Want to expand your networks? You should get to know your researcher developer!


There is a theoretical perspective [1] and very recent empirical evidence [2] that suggests a role for academic development colleagues in providing a distinct value to university social networks. Social network analysis (not to be confused with social networking sites) is a way of examining and understanding the links between individuals and between groups in the real world and it helps us to identify patterns in networks, and characterise the flow of people, and of information, and look at how people are connected.

Development professionals are ‘weak ties’ in their networks. Despite sounding like the least important piece of the puzzle, being a ‘weak tie’ is actually a very good thing in social networks.  People who are weak ties are the connectors between people and between groups who would otherwise work in isolation – they span whole organisations. They are your route out of silo working and are important players in information flow. And because they are connected to many voices across campus and beyond, they play a key part in influencing people, cultures and research environments.

What do Researcher Developers do as weak ties:

  • Connect – they bring people together from different disciplines, and different areas of the organisation (or much wider e.g. v i s t a) and provide otherwise unlikely opportunities for people from different physical locations, and working cultures to interact with each other.
  • Share – they have a broad knowledge base and they will share it with you. Think about the RPD team’s range of expertise – development policy, strategy, consultancy, consultation, research, curriculum development, delivery, teaching, evaluation, benchmarking, organisational learning, client management, marketing, project management…etc…etc…etc…
  • Translate – they help you figure out ‘what this means for you’. Want to know what the research councils expect of you as a PI and and as a post-doc, ask your developer. Want to know how to sell your PhD skills for a job in finance/publishing/management, ask your developer. Want to know the best way to engage your off campus students, ask your developer. Want to design a mentoring programme/conference/workshop that is tailored to your researchers, ask your developer. Want to know how your research environment compares to others, ask your developer. We speak a lot of languages and can hep you translate.

Green and Little [3] spoke about the power of development professionals to interpret and speak different cultural languages too positioning us as existing ‘on the margins’ of the different cultures (professional services vs academic environments) and describing us as having hybrid academic identities. The margins of both those worlds can be a helpful place to sit if you need to interpret, navigate, and operationalise institutional policy and mandate.

Understanding my role in this way, and noting the value added when I connect people to other people, was formative in helping me develop my own sense of why I’m here, what I contribute, and why I love do what I do.

Want to think about how you can get connected, who to and why? Try this online resource for research staff and students.



[1] Roxå, T., Mårtensson, K., & Alveteg, M. (2010). Understanding and influencing teaching and learning cultures at university: a network approach. Higher Education, 62(1), 99–111.

[2] Matthews, K. E., Crampton, A., Hill, M., Johnson, E. D., Sharma, M. D., & Varsavsky, C. (2015). Social network perspectives reveal strength of academic developers as weak ties. International Journal for Academic Development, 20(3), 238–251.

[3] Green, D. A., & Little, D. (2013). Academic development on the margins. Studies in Higher Education, 38(4), 523–537.