Building A Research Culture In Your Department

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(even without big budgets) 

If your department has been seen as “research inactive,” you’re unlikely to have the resources on hand to easily change that perception. However, there are ways to lay the groundwork for a rising research culture, even without a proper research budget. There are also sources for small amounts of money to develop staff and projects that can make pursuing bigger grants and greater visibility easier. 

Do a scoping exercise

Chances are that some members of staff are conducting small-scale research and being published, whether or not they have been entered in the REF or officially recognised. Find out who they are, ask them what would help them do more, and pair them with less active colleagues.

Start a conversation.

No one wants to attend useless meetings, so make yours useful and so interesting they’ll be unmissable. Inviting staff members and contacts from outside the university to speak about their research once a month is an inexpensive way to encourage staff to explore ideas, methods, and collaborations.

Remember that successful research is often social.

Follow up your research talks with a less formal get-together: dinner at an inexpensive restaurant, or dessert and coffee. It’s too easy for busy academics with interests in common to work in the same building but never really get to know each other. Chatting over dinner once can produce faster results than any number of e-mailed memos.

Partner with nearby research stars.

Who in other departments at your university or nearby universities is making a splash? Get in touch, and see whether you can create partnerships: research mentoring, collaborations within existing workgroups or projects, or simply informal meetings to get some tips.

Find out about internal staff development possibilities.

Most universities in the UK have a system of internal staff development, which can include training. Find out what’s already on offer, and if you think research training is lacking, explore the possibilities. This could include using tuition-remission schemes for employees to send staff on research modules or degrees, or setting up bespoke courses in specific research methods your team needs.

Identify and cover the cost of joining research groups.

It’s one of the least expensive ways to get your team attached to the national and international research world, but many universities scrimp on covering the costs of membership. However, the newsletters, mailing lists, and conferences of groups like the Political Studies Association, British Educational Research Association, and the British Sociological Association are the nexus for contacts and visibility.

Host research events.

If you can't afford to send staff away, bring researchers to you by hosting a seminar or mini-conference. It can be something small, regional, and inexpensive: book one or two lecture rooms for a day rather than using a conference facility, and ask postgrads to help with organizing and staffing.

Pursue capacity-building grants.

Whether it’s internal grants for new researchers, the “small grants” programmes of major players like the British Academy, Royal Society, or Wellcome Trust, or small grants from voluntary sector entities looking for help with research, these are often geared towards purchasing basic equipment or supporting early-career academics. Some grants are available specifically for research training as well.

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