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UKRI director praises research admins’ pandemic response

Image: ARMA

Arma 2021: funder’s R&D Culture and Environment official says research managers have done “amazing things”

Research managers and administrators have done “amazing things” during the pandemic, enabling quick response to Covid-19, according to a speaker at this year’s Association of Research Managers and Administrators conference.

Speaking at the virtual conference on 6 October, Karen Salt, deputy director of R&D Culture and Environment at UK Research and Innovation, said they had done “amazing things in the midst of the Covid pandemic” by “transforming relationships so that PPE can be locally produced and distributed at various health facilities”.

In addition, she said, they had “worked tirelessly to create new spinouts so that various forms of therapeutics can get further out to market” and created new partnerships between researchers to get “complex interdisciplinary work up and running to link up with innovation”.

In the wake of the pandemic, Salt said the research and innovation system should be talked about as a “collective knowledge economy”.

“I mean that in a participatory, egalitarian, equitable sense of a collective where we’re sharing our knowledge, we’re sharing and driving shared goals together and recognising the contributions of everyone,” she explained.

Salt also said the Covid-19 pandemic has shown the value of team research and different roles within the R&D sector.

She said the media had falsely perpetuated the image of scientists as a “lone genius” or “Einstein” in its coverage of the pandemic.

“We’ve got in our system a whole range of folks who are also part of the Covid story—and not necessarily just those isolated, singular, individuals [that] people might want to point to tell the story of the vaccine,” she said.

Technician Commitment

Salt described the Technician Commitment, an initiative to support technicians in higher education and research, as a “really good example of moving to that sort of value-based, shared, collective understanding of the contributions of others”.

However, she said: “We’ve got some things still in our system that are very transactional: we put people onto grants for nominal periods of time [and] there is this understanding that you [put in the] investment, you get a particular return.”

In reality, she added, research and innovation would not be able to function without collegiality, mentorship and other forms of support.

“Your ability to think critically and to produce novel ideas and contributions furthers our discipline, furthers our system, and we are working really well together in this as opposed to thinking everything is a hyper competition.”

Research Professional News is the official media partner for Arma 2021.