Research policy in a developing scientific landscape

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Dr. Barry van der Strate is head of the Research Office at the UMCG, which is responsible for the development and implementation of the UMCG research policy. Van der Strate has a background in research and the pharmaceutical industry. He uses his experience in both fields to optimise the research processes at the UMCG. The scientific landscape is developing with a more important focus on the societal relevance of research, which also caused a change in research policy.

The Research Office supports the dean and the pro-dean in making and executing policy plans for research and researchers in career development and grant proposal writing. Next to that, the Research Office is involved in writing yearly reports about research performed at the UMCG, which they present, amongst others, to the University of Groningen (UG). The tasks of the Research Office are based on three pillars: metrics, research support and research policy.

Metrics

The first pillar, metrics, is focussed on the output of research of the UMCG. The Research Office collects scientific and societal output metrics of the research performed at the UMCG. Examples of these metrics are publications, promotions, citation analyses, and grant acquisitions. The Research Office uses these metrics in regular reports to different institutes, such as the UG and the Strategy Evaluation Protocol (SEP), on which they are currently working.

Van der Strate explains, “There are a lot of metrics coming out of the systems at the UMCG and the UG, and we are trying to optimise ways to present these metrics to the right people. Currently, we are working on a system to give this information back to the departments, so they can use them for strategic governance of departments or institutes.”

Grant Support Hub

The Research Office also provides support for researchers during grant application, executed by the Grant Support Hub. “We support researchers with personal grants, but we also provide support for consortia during grant applications. Next to supporting them, we also try to make researchers aware of the available grants and help them with writing these applications,” van der Strate elaborates.

Research policy

The third pillar of the Research Office is research policy, such as the academic career path or the postdoc council. “We are thinking about how we can identify talents and prepare them for a successful academic career in the best possible way; how should they act, which grants are important for them?”

Van der Strate also mentions the importance of making researchers aware of the possibilities outside of academia. “I have made the switch to the pharmaceutical industry myself and if someone would have told me that at the end of my PhD, I would have never believed it. I notice that currently, researchers still don’t fully realise what the possibilities outside of academia are, so we also inform them on those possibilities.”

Developments at the Research Office

In the past, scientists were acknowledged by the sheer numbers of publications and the impact factor of the journals they published in; nowadays, scientists have to think about how they can generate societal impact with their research. Van der Strate mentions that this new approach of recognising and rewarding scientists can be difficult for some researchers. “They have the feeling that the rules are being changed while the game is still going on,” he explains. 

The Research Office is working on methods to measure societal impact to make the concept of societal relevance more insightful for researchers. He explains, “The amount of publications or the impact factor of a journal are easy to measure, but how do you measure societal impact?” The team is now developing a different citation analysis, in which they focus on how many times an article is cited, but also in which field, so you can understand the impact of the researchers in a specific field.

Next to that, the team is working on fact sheets that they want to use to make achievements from departments and institutes insightful. These fact sheets contain an overview of scientific and societal impact indicators (e.g. research output, citation analyses, grant acquisitions, thesis defences). Part of the sheets contain fixed scientific impact indicators, whereas institutes or departments are free to choose the societal impact indicators that they feel are relevant to them. “We want to adapt the fact sheets to the wishes of the researchers, so they can use them for their own strategic decisions,” he elaborates. Van der Strate is aware of the important role that the Research Office plays in incorporating this change in the scientific landscape into the research culture of the UMCG.

Information about the Grant Support Hub

Information about the new approach of recognising and rewarding scientists (Dutch)