The term "PRISM" (Professional Research Investment and Strategy Manager) describes someone within the university or similar environments who is predominantly working to enable the delivery and growth of large research investments. PRISMs have a diverse range of positions and responsibilities and the term captures the role breadth and distinguishes them from the established roles of “Research Managers / Research Development Managers” who are often pre-award focused, and “Project Managers” who can be working to a clearly defined brief and focused on deliverables.
The current UK PRISM network
community consist of over 200 members from ~40 institutions. The majority of PRISM network members identify as female (90 %), are highly educated (50 % PhD, 20 % MSc), and have a significant amount of work experience (60 % > 11 years).
In a survey undertaken in 2021, 98 members of the recently established national PRISM network reported a wide range of different job titles, such as project manager, programme manager, network manager, centre manager (training centre / research centre), hub manager, institute manager, business manager, collaboration manager, knowledge exchange manager, and scientific manager.
Some PRISMs are also active researchers who undertake research enabling activities as part of their role. PRISM roles therefore span a large spectrum of expertise and experience with a broad range of job requirements, and can be grouped mainly as
- PRISM roles which require research expertise and an academic background;
- PRISM roles which require purely administrative, project management and operational skills.
The breadth of their skills and experiences enables them to navigate and utilise the various cultures to build communities within the research ecosystems they manage and lead in tandem with their academic counterparts. They effectively bring together the day-to-day operations, project work, and strategic growth activities.
The PRISM role, if developed and supported effectively, can add significant value to research and training investments, expanding them, and identifying and delivering new opportunities for researchers and institutions.
However, more than 75 % of the highly educated and experienced PRISM community members are employed on fixed term contracts (or 'open-ended' with fixed-term funding associated with their roles).
In an ever-growing interdisciplinary, multi-partner, research and innovation landscape, PRISM roles play a crucial part in the success of research teams. The PRISM remit spans a range of areas, including, external relationships and community management, specialist scientific/technical expertise, business development, project/finance/event/people/space management, PhD student training, pastoral duties, marketing and outreach/public engagement.
As such, PRISMs work across a range of specialist teams within their organisations, including industry/partner engagement services, research office, doctoral college, technical services, legal, press office, digital and marketing, library, estates, executive groups, etc., and of course the academic environments they are embedded in.
They manoeuver a wide range of stakeholder groups and their respective work cultures and pressures.
Breadth of knowledge, experience, and skills, alongside the ability to form strong networks bringing together all relevant expertise for a successful research team, are key to these roles.
PRISMs require, among other characteristics, high levels of analytical and strategic thinking, emotional intelligence, resilience, communication skills, as well as recognised leadership traits such as empathy and persuasiveness to enable successful research communities.
PRISM roles have significant growth potential, are dynamic and evolve with the success and needs of their research team. Yet, there are no development frameworks and pathways for progression and the majority of the highly skilled and experienced managers are employed on contracts subject to external funding.
The national PRISM community has highlighted 3 interlinked key challenges
around PRISM roles:
- Career progression & Professional development
- Recruitment & Job security
- Recognition & Belonging