Learning from others

Thanks to the Australasian Research Management Society (ARMS) and the US National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA) for their fellowship, which made my trip possible. Thanks also to Kirsten Yehl for making my trip a fantastic success.


Jonathan looking nervous, as he holds a NURAP sign in front of a poster that says 'Chicago'

Jonathan at the Northwestern University Research Administration Professionals meeting

In September – October last year, I travelled from my base at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia to Northwestern University, Chicago, as an ARMS / NCURA Fellow. I spent time with the research administrators in the School of Engineering and the Institute of Public Health.

During that time, I learnt that there were a lot of similarities in working with academics in both our countries. I also learnt the value of reflecting on my own professional practice by discussing it with people who do very different things.

Here are a few of the things that contrasted with my everyday Australian experiences:

Scope: I was constantly reminded that the scope of research between our two institutions was so different. At one of my meetings, a Northwestern research administrator was thrilled that one of her researchers had just been awarded the Nobel Prize. That’s not going to happen to me anytime soon!

Northwestern attracts US$620 million (A$850 million) annually in sponsored research. That’s almost A$3 million more than the Australian Research Council. In addition, they have US$10.5 billion in endowments and other trust funds. This difference in scale leads to a difference in understanding of what research can be undertaken, a difference in how grant applications are developed, and a difference in how the resulting research funding is scrutinised.

Attitude: The Research Administrators at Northwestern are there to make it as easy as possible for their researchers to apply for funding and to do their research. That is (or should be) the same the world over. However, it is an important thing to keep in mind, especially when we are in the thick of things. Read more of this post

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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