Duke University

Lily P.

Grants and Contracts Administrator

Became an RA: The 2010's

When I reflect on the journey that led me into the captivating realm of research administration, it’s a tale intertwined with my pursuit of education, mentorship, and the unexpected discovery of an enriching professional path.

My story begins far from the shores of the United States. At the age of 22, I embarked on a life-changing journey to the U.S. with the goal of obtaining a college degree. Little did I know that this endeavor would eventually evolve into a profound exploration of my passion for research administration. It was during my second academic voyage, as I pursued a Master’s in Public Administration, that serendipity brought a remarkable mentor into my life. A certain professor, whose guidance and wisdom would shape my trajectory, became my guiding light. This professor, in addition to their academic prowess, was working closely with the University’s Office of Research Administration. As fate would have it, the Office of Research Administration was in search of a Graduate Assistant.

With a sense of curiosity and a desire to seize opportunities, I decided to apply for the position. I was elated when I received the news of my acceptance into this pivotal role. As a Graduate Assistant, I was initiated into the intricacies of research administration, and it was here that I uncovered a hidden world that had been previously unknown to me.

Before stepping foot into this office, I had no inkling that such a dynamic and multifaceted field existed. Yet, from the moment I set foot in this world, I was captivated by its manifold dimensions. The role allowed me to collaborate with diverse individuals, navigate my own projects, and immerse myself in the incredible tapestry of research unfolding within our institution, across the nation, and around the globe. This journey also offered the thrill of travel, the joy of networking, and the prospect of specialization—whether handling a specific part of the processes or the holistic management of research lifecycles.

As I neared the completion of my degree, I found myself not just enchanted but deeply committed to research administration. It was no longer just a job; it had evolved into a career path I was eager to explore further. It was serendipitous that the very office where I had begun my journey as a Graduate Assistant was seeking a full-time member for their team. I seized the opportunity with unwavering determination and was fortunate to secure the position. My time at that first university was a period of profound learning and growth, setting the stage for what was to come. After three enriching years, I made a significant move to the East Coast, taking on a new role as a Research Administrator at a larger institution. It was during my time at that new institution when the infamous pandemic happened. However, I was fortunate that the field of Research Administration proved resilient, adapting seamlessly to remote work.

The year 2023 marked yet another milestone as I embarked on a new chapter, transitioning to a fully remote position with a broader scope of responsibilities. Whereas I had previously focused primarily on pre-award processes, I was now engaged in the full research lifecycle, encompassing both pre- and post-award facets.

My journey in research administration has been an adventure of self-discovery and unbounded enthusiasm. I look back with gratitude for the mentorship that guided me, the opportunities that beckoned, and the sheer joy of finding my passion in the heart of academia. With each step, I have grown more resolute in my commitment to this field. As I look ahead, I am filled with excitement at the prospect of furthering my career in a realm that continues to inspire and invigorate me.

Melanie E.

Sr. Grants & Contracts Administrator

Became an RA: The 2010's

My first departmental business manager and I worked together for years as board of election pollworkers at our local precinct . After her research administrator quit, and she was forced to fill in for 6-months (never having done any research administration before), she sent out an e-mail to her personal contacts list to see if anyone knew someone who could meet the requirements in the job description. I read her message, but did not respond as I did not think I knew anyone who could help her out.

A week or two later she gave me a call — her message was actually intended to get me to respond! I had been in a dead-end position for 10-years and was ready for a change.

She was very clear that it would take at least two years to master the basics, and probably 5-years to be really proficient. She worked with me to tailor my resume to demonstrate how my past experiences demonstrated the required attention to detail, compliance mindset, and Excel skills needed to become a successful research administrator. She also went to bat for me so the starting salary for a research administrator with no experience wouldn’t be a major pay cut, as I would be losing out on annual profit-sharing that boosted my income an average of $5,000/ year. In addition, she turned out to be the best manager I have had so far in my working life.

Hannah C.

Grants & Contracts Administrator

Became an RA: The 2010's

I began my RA journey as an AmeriCorps member at a non-project in Vermont right out of college. From there, I moved into HQ with the responsibility of administering our State and Federal AmeriCorps grants. After having a child, I moved back to my hometown in NC and picked up a PT job at a Community College in RA. Over time, I moved into the role of Director of Grants for the College. After many successful years, I found myself in a new position with Duke University as a Grants and Contracts Administrator (working remotely!). My passion for the grants is what keeps me in RA! Grants provide opportunity for progress and innovation and I love working with the SMEs on their projects!

Lacey R.

Research Administration Manager

Became an RA: The 2010's

After college I struggled to find a full-time job and ended up taking a temporary position at the University doing basic office assistant stuff. After proving I knew how to work a shredder, I was hired into a more permanent position processing fiscal transactions. Over time, this evolved into more and more accounting responsibilities including reconciliation of sponsored projects. Our department’s research administrator promoted to the central office and my boss asked if I would like to learn that role. I was shocked as it seemed so specialized and I had very little experience. She was convinced I had what it took and encouraged me to take the position. It turned out she was right and I’ve had over a decade in a career that I love and never would have found without that push.

Lora G.

Research Administration Manager

Became an RA: The 2000's

I was trying to get hired at Duke University because they had such a great reputation, plus my husband worked there. I saw one job posting for Duke’s Office of Sponsored Programs (now known as Post-Award Financial Management), and I seemed to have the experience that the position required from prior jobs. I just didn’t understand exactly what I would be doing, so I asked my husband what he thought the job would be. He said, “You’re going to be one of the grant police.”

Well, he was mostly right. Since he had been in a lab for so many years and I knew the folks in his lab, I had a lot of compassion for the work that they were trying to do. I went into the job with a desire to do a great job representing my office and doing my best to do the best and most complete financial reporting to our sponsors while keeping us compliant. I also kept the folks in the labs in mind and always did my best to help them do the right thing. I think a lot of people in our office thought folks in the labs were trying to get away with things (there was no evidence of this other than some understandable mistakes that were quickly caught and fixed), but I never saw it that way. I think that’s helped me develop so many wonderful relationships and to see both sides of every financial situation.

MarQuelle M.

Grants Contract Manager

Became an RA: The 1990's

I started in Research Administration, not knowing what I said yes to! I was a receptionist in the Division of Sponsored Research ( The name way back then 1990’s) and I was asked by the Proposal Processing Manager if I would like to come work for her as a Grants Assistant? Without hesitation and reservation, I said yes, not knowing what I was saying yes to, I think I was thinking it was answering the telephones and making copies , boy was I wrong! Upon transitioning to the world of assigning proposal numbers, clocking in proposal documents, making copies, reviewing spa agreements ( my starter contracts) before I dived into the sea of proposal guidelines, budgets and the many documents that I became acquainted with , I realized that I was intrigued with reading the science and somehow it peaked my interest to continue on the path of assisting PI”s to continue with what they love they research and what I now love, the world of Research Administration. as we all know, It Depends, because there are many facets to Research Administration!