How #altac research happens

kieranKieran Fenby-Hulse is the Researcher Development Officer at Bath Spa University (UK).

He is primarily responsible for delivering and developing research development workshops and online training materials to support both postgraduate researchers and research staff.

Kieran’s research interests include creative practice, cultural value, affective experiences, music, narrative, gender, and Hindi film.

He has a research blog, “Researching Music, Digital Media, and Film“, and tweets at @DrKFenbyHulse.

We were intrigued by Kieran’s profile apparent balance between his own research and role as a research developer, and asked if he’d like to tell us more about how he manages to find space for both.


When is a cat not a cat?  (Sourced from unsplash.com | Photographer: Ryan McGuire - http://www.laughandpee.com)

When is a cat not a cat?
(Sourced from unsplash.com | Photographer: Ryan McGuire – http://www.laughandpee.com)

The term ‘academic’ is often used as synonym for university lecturer.

A lecturing position is the expected career path for many postgraduates when they begin their PhD, and understood to represent the pinnacle of academic achievement; proof that it was all worth it in the end.

Times are changing. This is noticeable from the way in which funding bodies and national organisations such as Vitae, here in the UK, are offering advice and guidance to postgraduates on alternative career routes.

This is echoed by the appearance of the #altac and #postac hashtags on Twitter, which PhD students, postdocs, adjuncts, and other researchers are using to voice their interests and thoughts on pursuing alternative careers both within and outside of academia.

But do you leave academia behind when you leave the institution? Isn’t academia something that exists beyond bricks and mortar? And what of those that stay within higher education, but are not employed as lecturers or researchers? Are these people no longer academics? Have they become administrators overnight?

Should the title of academic be left at the gates of the department as you leave?

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What do research developers do?

Astroboy cake (Photo by Tseen Khoo; cake by Shayne Smail)

Astroboy cake (Photo by Tseen Khoo; cake by Shayne Smail)

Isn’t it brilliant when you learn something within a week of the new year?

When one of my academic buddies asked me in late 2013 what research developers are meant to do, I happily said, “Let me write a blogpost on that!”, and rubbed my hands with glee at the gift of an easy post to knock off in the new year.

I sat down to write this post, and was immediately bogged down in pondering the specificities and individualisation of the role. I realised that it wasn’t as straightforward as I’d thought.

Let me explain:

When I started this job three years ago (thank you, LinkedIn, for the congratulations), I was one of three research developers who were stepping into new positions. My Research Whisperer buddy @jod999 is another from this cohort. We each had responsibility for one of our institution’s colleges (similar to faculties). There was no-one there before us, and no standing expectations to fulfil.

There were expectations, of course, and these are otherwise known as our job descriptions.

As it turns out, though, each of us has cultivated different processes and priorities when carrying out our basic job of helping researchers find money to do their research.

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Descending on Adelaide (ARMS 2013)

ARMS 2013 - AdelaideIf you happened to be travelling on flights to Adelaide over 10-13 September this year, you may have overheard some juicy academic gossip and, hopefully, many scandalous declarations about the higher education sector in Australia and elsewhere.

You may well have been sitting near a posse of professional research staff.

The conference we were flying to was ARMS 2013, the peak meet-up for people of our persuasion.

ARMS (Australasian Research Management Society) is the “professional society for specialists in management and administration of research”, and may need to change its title slightly given the organisation now has a Singapore chapter. Or this may be the beginning of a more pronounced ‘Asian’ in the ‘AustralAsian’ (given tantalising comments by former ARMS President, Ren Yi [@melbcollege], on Twitter about possible links with China – see below)?

I didn’t attend the pre-conference workshops this year, and arrived in Radelaide in time for the welcome reception on the evening of 11 September.

The reception was held in the same venue as the rest of the conference: the Adelaide Convention Centre. As anyone who has floated around convention centres knows, these spaces are often vast, echoing, and – really – socially sterile. Getting into the exhibition hall (where the reception was held), I warmed the space up with meeting colleagues, buddies from last year, and the fabulous opportunity to hang with an old friend who was ‘out-of-context’ at a research management conference.

