In part I of this blog post on research development, we look at the evolution of this career path. In part II, we’ll explore its made-to-measure nature across institutions.
In the 1990s, research-intensive universities in places like Australia, the UK, Canada, and the US introduced research facilitation as a strategy to enhance research performance and institutional shares of sponsored research funding. An early definition of the role of research facilitators was to “work very closely with academic researchers and help them to be more successful and productive in research” (1). This interpretation centered specifically on grants facilitation. Here in Canada, Simon Fraser University created some of the first research grants facilitator positions in the late 90s, and other Canadian universities followed suit not long after.
In 2013, a group of decentralized research facilitators at the University of Saskatchewan defined their work as “promoting a vibrant culture of research by supporting researchers, colleges and schools, and the institution to achieve funding success and research impact” (2). Based on an analysis of their job profiles, they developed a research facilitation framework identifying 4 areas of work at the time: Research Funding, Collaborations, Profile Building, and Strategic Planning.
Research development (RD) is another term used for research facilitation (1). In the last few years, the term has appeared more frequently in the Canadian research administration vernacular and in the names of research offices and job titles.
In the U.S., the National Organization of Research Development Professionals (NORDP) defines RD as “a set of strategic, proactive, catalytic, and capacity-building activities designed to facilitate individual faculty members, teams of researchers, and central administration in attracting extramural funding, creating relationships, and developing and implementing strategies that increase institutional competitiveness”. NORDP lists 4 main areas of work: Proposal Development, Enhancement of Collaboration and Team Science, Communication of Research and Research Opportunities, and Strategic Research Advancement (3).
Another RD-type function, emerging in Canada but well established in the UK, is researcher development, a function with roots in teaching and learning that supports the professional development of investigators of all career stages. Researcher developers may perform roles involving teaching residents research skills, promoting undergraduate research, coordinating postdoctoral networks, and facilitating early and mid-career faculty mentorship programs (4).
Grants facilitation remains the cornerstone of RD but as the word cloud above shows, institutions employ a range of innovative developmental strategies to build research capacity, maintain competitiveness, and ultimately keep pace with an ever-changing research landscape.
Thank you to all who participated in the Research Development in Canada survey this January. If you have not yet taken this survey, please consider contributing your own unique perspective to what Research Development looks like in Canada. We are eager to share what we learned with you at CARA 2022 about who we are, what we do, where we work, and how practices compare to that of our colleagues in other countries.
- Marlin, C. (2009). Focusing Research in Universities: Implications for Research Management. Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 13(2), 42–47.
- Watts, J., Clark, G., Pytlyk, C., Thurmeier, R., and Savage, S. (2013). A Professional Practice Framework for Research Facilitation at the University of Saskatchewan. Poster presented at 2014 Annual Canadian Association of University Research Administrators Conference, Ottawa. June 16, 2014.
- NORDP (n.d.), What is Research Development? Retrieved from https://www.nordp.org/what-is-research-development.
- Daley, R., Guccione, K., Hutchinson, S. Eds. (2017). 53 Ways to Enhance Researcher Development. Professional and Higher Partnership.