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RMAs ‘are a focal point’ for supporting doctoral researchers

Image: Rachel Magee for Research Professional News

Earma 2024: Research managers can support doctoral researchers more than their supervisors, speaker suggests

Research managers and administrators are a “focal point” for supporting doctoral researchers, according to a speaker at the European Association of Research Managers and Administrators annual conference.

With working from home now common, it is easier for RMAs to support doctoral researchers than it is for senior academics because the former are better embedded within their institutions, Fernando Borges (pictured), a research manager at the Legal Institute of the University of Coimbra in Portugal, said at the Earma conference in Odense, Denmark, on 24 April.

Doctoral researchers need extra support due to the increasing pressures they face, Borges said. In many countries they are not employed by their institution and instead receive a grant to cover living costs but often find that this is not enough money. Others are employed but are on short-term contracts and many also find they do not earn enough.

“For us as RMAs, we are the focal point [to supporting doctoral researchers],” Borges said. “Campuses are [now] empty a lot due to homeworking…RMAs are more grounded [to their institutions]. [We can] meet [doctoral researchers] every day, we can go to the cafeteria with them and we can listen to their problems, to their complaints and struggles. It is easier for us than for some researchers to try to find some ways to collaborate with [them].”

Institutional training camp

Borges told attendees about how his institute has been working to support doctoral researchers, including by starting a ‘camp’ to provide training.

As well as providing writing tips, training on research techniques and careers advice, the camp also offers sessions on mental health and wellbeing, he said. In one session, doctoral researchers were hit with a pillow by a martial arts teacher to help them better understand their fight-or-flight mechanism and how to deal with stressful situations.

Borges said his institute also runs a networking event for doctoral researchers. Describing the event as similar to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, Borges said it gives participants a chance to present their work, fears, problems and research. It gives them a safe space to talk without a supervisor or tutor present, he added.