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Research managers advised to build knowledge and networks

Inorms 2023: Forthcoming book on research management and administration aims to help with professionalisation

Research managers and administrators have been advised to build their knowledge, skills and networks to help advance both their own careers and the profession as a whole.

In recent days, RMAs attending the congress of the International Network of Research Management Societies in Durban, South Africa, have heard that their profession is essential to helping researchers secure funding and meet requirements on areas such as ethics and data management.

But they have also heard that there can still be limited understanding among RMAs themselves, and the sector more broadly, of the nature and delineations of the role, as well as unclear paths for career progression.

Finding a utopia

The theme of the conference, finding a utopia for RMAs, was in part about improving this situation, as was a talk given on 1 June by Susi Poli (pictured), who is the lead on sustainability and staff engagement in education at the University of Bologna in Italy and a co-editor of a forthcoming handbook on the RMA profession.

She advised RMAs at the conference that to progress their careers, and the profession in general, they should build their personal skills as well as their knowledge of the role and the context in which they are working, such as how higher education institutions are managed.

RMAs should also find favourite peers and professional associations with which to network, she said. “Be active and engaged with knowledge and peers,” one of her slides advised. “Raise your peers to be fully engaged with this knowledge and even to do more research on it.”

The book Poli has co-edited, The Emerald Handbook of Research Management and Administration Around the World, is expected to be published with open access in November and is “meant to reflect the body of knowledge that we have at the moment on the profession”, she said.

Fellow co-editor Simon Kerridge, an RMA formerly at the University of Kent in the UK who is now an independent consultant, said in another session that a draft of the book is currently with the publisher.

Future of the profession

Giving her own view of the future of the profession, Poli said: “It is about forging synergies, finding allies, mainly within professional associations [but] including synergies with researchers [and] even co-creating knowledge.”

This burgeoning knowledge-creation element of the RMA role was promoted and demonstrated throughout the conference, in talks including one by keynote speaker Cheryl de la Rey, vice-chancellor of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, who urged RMAs to propose “research on research”, such as on how to broaden considerations of research impact.

A direct example of knowledge creation by RMAs came in a talk by Anouska Nithyanandan, a research development manager at the London School of Economics and a former academic, who set out her work on using LSE’s data on the diversity of its researchers to examine the inclusivity performance of her institution.

Beyond research on research, Kerridge, Poli and others also presented research on the RMA role itself, including data from the regular Research Administration as a Profession surveys. Mariko Yang-Yoshihara, an education researcher at Stanford University in the US and the third co-editor of the handbook, presented research into RMAs who hold doctorates and the “ambivalence” they feel about their role straddling research and its administration.

Presenting their views on the future of the profession, Kerridge said it will not be a “true” profession until RMAs need to be licensed, while Yang-Yoshihara said she is looking forward to a day when students are aware while studying that the RMA role exists as a potential future career option for them.

The next Inorms congress will take place in Madrid in 2025.

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

A version of this article appeared in Research Europe