Piirus’ Fiona Colligan will be a delegate at the ARMS 2015 conference, and Piirus is finding out more about research issues in Australasia. We’re pleased to feature an interview with Vanessa Lao, Strategic Partnerships Manager at the Griffith Asia Institute, and also member of the Australasian Research Management Society’s International Committee.
What does your role involve?
I work for the Griffith Asia Institute, a research centre focused on developments in the political, economic and societies in Asia. A big part of the Institute’s role is to strengthen the Institute as well as the broader University’s engagement in the region. Thus, my role is focused on developing and sustaining key partnerships with universities, think tanks and government agencies that assist in building our “Asia profile”. For example , we convene an annual Dialogue with the Indonesia Institute of Sciences. It has two purposes – one to provide commentary and academic discussion on key issues in the bilateral relationship, and secondly, to identify joint research projects and/or develop joint proposals for funding from Australian and/or Indonesian sources. In a way, a large part of my role is in brokering international research partnerships at both institutional and researcher-to-researcher level.
What’s your favourite part of your role?
The international element of the role appeals to me; being able to work with overseas institutions, connecting researchers across borders, and collaborating on projects is exciting and rewarding.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?
As with most international collaborative projects, sustaining the partnership over time is a challenge. I think it comes down to people and resources. Finding the right academics who are willing to work with foreign counterparts (given language and cultural barriers) and seeing the value of doing so, can be an issue. Securing funding to support joint projects is equally challenging. There aren’t too many funding schemes around that support international research. However, our University provides travel grants which are useful mechanisms to establish the research connection. We have had instances where through the grant, designed as seed funding, it has led to not only cementing the partnership but to larger grants and projects expanding to wider networks home and abroad.
How important are building relationships to your role? Do you find this is becoming increasingly important in the research funding landscape?
Relationships are everything! Particularly in the Asia context, personal connections and trust are crucial in facilitating partnerships or in building research teams for grant proposals. What we’re finding particularly in the international research funding space, is that industry have become key players or investors in research. These funds are not usually administered through a formal process and are ‘given out’ through contacts …this is where relationships and connections really matter.
Are there any challenges that you see as particular to Australia?
Given Australia is a relatively small country in population and even smaller research community, there are greater demands for international collaboration. It is widely known that Australia only produces 2% of the world’s stock of knowledge hence international research partnerships are vital in order to access the other 98%. Limited funding to support this endeavour is obviously a challenge, and contracting research budgets are forcing researchers to head elsewhere causing a ‘brain-drain”.
When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?
I enjoy learning new languages (currently studying Mandarin) and travelling… I guess it comes with the territory! I am also trying to complete my Masters in International Relations.
Many thanks to Vanessa Lao for taking part in our interview! Piirus is always keen to learn more about the challenges facing researchers and research managers and administrators: if you’d like to feature in an interview on our blog then please do get in touch.