Published on:

6th Sep 2023

(Bonus) The Research Adjacents with Sarah McLusky

In our weekly Research Culture Uncovered conversations we are asking what is Research Culture and why does it matter? This is bonus episode where Ruth Winden, Careers with Research Consultant, and Ged Hall, Academic Development Consultant for Research Impact chat to Sarah McLusky.  

Sarah is the host of the Research Adjacent podcast. Sarah has been proudly research adjacent for over 20 years. In this episode, we find out:

·       What Sarah’s career path has been

·       What research adjacent means and what Sarah is trying to achieve through the podcast.

·       The importance of proactivity and being open-minded for anyone who is in a research adjacent role, especially those who feel stuck and can’t see how progression will happen

·       Why the research system (funders, universities, etc, etc) needs to acknowlege that research is always ‘done’ by a team and all of that team needs to be valued.

Since talking to Sarah, Ruth and Ged are now proudly research adjacent. We always were but now we know what to call it!

You can follow the Research Adjacent podcast on LinkedIn: and Twitter: @ResAdjacent

You can follow Sarah on LinkedIn: and on Twitter: @smclusky

Research culture links:

Follow us on twitter: @ResDevLeeds, @OpenResLeeds, @ResCultureLeeds, @HallGed, @RuthWinden

Connect to us on LinkedIn: @ResearchUncoveredPodcast, @GedHall, @RuthWinden

Be sure to check out the other episodes to find out more.

If you would like to contribute to a podcast episode get in touch:


Welcome to the Research Culture Uncovered podcast, where in every episode we explore what is research culture and what should it be. You'll hear thoughts and opinions from a range of contributors to help you change research culture into what you want it to be.


Hi, this is Ruth Winden, the Careers with Research Consultant at the University of Leeds.


And this is Ged Hall, and I'm an Academic Development Consultant, and I also work at Leeds with Ruth. You are joining us both for a bonus episode in our Research Culture Uncovered podcast. Now, so far in our podcast, we've used seasons, um, of around eight episodes looking at different topics.


My season is all about researcher careers and it finishes on the 14th of June, 2023. And of course I say to you, check out my season. There's some excellent podcast episodes with researchers who've made some very courageous and strategic career decisions, and I've had feedback that it's been really in help, very in that it's been really helpful.

So do check them out.


My season follows Ruth's, focuses in on research impact and its effect on research culture, and hopefully how to make those effects positive. But the reason this is a bonus is because it really combines our two themes, and so we're delighted today to be talking to Sarah McLusky.

in and around research since:

Um, and, and what you, what you really enjoy doing.


Yeah, sure. Um, so I've, I've been, yes, as I now say, proudly research adjacent since, uh, 1999. Um, I didn't, this is not any kind of career that I planned as I think is quite a common story for people who do jobs like mine. Um, but I did do a PhD and then came out of it kind of thinking, well, I'm not sure academia's for me, but.

What else might be out there? And during my PhD I had been doing things like, um, I'd been going on kind of communication courses and media training courses and things like that. And then also, uh, running ev events at the Students' Union. I had holiday jobs working in, um, visitor attractions and things like that.

So I had this sort of other skillset set that I was kind of developing. And I found myself right at the juncture when science communication was exploding. There were the Millennium Science Centres opening. It was very much starting to become, uh, a strong area of focus for places like universities and, uh, and found myself just with kind of the right skillset to, to move into that area of work. Um, so that, and then in and around that is what I've been doing then now for about 25 years. And, um, Yeah, in terms of kind of highs and lows, it, it's been, it's been a bit of a rollercoaster. I think I've just done so many different things and I can't claim to have had any kind of plan.

It's more just been going, uh, where my interest took me, where the opportunities came up. But something that is a really strong thread that runs through everything that I have done is that I love learning about stuff, which is where the science comes in. Um, and the research actually. So I haven't just done all of my work in, in just science research.

Um, and then I love sharing that with people. So that's where the communication comes in, the education, um, even running events and things like that. It's creating spaces for people to learn about these things. And I think that's the, the, the thread that's really run through everything I've done and, um, um, in terms, oh goodness me, there's so many things I've done that I'm really proud of career highlights. I used to run massive, massive schools events, um, which, uh, the biggest was the Young People's Program at the British Science Festival, which was over 6,000 children, which I ran in collaboration with, um, colleague Colin Wilkinson. Um, But then also down to some of the smaller projects and things that I've done, I'm really proud of.

