Colette Fagan and Angus Hearmon: Investing in research support at our University
Our ambition to be among the top 25 internationally leading research universities presents many challenges for our research teams, including time pressures, often complex administrative processes for project management, and access to stretched infrastructure. The Research Lifecycle Programme (RLP) approach was established to help solve these challenges. This £15 million five year programme, which started 4 years ago, provides a purposeful, thought-out maintenance and upgrade to our research infrastructure, replacing the more ad-hoc approach of previous years.
At the core of the RLP’s ability to deliver is the continuous engagement with researchers, and those who support research, to define problems areas, identify opportunities and agree priorities.
Over the past four years we have achieved a lot; but some planned innovations were disrupted by the impact of COVID, with some of the things we wanted to do put on hold. Here we provide an update of activity completed and plans for the future.
The enhanced research services and infrastructure delivered to date
The RLP’s £15 million investment is due to be completed in 2023, and there are now only a few projects left to finish. We have had a number of successful outcomes which are now embedded as part of normal University services. These include the launch of tools and platforms such as the Manchester Digital Collections – presenting our library and cultural assets and images to the world, Overleaf – supporting researchers to collaborate on research papers, Qualtrics – allowing researchers, students and staff to create, design and analyse surveys securely and easily and Figshare – our institutional research data repository for storing, managing and publishing data. Our new Pure Awards Management provides a more integrated and streamlined research application process covering all the stages which academic and professional staff have to complete pre-submission and as part of this pre-award support. The BlackDackel Research Costing Tool is in soft-launch stage with Research Services to improve research costing accuracy and cost recovery. RLP has also invested almost £5 million into High Performance Computing, compute resources and storage both on campus and shared with the N8 consortium (N8 CIR), allowing researchers to access the essential compute resources they require.
Investing for the future
We still have a way to go in ensuring our research support and infrastructure is, and remains, world-leading in a dynamic environment of innovation in digital infrastructure and research methodologies and practices.
The success of the Research Lifecycle Programme (RLP 1) approach and the innovations that this has delivered has demonstrated the need for a second Research Lifecycle Programme (RLP 2) to sustain and maintain investment in enhancing our research support infrastructure. Over the coming weeks, we will be engaging with researchers, and the teams which support research, scoping priorities for tools, processes and infrastructure for the next significant investment. This engagement approach was a fundamental guiding principle of RLP 1 and the scoping activity for RLP 2 will be done in the same spirit. From now until May, the RLP 2 Scoping Project team will host a number of engagement opportunities that our researchers, and colleagues that support research, can get involved in. This will help us understand the various new and emerging research IT needs and the views of researchers and those who support and facilitate research.
Having your say in our investment
We want to ensure that our future investment is purposeful and reflects the needs of the research community and the University. Do you have the right tools and resources to do your research right now? What are the barriers and frustrations you experience across the lifecycle of your research, from planning to publishing?
This is your chance to use your voice to shape the future of research support and infrastructure over the next few years. We’re not mind readers (although that would make this a lot easier!), so we need you to give us your feedback and ideas so we can help improve your research environment and your experience conducting research at The University of Manchester.
Please get involved, use your voice and help us to create a research environment which we can all be proud of, and which will support current and future research success.