Research Administrators Celebrated for Invaluable Service to Research Enterprise

By Karen Adler
September 27, 2023

They don’t work in a lab or in the field, but they play a vital role in the life-saving and life-changing research that’s conducted at The University of Texas at Austin.

Research administrators handle the business side of research by navigating the complexities and administrative requirements associated with sponsored research. This past year, UT research administrators facilitated the submission of more than 3,000 grant proposals, received about $1 billion in awards, and helped researchers and scholars manage more than 4,500 active sponsored projects.

Though they usually work behind the scenes of the research enterprise, they were in the spotlight Tuesday at the National Research Administration Day Celebration. The event is held annually by the UT Austin Association of Research Administrators and the Office of the Vice President for Research, Scholarship and Creative Endeavors.

The Outstanding Research Administrator Award was presented to Sara Sieberath, assistant director of research administration and finance for the Institute for Geophysics in the Jackson School of Geosciences. Ana Dala, grants and contract specialist in the College of Education, was named the Rookie Research Administrator.

Research Administrator Awards Celebration
Ana Dala, left, and Sara Sieberath were recognized for outstanding research administration.

Sieberath and Dala were nominated by their colleagues who lauded them for consistently exceeding expectations and for providing an invaluable service to researchers, said Dan Jaffe, vice president for research, who presented the awards.

“When we say what starts here changes the world, one of the key ways we change the world is through research,” Jaffe said. “Research administrators like Sara and Ana are the backbone of sponsored research and are essential to maintaining relationships with the agencies, foundations, and partners who fund research across the University.”

Sieberath joined UT Austin in 2009 as an administrative associate and has been with the Institute for Geophysics since 2016. She now supervises a team of pre- and post-award research administrators responsible for supporting the entire lifecycle of a grant, which includes proposal preparation, budgeting, award negotiation, account management, purchasing, travel, inventory, reporting, and subaward administration.

“With Sara at the helm, I have complete and utter confidence that any proposal I write will be submitted on time and with every detail, both minor and major, adhered to,” said John Goff, senior research scientist at UTIG. “She cares deeply about those of us who are in her charge and does everything she can to ensure that we have the administrative backing to successfully accomplish our research.”

Goff recalled a contract with a state office that had multiple budgets and extensive reporting and invoice requirements.

“It should have been a nightmare, except Sara had the whole thing completely organized and it all went smoothly,” he said. “I don’t think she had prior experience with a contract that complex, but that didn’t stop her from figuring it out in the most efficient way possible.”

To put it simply, “Sara has been transformative at UTIG since day one,” said Ginny Catania, a fellow research scientist at UTIG. “I could not get my science done without Sara’s help.”

Even though Dala has just two years of experience as a research administrator, she has already solidified herself as a go-to member of the College of Education’s research support team.

Case in point: Last summer alone, she untangled six transfer awards from a single faculty member, set up more than a dozen new incoming awards, and assisted with financial projections for all current faculty awards while taking on extra duties because of a position vacancy.

Dala began her position in the middle of the pandemic—a challenging time for research—and hit the ground running, said Mary Steinhardt, professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education.

“Knowing she has my back has given me the needed time to focus on the grant without worrying that I will not be able to adhere to NIH requirements for annual reports and budget expectations,” Steinhardt said. “She’s demonstrated the very highest level of collaboration, cooperation, dedication and prompt communication.”

Also at Tuesday’s ceremony, a new award, the ARA Professional Development Award, was presented to Melissa Pollard, administrative manager for the Center for Water and the Environment, and Aubrey Vinklarek, senior pre-award specialist at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work.

“I really appreciate the recognition that the Research Administrator awards symbolize for administrators — who do a lot of work behind the scenes but are rarely recognized for it beyond their own faculty circles,” said Lisa Gentry, senior research administrator at the Oden Institute and network committee chair for the ARA. “It’s a chance for the University show its appreciation for all that we do and I’m just happy to be able to volunteer in making that happen.”