All-Island Research Excellence Network (AIREN)

University College Dublin (UCD), Ulster University (Ulster) and Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) have joined forces to connect Research Managers and Administrators across the island of Ireland. The initiative commenced in January 2021 to establish an All-Island Research Excellence Network (AIREN) of research support professionals across the island of Ireland and deliver benefits to the HEI and research sector and to those individuals working within the research management and administration space.

Future View of the Research Ecosystem & the Changes it Signals for Research Support Career Pathways

The AIREN workshop event took place in-person on 7 June 2023 in the Canal Court Hotel Newry.  The event discussed future directions for the role of research support professionals as the research ecosystem develops. The various cultures within the higher education and research sector for supporting career development for research support professionals were also considered and the future needs and what research support professionals want to support their career development were explored. It started with pre-recorded talks by three guest speakers on these topics, with time for individual self-reflection between each. The talks were followed by interactive sessions for delegates to reflect on the insights shared and together discuss the levels of support and career pathways currently provided / offered to AIREN Members by their institutions. Delegates then reflected and discussed together what these matters mean for AIREN, to identify ways AIREN members can use the AIREN network to support their needs.  A report on this event will be issued shortly.

Confidence & Resilience Workshop for Personal & Professional Growth

This AIREN workshop event was held virtually on 15 February 2023 in response to ‘impostor syndrome’ and the related challenges research support staff can experience that were discussed and highlighted at the AIREN Conference last September. The Workshop was designed and facilitated by Sarah Travers of Bespoke Communications and it was a unique opportunity to examine life at work. The workshop covered self-awareness, imposter syndrome, overcoming workplace challenges and tackling difficult conversations and relationships. Sarah used tried and tested coaching techniques to help each of us to identify our strengths, build confidence and resilience and communicate more visibly at work. She also introduced tools needed to build resilience to better manage those challenges, say yes to the opportunities that come our way and maintain positive personal wellbeing in the face of adversity.  A short report on the event is available here.

The inaugural AIREN Conference ‘Research For the Future’

The inaugural AIREN Conference  on ‘Research for the Future’ took place in-person on 8th September 2022 at the Titanic Hotel Belfast.  It brought key stakeholders together to discuss all-island collaborative research and how to further develop and enhance the AIREN all-island network of research support staff. The diverse range of sessions also addressed research culture and shared career development inspirations for research support professionals.   The conference opened with welcome addresses from Minister Gordon Lyons, MLA, Department of the Economy,  Northern Ireland, and Minster Simon Harris, TD, Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (DFHERIS) Ireland, and the day was moderated by journalist, presenter and event host Sarah Travers. The conference included two excellent keynote addresses by Dr Deirdre Lillis, (DFHERIS) and Dr Simon Kerridge (University of Kent), international panel discussions and interaction sessions. There were 157 registered delegates with attendance from research professional staff from academic and research organisations on the island, as well as representatives from Government departments, the Higher Education Authority, InterTradeIreland, and funding bodies. The conference  provided opportunities for delegates to meet and network with each other, and to link with colleagues working across the research ecosystem in Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland.  The Conference Programme, and a report on and the recording of the Conference are available here.   We thank all who attended and participated at the event for their contributions.

Supporting Postdoctoral and PhD Researcher

The sixth AIREN event took place on Wednesday 9th March 2022. The event discussed developing a research culture for supporting PhD students and postdoctoral researchers. The latest developments in establishing communities of practice and networks to support researchers were presented, and an example of a current North South PhD networking initiative was shared. The role of research managers and administrators as research developers was also discussed. A short report on the event is available here.

Research Impact

The fifth AIREN event took place on Wednesday 26th January 2022. The event discussed what is meant by ‘research impact’ and the growing drive and importance of delivering and communicating research with impact. Samples of resources available to support PI’s to plan, capture and communicate research impact effectively across a range of purposes including the preparation of funding proposals and for public engagement were shared. Research impact in action in the context of addressing and delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals was also presented. Advice on the art of communicating research impact effectively was also shared.
A short report on the event is available here.

North / South Workshop on Industry Academia Research Collaboration

The fifth AIREN event took place on Wednesday 8th December 2021. This workshop event presented and shared perspectives from different stakeholders – including funding body InterTradeIreland, academia, and the technology transfer community – on optimising industry academia research collaborations. The event shared advice and tips on making industry academia collaborations successful.  A short report on the event is available here.

Developing Global Partnerships & Networks for Research Collaborations

The fourth AIREN event took place on Wednesday 10th October 2021.  The event presented the needs and benefits of having global partnerships for developing research collaborations, and strategic approaches and examples from various international, national and institutional levels were shared. The role of research management supports in developing such networks was also discussed.  A short report on the event is available here.

Governance & Management of Large Scale Research Programmes / Centres

The second AIREN internal event took place on 8th September 20201 and presented an overview of the governance and management structures large-scale research centres / programmes have in place – sharing perspectives from the PI, Operations Team members, and the PhD Researcher experience. The Centres / Programmes featured are sponsored by various funding mechanisms, including programmes run by Funding Agencies (SFI, EPSRC, and NERC); Government initiatives through the Northern Ireland Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Belfast City Deal; and Industry sponsorship.   A short report on the event is available here.

North / South Research Collaboration Opportunities

The first AIREN external event took place on 30th June 20201 and presented an overview and update on the strategies Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), Horizon Europe and the PEACE PLUS Programme have in place to support North / South research collaboration.  It also presented Insights from US Agencies –  the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) –  on the US Ireland Research & Development Partnership Programme.   A short report on the event is available here .  It seems especially timely that AIREN is focusing on developing North / South Research Collaboration Opportunities given the exciting  announcement from the Department of the Taoiseach on 5th July 2021 of a new investment fund of €40m that is being provided through the Shared Island Fund to support the deepening of links between high education institutions, researchers and research communities on the island of Ireland.

Organisational Structures for Research Management & Development

The first AIREN Away Day took place on 12th May 2021.  It was attended by Research Managers and Administrators and Faculty from UCD, QUB and Ulster and by members of InterTradeIreland.  The event highlighted the importance of cross-border collaboration and the AIREN Project was congratulated on its work to  connect Research Managers and Administrators initially across the 3 participating universities, with the long term ambition of establishing an all-Island Research Excellence Network.  The research management and development structures at UCD, QUB and Ulster, were presented and valuable insights were shared on the varying approaches and support models.  Challenges the research management & development profession face, and the importance of initiatives – such as networking and mentoring –  to support career development were also presented and discussed.