The conference was very well organised (kudos to the conference committee), and afforded many opportunities to learn about the current state of our professional sector, research policy, and funding bodies in Australia and internationally.

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Newbie at ARMS 2012

Sunshine, swanky hotel, dedicated catering, Big Names?

It must be conference time!

The 2012 Australasian Research Management Society conference was held on 19-21 September at the Gold Coast, with the theme of ‘Ride the wave of collaboration’. The record number of delegates – 550 or so – is testament to both the growing professional field and the Gold Coast climate’s welcoming embrace. For a post-Melbourne-winter attendee, the weather was like a fabulous keynote all on its own.

After checking in, I was quickly and happily ensconced in the plush surrounds of a 23rd floor room in the Surfers Paradise Marriott. Dining with my colleagues that evening, I wondered why I’d ever been jaundiced about conferences. The venue was superb!

The first day (Wed 19 Sept) was dedicated to workshops, ranging from ‘Introduction to Research Management’ and ‘Contract Law for Research Administrators’ to the all-day ‘Research Integrity Forum’ (attendees of which seemed to have an unseemly amount of fun). I attended the sessions about international collaboration, and building and sustaining industry engagement. The workshops were a great way to get to know fellow attendees. Even though we were embroiled in activities that involved butcher’s paper and coloured markers (I’m generally not a fan), I learned a lot about the pressing issues and international/industry contexts for research generally, and research management in particular.

For the next two days of the conference proper (Thurs and Fri 20-21 Sept), we listened to invited international speakers such as Allison Lerner (Inspector General, National Science Foundation, USA), Vanessa Campo-Ruiz (Science Officer, European Science Foundation), and Brigid Heywood (Assistant VC [Research and Enterprise], Massey Uni, NZ). Was I the only one to note the not-so-subtle refrain of ‘show us your badge!’ in conference conversation after Lerner’s presentation?

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RO Peeps: Deborah Brian

The RO Peeps page lists the research office profiles of friends of The Research Whisperer. It showcases the talent and myriad trajectories that make us who we are.

DEBORAH BRIAN

Deborah Brian [Photo courtesy of Kimberley Nunes]

Name & Twitter handle: Deborah Brian / @deborahbrian

Position title: Senior Administrative Officer, Research

University: The University of Queensland (UQ)

Location: Brisbane

Highest qualification?  Bachelor of Arts with Honours (in Anthropology and Archaeology) and *half* a PhD (I know, I know …)

How did you get into this role, and how long have you been a research administrator/developer?  I’ve taken on a range of academic and professional roles in research and teaching over the years, mostly around my own studies.  There is a fine tradition of graduates and postgraduate students making up the backbone of the administrative workforce in universities.

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RO Peeps: Brenda Massey

The RO Peeps page lists the research office profiles of friends of The Research Whisperer. It showcases the talent and myriad trajectories that make us who we are.

BRENDA MASSEY

Brenda Massey (Unitec, NZ)

Name & Twitter handle: Brenda Massey / @FundingChickie

Position title: Grants and Funding Advisor

University: Unitec Institute of Technology

Location: Auckland, New Zealand

Highest qualification?  Bachelor of Arts

How did you get into this role, and how long have you been a research administrator/developer? I’ve been at Unitec since March 2010. I don’t have a background in research or academia, but I do have experience running funding schemes and part of my role at Unitec is to manage our internal research funding round and our postgraduate scholarships scheme.

We’re a small research office so even though my job title is ‘grants and funding’, I pitch in to help our ethics, research and postgraduate committees, as required. I’ve organised a number of events such as book launches, professorial addresses and our 2011 Research Symposium and inaugural 3 Minute Thesis Competition.

