Once more unto the breach

Image from pasukaru76 on Flickr | Public Domain

Image from pasukaru76 on Flickr | Public Domain

I am a researcher developer in an academic role.

In my field in Australia, this situation of being an academic appointment in a research education/development role is not that common. In my unit, all four of the research educators are academic appointments and we are all active researchers. This is rare.

Many research education and development units are staffed with professional roles, often with academic collaboration and input. It is a field where staff come from a very diverse range of disciplines, and often show up conceiving of it as an “accidental career pathway”. I first realised how prevalent this feeling was when reading my colleague Jeanette Fyffe’s 2018 paper on becoming an academic developer (yes, I’m pushing academic developer and researcher developer into the same bucket and I realise I may well be cursed for life…). Many who are in the researcher development field are PhD-qualified. For some professional staff in these roles, the researcher identity is one that becomes increasingly a remembered or historical one. For academic staff in these roles, the researcher identity is ongoing and always freshly fraught.

This post isn’t to set one against the other as superior (however and whichever way you may think they might be superior), but to talk about how it feels right now to be an academic in a researcher development role. I’m discussing this with the background of having been consecutively in roles there were research-only >>professional >>teaching/research.

Being an academic in researcher development feels like I sit partway between a more standard discipline academic role and a professional one. Across all the jobs I’m talking about for this post, I have stayed in the university sector but felt the pressures around it in differentiated ways. Read more of this post

How to write a successful ethics application

Dr Kathryn Snow is an epidemiologist whose work focuses on vulnerable populations.

She has a particular interest in tuberculosis, viral hepatitis, adolescent health, and the health of people in criminal justice settings.

Kat advises colleagues from diverse backgrounds on research ethics, study design, and data analysis.

She tweets from @epi_punk.


Photo from Bernard Hermant | unsplash.com

Photo from Bernard Hermant | unsplash.com

The word “ethics” strikes fear into the hearts of most early career researchers.

Some of the reasons are beyond our control, but there’s actually a lot we can do to make our own experiences of the ethics approval process less painful.

I’m writing this from two perspectives: as an early career researcher (I finished my PhD in 2019), and as a committee member (I’ve sat on an ethics advisory group since the start of my PhD in 2014).

The job of ethics committees is to identify the possible risks in a project, and then assess whether the research team:

  1. are aware of the risks.
  2. are taking appropriate steps to minimise them.
  3. have a plan to handle anything that does go wrong.

To do this, ethics committees need information. If you want your ethics application to get through the process as quickly as possible, you need to give the committee enough detail so that they understand your project and how you are managing any risks.

Getting your application as right as possible the first time makes the whole process go more quickly. If you don’t provide enough information, the committee will come back with questions. You may need to resubmit your application to the next meeting, which could be a month or two away.

Spending more time on your application for the first meeting can save you months later on! Read more of this post

Looking backwards

For the International Network of Research Management Societies (INORMS) 2018 conference, Ipshita Ghose asked Adam Golberg, Bo Alroe and I to help out with a workshop about how technology changes the research development role. I’d just like to thank them for the chance to reflect on how our processes have changed, and will continue to change. 


Philosophical Transactions: giving some account of the present understanding, studies and labours of the ingenious in many considerable parts of the world. Volume 1, for years 1665 and 1666.

Frontispiece of Philosophical Transactions, by Henry Oldenburg, via Wikimedia Commons.

More and more research material is either being produced as digital objects or are being digitised. I can see the first copy of Philosophical Transactions from my desk. Open licensing means that more and more of this material can be shared.

However, when it comes to the administration of this research, it is a different matter.

I tried to look up a grant that the Australian Research Council (ARC) gave out in 1999 (20 years ago). I just wanted the bare minimum – title, participants and amount awarded (bonus points for years funded). It wasn’t on the ARC’s website. They are best of breed, but their database only covers grants awarded from 2001 onwards. I finally found it because one of the people involved had published their CV online, and had listed the details of the grant.

That is because this grant belonged to the Age of Paper. Now, we live in a digital age.

We have forgotten (or were born too young to know) that we used to submit grant applications on paper. Hands up all those people who remember physically counting the pages of a grant application before you made ten copies of it and then physically posted it (or, deadlines and academics being what they are, couriered it) to the funding agency.

We live in the age of The Great Digitising: that period after digitising everything became possible, but before everything was actually digitised. So, there are lacunae, or blank spots, like the ARC’s database of grants, which covers most but not all of what they have funded. The weird thing about the blank spots is that they are mostly in the recent past. Really early stuff, like Philosophical Transactions, have been digitised. Journals and source documents in the last 50 years? Not so much (generally because of copyright issues). Grant applications that are 20 years old? Not at all!

