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  • 1.  balance

    Posted 30 days ago

    I know this comes up now and again, but I'm still struggling with it - this life-balance eternally-unachievable goal.  I do all the productivity hacks.  I get a LOT done.   And I'm not (oh-so-not) new to this field.  I know the work-load can be staggering.  But the ethos that's common in higher ed of "just pitch in.... we're all doing more with less" is breaking me and my staff - and I think, all of us.  Post-COVID, this situation has become demonstrably worse.  It's not about learning to be more productive; I just don't think we're going to life-hack our way out of a damaged system.  

    To that end, I have some kind of random and intrusive questions.  Absolutely ignore anything you don't want to answer.

    1) In your research admin and research development offices, what sorts of assistance and support is offered to manage the workload?  Is there an Administrative Assistant dedicated to OSP, for example?  Would that even help?  Does a mini-army of Assistant Directors help?

    2) Because we ALL, I'm guessing, blur the boundaries between home and work, what assistance/out-sourcing helps here?  (said the person who had to wait for the dryer to finish in order to get dressed for work this morning.  You CAN.NOT be a bigger mess than me in this department.)  I care about this not because I want to pry into your life, but rather, I think the "unit of intervention" here has to be the whole person.  Making my work-load more manageable is insufficient to solve the problem, I think.  Clearly, I'm not suggesting that a work-place can provide these supports for my personal life, but I'll be a better human if I understand the interplay between work and other-than-work aspects of life.

    3) And... other than Cayuse.... are there technological helps that have a positive impact?  

    I'm trying to think outside the box for me and my staff, but I keep coming back to the same old time-hack stuff.  We've mined that as far as it can go, I think.

    I'll start:

    The Research Office here has one Administrative Assistant - and she is a goddess.  But we all  (VPR, Research Integrity and Compliance, OSP, Research Development) share her, and she is deeply involved with IACUC now because of internal needs.  Staffing-wise, we have a Director (she sucks.  she is me.), a Senior GCO, and three (soon to be four) GCOs.  There are Research Development Officers who pitch in on the research admin side when things get wild, but they would rather not do that.  We are slowly growing our staff to match our new -wildly increased- funding levels, but that's a slow and difficult process.

    After YEARS of listening to my friends and my sisters fuss at me over this, I now have a person who cleans my house.  I take my dog to daycare once a week and he has dog walkers two other days. These people too are quasi-deities in my world.  I need a gardener, a decorator, a laundry-assistant, a personal chef, a personal trainer, a chauffeur, and a masseuse.  And a barrista might be nice ;)  The guy who cuts my hair needs to move in, because I can't make my hair look like he does.  He seems uninterested in this strategy ;)

    And other than Cayuse we really don't have any other technology tools that I can think of - other than all the stuff that makes working from home occasionally possible.

    And to get serious for a brief moment, this "surge effort is now regular effort" situation is starting to feel like a justice/ethics issue to me.  If universities are going to run this lean, our processes need to become more lean.  Not less rigorous.  Just WAY better.   How can research administrators work for justice on this point in higher ed?  THAT's not about getting the laundry folded - although getting the laundry folded is probably a prerequisite.

    Talk me off this ledge, oh wise ones.


    Andrea Buford
    Director, Office of Sponsored Programs
    Oakland University

  • 2.  RE: balance

    Posted 29 days ago
    Edited by Lacey Rhea 29 days ago

    Andrea - Let me start by saying you are not alone.  It hurts me to read things like this from my colleagues.  It doesn't have to be this way!  I have quite a lot of thoughts on the subject, but I'll try to keep it brief:

    • There is a better way for us to assess research administration office needs.  The way we've been doing things is not working!  See my presentation (alongside Maryellen O'Brien) at last year's Cayuse Connect Conference for some bold new ideas on how to more accurately determine staffing needs:
    • Also, here is a writeup that Cayuse did following our presentation:
    • Be on the lookout for my article on the same topic in the Oct/Nov issue of NCURA magazine.
    • Set. Reasonable. Boundaries.  For yourself, and for your staff.  Occasional overload is acceptable, consistent overload is abuse.  If you're not seeing consistent and progressive steps from your leadership to provide adequate resources so that you and your staff are not suffering, then take control of your career.  There is no shortage of available jobs in our profession and remote work has given us nearly endless possibilities for finding the balance you're seeking.  
    • Check out this community-managed resource for a list of institutions who support work-from-home for our profession: - some of the job links maybe outdated, but the institutions listed should still be relevant.
    • If your institution is actively working to fill the void but staff are suffering in the meantime, encourage them to come up with process/infrastructure changes that will positively impact workloads (e.g. firmly enforced institutional proposal deadlines, per PI/cycle submission limits, short-term labor engagements, lean processing assessments, removal of all non-essential duties and non-research admin-related tasks from research admin desks, etc.).

    You asked "How can research administrators work for justice on this point in higher ed?" - join me in this crusade!  Watch my presentation, and read the article when it comes out.  Spread these ideas, add some of your own, have conversations with leaders, take every opportunity to voice your concerns and advocate for change.  Change will happen when we all start speaking up, leaving jobs that abuse us, and accepting jobs based on healthy cultures.  

    On a more personal note - I officially give you permission to stop talking about yourself so negatively when speaking on this subject.  You don't own this problem, our entire profession does.  Take care of yourself and the people you care about and the rest will follow.



    Lacey Rhea

    Research Administration Manager and Mentor

    (c) 352-235-0756;


    DISCLAIMER:  The views expressed here are my own and not those of my employer.


  • 3.  RE: balance

    Posted 28 days ago

    There's an old joke from the aerospace industry about faster, better, cheaper as a motto.   I feel that the same applies to many of our industries.

    For too long we have had to do more with less and it takes its toll on everyone.   Your description of everyone who shares a single administrative assistant hire is a perfect example of stretching staffing too far.   What happens if that single person gets sick/needs surgery or goes on vacation?   When we stretch staffing that thin, we don't allow people to actually be off work.   I'm sure I'm not alone when I think about all the times I took a laptop with me or answered work calls and emails when I was on vacation.   That's not a vacation and physically, mentally, and emotionally it takes its toll.

    We shouldn't come back from an illness or vacation to 1000+ emails and we shouldn't need to respond to emails when we're recovering or on vacation.   When each position is a single point failure - meaning it is only able to be done by person A - then we're setting people up for burnout or an early death.   

    I would suggest that a department that has someone who is director/assistant director level doing work that should be done by an administrative assistant needs to hire an administrative assistant or needs to rethink their entire job descriptions.

    For other technical aids, I'm not sure what your work loads look like nor what types of tasks you spend time doing but you might consider a program like JotForm which can help make many tedious tasks more automated.  E.g. do you have a form that needs to be completed, then routed to various signatories, then, finally have data entered into a spreadsheet?   JotForm can help automate most of that process.  No I am not and have never been an employee or shareholder of JotForm and there are probably similar programs out there that do the same type of automating.   It's just the program I am familiar with.

    I will also add that, we hold too many meetings.  That all piles up and while you are sitting in yet another meeting that could have been a phone call or an email (or at the very least have a set agenda that everyone sticks to), you could have been getting another project completed and off your desk.

    The work-life balance struggle is only going to get more difficult.  Younger workers have realized, from watching their parents and grandparents, that working 60 and 70 hours a week isn't worth the sacrifice to your personal life.   They are going to expect their employers to understand that and plan work loads and staffing appropriately.   If they can't, those younger workers are going to look else where for employment.



    Lorraine Bell
    Research Program Manager
    Cayuse Customer Alumni