Following on from our recent survey of ARMA members and our attendance at the ARMA 2015 conference, we’re publishing interviews here. This week, we’re pleased to feature Lachlan Smith, Research Funding Bid Writer who describes his role, the rewards from it and the importance of relationship building.
What does your role as Research Funding Bid Writer involve? / Can you describe a typical week?
My role is split across three universities, Leeds Trinity, Newman and Bishop Grosseteste. I am remotely based but travel regularly to all three institutions and my role is to support academics in developing research careers, principally by helping them to put in high quality research funding applications. Most weeks I will visit at least one of the three institutions and spend a few days there. My time is usually made up of one-to-one meetings with academics to discuss their research, what they would like to do in the future, what research projects they would be interested in undertaking and what options there might be for research funding. Working in small institutions means that the infrastructure that is commonly found in larger institutions doesn’t always exist, so I support both academic and administrative staff with all aspects of research development which can include reviewing draft proposals, advising on impact, searching for funding, advising on budget development, helping to set up contracts and liaison with funders and other universities or partners. My weeks are usually pretty varied. Working across the different locations and institutions makes the role really interesting.
What’s your favourite part of your role?
I really enjoy one-to-one work with academics. I love to hear about the interests people have and what their ambitions are. I enjoy talking to them about their options and then developing proposals with them. The process of giving feedback can be really rewarding as you can see a proposal get stronger and stronger as drafts are developed. The best part is getting the applications submitted knowing you have done your best and then it is an added bonus if it is successful.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?
I think there are a couple of key challenges. One is convincing people that not only can they apply for research funding but that they are credible and good researchers. When starting this job last year, and having moved from Warwick, I expected there to be a difference in quality of research when in reality there is some really high quality research and researchers in all three institutions, it is just they often they didn’t recognise it themselves! The other challenge is to get people to think broadly about collaboration and to help them understand that the right person for them to be working with may be outside of their institution. Networking is so important to building relationships and future research collaborations. We have had some success with this and I’ll continue to encourage people to make connections, build relationships and develop interesting research proposals.
How important are building relationships to your role? Do you see this importance growing in the evolving research funding landscape?
Relationship building is critical in research and important in my role. As I mentioned above I always encourage my academics to build relationships and look outwards to build research profile. We have had a couple of opportunities arise, to be involved in interesting research proposals, simply on the basis that the academics were well networked and had strong relationships in their field. If you have good relationships you are opening up even more opportunities for yourself. Relationship building has become easier now but work is required to build them and I encourage all academics to look for opportunities to build them as it is becoming more and more important in research funding.
When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?
I enjoy playing cricket and running and in my spare time I am doing my own PhD at Leicester university. The PhD really helps me to relate to the academic staff and teaches me a thing or two on the way! I love to holiday when I can and go home to Australia to visit family as often as I can too.
Thanks Lachlan, it’s been good to hear about your role!