A helping hand
The work Teagasc’s Research Support Team does to assist researchers in their funding needs and reduce their administrative burden plays an integral part in Teagasc’s success.
Research support is a vital function for researchers. At Teagasc, our researchers benefit from a research support team that is different from others. Covering the full spectrum of research activity, the team operates as a one-stop shop for researchers who want to apply for funding.
Making up the team is Head of Research Support Raymond Kelly, Research Support Executive Administrator Philomena Haughney, Senior Research Officer Órlaith Ní Choncubhair, Research Officer Ridhdhi Rathore and Research Support Administrator Siobhan McDermott.
The team may be small, but its impact is big. It provides clarity on funding agency rules, assist in making connections for researchers internally and externally, endorse proposals on behalf of Teagasc and look after contracts and collaboration agreements for projects. This frees up researchers’ time, allowing them to focus on the proposals themselves and helping to increase their success rate.
And that’s not all. The team is also involved in other activities, including contributing to national and European research policy, leading European research coordination projects and running a fellowship programme cofunded by the EU. This additional activity contributes to the overall research ecosystem in Ireland and the EU, and increases Teagasc’s profile. Crucially, it gives the team a better perspective on the entire research funding landscape, which allows them to perform their primary task – assisting researchers – more effectively.
To find out more about this impressive team and the work they do, we spoke with Raymond, Philomena, Órlaith and Ridhdhi.
When was Teagasc’s Research Support Team officially established?
Raymond: Teagasc used to have administrative officers in each location, who provided support for the financial parts of research applications. However, there was no dedicated resource to assist researchers in applying for funding or managing the contracts that go with funded projects, which meant researchers had to figure out many aspects for themselves.
When Teagasc Director Frank O’Mara joined the organisation in 2006 as Assistant Director for Agriculture Research, he streamlined a number of mechanisms to support researchers. I then joined shortly after in 2008 as the first member of the official Research Support Team.
How has the team’s scope grown since then?
Philomena: The initial idea was that our team would assist with applications, but that soon expanded to managing contracts and collaboration agreements that arise from successful applications. Over time, we also started to provide more support to the director of research for input to national and European research policy.
Órlaith: We also lead European projects and consortia ourselves. We have just wrapped up the leadership of a six-year network of European funders that ran funding calls in the area of greenhouse gases in agriculture and forestry, known as FACCE ERA-GAS. That network funded 27 projects worth €37 million across four continents. And excitingly, we have just been awarded funding to lead a €4 million project that will support the work of the European Commission’s Standing Committee on Agriculture Research (SCAR).
Ridhdhi: Another funding call we run is a €5 million programme for post-doctoral research fellows called Research Leaders 2025. This allows researchers to spend 18 months outside of Ireland at top research organisations worldwide, followed by an 18-month return phase in Ireland.
What are the core values of your team?
Philomena: One of our main values is that we are focused on our primary customers – the researchers within Teagasc. Our job is to make the process of applying for funding as smooth as possible for them, while also protecting Teagasc’s interests.
Órlaith: We try to be innovative when finding new opportunities and collaborators for our researchers, adapting our operational practices to best serve staff.
Ridhdhi: Integrity is also very important to us. We are committed to honesty, sincerity and fairness in every facet of our work.
Raymond: As head of the team, I have always tried to foster a sense of teamwork. We all support each other and share the workload when needed.
How does Teagasc benefit from your work?
Raymond: Within the team, we have experience across the full range of research funding activity – from writing research agendas to managing the contracts and collaboration agreements that govern funded projects. This breadth of experience puts us in a better position to assist Teagasc researchers in securing funding to conduct the research that is core to Teagasc’s mission. It also allows Teagasc to contribute to the wider research ecosystem at a national and European level.
What are some recent achievements your team has contributed to?
Ridhdhi: In 2011, the total funding Teagasc secured was €9.6 million. In 2021, the total funding secured was €26.2 million. This success is primarily due to the hard work of Teagasc researchers, but we hope that we have also contributed to the increase in funding secured.
Philomena: We have also run a research images competition over the past five years. This has led to the production of a calendar every year and we now have a bank of images that can be used by Teagasc for promotion. We even held an exhibition of the images at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s head office.
Órlaith: Over the course of the European Commission’s research and innovation funding programme Horizon 2020 (2014 to 2021), Teagasc was ranked sixth of all applicant organisations in terms of projects awarded in Societal Challenge 2, which deals with food, agriculture and the bioeconomy. In Horizon Europe, the successor to Horizon 2020, Teagasc is already ranked sixth for both the number of projects awarded and value of funding awarded in Cluster 6, which is focused on food, bioeconomy, agriculture and the environment.
What are the challenges your team faces?
Raymond: The breadth of activities are our strength in that they allow us to see the full picture of research funding; however, it is challenging to maintain such a wide remit. We have to make sure that we continue to prioritise work and to act strategically.
Ridhdhi: Another challenge we face comes from the continuously changing national and EU research priorities and strategies that are needed to address emerging societal, economic and environmental challenges. In order to support this change, funding calls are also evolving.
Keeping ourselves up to date with funding calls’ rules and research policies, and finding a way to marry these changes with Teagasc’s research activities, is the key challenge. However, this is the beauty of this area of work.
How does trying to secure national funding compare to international funding?
Órlaith: National funding programmes are informed by developments at EU and international level; however, they are tailored to the national context – our economic and political system, our most pressing societal and environmental issues, promising opportunities for development and our research ecosystem. This means that the scope of funding calls may differ from national to international level.
When applying for international funding, researchers have to find commonalities between partners operating in different geographical regions and diverse agricultural, food and forestry systems in order to create a cohesive project plan.
Have you noticed any trends or changes in funding processes over the years?
Raymond: Soon after I started at Teagasc, Ireland faced economic difficulties and the government prioritised applied research that would deliver impact for the economy and society. This focus fitted very well with Teagasc’s remit. Over time, the national position has broadened, and the current national strategy refers to the full spectrum of basic and applied research.
However, given the centrality of climate change and food security as the key challenges of our time, I think that Teagasc is well placed to successfully attract funding at an Irish and European level in the years ahead.
What advice do you have for researchers looking to secure funding?
Órlaith: Tailor your application carefully to the specific funding programme and its aims and desired impacts, and take into account the policy context. Start preparations early and seek input or advice from colleagues, myself and the wider Research Support Team and other Teagasc offices.
Ridhdhi: I would add that you should build your network of collaborators. For early-career researchers, it is OK to start with a relatively small role in projects as you are building your reputation. If you contribute to the project, you will have an opportunity to join the next proposal with greater involvement, and soon enough, you will have the opportunity to lead projects. Also, consider signing up as an evaluator. It is an invaluable experience in understanding the review process.
In good company
What is your favourite part of your role?
Raymond: I love the variety of the role and the opportunity to contribute to national and European policy.
Philomena: For me it’s helping and supporting colleagues, knowing that you are making things easier for researchers to carry out their projects.
Orlaith: My favourite part is when a connection we have made between researchers and external partners results in a lasting and successful collaboration.
Ridhdhi: I like that this role offers me the chance to see a variety of research proposals and research ideas pitched in innovative ways.
Siobhan: I enjoy assisting researchers with administration tasks and liaising with Teagasc colleagues and external collaborators in the review of agreements.
The Research Support Team has directly been awarded €1.1 million of Horizon Europe funding in the last six months.
[pic cap] L-R: Research Support Team members Ridhdhi Rathore, Órlaith Ní Choncubhair, Siobhan McDermott, Raymond Kelly and Philomena Haughney
Team members all support each other in their roles