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Research manager recruitment hampered by lack of role clarity

Image: Craig Nicholson for Research Professional News

Inorms 2023: Even well-established research management offices struggle to attract and retain staff, conference hears

The lack of clarity around, and understanding of, what research managers and administrators do is hampering recruitment and retention of RMAs, the annual conference of the International Network of Research Management Societies has heard.

Gem Brown, head of grant management in the Nuffield Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford in the UK (pictured second from left), told the Inorms conference in Durban, South Africa, on 31 May that her unit manages grants worth around £200 million, but nevertheless struggles to recruit and retain RMAs.

Recruiting new RMAs is one of the toughest parts of her role, Brown said. “The challenge is explaining what research management is,” even to professional recruiters, she explained.

In addition, a lack of opportunities for professional development can lead to research management and administration being “a transitional role”, she said in the panel session focused on professionalisation, adding that her unit suffers from “high turnover”.

To overcome these challenges, Brown said, she aims to recruit people with transferable and “soft” skills, such as a mindset that is well-suited to working as part of a team. She has also created an apprenticeship scheme as a way of developing new RMAs who have an inbuilt understanding of the profession.

Partnership rather than service

Convincing researchers of the importance of research management is another challenge, Brown said, but added that younger researchers are more likely to see their work with RMAs as a “partnership” rather than a “service”.

Another speaker in the session, Pamisha Pillay (pictured centre), who is director of research support at Wits Enterprise, a research management office in the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, said that research management and administration in South Africa has struggled to standardise training for the profession due to the diversity of experience of new recruits.

But she said that the Southern African Research and Innovation Management Association has recently developed a professional competency framework setting out nine main competence areas for the profession, and that this was expected to help with recruitment and development once it has time to become more widely adopted.

Research Professional News is media partner for the Inorms 2023 conference in Durban. Read all of the coverage here.