A Volunteer Spotlight

Alex Willis, PHD - Research Grants Manager, Women’s College Hospital



1. What inspired you to become involved in the Professional Development Task Force?

I care about the future of the Research Administration discipline, and wanted to play a direct role in how that would be shaped.

2. Please tell us about your background (professional/volunteer/education)

I am the Manager of Research Grants at Women's College Hospital in Toronto. Prior to this, I held grants officer roles at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and York University (both in Toronto). I hold a PhD in English Literature from the University of Toronto, and have worked previously as a professor, editor, and digital content producer. I am currently a volunteer Mentor with the University of Toronto's Career Exploration Centre, where I help students leverage their academic experiences into professional opportunities in Canada's rapidly changing employment landscape.  

3. What do you find most rewarding about volunteering?

Community-building and my own growth as a lifelong learner. I believe in the active creation of networks, and mentorship is the best way to bring like minds together to create change in a field. I have also found mentorship to be the best way to learn about what others are doing, and how I might do things differently. 

4. Why do you think CARA's webinar program is important?

CARA's community is a huge resource pool of talent and expertise. Encouraging this community to share their wisdom through webinars benefits the entire profession. There is no need for anyone working in this field to feel like they are "going it alone". Webinars are critical to bridge the gaps in expertise and in creating a culture of excellence. 

5. Why do you recommend others get involved with their professional association?

Networking and professional growth. The biggest morale boost I received as a junior research administrator was hearing first-hand the stories of people whose journeys preceded mine. Most of my struggles were ones they had had before or continued to have. Besides morale, the community is an invaluable sounding board and forward-thinking collective that plays an active role in shaping how research gets done in Canada. It's an honour to play a role in that endeavour with colleagues like these. 

6. Why do you think ongoing professional development is important?

Education is not a static thing that you "have" once you have a diploma or degree. It's a living goal that you can never reach, but your willingness to learn and change defines your ability to be "educated". The world will continue to change around us, so it is our duty to adapt. Professional development is the key to this: we must understand how to do things differently, over the course of our careers. Whether you are the learner or the teacher, you change for the better. 

7. What do you like best about being a research administrator?

I love the interplay of strategic, practical, and academic elements in research administration. It engages nearly every aspect of critical thinking I can imagine! It's a highly unique career that I wish I had known about earlier in my university life. On the other hand, perhaps not knowing about it allowed me to have a truly open mind when first considering its possibilities!