger and better research administrator. The networking we establish helps all administrators survive in the ever-changing environment of research administration. It is the diversity and dedication of the membership that makes SRA strong and able to survive and grow as an organization for the advancement of research administration.

SRA News: Looking ahead to the year to come, is there anything else you would like to address, or any message you would like to convey to SRA members? 

Kulakowski: As a member of SRA for the past eight years, I received so much in terms of learning and the relationships that I have built. I believe that I have a responsibility to give back to SRA for all that it has given to me. As your president-elect for the year 2000, I hope to have the opportunity to meet with you to discuss your thoughts of SRA and to learn about your ideas to make SRA more responsive to your needs. To accomplish this, I am willing to meet with you on an individual basis or in small groups at the annual meeting in Denver and at chapter and section meetings. However, I cannot attend all of the section meetings because three of the meetings are being held simultaneously.

Your thoughts and ideas are important to me. By being aware of your issues before I assume the presidency, I can take you r ideas back to the executive committee for consideration.  I will try to answer each e-mail that I receive and in cases where I may not have an answer, I will pass your e-mail to other appropriate individuals.  I ask that you e-mail me your comments at [email omitted from 2000 article].