RMA Academy Launched by Alliance4Life

With the first courses organized recently in Bulgaria and hosted by the Medical University of Sofia, Alliance4Life has opened its RMA academy focused on training research management professionals. The RMA Academy is one of the key activities within the A4L_ACTIONS project implemented by the alliance, which is aimed at improving the professional skills of research managers and administrators in Central and Eastern Europe.

Besides the RMA Academy, the Medical University of Sofia hosted also a national Trigger event that helped to set the stage for the RMA Academy and introduced the Alliance4Life and its mission to the Bulgarian stakeholders. This was the first time when the members of Alliance4Life met in Bulgaria. The Medical University of Sofia joined the alliance in 2021 together with the University of Medicine and Pharmacy Carol Davila Bucharest and together they became the two youngest member institutions committed to fighting the innovation gap in biomedical research. All incoming research management professionals were impressed by the true Bulgarian hospitality. Besides professional development workshops, participants had a chance to participate in networking and team-building activities and joint excursions to discover the rich local history and culture.

Trigger Event

The RMA Academy was opened by a national Trigger event with the aim to initiate national discussions on research policies. All Alliance4Life members hosted similar national events in the past to set the stage for the project´s ambitions. The opening speech was delivered by the rector of the Medical University of Sofia Latchezar Traykov, who welcomed the guests and introduced the hosting institution. Traykov presented the concept of research universities, which was recently established in Bulgaria, and where the Medical University of Sofia has a leading position. The concept of research universities differs from traditional teaching universities, especially through its funding model that supports research excellence. This concept was praised by other participants including the chair of the Alliance4Life Jiří Nantl. Tsvetalina Tankova, the vice-rector for international integration and project funding, introduced the Alliance4Life including its mission and added value for Bulgaria.

The presentations of Nikola Kostlánová and Zlatuše Novotná provided a perfect frame for the upcoming RMA Academy. Nikola Kostlánová, scientific secretary of CEITEC Masaryk University, shared her rich experience in how to drive research excellence at the institutional level. She emphasized that the most important tool is the strategic decision of the management to systematically develop its institutional capacities including research administration. CEITEC MU was established eleven years ago with the ambition to serve as a Czech role model of an excellent university-based research institute and thanks to the long-term effort of the management, this dream now became a reality and is reflected also in constantly growing research performance. Nikola Kostlánová encouraged the added value of sharing good practices among the Alliance4Life members because especially institutions from similar socio-economic conditions can fully understand the needs and problems of their partners. She delivered several practical tips that could help to close the innovation gap, such as investments in cutting-edge technologies and the prevention of nepotism. Furthermore, Nikola Kostlánová presented a targeted strategy concerning various institutional departments and concrete steps that need to be taken to achieve tangible improvement on all fronts of research administration.

The Alliance4Life coordinator Zlatuše Novotná, who also serves as the head of strategic partnerships of CEITEC MU, presented a case study on developing a professional in-house grant office. She presented the success story of a professional in-house grant office at CEITEC MU as a most essential part of the institute which was able to raise funds, especially for capacity-building activities. The grant office was from the beginning putting a lot of emphasis on hiring talented grant writers and invested a lot in their professional training. Thanks to this effort CEITEC MU managed to secure prestigious European and national grants for technology equipment, science projects as well as capacity-building projects. Two members of the grant office team, that Zlatuše Novotná led, are today senior grant managers and trainers in the RMA Academy held in Sofia. Nikola Kostlánová and Zlatuše Novotná provided concrete evidence that strategic institutional management and skilled research management professionals are directly linked to the institute’s ability to attract scientific talents and influence high-quality research output and scientific excellence. 

RMA Academy – Grants & Funding, Bibliometrics & Evaluation

The landscapes of funding for research and innovation are diverse and complex. Professionals in the field of research and innovation (leaders, managers, administrators) need to navigate these landscapes to be able to efficiently raise resources to accomplish set goals and visions. In the course, Research and Innovation Funding in the EU, Jakub Zeman and Ladislav Čoček from Masaryk University provided a basic understanding of the main categories and modalities of R&I funding, what is their purpose and how people and organizations may benefit from them. The trainers introduced Framework Programmes for R&I of the European Union (currently Horizon Europe), including an explanation of how to understand and influence their design.

Another course by the same trainers called Project Thinking introduced specific tools of project management and how can they be appropriately applied within the proposal preparation process. Applying project management knowledge helps to structure the project and allows for better monitoring of its implementation. It also helps the project managers to knowingly employ instruments preventing issues that could hamper or jeopardize the implementation and helps to ensure a smart project design that is not only clear and attractive, but also feasible, efficient, and realistic. The project writing portfolio was complemented by a course focused on the evaluation of research and innovation project proposals. It showed how one should approach the most commonly used European funding schemes – Clusters, MSCA-PF, ERC, and EIC.

Monika Sieberová and Michal Petr from Masaryk Univerisy delivered a course on bibliometrics in a research evaluation. Scientific publishing is a world full of ideas, new challenges and opportunities. It is not always easy to know your way around such a highly competitive environment. Those who can analyse the environment and find useful information therein have an advantage. Research evaluation and bibliometrics as a supporting tool thereof provide information for the strategic planning at the different organizational levels of the institution, but also evidence for individuals’ publication strategies. Recognizing that bibliometrics can tempt to uncontrolled algorithmizing, the course instructors highlighted the importance of adequate training, respect for disciplines’ diversity and the usage of common sense. The participants examined basic concepts of bibliometrics, discussed best practices, and reveal how bibliometrics in the form of dedicated service can both inform evaluation processes and support individual scientists in the research promotion game.

The RMA Academy received very positive feedback from the participants representing all member institutions of Alliance4Life. The selected RMA academy participants will meet for other RMA academy events in future to develop their professional skills across all research management disciplines. The participants are encouraged to spread the newly gained knowledge among their colleagues after their arrival at their home institutions.

Board Meeting

Part of the Alliance4Life´s meeting in Sofia was also the meeting of the Board. This time it was dedicated to strategic planning and reflection on current challenges that research institutions and universities are facing. The members of the Board shared recent flagship initiatives of their institutions, which represent opportunities for future collaboration among the Alliance4Life. Further important topics on the agenda included discussion about priorities of the New European Research Area and the Agreement on Reforming Research Assessment in the EU. The Board members received an update about the European Commission´s policy and discussed the position of the alliance towards signing the Agreement. The Board could not ignore the rising energy prices and shared the development of the crisis costs in the member countries, the challenges single institutes are facing and how to approach them to overcome the crisis. A position paper with recommendation to national governments was adopted. The Board members also participated in a special leadership workshop for senior leaders developed by Heidelberg-based company hfp consulting. Herewith they clearly showed that professional development is not an activity reserved for juniors but even the most senior leader should invest in the professional development. Because great leaders encourage others in developing leadership skills by openly developing themselves.