The Dean of Research was looking for someone willing to get stuck in and create their own niche within the office and the institution and that’s just the type of challenge I was after.

What other kinds of jobs have you had?  Prior to joining Unitec I ran a local government community grants scheme, so I have a background in community development and support. I developed funding guidelines and processes, assessed funding applications and made recommendations for grants to senior management and local government politicians. That experience has definitely helped me put myself in funders’ shoes now that I’m assisting Unitec staff to apply for external grants. I’ve also had roles in pensions administration, accident compensation claims entitlement and legal aid case management.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?  It’s such a buzz when a grant application that I’ve assisted to prepare has been successful, irrespective of whether it’s a small amount of money or a large amount of money that’s been granted. It’s validation, not just that the proposal has been pitched correctly, but that an organisation external to your institution agrees that the project is important enough to resource.

What’s the thing you’d most like to change about your job?  I love working with staff and students to develop their grant applications, but once they have their funding my contact with them can become fairly sporadic, and might be via email or phone rather than face-to-face. I would relish the chance to be involved in some of the projects that are funded as a team member, rather than as a facilitator.

Favourite hobby-horse?  I’m still passionate about community development. I was recently pleased to be part of a team that put together a successful proposal for funding that will see Unitec staff provide academic guidance on a research project conducted by a local community group. Unitec’s involvement will increase the group’s capacity, and the capacity of other groups that they will go on to work with.

Dream job?  I would love to be on a panel that makes decisions on funding applications!

Best advice to researchers?  I’m a big advocate of the importance of ‘critical friends’ in the grant writing process. 

Unitec’s Professor Linton Winder recently advised his staff as follows:

“Try and persuade colleagues outside your area, preferably with panel expertise, to read and seriously critique your grant [application]. Many will not want to offend and will tell you the application is “wonderful”. This may make you feel better in the short-term, but if they pick out a flaw that the panel would have, that will make you feel better in the long-term”.

RO Peeps: Phil Ward

The RO Peeps page lists the research office profiles of friends of The Research Whisperer. It showcases the talent and myriad trajectories that make us who we are.

Today’s RO  Peep is Phil Ward, who writes the Research Fundermentals blog. If you’re in the UK or Europe and interested in following the intricacies of the UK/EU funding circuit, make sure you follow Phil’s blog.

PHIL WARD

Name & Twitter handle: Phil Ward (@frootle)

Position title: Research Funding Manager

University: University of Kent

Location: Canterbury, UK

Highest qualification? MA

How did you get into this role, and how long have you been a research administrator/developer?
Like many in the sector, I fell into research administration. I was made redundant from Waterstones Online, a bookseller in the UK, and a job came up at the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC). I applied not knowing anything about the sector, and loved it. I’ve been on a steep learning curve ever since.

Now I’ve moved from grant giving to grant getting: it’s tougher, but more rewarding.

What other kinds of jobs have you had?
After university I had a whole range, from charity worker in Sweden, farm worker in Norway, care worker for children with learning difficulties, teaching assistant, book seller and literature sub editor.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job? Getting the grants! If only it happened more often…

What’s the thing you’d most like to change about your job? Funder success rates!

Favourite hobby-horse?
This is pretty much the same as ‘best advice to researchers’: think about the person who’s going to read your proposal, and make it easy for them to understand the basics of your project: What’s your research question? Why’s it important? How are you going to answer it? How are you going to disseminate the findings?

Dream job? Cartoonist

Best advice to researchers? Don’t give up!

RO Peeps: Adam Golberg

The RO Peeps page lists the research office profiles of friends of The Research Whisperer. It showcases the talent and myriad trajectories that make us who we are.

This entry profiles Adam Golberg, who writes the social science research, policy and development blog, Cash for Questions.

ADAM GOLBERG

Name & Twitter handle: Adam Golberg / @Cash4Questions

Position title: Research Manager

University: Nottingham University Business School

Location: Nottingham, UK.