I've done some work around co-production with people with, um, lung health problems that I'm really proud of. We did an amazing exhibition in Durham based on a medical humanities research project that I worked with, um, called, uh, Catch Your Breath. Which is just absolutely stunning, really proud of it.

It's websites and things about that out there. So I've, I've just done all kinds of things and I think that in itself, for me, that variety and that interest, that's almost a career highlight in and of itself.


Fantastic. It, it sounds like a, as you said, um, a real rollercoaster with not too many downs. If you can have a rollercoaster without downs


there, there have been downs along the way.

I mean, some of the things that I talk about in the blog, um, I think with any job, I'm, I'm generally quite an optimistic person, and I think every job has had positive sides of it and negative sides of it. Um, and I try to focus more on the positive side of things, but often when I found myself moving on to do something else, uh, it has been because of, of some of those downsides.

You know, I had, uh, I had a job that involved an awful lot of traveling and that just didn't work for me. And I had, when I say a lot of traveling, It was like two or three nights a week when I had a young child at home, you know, and that sort of thing. That, that you just, but I'm the kind of person who just goes, okay, uh, it's time to do something else now, um, and move on.

So, yeah.


Brilliant. Um, so your podcast, um mm-hmm. Is called Research Adjacent, and you mentioned that as well in terms of, you know, your career being research adjacent and proudly, proudly saying that since 1999. Um, so can you give us the thinking behind why that title? Because, um, certainly in some areas like maybe, um, some universities are using a, a different term research enablers, so I just wondered, you know, just interested in, in terms of why research adjacent.


Yeah, sure. I love the fact that everybody is trying to find the right language to talk about these roles. I think that is really, really important. And, um, I, I think enablers is, research enablers is a step in the right direction, but I don't think it quite encompasses everything that I mean by research adjacent. Um, The term came about partly because when I went freelance, I was trying to figure out what to call myself. And I've done so many different things over the years that people would, and even when I talked to people I've worked with before, they were saying, oh, what you gonna, what you gonna focus on?

And I was like, well, I dunno. There's, there's like all the communication stuff and they're like, yeah, but you don't just do communications, do you? And I was like, no, I don't. And then I was like, But then there's all the engagement stuff. And I was like, yeah, but I don't just do engagement stuff. And then there's all the events stuff and it's like, yeah, but I don't just do events and I'm also, you know, there's all the education stuff and I'm a qualified teacher and training and all that kind of stuff.

It's like, what am I gonna call it? And uh, I think partly it came from, um, I've got a 12 year old daughter. And lots of things in her world are described as something adjacent. It seems like a kind of language that, uh, the young folks are using nowadays. And, uh, and I needed a name for a panel that I was organising an event, uh, which was about careers.

Uh, and about it was for ECRs. And, uh, it was about alternative kinds of careers that they might look at. And, and research adjacent just kind of popped into my head, and it was only afterwards I started to think about the fact that that actually kind of described what I do and what I've done for my whole career.

Because even when I've been working, say when I've been working with with schools, a lot of that was working with universities and people who work in industry to help them to share their research through things like the STEM Ambassadors programme and share their research with schools. Or when I was a college lecturer, I was training students in how to do research themselves.

So there's that thread that runs through everything that I have done. And so research adjacent just seemed to fit. And the reason that I prefer adjacent to enabler, um, I'm, I is because, well, I'm definitely not a fan of support, which gets used an awful lot, um, because that, creates this idea that the researchers are on some sort of pedestal and that everybody else is there to prop 'em up.

Um, and in, in many cases that's not true. Um, in many cases, a lot of the people in these research adjacent roles actually have a lot of influence. They have, um, they make huge contributions towards funding applications to strategic direction of research, to creating impact. So to just identify them as support is, it's just, belittling to be honest.

Um, and then, um, enabling I think is great because a lot of these roles do help to make the research happen. Uh, so I think enabling encompasses that. But what I talk about is research adjacent actually goes beyond that as well. And I think a lot of these roles, there's the, the research enabling roles, the roles that help research to happen.

So that's the people who work in funding, they work in research management, they work in, um, the university services and systems they work in. I've, you know, I've got a librarian who's coming on my podcast quite soon, academic librarian, all these people who help to make the research happen. Um, then there's all the people who, I think the focus is more on sharing that research with the wider world.

And that includes people who work in knowledge exchange, people who work in research communications, people who work in outreach, engagement. Um, public involvement, all that sort of stuff. And I think enabling doesn't quite fit with what they do. Mm-hmm. Because they're more about sharing it, um, with the outside world.

