Last month, a colleague was up for a new job. After searching for some time, they at last had an interview for a project manager-research administrator-type role with an organization that had never had a position dedicated to that work. The research team had grown sufficiently over the past few years that they were now considering it. My colleague asked for some input, as they were working to “justify” the idea of a dedicated project management position to the team. There was no clear job description yet, so they asked if I “could shed some more light on your day to day as a project manager.” Happy to.
Why have a project manager?
1. It’s required.
2. It makes good business sense.
There is an increasing requirement from institutions and funders for responsible conduct of research (RCR) – both doing it and demonstrating it. The traditional concerns of RCR cover ensuring that work is:
In addition, the efforts required to secure funding for research continue to increase, with ever-challenged public and private funding sources, more competition, and higher standards for awards, as well as the en vogue requirement for matching funding or co-funding of research.
All of these mean that the demands on research leaders extend well beyond the conduct of research to include the ongoing demonstration of responsible conduct, including in areas that are time-consuming and often outside their areas of expertise and interest. With the researcher's time being the most valuable strategic asset of a department or institution, maximizing their time and energy to focus on the science is essential.
While it is important that research leaders and scientists have a good understanding of research management principles, more important is to have resources and infrastructure, in the form of a project manager or research administrator or both, to assist and support them. People in these roles in an organization can both free up the researcher's valuable time and better ensure that the requirements of RCR are being met.
As a research project manager, my day-to-day work is in exactly these roles with the research leaders, enabling their focus on science while maintaining and demonstrating RCR. This includes:
I’ve heard the argument from researchers that spending money on these functions and positions takes money away from research. While that may be true, I refer you to my short list of reasons above. Funders now often require these functions to be performed, and many often require or at least allow some of the funding award to be used for project management personnel. By extension then, these funds are allocated to support the management work, and so research activities are not eligible expenses for them. Regardless, whether you allocate money from the budget for management, or you allocate a valuable research resource like a leader or a research associate, the requirements of RCR must be met, and so it is more efficient and effective to spend those dollars on the specialized resource of a project manager.
It is difficult for less senior researchers to have access to the funds to support these roles. This is where the power of collaboration comes in. Junior researchers can pool their limited resources to engage and share project management and research administration expertise. As their own portfolios grow, so too will the requirement for project management expertise but also their means to be able to support it, resulting in the development of an expanded resource pool for them and their colleagues.
So when asked, “why should we have a project manager or research administrator for our team?”, the answer is, “why wouldn’t you?”
Who is Robyn?
My career as a research project manager is rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and fun. I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience in communication, organization, and common sense approaches in research management and leadership, and to enabling others to learn and grow in this exciting career.