Veronica Cunningham– Research Administrator
What section and service area do you work in?
Research Office, Corporate Services with responsibility for Financial Project Administration of research projects funded by the Marine Institute under the National Development Plan (NDP).
Third level qualifications and career development
I completed my Diploma in Business Studies at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology before taking up a position in the Finance Office at King’s College London. After a year, a role became available in the Research Grants Office, which oversaw the university’s research funding resources. I had not previously considered a career in research administration but I absolutely loved the diversity of my daily work and value of the office to the university. The university decided to set up KCL Enterprises, a private company to manage and exploit its research resources, and I worked with that company for eight years. An opportunity arose in a new area for me - IT financial services - and I joined a company, Synertec Limited that provided documentation handling to organisations for three years. I really enjoyed working with this progressive company; like the Marine Institute they knew how to use technology to support the work of their staff. I then decided to return to Ireland, and after a two-year period with the out-of-hours GP service West Doc, I took up my current position in the Marine Institute.
What are your main responsibilities?
My role is very mixed as I work with a wide variety of researchers, staff within the Marine Institute and other stakeholders. My key tasks for financial and project administration include processing claims from researchers, requesting payments, producing reports for various agencies, government departments and Marine Institute staff, and reviewing final reports. I work closely with a number of third level institutions that support marine-based undergraduate and postgraduate studies, and numerous government departments and other funding agencies.
The Research Office currently provides administration and financial support to 23 projects such as NDP funded PhD scholarships, Post-Doctoral Fellowships and the Beaufort Marine Awards; the office also assists with the Marine Institute’s Ship-Time Program. One project that the Marine Institute supports is NutraMara -The Marine Functional Foods Research Initiative and part of my job is provide reports to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on these projects. We also work with the BMW Regional Assembly on a number of projects at National University of Ireland, Galway and the Marine Institute that are co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, which requires careful time-management as researchers report to the Marine Institute and in turn, the Marine Institute reports to the ERDF via the BMW Regional Assembly.
What are the most interesting aspects of your job?
I enjoy assisting researchers with administration tasks, like submitting claims and completing reports, so that they can concentrate on their research! Sometimes a research project has to be extended or a researcher may need support to complete the required reports at the end of a project; I try to help as much as possible. I often work with the same staff over the course of a project, which is a brilliant way to learn about interesting research and to develop relationships with researchers. I know that networking is such an essential part of working in the marine sector so working on the ‘Networking Initiative’ grants that allow PhD and post-doctoral students to attend international conferences is fantastic. It is great to see so many early career researchers supported by the Marine Institute.
Why do you think the work of Marine Institute is so important?
The role of the Marine Institute in food monitoring and helping to preserve our marine resources for tourism, the economy and our heritage is hugely important. I also think that the Marine Institute’s Outreach Education Programme, Explorers, and Follow-the-fleet, are great ways to get children interested in marine science.
What are your best career tips for someone in your area?
Be open to exploring all options that may come available to you! Career paths are rarely straight forward so it is important to investigate a wide range of roles and sectors that you can apply your skills and experiences to. In my position with the Research Office in King’s College London, I was involved with Physical Sciences, Nursing and Humanities. Learning how to balance these very different research disciplines is an invaluable skill that I use in the Marine Institute every day. For anyone interested in a career in finance or accounting, I suggest considering research administration; it combines key financial and administration skills in a very diverse environment. I also think it is important to train and up skill as much as possible.