All researchers need management skills

June 14, 1996

The effect of highly personalising the article "Stress and the single manager" (THES, May 31) was to overlook most of the main issues addressed by the Association of Directors of Research Centres in the Social Sciences Conference on March 20 at which Elaine Kempson of the Policy Studies Institute and I were only two of the speakers.

The event brought together representatives from the funding councils, Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, research councils and other major sponsors of research to consider research management in the United Kingdom. The conference gave evidence of the need for professional development of those managing and conducting research.

A recurring theme was that research management skills are not suddenly gained when a researcher is appointed to a senior post. Such skills are acquired from the earliest stages of a research career. They must include research skills, but also the skills all professionals require to manage themselves such as time management, presentation and communication skills, as well as project leadership. Progress in charting the competences required at different stages of a research career was reported. This has allowed a systematic staff review to be implemented for all research staff at Loughborough University.

Generally these skills have had to be gained on the job, largely by trial and error. This has been in part because of the dearth of training and in part because gaining such skills would not normally be seen as an acceptable overhead to project funders. Often hard-won expertise is then lost as a consequence of the individual researcher's contract coming to an end.

Another concern was related to the project-based funding arrangements which characterise most research centres. There is usually no paid time to reflect, to review experience and to examine data across projects.

The photo caption in the article arrested development - "managerial duties have halted academic work" suggests this is merely an unfortunately consequence (stress?) for the individual research manager. The reality is far more serious: potentially valuable contributions to our scientific knowledge base do not happen because as soon as the project sponsor's contractual brief has been met the contract researcher must move one.

The title of the article was also regrettably misleading in suggesting the concept of a 'single manager' in the context of research today. Rather the vast majority of researchers struggle to manage their research without the necessary resources (see 'Importance of being managed' THES, March 15).

Leela Damodaran Executive secretary to DORCISS

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