And the reason that I think we need a way to talk, better way to talk about these roles is because people move quite fluidly between them. Um, there is. A lot of these are quite developing fields, so I've been in this space for 25 years and nobody has had a 25 year career doing public engagement because public engagement didn't even exist.

25 years ago, um, research impact as a concept didn't exist 25 years ago. These are shifting and changing as time goes on. Um, so we need a broader way to talk about these roles, um, rather than the, the specifics of what they do and to help people feel comfortable that they can move between them.


Yeah, some, some interesting things that, uh, there were a load of things I'd I, I'd like to pick up on.

But just for, just for time, I think that the one about, uh, you know, the fluidity of these roles and, and that the, the kind of isn't a, a curriculum to kind of learn how to do them is really interesting because that's, that's certainly something in my field research impact that you mentioned. There is something that we're really starting to discuss.

How can we create, um, that. Kind of curriculum and how can we support, uh, people to, to explore that curriculum, um, within the, within the roles that they're doing. So that's, that's certainly something that's, uh, that's being discussed internationally actually. Yeah. You know, uh, certainly being led by a guy called David, uh, David Phipps in Canada through Research Impact Canada.

So yeah. Thanks for, thanks for mentioning that. Now. The, because I'm a, uh, impact kind of nerd, um, or, or geek, whichever is your favourite, uh, favourite term. Um, I, I was really interested in terms of, you know, and I asked this question to ourselves, you know, Ruth came to me and says, Hey, let's do a podcast. And I went, To do what?

For what, what's the purpose? So, you know, I'm always asking the impact question. Um, so, so what, what, what were you hoping to achieve, um, with, with your podcast and um, and do you think you're getting there? I guess?


Oh, I am legendary for the so what question as well. So what, why are we doing this? Um, why am I doing this podcast?

Um, it's for a few different reasons. Um, I think, uh, as these things often are, um, one of them is that I wanted to give these roles a voice. Um, so there's. Been, there's a lot of talk about research culture at the moment, which I think is fantastic, um, and really important and really overdue. What makes me slightly nervous is that in many cases, these kind of research adjacent roles are being left out of the conversation.

Um, particularly, I was particularly struck when I started the podcast. A lot of things all came together at the same time. Um, For example, the UKRI's new public engagement strategy, which came out towards the end of last year, makes vague reference to support infrastructure to enable public engagement. It makes no reference at all.

To the people who actually make this stuff happen. It talks about researchers, it talks about the people that they want to engage in the research. It doesn't acknowledge the fact that there are people in the middle who actually are absolutely essential to making it happen. And I think that happens too often.

So partly I wanted to just say, look at all these great jobs that are out there, these amazing people who are doing fantastic things. To help make research happen and to help get research out into the world and get people involved in it. Um, so partly it was that, it was just to, to kind of stand up a bit for, for my fellow research adjacent folks and, uh, and show what's possible.

Um, so there was that. There was also the fact that in, uh, previous roles when I've been in universities, I've worked a lot with, and even current roles actually, um, I. Work with, um, people coming out, PhDs, ECRs, people who are at that turning point of their careers and are looking at their options and often are quite fragile and quite anxious about what the future holds.

And, and I wanted to provide an alternative story. And rather than just saying, oh, you know, only 25% of people stay in academia, or whatever it is, it might even be less than that. I'm just making up numbers. Um, rather than just saying, oh, 25%, you know, 75%, don't make it tough, but maybe saying, look, here's other things that you could do.

We are having an understanding of research is really valuable. Um, so that was another reason, um, that I wanted to do it as well. And then on a purely selfish reason, because I'm freelance, it gives me an excuse to get to talk to lots of really interesting people, uh, rather than just sitting in my house on my own.

Um, so those were all the reasons that I started it in terms of whether it is, uh, working, it's certainly been great for me in talking, so many interesting people and had so many interesting conversations. It's been fantastic. Um, and I've, I've had some amazing feedback actually. I've had. People who are, uh, people embracing the term research adjacent, saying, yes, this describes me.

This describes what I do. I love it. I'm going to use it. Uh, one person, Jenny Brady, who was a guest on the podcast, said, I am Captain Research Adjacent. So, uh, so there's people really embracing the term, people saying that they feel seen for the first time, that they feel somebody is talking about the problems that they're having because often these kind of roles are quite isolated. You know, there might be one person in a department and uh, in some places it's more coordinated, but other places not so much. So people saying that they feel that they've been seen and heard, and also a lot of people whose focus is on careers, um, actually gain with that message of, here are things you can do.