I was looking for that grant application because one of my academics (who wasn’t part of the original grant) wanted to build on that work. They will be applying with the same industry partner, to the scheme that is the successor to the funding scheme that funded the work 20 years ago. Read more of this post

The value of real relationships in research development

Lachlan Smith is Co-Director of Cloud Chamber.

He supports small and specialist institutions to develop their research culture, environment and income through strategy development and one to one research proposal support for academics. Clients include Newman, Leeds Trinity and Harper Adams Universities. He previously worked in research development at the University of Warwick as well as roles in the civil service, local government and economic development consultancy.

Lachlan is currently undertaking a part-time PhD at the School of Business, University of Leicester. He tweets from @HEresearchfund.


Research support professionals are always on the lookout for good practice. I should know, I’m one of them.

A common way to do this is to attend relevant conferences, and one of the largest of these – INORMS – took place in Edinburgh in early June.

Photo from @ARMA_UK's #INORMS2018 Twitterstream | twitter.com/arma_uk/status/927834525173997568

Photo from @ARMA_UK’s #INORMS2018 Twitterstream | twitter.com/arma_uk/status/927834525173997568

INORMS brings together well over one thousand people who work in research management globally. Around half were from the UK with the rest coming from North America, Asia, Africa, Australia and Europe.

These conferences are always an opportunity to catch up with old colleagues, forge new partnerships and projects and find out how the profession is changing and developing across the world.

So, what did I learn over the three days? Well, if I am honest, I don’t feel like I learnt anything particularly new.

It feels wrong to say that but, in reality, things don’t move too quickly in research management (as much as we might like to think they do).

That isn’t to say the conference wasn’t useful. I met some great new people and it highlighted some important issues, crystallising my thoughts in a few areas that I thought might be valuable to share in this post. Read more of this post

The price of poor grant feedback

Photo by Dietmar Becker | unsplash.com

Photo by Dietmar Becker | unsplash.com

There is that moment when you find out the results of a long-awaited grant round.

It can be euphoric and somewhat surreal, or it could lead to much shoulder-slumping.

Given today’s research funding environment and the success rates in major funding rounds, there’s probably more shoulder-slumping than anyone would like.

This wrenching, life-affecting result is a tough phase to get through. That’s why I wrote “Picking up the pieces“, for researchers to look ahead and get back into the grant application cycle, after the requisite, understandable period of ranting and tearing of hair.

Recently, I’ve heard several anecdotes about unsuccessful grant applications and their aftermath, and it made me want to revisit this topic. Not quite in a white-hot rage (as can be Research Whisperer’s wont), but certainly with a sustained seething.

My issue is the poor to non-existent feedback that often accompanies unsuccessful grant applications.

Read more of this post

What’s in a researcher induction kit?

"Pool of Knowledge" (Detail from the "Pool of Knowledge" sculpture by Stacey Spiegel, Living Arts Park, Mississauga, Canada) Photo by Ian Muttoo | www.flickr.com/photos/imuttoo

“Pool of Knowledge” (Detail from the “Pool of Knowledge” sculpture by Stacey Spiegel, Living Arts Park, Mississauga, Canada) Photo by Ian Muttoo | http://www.flickr.com/photos/imuttoo

When I started a new research fellowship in a new institution and city, it took me at least a semester to find my feet.

In that time, I felt the full force of ignorance as I flailed around trying to find out who should review my grant applications (beyond my own collegial networks), what I might be entitled to as a staff member, and trying to get a handle on the new university’s structure.

More importantly, I needed to spend time learning the culture of the place: the person who occupies a certain role may not be the person you’d expect to do the work, etc.

Any expectations that a new staff member (in this floundering state) is going to immediately be productive and successful are not the most realistic. Even if they’ve got grants that they’re carrying over from one place to another, there’s a lot of information that they’ll need to establish themselves.

The earlier that incoming researchers know this information, the more quickly they’ll be able to gain momentum for their research planning and writing.

For a new-to-institution researcher orientation kit, then, these are the basics that I’d include:

Read more of this post

Don’t be late

Table showing 23 teams completing applications. Four start 30 weeks out, the rest come in afterwards. One team starts three weeks from deadline!

Applications in a 30-week development program, from expression of interest (EoI) to withdrawal (NFA) or submission.

This diagram shows the flow of applications during a recent development round for a major government funding scheme. If you are in the US, think ‘National Science Foundation’. In the Commonwealth, think of a major Research Council funding scheme.

Have a look at Team 23, right down in the bottom right-hand corner of the chart. They started their bid at the very last minute. They didn’t make it to submission. They were late. Really late! “Why are you putting in this application” late.

I hate applications like that. Here’s why. Read more of this post