EARMA Conference Prague 2023


Professional onboarding for RMA newcomers

A digital in-house masterclass as an approach from Harz University


EARMA Conference Prague 2023

Format: Pecha Kucha

Topic: Professional Development and Recognition

Session: 🟣 Pecha Kucha Session on Professional Development and Recognition topics

Tuesday 25 April 2:30 p.m. - 4 p.m. (UTC)


Professional onboarding for RMA staff both new to the institution and the profession is one of the most relevant but also sensitive tasks for Research Offices. On the one hand, a huge range of topics (such as proposal writing, impact, research ethics, data management) have to be covered which require a broad skill set (both hard and soft) to be successful. On the other hand, specific training for designated RMA staff (such as academic degrees or courses) is still uncommon, so newcomers to the RMA profession are usually not specifically trained for this job. Especially small research institutions tend to hire RMA staff without previous specific expertise as jobs contracts are often non-permanent which makes fluctuation high. In the last two years, this ambiguity has been further underlined by difficulties arising from the pandemic which caused most staff to work from home. Onboarding newcomers became an even bigger challenge as direct exchange in the office became a rare opportunity.

In this contribution we present a good practice approach for onboarding new RMA staff from a University of Applied Sciences in Germany which proved to be very effective to meet current challenges for onboarding. In the beginning of 2022, six new RMA staff members had been recruited to join the Application Lab, a central support unit for all researchers at Harz University, all without previous experience as RMA staff. Various external training opportunities were evaluated, but either regarded as not being suitable for the very start, expensive, or not yet adapted to a digital format. To provide hands-on knowledge right from the start, the Application Lab team decided to design and implement a unique in-house, modular and digital “onboarding masterclass” consisting of ten 45 to 90-minute lessons within one week. Each staff member prepared a training session on his/her specific field of expertise such as:

- Institutional knowledge: research & research support structures at the university
- Pre-Award Support / How to approach proposal writing
- Post-Award Support / Project Management
- National funding opportunities
- EU funding opportunities
- Budget calculation
- Science communication
- Transfer / Technology transfer

Attendees were encouraged to ask any question that came to mind and presentations were shared with them after the respective sessions. In addition, all new team members were assigned a “buddy” for the first months. Regular touchpoints allowed for exchange on certain topics but also helped to build trust and commitment.

As a result of the evaluation process, the format was rated as very suitable and insightful by all newcomers. From our point of view, the concept is “re-usable” and highly adaptable to other institutions. For its next edition, further content will be used to complement the sessions: In close cooperation with international partners, in the context of ADMIN project (2020-2022) we have developed a project management handbook for RMA newcomers covering a wide range of topics and offering a quiz for self-learning. We are fully aware that this approach takes a lot of time and effort to prepare and most training needs to be done “on the job” anyway, but when considering high fluctuation due to limited contracts and the aim to professionalise the RMA job, a dedicated onboarding proves to be a highly relevant task and will continue to do so.

In the session, we offer the opportunity to reflect on the following learning outcomes:
- Special emphasis on onboarding of new staff
- Evaluation of different approaches such as a “in-house onboarding week”, mentoring, external training opportunities such as EARMA Masterclass
- Using expertise and experience in your Research Office
- Using training material and involve external stakeholders if needed
- Online/offline: Make use of digital tools but also consider personal exchange