Um, career options, uh, quite a few careers, people getting in touch as well, and saying that, that it's a really valuable resource and they've been recommending it to, uh, people that they work with. So all of that is fantastic feedback. Um, and, uh, yeah, I just, I just hope that continues to grow. So.


Yeah, absolutely.

I'm very supportive of that. Um, but it is, you know, it is the biggest question, isn't it, in terms of how do we know we're meeting our aims? And that's a, that's a challenge that we're, we're starting to really, um, Try and get our heads around with our own podcast, kind of, you know, are we making a difference to research culture just across the piste.

Mm-hmm. And with all our different, um, flavours, whether that's Ruth's in terms of careers, whether it's mine in terms of impact, whether it was Nick's in terms of open research, you know, all of those different, uh, practices, um, you know, are important to test. Whether we're having an effect. Um, so great to hear that, that you're getting that, that great feedback.

Um, you've also kind of explored a lot of, as you said, a lot of different career paths and, and it was, it's really interesting to see the mix of people you've, you've interviewed, you know, people in, working directly in universities, people in freelance roles, people who are business owners, and kind of growing the business around, uh, around a service that is, that is, uh, I guess interesting.

What, how does that, Translate with the research adjacent in terms of, you know, if it's a service that's coming into, coming into research. But it just, just interestingly, um, I was kind of just, did you notice any differences between, you know, people who were directly employed and people who were freelance in terms of, uh, things that were.

Added to that experience or that we're missing from that experience in terms of the freelance and, and, and kind of final question on that in terms of, for you, you've had experience in both, uh, in both camps. So what, what for you is the, the kind of positives and negatives in terms of, you know, standing on your own two feet and growing a business?


Yeah. Um, yeah, I think I've noticed some differences, um, between, uh, what people do, uh, in different sectors, which has been interesting. The, um, I've got few people coming up as well who work in charities and other organisations as well. Um, so I take a very broad view of what's, what's considered research adjacent.

Um, not just roles that are in university, but, but anywhere, um, that people are. Um, helping, helping research, help 'em, help me to get it out into the world. And I think that, uh, the research culture question is a conversation that's really only happening in universities. So I think I've noticed that. Um, uh, I've got somebody coming up in a few weeks time on the podcast.

We've had a brief introductory interview, um, a brief introductory chat, and she is, has moved from working in. A university into a charity, but doing quite a similar role, but, but in a charity. And she's really, you know, she's, she just feels the whole environment's very different in a charity and, and there's much more sense of everybody being kind of aligned towards the same aim and working as a team and all that sort of thing compared to being in a university.

So I think, um, that's the, so the research culture question is, is a very academic one. Um, I think that a lot of the people who I talk to who have gone freelance, it's because there weren't opportunities for them within the university structure. Um, people like me, for example, I reached a point in my career where I was.

To, to go any higher. And I, this isn't just in universities because my brother and sister, uh, are not, don't work in university. My sister's an electrical engineer. My brother's a product designer. Uh, they've had a similar thing. You reach a level of seniority where either you go into management or you start to help develop the next generation.

That's coming up and I think that the only opportunity that was available to me in a university sector was going into management. And I tried it and it didn't suit my strengths and interests and all that sort of thing. There weren't opportunities within the academic environment to move into this developing the next generation.

Um, Side of things and actually bringing that focus on becoming a real expert in doing the work rather than managing other people doing the work. And a lot of the freelancers that I've spoken to, that's they've, they've had a very similar experience, so they've gone freelance so that they can specialize in the communications or the training or the, you know, um, creating those, that content or relationships or, you know, whatever it is that their focus is.

Um, they've tended to go into the freelance world so they can do that because the opportunities don't exist. Um, and so that certainly resonates, uh, with my story. Obviously the, and, and I don't know as well the obs, the, the conversation, my, my heart absolutely goes out to anybody who is facing redundancy, struggling with, uh, short term contracts, all that sort of things.

That again, is a conversation that's only really happening in academia. Um, and I don't know if it's that people going into something like the charity sector know that maybe it's a bit unstable and it depends on how much funding comes in. I don't know, maybe it's just a different mindset. Um, But the, yeah, the job securities conversations seem to be slightly different.

Obviously people going freelance know that the job security's out the window. Um, but, but then there's that sense of having personal control over it, um, that you've got when you're freelance. So, um, yeah. So those are some of the differences I've, I've noticed. I dunno if that's, that's quite what you're thinking of.

Um, and in terms of my personal experience, I've, I love. The fact that I get to just go back to being curious again, which, uh, which was something that was lacking when I was in, as I say, I was in quite a senior role in the university. I had a lot of responsibility. I was having a lot of influence on the strategic direction of research.