Highest qualification? MPhil in Political Philosophy

How did you get into this role, and how long have you been a research administrator/developer? I started in research support at Keele University (UK) in 2005, managing the Research Institute for Public Policy and Management. This involved pre-award, post-award, and managing the unit.

Gradually, the role evolved towards grant-getting, and I was able to develop skills in ‘lay review’ of grant applications, as well as costings, eligibility questions, etc. When the opportunity to move to a more specialised role at a more research intensive university came up, I moved to the University of Nottingham in 2009.

What other kinds of jobs have you had? My first higher education role was managing the Centre for Professional Ethics at Keele University, which I got partly because of some previous admin experience and partly because of my background in philosophy.

My role in the Centre included marketing flexible part-time MA courses and looking for opportunities for knowledge transfer activities. Before I started my MPhil, I was Guest Care Manager at a childrens’ activity holiday centre in Scotland.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job? I love working with academic experts and discussing their research ideas. I won’t claim to understand everything that they want to investigate, but it’s a privilege to share their ideas and play a role in helping them get funding.

What’s the thing you’d most like to change about your job? Something I find particularly frustrating is when researchers don’t talk to me, or come to see me at the last possible moment before the deadline. I’m trying to help, and it’s rare that I can’t improve an application in at least some way. Sometimes, that improvement is marginal; sometimes, it’s substantial.

Favourite hobby-horse? I can be persuaded to complain loudly and bitterly about the lack of funding opportunities for small projects. In the UK at the moment, it seems that big is better when it comes to grants, but I think that great work can be done with relatively small amounts of funding, generally just covering research expenses.

Dream job? Not sure.  I think there’s still a frustrated writer in there somewhere.

Best advice to researchers? It’s difficult to come up with a single piece of advice other than, well, be prepared to seek and take good advice.

RO Peeps: Jonathan O’Donnell

The RO Peeps page lists the research office profiles of friends of The Research Whisperer. It showcases the talent and myriad trajectories that make us who we are.

This week, it’s Jonathan’s turn.

Jonathan O’Donnell

Portrait of Jonathan O'Donnell, wearing a fine new hat

I bought a hat by Jonathan O'Donnell on Flickr

Name & Twitter handle: Jonathan O’Donnell (@researchwhisper / @jod999)

Position: Senior Advisor, Research Development

University: RMIT University

Location: Melbourne, Australia (map)

Highest qualification? A very average Bachelor of Arts (English Literature) at ANU.

How did you get into this role?

“I took an arrow in the knee.”

I failed a subject in my last year at university, so I took a job with the public service. In my new (first ever) job, the people down the corridor seemed to be having much more fun than me, so I jumped ship and went to work for them. They were the Australian Research Grants Committee and it turned out that they were a lot more fun.

I worked with them for a year, and then I fell in love, moved to Melbourne, broke up… as you do. RMIT advertised for an administrative officer in their Research Coordination Office. I looked at it and said, “This is the job for me”. Lorraine Bridger looked at me and said, “You’re the boy for us” (or words to that effect). That was in 1990. I’ve done a lot of other things since.

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RO Peeps: Tseen Khoo

This is the first in a new series of entries that will be listed on our RO Peeps page.

What’s this page going to be about?

This:

When you are beset by questions about research funding, your eligibility as an investigator, application budget issues, or grant strategies, where should you turn?

At most universities, there’s a Research Office (RO). In that RO are staff who have the expertise to advise and assist you in navigating your institution’s daunting processes, as well as the threatening labyrinths of external funding bodies.

Who are these brave souls who may often exist for you only as husky voices on the phone, or helpfully pedantic emailers?

This page lists the RO profiles that we hope to build up here at The Research Whisperer, to showcase the talent and myriad trajectories that make us rather useful to you.

To kick things off, we’ll be starting with yours truly: The Research Whisperer team.

This week, it’s Tseen’s turn. Next time, you get a squizz at Jonathan.

ONTO THE PROFILE

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