Working in research support: exciting, challenging and fun!

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Through the work of leading national and international researchers, the UMCG is a pioneering centre for medical research. But next to our incredible researchers, we should also give credit to our research support services, because there is no research without research support. The UMCG supports researchers in every phase of their research. Ranging from funding advice to data management, and from outreach support to guidelines for conducting medical research in a correct and ethical way.
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Who are the people who work in research support? What do they find challenging? And how do they think research support brings research forward? We interviewed them about their job.

What do you find challenging in your daily job?

With a background in research, Yvonne Lisman, policy advisor for personal grants at the Research Office, knows how full researchers’ schedules are. Therefore, she often finds it challenging to ask for their time. She explains: “Sometimes I ask other researchers to look at proposals I am reviewing, in Veni, Vidi, Vici-committees for example. So, I ask time and effort from researchers while they are very busy. Most of them are always happy to help, but I still find it challenging to ask for their time.”

Developing a new research tool that is understandable and complete can be a challenge as well. Francien Boersma, policy officer at the Service Desk Clinical Research Office (SD CRO): “At this moment I find it challenging to update and improve the Research Toolbox. We are developing a new application and we want to support researchers as well as possible and there are many things that need to be taken into account. We have gotten a lot of feedback the past few years and I want to make sure that all of that will be incorporated as well.”

One of the challenges in Jitka Vavra’s (data steward at the Digital Competence Centre (DCC) daily job is provide the optimal solutions for the questions that researchers have. She explains: “The challenge is to help researchers in such a way that they receive the optimal solution for their question. Sometimes that is by making suggestions in data management plans to help make these more FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable), so that other researchers will be able to re-use the data in the future. Sometimes it is by helping researchers find the best infrastructure or system to store or share their data.”

Even though finding the best solution for researchers can be challenging, it is also satisfying if you succeed. Frank Schröer, program manager at the Data Science Centre in Health (DASH), explains why he likes to support researchers: “At DASH we are helping researchers with their daily research with data science and AI. I love to help someone that doesn’t know where to go with his or her problem and then comes to DASH. We can support them with our ideas or connect them to other researchers, other departments of the UMCG, or the University of Groningen. And when in the end the researchers are satisfied, I am satisfied as well.”

How do you think research support brings research forward?

There is no research without research support and therefore research support professionals are the driving force behind successful research. How do they think research supports brings research forward?

Yvonne Lisman believes that it is the task of research support to keep track of developments in grant proposals and requirements that funding agencies ask for. She explains how these requirements sometimes change: “Patient involvement becomes more and more important in research and therefore also in grant proposals. And I feel like that we as research support are often sooner informed about these developments than researchers. Therefore, I find it our task to keep track of these developments, inform researchers about them and make sure that researchers know how to incorporate them in their proposal.”

Francien Boersma mentions that researchers also appreciate a central place where they can ask questions and get help, because this was not always the case. “Nowadays, it is well organised and we also have short lines with other support service in the UMCG, so we can easily refer researchers to them, as needed.”

Jitka Vavra mentions that making data FAIR also requires a lot of effort from researchers and she explains that the fact that they put that much effort into it also motivates her in doing her job. “Making data FAIR requires additional effort from the researchers so  it is really nice to see that researchers are motivated to do this. We can provide the researcher with suggestions on  how they can improve the quality and FAIRness of their data.”

Research support professionals are enablers in the process of bringing research forward. Hilda Veenstra-Korf, project manager at the Research BV, explains: “We help organise bringing researchers together, so the magic can happen, and we play the role of devil’s advocate to challenge the researcher to think of why they are doing what they are doing.” Lisan Assen, project manager at the Research BV and Grant Support Hub: “Finding funding is also a big part. You have an idea, and often researchers have a program in mind, but when they don’t, we can also help to find funding that fits the project best.”

Next to finding funding, there are many side tasks in research that researchers have to fulfil. Frank Schröer explains how the work of his team supports researchers: “I think research support is very important because in today’s research there are many side tasks for researchers, such as research data management, privacy rules for data, data science, and IT. And it is not possible for a researcher to cope with all those tasks. Therefore, research support can help researchers, so that the researchers can focus on their main task: doing great research within the UMCG.”

Altogether, jobs in research support are diverse. It can be challenging at times, but they have one thing in common: they all want to help make research successful, impactful, and valued. 

The UMCG offers a diversity of research support teams. Find an overview of all research support here: Research Support