Um, But, uh, I also was spending a lot of time doing health and safety audits and managing the building and that sort of thing, which, uh, didn't set my heart a light. Uh, so I've really enjoyed that. But then the, then there's the challenges of, uh, working on my own and, uh, having to kind of drive everything forwards myself.

And sometimes I really miss having the, the team around me. Mm-hmm. So I have the opportunity to collect, connect with people, but having a kind of everyday team, you know, that, that you all feel like you're in it together. I do miss that sometimes, but, uh, but yeah.


Yeah, it's, it's, it's interesting. There's no, there's no panacea, no, no green grass that's always completely green and never, never suffers from a bit of drought, so, absolutely.

Yeah. Um, but it's, it was fascinating that, uh, just picking up on, on that point about, you know, progression and kind of like you. You know, there only seems to be kind of limited scopes, um, in terms of the, those options. Cause I know Ruth, um, Ruth A. Little while ago really helped me to think that through for myself, uh, as well in terms of do I go for that kind of big job, um, and realise that, you know, it's taking you away actually from doing the thing you're doing and.

But managing the thing you are doing. Um, and, you know, that was, that was a really helpful conversation for me. And, uh, and, um, uh, as we're talking about Ruth, I'm gonna hand over to her part of the interview.


Thank you, Ged. Sarah, what you describe resonates so much with me because before I u joined the University of Leeds in my current role as Careers with Research Consultant, I ran my own business for 20 years.

Oh. I was basically a freelancer and I used 20 years of my life to do the things I absolutely loved doing. And that freedom that you have to do whatever interests you where you can make the biggest difference. The autonomy, you know, the quick decision making. I think that's the thing I struggle most with in the academic sector is my word.

Do we take time to make decisions? You know, and I've been called, um, impatient by Ged because I have that drive and that energy. Why on earth does it take so long? You know? So sometimes I really have to reign that in before it gets frustrating. But then also the flip side, as you say, you know, you are on your own and.

It sounds like exactly like me, Sarah, you had a really good, you have a really good network. There are always people you can talk to, but having that day-to-day team around you, that is priceless. You know that that is a slightly different experience. And also for me, the motivation was I'd done so many different things and I thought having a place as my.

Place for impact. Probably not quite in the sense that Ged defines impact, but this is my, this is my area. I know where the boundaries are. It's the University of Leeds. I have a clear mission and vision and ambition to, for instance, normalise career conversations. I know now what I need to do, where I need to, you know, go to, you know, who I need to get on board to make that happen.

And that is, Surprises. But I also know, you know, I am giving up certain things. So as Ged says, it's always a compromise to some extent. And, um, but no regrets so far. So Sarah, what I wanted to ask you about is, you've obviously spoken to a lot of people in different roles, and can we focus on people in higher education?

Mm-hmm. It's, for me, what I see, especially with our research adjacents, research enablers. What I hear the most as a trend is, They feel stuck. You know, they, they feel stuck because they can't really progress. There are very few opportunities are, is this the same? And do you notice any other trends with, with those colleagues of ours?


Yeah. That comes up again and again and again. And the conversations I've had, Ruth, um, that, that people feel. That in order to, um, progress, they have to leave and go somewhere else. Um, and I think some of it is because the roles are often tied to projects. So they're, they're, they've got a very defined purpose.

They've got a very defined period of time, um, that they're for. And so there's no room to grow. You know, it's like you have to deliver this thing on this project. Full stop. Um, Some who've, who've, the more, you know, I dunno, the more kinda enterprising ones have been able to then use that to get a foot in the door and to say, oh, can I help you write this next grant, you know, or whatever, and, and be able to get, you know, named on that.

And then that's the next job. And then, you know, you get into those situations. But definitely, um, the lack of progression because there isn't, again, these jobs are just sort of, they're still sitting. In most universities, there may be some that I don't know of. Um, but certainly from my experience and people I've spoken to, they, they just don't quite sit anywhere.

Um, so when I was at, uh, my previous. Role. Um, my immediate line manager, the academic who who managed me was hugely supportive, hugely, hugely supportive and fantastic. And, um, and so the team around me were great. But then HR came in and said, we have to put your job into a job family. And there wasn't a job family, so, that matched with what I was doing and I ended up being kinda shoehorned into the, um, admin job, family.

But then that didn't reflect, um, so much. The other external liaison work, the communications were those sorts of things that I was doing. I had another colleague in the same department doing almost exactly the same job as me who ended up being put into the research structure so nobody knows where to put them.

