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Reflections on the CARA National Conference 2023 + Q&A with CARA Executive Director Sarah Lampson

A scenic landscape outside of St. John's.
7 minutes

By Tania Massa, PhD.

On the rugged and rocky shores of the North Atlantic, emerging and seasoned professionals from Humber’s Office of Research & Innovation had the opportunity to take part at the Canadian Conference on Research Administration 2023 led by the Canadian Association of Research Administrators (CARA).

The 2023 National Conference, which took place on May 14-17 in St. John’s, NL, was organized under the theme of “Charting Successful Pathways in Research.”

While I attended the CARA regional conferences in the past, this was my first CARA National Conference with Humber College. I was impressed by the number and quality of the concurrent sessions. There was such a great blend of sessions on topics ranging from research administration, research finance, and EDI to commercialization, knowledge mobilization and leadership that it was often difficult to choose a session. The workshops on inclusive research, supporting Indigenous research and engagement and accessibility factors in research were particularly beneficial for my personal and professional development. The networking during and after the conference was also valuable. I connected with new and old colleagues from across Canada and internationally including a delegate from Malaysia. 

Three women stand in front of a presentation screen at the CARA conference.
 Namrata Barai, PhD., Director, Applied Research, Seneca College; Tanya Perdikoulias, BA, Associate Director of Operations and author Tania Massa, PhD., Associate Dean of Applied Research & Innovation pose in front of their presentation, "Colleges Building a Culture of Innovation".

In addition to attending the sessions and networking, Namrata Barai, PhD., Director, Applied Research, Seneca College; Tanya Perdikoulias, BA, Associate Director of Operations, Humber College and I led a panel presentation and discussion on the topic of “Colleges Building a Culture of Innovation.” We shared best practices for building a culture of innovation within the college environment and increasing research capacity. The panel provided examples from each of our institutions that include social innovation, sustainability, student training, and employee-driven innovation. We also described the co-creation of a series of research training modules and the joint implementation of Gender-Smart Entrepreneurship Education Training Plus in our entrepreneurship centres. I was happy that some delegates from other institutions wanted to discuss how they could implement these practices at their colleges.

Scenic view of St. John’s, NL

As the conference came to a close, I had some time for reflection as I was surrounded by the fresh ocean wind and the welcoming people of St. John’s, NL. I visited the Terry Fox Monument since Terry Fox started his cross-Canada fundraising journey here. It is inscribed with a quote that aligns with the core principles of research and innovation: “I just wish people would realize that anything is possible if you try, dreams are made if people try.”

A statue of Terry Fox
The Terry Fox Memorial in St. John's, NL.

I feel incredibly lucky that the work that we do at Humber College in collaboration with our industry and community partners, faculty members, students and departments is all about dreaming and trying new things to solve the toughest real-world challenges. 

Interested in learning more about the world of research administration?

In this interview by Tania Massa, PhD., Associate Dean of Applied Research & Innovation, Humber College, Sarah Lampson discusses the CARA National Conference, the distinct role of colleges and what lies ahead for the world of research administration.

TM: For people who are new to the world of research administration, can you share how CARA started?

SL: CARA started over 50 years ago and was founded by a small group of research administrators at universities. The association continues to grow and now includes members from colleges, polytechnics, academic hospitals, institutes, government and other stakeholders in research administration. Several years ago CARA changed its name to reflect the variety of institutions that make up the current membership.

TM: In a world that is co-existing with COVID-19, what does new world of work look like for research administrators?

SL: Many research administrators now have hybrid work arrangements and/or are transitioning back to their offices full time. CARA offers a lot of online professional development opportunities throughout the year but many were very happy to get back to some in-person events.

TM: How do you think the sector has evolved in response to sustainability and equity, diversity and inclusion?

SL: In the past decade there has been an increasing interest and recognition of the value of sustainability and equity, diversity and inclusion. It is a wonderful time to be working in the higher education and research sector as there is a passion for and commitment to sustainability and equity, diversity and inclusion which benefit everyone. There is a tremendous engagement on these opportunities from funding and investment to individuals actively seeking information and ways to improve their practice in their careers.

