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Anja Roeding, PRISM Network Founder (Episode 18)

    Anja Roeding (Episode 18), PRISM Network Founder | Anja is co-creating research environments and gathering odd socks

    For episode 18 of Research Adjacent Sarah’s guest is Anja Roeding. At the time of recording Anja was Operations and Relations Lead of the EPSRC UK Metamaterials Network & Co-Director of the Centre for Metamaterial Research and Innovation at the University of Exeter. She is also the founder of the PRISM Network – if you’re a research-adjacent manager and don’t know about PRISM, then this episode is essential listening!

    From research to research-adjacent

    Like so many research-adjacent folks, Anja began with a PhD in biosciences but then took a ‘wiggly, winding path’ which took her into research funding, travelling, and then to university professional services – initially as a temp. That first job, coordinating academic workload allocations, was a baptism of fire, but Anja got a foot in the door which ultimately led to the role she has now.

    Once through that door Anja quickly found opportunities not just to coordinate or support research, but to direct it as well. Her first taste of this was helping to develop a proposal for a Centre for Doctoral Training. Although unsuccessful, she was named as a co-investigator and felt recognised as part of the bid team. Building on what she’d learned, the next application was successful, but it didn’t have the career impact she’d hoped for.

    “We applied to launch a national network for metamaterials. And again, I was a driving factor of that, bringing all the different people into the conversation. I was named as co-investigator in the managerial capacity and we were successful. And based on that success, I was hoping to see that recognized in the university’s role and a recognition of my role and I asked for promotion, but that’s not really a pathway for professional services.”

    Finding other odd socks

    Disgruntled by this experience and after being told that she was an ‘odd sock’ in the system, Anja eventually decided to find other odd socks. For support she reached out to the Society of Research Software Engineering, another group of research-adjacent professionals who are advocating for recognition of their roles. Led by their example she set up the PRISM Network. PRISM stands for Professional Research Investment and Strategy Managers. These roles are research enablers, sitting at the interface between academics and the more traditional professional services like operations, finance and HR. As Anja describes it they ‘co-create research environments’ in strategic, not just operational ways. In just 3 years the network has grown to 400 members drawn from across the UK. The network aims to bring people together, to raise awareness and recognition of these roles, and to improve progression and development opportunities.

    “The only way of progression is to apply for another job, leave the team you have grown and go elsewhere. If a professor can grow in their research environment, why can’t their managerial counterpart? Without changing subject and starting from scratch constantly.”

    Co-creating research environments

    Above all, Anja wants there to be more recognition of the fact that research is not something academics do in isolation. And acknowledgement that the roles currently described as ‘support’ are in fact highly skilled and valuable co-creators of research environments.

    “Support is a great thing, but in universities it always seems very one way. It seems very hierarchical. As soon as you use the word support in the university environment, it’s like the administrators, managers, and technicians are supporting the academics. Which in a way is true, but it is supporting the research, it is supporting the innovation, it is supporting the ideas. And we do that as a team.”

    Despite what she has achieved Anja is moving on from the role and network she created. Perhaps yet another acknowledgement of the fact that, in the research-adjacent world, if you want to move on you have to move out. She leaves the PRISM Network in the capable hands of Isabella von Holstein.

    Find out more

    Theme music by Vitaliy Levkin from Pixabay

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