And so because nobody knows where to put them, there's no sense of what it would mean to progress in that role. You know, what is a senior, you know, what is the next step up? Or what is a senior role in this kind of area of work? Um, And so yes, that is definitely, um, a common challenge. Uh, some of the other things that come up repeatedly, I've already mentioned the job precarity and the fact that the jobs are often tied to a specific, uh, funding, period.

A project, you know, they're brought in, it's like a year, two years, something like that. And then, you know, if that's the end of funding, that's the end of the job. That's, uh, really common. Other things that people have, other challenges that people have are that, um, again, because there's no kind of recognised career structure, there's no recognising what, what it means to.

Do well in these roles. There's no, um, professional development. There's, or there's very little professional development. There's no way of demonstrating that they've done a good job. And so to have that conversation about moving forward. Um, so I think all those are things that come up really commonly.


Mm-hmm. And it's interesting, isn't it, because it means from an institutional point of view, every time people move on, We lose all that intelligence and all that internal knowledge, and the next person then has to start again from more or less zero. Unless the person who left, you know, made some fantastic handover documents.

But if it's in a different department or a different part of the unit, you know, That intelligence, that knowledge is gone. Yeah, and it's interesting. At the University of Leeds, for instance, now we have a strong, um, you know, Research Innovation Service unit. We have different units where people sit and some of them also sit in li, you know, sit in departments or we have the Library.

But as you say, you know, there is very little in terms of what does career development mean, like, Mean, where is the progression? What does it mean to do a good job? And I think there is a huge challenge for universities to develop that. I mean, one thing I noticed for instance, is also in the area of project management.

So in many universities, you know, we have more and more project management roles. I was a project manager outside of academia. And I know for instance, there are very clear progression. You know, points in a career as a project manager. And I recently spoke to an external project manager who came to the university and said, oh, um, so where, where's the progression structure?

I don't see it. She came in at a senior level and thinks, okay, where do I go next? You know, but I can't see anything and. I think we have our work cut out and I know at Leeds, you know, the university HR service is looking into this because also it's about how do we retain people? Because it's, you know, you can, you can earn money in different ways and in different sectors.

You know that, I know that Sarah, um, Ged knows that he's been in a different sectors as well. You know, you don't have to be in, in the academic system. You can go elsewhere. But obviously we want to have fantastic people, passionate people. And keep them. Yeah. So where does it go from there? So that leads me on to thinking, Sarah, did anyone share any great tips or strategies?

Cause I often have to say, you know, I, as a career professional, I can work with people in helping them get. Over the next hurdle or find alternatives or you know, stop even by recognising their value. Because very often they struggle to identify that and articulate that. So that's the kind of work I do.

But a lot of the stru, the issues we have are structural issues. Mm-hmm. And so, you know, what do you do in that context? But are there any tips you picked up from those conversations that are, um, worth sharing? I'm sure there must be one


or two. I think. I think there's some. I think, um, in terms of specific tips, um, the, the general ones seems to be that comes up again and again and again is, uh, from conversations I've had, is being open-minded and, and keeping, uh, keeping your eyes open.

You know, being. Interested in everybody getting to know people, just keeping your ears out for where the next opportunity might be, you know, um, and, and being helpful, you know, being off, you know, doing, not in the sense of like overworking, but, but just helping where you can and, uh, and doing what you can to contribute and then getting a bit of a name for yourself.

So I think that that definitely comes up a lot. Be, and being kind of willing to, to jump and go. You know, when the opportunity to present themselves and, and, uh, that's something that comes up. So being a bit kind of personally, you know, not expecting, so your manager to say, you know, we're gonna promote you and then we're gonna do this.

Having to take a bit of charge of it, um, yourself was, it definitely comes up a lot. Um, but in terms of beyond that, in terms of like you say, structural and institutional things, A lot of good conversations are happening. I think that's, uh, the main thing that I would say. It's great to hear that, that Leeds is looking at this.

Um, the, I know that the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement, they're doing a bit of work with an organisation called, um, PraxisAuril who, uh, are knowledge exchange. So the public engagement people and the knowledge exchange people are getting together to talk about. What might a kind of standard job description look like?

Or what might a progression framework look like for these kinds of roles? I know that ARMA is looking at this as well, so the Association of Research Managers and Administrators. So there's lots of these, um, professional organisations are looking at it. Um, and I think in some universities, um, there are.

