Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.
Job title and company: Research Information Analyst, Research Services, University of Sheffield
Approximate salary range for your type of role: £30 to £42k
Growing up, I had decided that I wanted to become a medical doctor; however, work experience stints in the local A&E and nursing home showed me that I was actually more interested in the underlying science of medicine. This led me to read Biomedical Science at the University of Sheffield, further cementing my love of science, and inspiring me to undertake a PhD to get right to the cutting edge of scientific research.
At the end of a tricky PhD, I found myself at a slight cross-roads. I had become slightly disillusioned with research, but as I was unsure as to what other career I could pursue, I took on my first year-long post-doc position. This first post-doc position was great; it was in a lab with a good, positive atmosphere and encouraged me to stick with research. Whilst I knew I would be unable to remain a post-doc forever, this first post-doc position re-invigorated my interest in research and allowed me to justify postponing any long-term plans. Fast forward 5 years and I was now in a lab where I didn’t have as much support on a project that didn’t seem to be going anywhere. As well as becoming demoralised, I hadn’t published enough ‘big’ papers to support a fellowship application; I had seen several of my peers with excellent publication records being knocked back by funders in an increasingly competitive market. It was starting to dawn on me that now was probably the time to seriously consider leaving research.
At this point, I started to use some of the support that was available to post-docs at the university. I started to get an idea of other careers that I could move to by focussing on my ‘transferable’ skills. I saw a job advert on the University of Sheffield’s website for a Research Information Officer, and the job specification appealed to me and I thought that I would be able to use some of my transferable skills on data analysis, statistics and problem solving. I applied for the role and was fortunate enough to be offered the position.
Since the recent review of Research and Innovation Services (now Research Services), my job title has changed slightly to Research Information Analyst. This better reflects the day-to-day nature of the job as I spend a lot of time analysing and summarising data for customers across the university.
I interact and liaise mostly with Faculty and departmental contacts involved in strategic planning, as well as individual researchers and research managers. The vast majority of my work revolves around analysis of research outputs and citations, from the level of individual researchers up to whole institutions to get a feel for expertise in a certain field. This line of work goes hand in hand with the responsible metrics agenda and I have become an active member of this community, attending regional and national meetings and conferences. I have provided seminars at the university on the responsible use of metrics, and try to engage staff on best practice.
In a typical week I might also teach and demonstrate various programs and website services to help researchers increase their visibility, maintain their online researcher profiles. This of course ties in with Open Access, and liaising with library staff around research outputs and bibliometrics. I might also use SQL to manage and search databases and use Python to help manipulate and dissect data sets, or interrogate an API.
Having attended different user group meetings for various software and products that are used in my job, I have come to realise that many universities have a person in a very similar role to myself, or they are actively recruiting. However, some are employed in the research office, and others are employed in the library. In the current climate of REF 2021 preparation, many institutions are trying to gain a better understanding of what a 4* research paper looks like, and are examining bibliometrics alongside peer review.
There are some obvious differences between working in a lab and an open-plan office. Most notably the atmosphere; in a lab most researchers wouldn’t think twice about chatting with their colleagues over pipettes and eppendorfs, whereas in an open-plan office you are much more conscious of disturbing other colleagues. I don’t miss the seemingly endless experimental repeats and the worry over whether the results of your current experiment will support or discredit the working hypothesis. I enjoy the variety of work that I undertake with colleagues across the breadth of the university, and so far the novelty of dressing up in trousers and a shirt for work hasn’t worn off! I have also realised how much I took being on my feet and moving around all day for granted, as I do find myself getting restless at times being stuck behind a desk.
I found the transfer from academia to my new role quite painless. Yes, there was the initial culture shock, but nothing that I wasn’t prepared for. I wouldn’t say that having a PhD is a requirement for my job, as I’m sure experience of data analysis could be gained elsewhere. However, I have found that having a PhD and post-doctoral experience is helpful to understand HE context and concerns from researchers around the use of bibliometrics and potential consequences thereof.
Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? Specific university job pages or www.jobs.ac.uk with a search filter of ‘Professional and Managerial’. University’s own job listings, ARMA noticeboards.
What professional/accrediting bodies, or qualifications are relevant to where you work? Association for Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA) for networking, and software and database user meetings – to meet and network with your peers.