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Mentoring connects research managers in a changing profession

Research managers are being encouraged to share their knowledge with others in a mentoring scheme now in its seventh year.

“The idea of the programme is to help our members develop their skills and knowledge as research manager professionals,” says Louise Shelley, deputy chairwoman of the Association of Research Managers and Administrators.

An ARMA panel, chaired by Shelley, matches senior managers with more junior applicants. This gives experienced managers the chance “to share their knowledge, skills and experience with colleagues who may be new to research management or who may just be new to a particular aspect of it, because research management covers quite a range of skills”.

There is no formal structure for how the pairs in the programme meet, with some choosing to get together regularly and others preferring to meet when specific issues arise.

Julia Taylor, research and knowledge exchange operations manager at Bournemouth University, was one of nine mentees to take part in the 2012 scheme. She described what she wanted to achieve to her mentor Juliet Bailey, head of research development at the University of Leicester, and Bailey then organised two days of meetings across her department for Taylor to attend.

“She set me up with the most fantastic timetable,” says Taylor. “It was incredibly intense, but incredibly useful. The really interesting thing was how much commonality there was between the issues that they [at Leicester] were facing and the issues that we [at Bournemouth] were facing.”

In particular, Taylor says she took away lessons about Leicester’s bidding strategy. “We’d just developed a new scheme, the research proposal review service, and it was very interesting seeing how this was approached in Leicester,” she says. She found that senior academics at Leicester take more responsibility for nurturing and developing junior academics. When she returned to Bournemouth she fed the information back into a review of research processes, helping to inform the university’s forthcoming quality approval process, which will launch in February.

Taylor, who has spent her whole career at Bournemouth, believes mentoring is important to stop research managers from being isolated at their universities. “Unless I join in schemes like this, I’m just not going to really go outside my institution and meet too many other administrators,” she says.

“You’ve got to monitor this, that and the other, and there’s the ethics and the research outcomes and open access,” adds Bailey. “All of these things have become more and more complex and I think we’re all grappling with that. Being able to get together and actually share where we might go is very important.”

ARMA is accepting applications for its 2013 mentoring programme until 30 November.