Senior academics who are very supportive as, as well. Um, because that's one of the things, there's been this sort of groundswell of, um, dissatisfaction, I guess, I don't know what you might call it. Um, and, and people trying to push from the bottom up. To get things changed. Uh, and I would consider myself very much part of that.

I have no real influence on, uh, anybody or anything. Um, but I think until we start to get some of the people in the positions of power, uh, involved in the conversation, um, nothing will really change. And I think that some. Places. As I've said already, I'm, I'm a little bit disappointed with the progress that some of the, the, the contributions that some of the funding organisations and things are, um, making to this because, um, their focus is very much on researchers as if they are the only people that do the research.

Whereas I think research is something that is done by a team and that team includes, Academics and technicians and administrators and communicators and impact people and knowledge change people and funding people and the whole lot. Um, and until we start thinking of it like that, um, I think. Things might not change as quickly as we would like.


Mm-hmm. It's that holistic view that you're bringing, isn't it Sarah? Because there's so many different aspects, so many different roles, and together we make, we make that difference. But I also see a very slow but steady change coming. And as you say, I see a lot of initiatives and, and people are becoming more, more vocal about because, you know, but we know without the structural changes, there's.

Only limited impact that we can have with supporting people. I totally agree with that. It was interesting that you. You talked about, you know, how proactive research adjacents have to be and that is music to my ears because that's what anyone needs to do with their career management. And you know, so they're not necessarily different as, but I often think they're almost like intrapreneurs, you know, they always have to look, you know, where's the next next gig coming from?

What's my expertise? What difference do I make? Who can I talk to? And I always say, it always starts with a good conversation.


Mm-hmm. And yeah,


that's also with, you know, the, the people I had conversation with, with the researchers, the ECRs. Very often it starts with a good conversation and realising, oh, there are options or their projects going.

Or, oh, I didn't realise, I'm really good at that. Getting feedback. It's these conversations, making time for that, having these career conversations. And that's something I'm really passionate about. Um, that's my big mission. So, funnily enough, Sarah, you answered. Two questions in one, so, perfect. You know, cause I wanted to ask about the tips and the strategies you might have heard of, um, that openness that people have to have and seeing opportunities.

Making them happen, which obviously puts a lot of onus on people, but it's also, you know, we are, you know, freelancers at heart, you know, it's also, that's our sweet spot, isn't it? You know, they're making things happen, making connections. Um, but it's, it can be hard, especially when you also have a full-time job to hold.

Let's be honest about that, you know? But, It's probably at the moment the best thing that we can recommend. And also your observations about, you know, what's happening in, in, in the structural sense in terms of funders and, and different organisations active in the space. And also the welcome trust put, you know, a big call for research proposals out, um, recently that also focused more on the research adjacents and enablers.

So there is some movement, isn't there? Wonderful conversation and it's so good to see. You, you are making an impact. And I also think, okay, we might not change the world, but you know, it could be one podcast episode Sarah, that just makes someone think, oh, I didn't know you could do that. Or, oh, I had never thought of that.

You know, and I think that's what we are doing, isn't it? So I wouldn't really, I wouldn't really want to say, Sarah, oh, you're not making any impact because you obviously have, you know, listeners, you get feedback. And that's, I think a challenge that we see when, when you have a podcast, how can people feed back to you?

So I do a lot more on LinkedIn these days and people. Like commenting. You know, it, it's an interesting medium, you know. Unless they give us a review on Apple or wherever they want to give us a review. How do you know whether we are go doing a good job? And apart from the, when you go to events, music, oh, I've listened to Epi episode X, you know, and I really enjoyed it.

And what did you enjoy? You know, that's sort of how I think how we're trying, it's all anecdotal, so I know Ged will be saying, well, anecdotal statistic, we need to measure it. You know, and I'm, I, I'm looking at Ged to see, come up with a system for us to measure our impact. That would be nice. I think,


I think it's always as well.

I've, um, it's, it's done me well throughout my career. Um, as I say, I've done a lot of kind of following my nose and just doing, see what, what seemed interesting to me. And I think, uh, even, I've talked a lot of researchers over the years about when you think about impact, sometimes it's thinking not so much about the impact you're having out there, but the impact you're having close to home.

And, uh, if. The only impact of it is that I get more confident about talking to people. I expand my network. I feel, uh, more confident talking and things like this. You know, I'm happier to be a bit more visible and put myself out there a bit more then that's had impact on me. So I think, um, that's, and that in itself is worth.


Wise words and a hand over to Ged now who I'm sure wants to say something about this as well.