TM: When did colleges start taking part in CARA events and networking? 
SL: I have been with CARA for 10 years and there were college-based research administrators before that so many years ago.

TM: What unique contributions do colleges bring to the network? 
SL: Colleges have been conducting applied research for many years and are seeing increased investment from government programs. Colleges have distinct cultures and expertise in the higher education environment that bring different perspectives and experiences that enrich and enhance research in Canada.

TM: Are you considering additional college- and institute-specific program going forward? If no, are there any potential opportunities for co-creation and collaboration? 
SL: We do have college-specific content at conferences and in our webinar program. Our association is volunteer-led and we are fortunate to have many very active college research administrators creating professional development opportunities for their peers. 

CARA has a partnership with Mohawk College to offer fully online certificates in Research Administration and, as of last year, Research Management and Coordination. These certificates have welcomed students from across Canada and internationally from colleges, universities and other settings.

TM: SPARK is an online publication that goes out to many stakeholders. What would you like them to know about the Canadian college system? 
SL: College research continues to grow and so does the need for skilled research administrators. I love learning about the important research done at colleges across Canada and the involvement of students. I encourage everyone to explore their local college programs and research. As a college instructor and former continuing education student I have seen firsthand the benefits and impact of colleges—in research, in the community and beyond. As mentioned above, CARA partners with a college to offer continuing education and this partnership was attractive to the association as it offers flexible, accessible learning opportunities.

TM: Can you share more about this year’s National Conference theme “Charting Successful Pathways in Research” and how it was selected? What does it mean to you personally?
SL: The conference theme was chosen by members leading the creation of the conference program. It speaks to the changes since the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing to 
move forward and innovate in what was already a highly complex and evolving environment which was then compounded by a global pandemic.

TM: What do you hope are the key take-aways from this year’s national conference? 
SL: The conference is a very energizing and collaborative event with the content created and curated by CARA members. It will lead to new networks, collaborations and new ideas, all of which advance research administration. I hope it leads to all attendees feeling even more engaged with the association and the community that is there to support them.

TM: Can you give us a sneak peek for the next year’s national conference or other programming? 
SL: Our next national conference is in Calgary in 2024 but before that we have a regional conference coming up in London, November 15-17; an online CARA West Conference, November 29 to December 1; and, in honour of Research Administrators Day, an online event on September 25 with speakers from around the world. We also offer webinars every week throughout the academic year.

TM: How can the college system support you and the CARA network going forward?
SL: Many colleges have invested in CARA membership for their research administration experts. Members from colleges have been very generous in getting involved in board leadership, recruiting colleagues to share expertise at the conferences and webinars and volunteering in other roles.

TM: Can you share with us a little more about your career path in the world of research? 
SL: I was appointed Executive Director of CARA in 2013 after more than a decade as a research administrator in various progressive roles at a leading comprehensive university, a funding agency, one of the largest academic hospitals in Canada and at the largest health research organization in North America. I co-authored the reference book The A-Z Guide to Research Contract Review, its companion study guide and Steer Your Career: A Research Administrator’s Manual for Mapping Success which are in use at more than 500 institutions globally. I am grateful to have received national and international recognition for my contributions to research administration. I am also a faculty member in the Research Administration Certificate program at Mohawk College. 

TM: What does research and innovation mean to you? 
SL: Research and innovation are hope, creativity and active commitment to advancing knowledge, understanding and solving challenges and problems locally, nationally and globally. Research presents endless opportunities to help society and collaborate. 

Sarah Lampson, CAE is the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Research Administrators where she has provided organizational leadership for 5 years. Her key achievements include: significantly increasing services to members, which resulted in a 25% increase in membership and a 400% increase in volunteerism in 3 years; turning an operating deficit into a surplus in first 12 months; increasing revenue 43% and stewarding the international partnership that resulted in development of Canada’s first professional qualifications in the profession.