“Secretary, or Administrative Assistant? What’s the difference what I call you?.” A young junior investigator nonchalantly asks one of the administrators in his newly appointed department. She was less than amused by his question.  The difference is his perceived value of the position.  Needless to say, his first 6 months were less than productive when it came to his administrative support.

According to Harvard Business Review, the value of an administrative assistant can out weigh more than the cost of their salary support, and can even increase the overall productivity of an organization. So, think about the value an administrator can bring to you and your science. You’ll be much more respectful of the work that they can produce.

I know that not all administrative support teams can be productive, and sometimes can be incompetent. However, recognizing the services that they can offer, you can direct these time savers to help you more effectively.

In this post I offer 3 top administrators who can save you with time, money, and overall sanity. These are fund managers, administrative assistants, and laboratory managers.

  1. Fund, or grants administrators are very critical. I usually suggest that my clients get to know their fund managers the moment they start. This person can become your best friend.  Here are 3 ways a great fund manager can help your money:
    1. A good fund manager can give you on-time funding reports. However, a great fund manager can give you insight on how best to manage your funds. She can give suggestions and options like suggesting alternative spending routes, where to find discounts, and help you avoid bureaucratic roadblocks, by quickly getting you through the approval processes.
    2. A good fund manager will help you submit grant proposals. However, a great fund managers lets you know what grant applications are available to you and your specific need, and even suggest future applications. Far too often,  young P.I.s have no idea what grants or funds they are qualified for. This is where a knowledgeable fund manager can bring great financial value.
    3. A good fund manager lets you know when your spending is within budget.  However, a great fund manager can help you manage low cash flow, over expenditures, or general financial rainy days. The tricky part of  governmentally funded research is that the funds must be spent out and accounted for.  There is no “savings account”. Fund managers can help reallocate funds, or recommend gap funding awards that you may be qualified for.
  2. Administrative assistants are no longer called secretaries. This isn’t Mad Men. Therefore, understand that a great administrative assistant is the protector of your time. He understands the ins and outs of the administrative policies and procedures. Therefore, he can get you through the bureaucracy quicker than you. Here are 3 ways a great admin assistant can help your time:
    1. A good administrative assistant can help you to schedule meetings in your calendar. However, a great administrative assistant can help to streamline your calendar by rearranging the most important/influential meetings, or even block out “think” time for you.
    2. A good administrative assistant can help answer incoming calls and take messages. However, a great administrative assistant will filter, and field the calls for you. He can provide the caller with information that can solve their needs, or even suggest alternative sources without disturbing you. He can also prioritize and ensure that only the most important information gets your attention.
    3. A good administrative assistant will graciously take orders and requests. Often they are very accommodating to even the most mundane tasks. However, a great administrative assistant seeks feedback and asks if there are other tasks that he can alleviate you from. He can go as far as to suggest tasks that can possibly help you to save time.
  3. The third administrator is dear to my heart. Most often times, in the early days of a startup lab, she is a 3 in 1 admin. This person is the lab manager. She is often considered a core member of the lab, and is essential in running the actual business of the science. Here are 3 ways that a great lab manager can help your sanity:
    1. A good lab manager can do the science technically and intellectually. However, a great lab manager manages the projects and ensure that they’re within the budget, time, and money.
    2. A good lab manager can delegate tasks and technically train other members of the lab. However, a great lab manager mentors and coaches members on an individual level. She helps to develop other members scientifically on a technical and managerial level.  She helps them to become future leading scientists.
    3. A good lab manager helps to keep equipment and supplies in working order. However, a great lab manager can lead teams to help manage the entire lab operations. She creates cost saving deals with equipment vendors for support, and even delegate responsibilities to end users to help maintain and train. She understand that the lab members are a team. Therefore, she understands that coordinating the team’s efforts are part of her duties.

These administrators are great resources to starting a productive lab. They can help you do more of what you want, as a scientist. You were trained to do the science, not the business. That’s what administrators are there for. Let them help you.

Was there an administrator who you found absolutely essential in helping you with your science? What did he/she do for you?  What are your thoughts and concerns about the future of scientific administrators?

We’d love to hear. Leave a comment below.