The Technical Review Committee (TRC) of the International Professional Recognition Council (IPRC) is working through twenty-six applications that were submitted during the last call for professional recognition of research managers and administrators. Each application is reviewed by three members of the TRC. The outcome of the following two applicants, both SARIMA members, were recently finalised, and they were awarded Professional Research Management (RMP) status. SARIMA is very proud of their achievements and the IPRC Secretariat, hosted by SARIMA, asked them a few questions to get to know them better.
Thokozile Mashaah (RMP)
Deputy Director of the Research Support Centre (RSC) in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Zimbabwe
Adelaide Topodzi (RMP)
Finance and Administration Manager at the Clinical Research Center at the Africa University in Zimbabwe
How will you summarise research management in less than six words?
Thokozile: The engine to a research ecosystem.
Adelaide: Creating the optimal environment for research.
What motivated you to apply for RMP status?
Thokozile: I have always wanted to get certified in research management, especially also given that I had no formal academic training. However, when the first call was made, I did not have the funding to cover the fees so I just kind of shelved it. A close colleague of mine, Mandla Tirivavi, applied and was certified. She encouraged me to apply during the second call and I requested for financial support from my institution. The process was not easy as you had to provide evidence for your contributions and achievements but Mandla supported me all the way.
Adelaide: My colleague, Mandla Tirivavi, applied, and I loved the way she was so involved as a Research Management Professional and I realised I definitely needed to apply as well. This would really help me in my career.
How do you think will professional recognition benefit your career journey?
Thokozile: I think the certification will propel my growth in my career. I feel that this will help me move faster as I climb the ladder in research management. This of course should come with better benefits, wider networking opportunities, increased recognition, amongst others. This is because the validates my commitment to research management.
Adelaide: It demonstrates milestones I have reached in my career and I see it as a measure of my competence, which my peers can also recognise. It gives me greater influence within my organisation and with stakeholders, especially funders, and it also gives me an opportunity to connect with peers who are professionally recognised and with prominent people in the research and research
management sector. Because I am recognised individually, it will give me improved career opportunities and salary prospects as well. In a nutshell, I would say it demonstrates my expertise, builds my personal brand, inspires confidence and trust, helps me stay current and relevant and uphold ethical values of a research management professional.
What do you find most rewarding and most challenging about working in research management?
Thokozile: I guess for me the most rewarding aspect was seeing our ‘baby’ (the RSC) growing. We have moved from managing only one grant to 31 grants in 2022. This is a huge achievement. We had to go into an aggressive drive of encouraging faculty to apply for grants and giving them all the support they needed, and every time we were awarded it was a huge confidence booster for us and our fellow faculty members. I feel that this is the most rewarding aspect of research management, seeing a smile on the face of our clients and knowing that I am contributing to the betterment of humanity when the project is subsequently implemented. The journey was not easy and I think that is the most challenging bit, encouraging faculty to respond to grant calls and also motivating them to continue even when they are unsuccessful. Another challenge is that the work is so overwhelming at times especially if you are supporting proposal development for several faculty members at the same time. This means long working hours affecting work life balance.
Adelaide: I love putting systems in place. I get my greatest satisfaction from seeing a system I have designed working and training people to use it. I loved setting up the financial team and system at Africa University and being involved in writing the research management policies and procedures manual. The most challenging bit is trying to get researchers to adhere to financial procedures. Most of them don’t understand why there is a need for most of the procedures anyway and it takes a lot of training and engagement to make them understand these procedures protect them also and they are not there just to frustrate them.
Give us a glimpse of your career journey
Thokozile: After completing my Bachelor’s degree in Geography at the University of Zimbabwe, I was a high school teacher in Geography and English for two years. I resigned to pursue my Master’s in Population Studies. Whilst doing my Master’s project, I was recruited as a Statistician/Demographer and later moved to a regional NGO. I moved into the research management environment in 2011 when I joined a National Institute of Health Medical Education Partnership Initiative that was being implemented at the University of Zimbabwe in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. I really did it know what I was getting into, as that was my first taste of research management. During the same period, the RSC was being established at the faculty as a pilot project. I was placed in the RSC as a Grants Administrator, assisting in mainly pre-award processes and training. Later on in 2015, I was promoted to Deputy Director. With the support of my mentors who are passionate about research management, i.e. my Director Professor Exnevia Gomo and the late Professor James Hakim, I was offered opportunities to be trained in research management through NIH grants, SARIMA, SRA International and INORMS conferences. I was also provided the opportunity to visit Stanford University as an Extramural Associate of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver NICHD under the Biomedical/Biobehavioral Research Administration Development (BRAD) G11 program (2012-2017) and recently participated in the International Research Management Staff Development Programme (IRMSDP). All these platforms of learning cemented my interest and passion for research management.
Adelaide: My first job was as a cashier at Spar Supermarket. I then applied to train with Ernst and Young Chartered Accountants Zimbabwe and started my articles in 2010. The journey included obtaining a bachelor of Honours in Accounting with the University of South Africa (UNISA), doing two post graduate diplomas and writing two board exams. I qualified as a Chartered Accountant in February 2022. During my training, I was exposed to several Universities and Non-Governmental Organisations who were doing research and programming funded by international funders such as the NIH, USAID, UNICEF, etc. I joined Africa University as a Grants Manager at the Clinical Research Center and was assigned to provide financial management and support to all grants that the University is awarded on behalf of the Office of Research and Innovation to separate grants funding from other university funds. In 2022, I was awarded professional recognition through the IPRC and was certified as a Financial Research Administrator through the Research Administration Certification Council in the United States.