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Research Support Officers

Working Group

Chair: Matthias Röder

Dr Matthias Röder works as head of international funding at the Research Management Division of the University of Cologne. He was awarded a PhD in Physics by Ruhr-Universität Bochum for his work in particle physics at Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH. After two years as a Post-Doc, he joined the administration of the Forschungszentrum and started to work in research management.


Vice-Chair: Marie Riipinen

Focus of Working Group

Research is an integral priority enshrined within the institutional strategies of each member of the Coimbra Group.  Together with education and innovation, research is critical to addressing, not only national and European challenges, but global challenges also.  By its very nature, research is a cross-cutting collaborative activity and the Coimbra Group provides a unique and valuable forum to its Members to influence European research and innovation policy and to share and develop best practice in research support through the mutual exchange of ideas and experience.  The Coimbra Group Research Support Officers Group brings together representatives from the Research Offices of each of the Member Universities.  Since its establishment in 2015, the membership of the Research Support Officers Group has grown and now comprises 60 members from across the Network.

The defined objectives of the Group are to seek to:
1. Facilitate enhanced communication across its Members;
2. Share best practice and experience in the organization of research management and support structures;
3. Share best practice and experience regarding evolving research policy (e.g., Research Impact, Open Science);
4. Promote knowledge exchange through the exchange/hosting of research support staff;
5. Facilitate enhanced awareness among University Technology Transfer Offices of emerging relevant funding opportunities and policies;
6. Synergise with other Coimbra Group Working Groups to add value and support the objectives of other Working Groups as they relate to Research and Innovation;
7. Support the Executive Board to shape research policy in the development of position papers to European Research Policy and through increased interaction with similar networks and national stakeholders for joint advocacy purposes.

Recent highlights

As part of Coimbra Group report, work to assess the impact of Covid-19 and the longer-term living with Covid on research and researcher productivity As part of our contribution to the Covid survey and report on the impact of Covid, we gathered information at how research in our universities is contributing at the frontline in the global effort against Covid. We assessed the impact of restrictions on researchers, on people and policy, on our research support offices and how we work and on our institutions. Our findings underscore the importance of continued investment in fundamental research which was very much leveraged in the research on Covid and showed a particular detrimental impact on researcher productivity, with confounded gender and inequality issues, and a more adverse effect on early career researchers. Furthermore, our report reinforced a recognition of the critical role of Universities in addressing global challenges and contributing to economic activity, and the importance of open science, sustained investment in human capital and initiatives aimed at addressing inequalities. We presented the findings of our report to the EC’s Director for Research & Innovation Outreach, Ms Anna Panagopoulou in June 2020 and its recommendations were taken into consideration in subsequent policy recommendations.

2- Research as a profession Building on the findings of an adverse impact of Covid-19 restriction measures on researchers, and in particular, on early-career stage researchers, the Research Support Officers Working Group hosted a workshop with the Doctoral Studies Group in December 2020 to reflect on and explore the challenges linked to strengthening research careers and producing amore sustainable researcher pipeline with greater opportunities for diversification and promotion.

The Workshop explored the challenges to researcher career development at an ecosystem and individual level. Obtaining a PhD does not necessarily translate to a job in academia and the over- Coimbra Group Research Support Officer Group – Workplan Summary April 2021 arching obstacle is research is not regarded as a profession. We talked about how ‘many researchers assume they will become academics; they have no real career plan and do not realise there are other options’. Ironically, many researchers perceive leaving academia as a stigmatised plan B’.

To facilitate this culture change, the resulting recommendations are to:

• Empower researchers from the outset of their research careers to take ownership of their own professional development by creating a supportive and inclusive environment for development that starts at the PhD stage and continues right through the academic pipeline.
• Ensure researchers learn to understand how to assess their skills and competencies and how to signal their strengths to the labour market.
• Provide training to PIs in how to support the career development of their researchers.
• Build employer, and particularly industry, understanding/appreciation of the broad skills and competencies of researchers, e.g., problem-solving skills, and replace a perception by some employers that researcher skills are too specific.
• Engage in foresight/horizon planning exercises with industry to anticipate labour and skills needs and trends so as to embed industry-relevant competencies in researcher training and career development programmes.
• Implement a holistic development programme in PhD programmes and for post-doctoral researchers/early-career stage researchers. This should include the provision of training in leadership skills, management skills, entrepreneurial skills, and skills for lifelong continuing professional development such that researchers are equally prepared for jobs and leadership roles in academia and industry.
• Exchange examples of best practice of enabling and supporting researcher career development across institutions.

The refreshed European Research Area will support a seed change around the inaccurate perception that a PhD prepares you for an academic career only. The refreshed ERA commits, among other actions, to deliver a toolbox of measures to support researchers’ careers, through a mobility scheme, trainings and more, in order to make Europe a talent magnet. This will include a European Framework for research careers reinforced by a revamped Charter and Code, aimed at nourishing talent, brain circulation, inter-sectoral mobility and widening to change how researchers are perceived and improve the overallattractiveness of research profession and careers. It is about improving visibility and building awareness of research as a job to ensure that research as a profession is recognised and valued, not just by academia, but also by industry. The vision is to enable a clear, diverse and achievable Plan A career for researchers, which raises an additional question which requires further consideration by all stakeholders. Namely, addressing the prevailing ‘gap of interests’ between researchers themselves, supervisors/PIs, universities, employers and policy makers.

3- Election of new Chair of the Working Group Dr Ann Ryan’s term of chair of the working group concluded in March 2021. Dr Bevin McGeever was elected Chair of the Working Group on 26th March 2021.

Current/forthcoming activities

-Continue dialogue with Graduate Studies Working Group – engage policy makers ‘research as a profession’
– Round 2 survey, analysis and report on impact of continued Covid-related restrictions on research and innovation, researcher productivity, researcher careers and research support offices working practices Coimbra Group Research Support Officer Group – Workplan Summary April 2021
– Harness synergies with other Coimbra Group Working Groups
– Continue to share best practice on evolving policy landscape
– Invitation to present to EARMA 2021 on R&I Covid Report (linked to Working Group objective to increase collaboration with other networks)
– Refresh Working Group 3-year Work Plan (linked to appointment of new Chair and Vice-Chair of the Working Group) (timeframe June-Sept 2021).

Contact person at the CG Office: Benjamín Martínez Sanchis (martinez@coimbra-group.eu)