Before launching his own consultancy in 2021, Simon Kerridge worked as a research manager in UK academia. “We’re the oil in the cogs,” he says of the role, adding: “Obviously, it’s a service profession, but we have to be careful not to be subservient.”

But how empowered do research managers and administrators based in other countries feel, particularly those working in nations with rigid hierarchies, or where the profession is less established?

Allen Mukhwana leads ReMPro Africa, a research management professional developement programme based in Nairobi. Some professors don't understand why a “lowly research manager” has the audacity to stop their study for ethical or regulatory reasons, she says. “They feel that research managers and administrators are adding extra layers of bureaucracy to their research.”

Tadashi Sugihara, a research manager at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan, says a Japanese government scheme to develop the research manager role envisaged that postholders would have a PhD, as he has. Having a doctorate can help build trust between administrators and academic staff as the “customer”, he adds.

Kerridge says the research management career pathway is most established in the US, with perhaps three generations from the same family joining the profession. Meeting a project proposal deadline or collaborating on a successful grant application at a research-intensive institution, he adds, will often result in a bottle of wine or box of chocolates from an appreciative researcher. But the pressure on them to increase their research income often results in huge power dynamics, says Kerridge, with instances of “ outright bullying” and unreasonably tight deadlines to submit projects.

Team Science is a six-part Working Scientist podcast series, a collaboration between Nature Careers and Nature Index, and is sponsored by Western Sydney University. This third episode, and others in the series, concludes with a section looking at how it is helping to champion team science.