Dr Susanna Roberts joined the Medical Research Foundation as a Research Manager in 2019 to deliver research funding competitions and manage a portfolio of funded research grants and fellowships. In this blog, Susanna was interviewed on her career transition by EDIT lab PhD student, Abi, and placement student, Mathu. Susanna provides an outlook of what it is like as a Research Manager, and advice for those considering going into a role outside of academia.

What does your role involve? If somebody was thinking about pursuing a career as a Research Manager, what could they expect?

As a Research Manager at the Medical Research Foundation, my job is to develop and run bespoke funding calls so that we can reach our target of spending £5 million per year on medical research. We are led by our five-year research strategy and by our donors wishes, so the scientific topics we cover can be very broad! We identify areas in need of funding, and work out how the money should be spent to best benefit the field. I manage the funding call, overseeing the application process, external peer review, and the Panel meetings that make the funding decision. My work can be varied, but often involves scoping research areas, writing about what we want to do with our funding or what we’ve achieved, communicating with our applicants and awardees, liaising with stakeholders, setting up funding Panels, case work with active grants, and a lot of spreadsheets! 

What are the positives of going from an academic position into a role outside of academia?

Since moving to a role outside of academia, I have enjoyed working closely and collaboratively with our team to deliver funding calls, and the structured nature of our projects. We have busy periods, but the work continuously drives forwards and moves on. I have also been pleased that I use a lot of skills developed during my time in academia in my day-to-day work. This includes writing and communicating clearly, planning and structuring large projects, learning about complex topics quickly, and pulling together information. 

What’s your favourite thing about working as a Research Manager? What have been some of the biggest highlights so far in your current role? 

My favourite thing about working as a Research Manager is attending our Panel meetings. It’s inspiring to hear people’s ideas for future science, and thought provoking to listen to our experts’ assessments. We make sure the whole day runs smoothly, and it is really rewarding when it all goes to plan. Some of my biggest highlights so far have been when my proposals for allocating funding are approved, and we can develop the opportunity from the ground up. There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes in research funding. It’s great to see the process through from the beginning to the end point – funding amazing scientific research proposals – and seeing what our grantholders do with their awards. 

Do you think students and academics know about the opportunities to leave academia and apply for roles such as a Research Manager?

No! It’s not always clear what jobs entail, and what careers offer the opportunity to use the skills you have developed in academic training and roles. Talking to people in specific roles can therefore be really useful in making this decision, and if your university has a careers advice service this can be a great place to start. 

What advice would you give to students who are interested in careers outside of academia?

Work out what you’d like to be doing and what you would like to gain from a career outside of academia. Consider whether you want to continue to do research but in a different setting, or whether that’s something you’d be happy to step away from. Recognising what style of work you prefer and what you are good at is useful too; are you someone who likes to work independently with long deadlines, or in a fast-paced team? Think about how closely you want to stay aligned to “science” and the areas of research you have been involved in.

Interested in exploring more careers outside of academia? This interview is part of our EDIT lab blog series covering careers outside of academia. Other blogs include topics on the following:

Research careers outside of academia

Collaboration between academic and voluntary organisations: Part 1 & Part 2

Working in the psychological treatment service IAPT

Working in clinical research in the voluntary sector


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