E-guide to managing research goes live

October 27, 2006

Online guidance targets principal investigators. Anthea Lipsett reports.

A new website to help senior researchers perform better has been launched by Cambridge, Leicester and Loughborough universities.

Principal investigators bear the brunt of the burden to win research grants, recruit, manage and develop research teams and carry out research in universities. But often they have little training.

The new resource should act as a one-stop shop for all PIs seeking advice and support. Researchers will be able to work through case studies in areas they are unsure of and pick up tips from the way other universities do things.

The website is the result of a nine month collaboration between the institutions, with extra case-study material provided by the London School of Economics, Imperial College London and University College London.

The £75,000 project surveyed 1,600 researchers from 15 institutions to ascertain their needs.

The survey found that PIs feel they need training on managing the performance of their research team, giving advice on promotion, recruitment and selection of staff, staff development, and dealing with legal aspects of employment.

Follow-up focus groups revealed that PIs constantly have to evaluate and shape their research towards areas currently in favour among funding agencies. They also struggle to balance their many different roles and want to be able to go to one place in the university for support.

Jane Wellens, the project manager based at Leicester University, said that while many institutions already have training schemes set up they are often not tailored to the needs of PIs.

"People new to the role are often unsure of what is required and how they will be judged," she said.

The project has also developed a template questionnaire that universities can use to produce a checklist of the kind of information PIs have identified as important for their role. This will be sent to heads of research and research support offices.

Richard Dales, project co-ordinator at Loughborough University, said: "This will help universities benchmark their support for PIs and identify gaps.

Putting it online will create the virtual one-stop shop that PIs are looking for.

"They are thrown in at the deep end and the complexity of the role can make it a bewildering exercise."

Iain Cameron, head of the Research Councils UK's Careers and Diversity Unit, said: "It's imperative PIs get this kind of help and training because they underpin good management in universities as a whole."

The resource would help UK research remain world-class, he said.

anthea.lipsett@thes.co.uk

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