Yeah. Thanks. Thanks, Ruth. You kept, uh, you keep making me sound like I'm just a prophet of doom. You know, what, what impact are you having and how do you prove it? That's just anecdotal, like,


Never Ged. Never.



So, so Sarah, I. Thank you for such a, an interesting conversation and, uh, Ruth and I both wanted to thank you for your podcast because it, it highlights so many different, um, careers that are involved in research, you know, and are, and are actually fundamental to, as you said, to the research happening. So thank you very much for, for kind of highlighting all of those different.

Uh, career paths and, and career options. Uh, and it's actually fascinating to see the podcast actually valuing those careers. It's not just showcasing that they exist, but valuing that they exist, uh, and the people who, you know, brilliantly undertake those, uh, those careers. So let's hope. You do lead the sector, um, in that direction of properly valuing those, uh, those careers.

Um, so just to remind you, Um, all those people listening out there, Sarah's podcast is called Research Adjacent. We've mentioned the, the term a number of times, and you know why, uh, why now? It's called that. Um, you can find links to it in the show notes. Uh, and it's also on all the major Poca podcast platforms and we'll put Sarah's own, uh, own website as well in the, in the show notes.

Sarah, thank you so much, and please can you say goodbye to all our listeners?


Yeah. Thank you so much. That's a really kind, uh, sendoff there. Uh, thank you so much for inviting me to come along and chat. It's one of my favourite things to do. So, uh, thank you.


It's been such a pleasure. Thank you so much, Sarah.

And. See you next time.


Thanks for listening to the Research Culture Uncovered podcast. Please subscribe so you never miss out on our brand new episodes. And if you're enjoying the discussions, give us some love by dropping a five star rating and written review as it helps other research culturists find us and please share with a friend and show them how to subscribe.

Thanks for listening, and here's to you and your research culture.

Show artwork for Research Culture Uncovered

About the Podcast

Research Culture Uncovered
Changing Research Culture through conversations
At the University of Leeds, we believe that all members of our research community play a crucial role in developing and promoting a positive and inclusive research culture. Across the globe, the urgent need for a better Research Culture in Higher Education is widely accepted – but how do you make it happen? This weekly podcast focuses on our ideas, approaches and learning as we contribute to the University's attempt to create a Research Culture in which everyone can thrive. Whether you undertake, lead, fund or benefit from research - these are the conversations to listen to if you want to explore what a positive Research Culture is and why it matters.

Unless specified in the episode shownotes, Research Culture Uncovered © 2023 by Research Culturosity, University of Leeds is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. This license requires that reusers give credit to the creator. If you remix, adapt, or build upon the material, you must license the modified material under identical terms. Some episodes may be licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0, please check before use.

About your hosts

Emma Spary

Profile picture for Emma Spary
I moved into development after several years as an independent researcher and now lead the team providing professional and career development for all researchers and those supporting research. I am passionate about research culture and supporting people. I lead our Concordat implementation work and was part of the national Concordat writing group. I represent Leeds as a member of Researchers14, the N8PDRA group and UKRI’s Alternative Uses Group.

Tony Bromley

Profile picture for Tony Bromley
I've worked in the area of the development of researchers for 20 years, including at the national and international level. I was lead author of the UK sector researcher development impact framework charged with evaluating the over £20M per year investment of UK research councils in researcher development. I have convened the international Researcher Education and Development Scholarship (REDS) conference for a number of years and have published on researcher development evaluation and pedagogy. All the details are on !! Also why not take a look at

Ged Hall

Profile picture for Ged Hall
I've worked for almost 20 years in researcher development, careers guidance and academic skills development. For the last decade I've focused on the area of research impact. This has included organisational development projects and professional development for individual researchers and groups. I co-authored the Engaged for Impact Strategy and am heavily involved in its implementation, across the University of Leeds, to build a healthy impact culture. For 10 years after my PhD, I was a consultant in the utility sector, which included being broker between academia and my clients.

Ruth Winden

Profile picture for Ruth Winden
After many years running my own careers consultancy business I made the transition to researcher development leading our careers provision. My background is in career coaching, facilitation and group-based coaching, and I have a special interest in cohort-based coaching programmes which help researchers manage their careers proactively and transition into any sector and role of their choice.

Nick Sheppard

Profile picture for Nick Sheppard
I have worked in scholarly communications for over 15 years, currently as Open Research Advisor at the University of Leeds. I am interested in effective dissemination of research through sustainable models of open access, including underlying data, and potential synergies with open education and Open Educational Resources (OER), particularly underlying technology, software and interoperability of systems.