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Research Management – Europe and Beyond

By: , Posted on: December 8, 2017

Why doing research into research management? And so why writing this book and doing more research into the professional practice?

susi poliThis book tells my story and so builds on my understanding, first, and on my meanings, then, of what higher education and research management are about. They are not meant to be the same, of course, but if you see HE management (HEM) as the broad field, you can clearly see that research management is one of its functions and research managers the professional community within this sub-field of practice and research.

I have always reckoned everyone working in HEM should know the full picture of how the university setting looks like, nationally and internationally, so to feel to belong to it and to be entitled to have a say. And this is to stress that research managers cannot be regarded as ‘the others’ anymore (Shelley, 2009), as so often described in the academic literature, but they should know themselves and the evolution of their profession, and use cases and examples arising from their daily practice at work to make this voice heard, so to be fully entitled to have their say. So to overcome the fact that most research into HEM comes from academics and it expresses their stand point on how HEM looks like or should be. We cannot yet say if this standpoint is the right or the wrong one, this is just one of the views that we have on it. However, these research managers should also have a fair understanding of what other professional communities working in other functions or academic departments do and why one community matters to the other to make the whole mechanism of a university. This understanding is more likely to be gained by experiencing more functions and sides of a university setting personally, as I have been fortunate enough to do, but it can also be gained by engaging with professional and academic literature, and by reading this book, of course ;)).

This is also to say that our learning and understanding only make sense when they can be built up and shared with others, within our professional community and even out of it. And our understanding is even more worthy when we know the whole system so to feel to belong to it totally. And this is how we become not just research managers but new HE and research professionals as those able to see the university as a whole and to bring a new set of meanings, not to say of values, in today’s universities. And this is also my reason to have a call for action and involve more research managers to share their every-day knowledge and in doing so to have a say in the field of research and HE management.

Who we are and when the adventure of this book began – Telling the story of my career in higher education and in research management

Since 2000 I have held a varied range of roles in higher and in research management, spanning from campus registrar to research manager and more recently, through impact and entrepreneurship, to brand manager. I have also experienced how life and work look like in several universities across Europe, but I have also become researcher myself, after completing a doctorate at UCL in London in 2017. My life therefore has moved from management to research support, and again from management to research (into the professional practice).

Free chapter: Who Are Today’s Research Managers? Roles, Professional Development, and Evolution of the Profession

My career story began in 2000 at the University of Bologna. As my first job, I was enrolled to run a new established campus of the university. It went incredibly well, with a flourishing campus that took shape in a few years. At that time, we did a bulk of extraordinary things together; among others, we set up the first system of business accounting, which was something completely new for Italy and for Bologna University too (and this type of accounting system has now become the main in use at national level following a recent university reform).

After a period of 5 years, I left the campus to return to the university headquarter in Bologna — the university Centre to quote Michael Shattock (2009) or the central administration where all the academic and administrative divisions want to be that’s close to governance bodies — and so that was when my part of career in research management began. Throughout that period at work, I managed university, regional, national research projects before working on European projects in a new established office running several of these projects centrally and not at departmental level. This was also when I saw how research management worked in several universities across Europe through staff mobility schemes open to staff, so that these experiences took me to visit research offices in the Netherlands, Spain, Bosnia, UK, and Sweden, among others.

I left that office after a couple of years only to move to the university Periphery again — the Periphery is not meant to be a disparaging term and again the term has been used by Shattock (2009) to connote the organisational structure, so it is only to describe units out of the Centre more often departments, faculties, or schools depending on the national system in place – to run, as registrar, one of their departments. But that was also the time when my research into higher education (HE) and research management began with the MBA in HE management in London and the reason why, after two more years, I left the university and enrolled in a professional doctorate at the Institute of Education (then University of London, now UCL).

When I discovered myself keen to explore the meanings of research into the professional practice, higher education and research management

The field of HE management was then revealed to be my ‘place in research’ in late 2008 when I did the MBA in HE management at the IOE. During that MBA, I was very fortunate to learn from some of the most prominent professors in the field, from David Watson to Ron Barnett, from Gareth Williams (my tutor in the MBA) to Paul Temple and Celia Whitchurch, and many more.

Celia Whitchurch was however the spark inspiring my research in the doctorate, since she was one of the first managers who had become researcher after exploring the community of managers and their professional identities ‘from the inside’. That time was probably when, as university manager, I felt so often trapped into issues of understanding of my role(s) and of my profession: this was because I felt that I did not know anything about it – what am I doing? Who am I?, so because I did not know that there was research on my professional community that was done and known only by a few managers.

This is therefore to say that when I met Celia in the MBA I was already one of the ‘blended’ professionals who she describes (Whitchurch, 2006, 2008) – get familiar with this concept, please, because this has already become one of the main terms in use in HE and research management and it describes those managers keen to move from management to research, with multifaceted experience even brought in from other sectors — who have become thirsty to understand not just who they are but also how they can harmonise with academics and bridge the gap of knowledge in HE management. This was also my reason to undertake this professional doctorate (meaning that my research skills are meant to be developed to be applied to do research into the professional practice) doctorate and to leave Bologna for a 3-year period of sabbatical. By the way, Celia then became my supervisor in the doctorate, lucky her! This was also when I moved to England and this became my ‘research place on earth’ so where I lived until late 2015: during those years, I undertook research into several issues in HE and in research management, by investigating professional staff, issues of identity, ‘blended’ and other categories of HE professionals, their associations, and even more.

Find more on my research on and send me any comments at: I’ll be very happy to engage in any comment and suggestion with you all!

About the book

Research Management Europe and Beyond

Research Management: Europe and Beyond addresses the myriad of responsibilities related to research management and administration, incorporating narratives from those working in the field to provide insight into the profession. The book offers a unique perspective on the topic by incorporating global perspectives to address the growing interdisciplinary nature of research collaboration and outlines practical advice for those in the research management and administration profession at all levels of experience.

Need a copy of your own? Visit and use discount code STC317 at checkout to save up to 30%!

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