International women’s day is always a great opportunity to pause and reflect on what some of our inspirational co-workers are doing and this year’s theme is no exception. They ask you to choose to challenge and that is exactly what a group of talented and motivated group of women have chosen to do within the project space across the University of Manchester and Christie Hospital. Within this ecosystem, there is a phenomenal amount of amazing research and brilliant science – what is often overlooked is the support structure that wraps around this and underpins the academics’ abilities to excel. A major part of this support structure is the hard work and focus of those working as project coordinators, project officers and project or programme managers. However, this is not a standalone profession within the university and as such tends to have non-specific line management, lack of defined career paths and little peer support available. This can lead to people feeling isolated, under-valued and with no clear direction of travel.

The amazing women who setup and now lead the cancer project managers’ network and the research project managers’ network decided that change was needed and they have chosen to challenge. Charlie-Stockton-Powdrell, Suzanne Carter and Sara Wapling co-chair the Research Project Managers’ Network (RPMN) which brings huge benefits to its 200+ members by providing a peer network and sense of belonging to people in roles that may be more isolated and otherwise lack the peer support, mentoring and general awareness of training and job opportunities. As part of this, Charlie led on formulating the development framework which has ensured there is a focus for people in project/programme management roles in terms of training and development needs.  The Cancer Research Project Managers’ Network comprises programme managers, project managers and project coordinators who are supporting academics and/ or clinical academics to deliver cancer research. The network consists of University, Christie, MFT and CRUK Manchester Institute project managers. The network, led by Emma Thorpe, Kate Vaughan and Rebecca Elliot, aims to encourage principal investigators (PIs) to recruit people into a professional support role that meets their needs. The network is aimed at grant funded project/programme managers/coordinators in higher education institutions (HEI) or the NHS who are often aligned with a single PI or research theme, working across organisations. There are over 40 members of the network at present.

The two networks are now working on an ambitious strategy for the cancer research project managers network that embodies the Team Science Ethos being driven by the Manchester Cancer Research Centre and recognises the added value that the PMs bring to an academic’s research. The ultimate aim being to empower PM staff to shout about their skills which can be leveraged in many ways to enhance research impact, value and delivery. To drive this forward and ensure permanent change, they are working with Vikki Goddard (Director of Faculty Operations, FBMH) around how we actually go about implementing change and by making line management structures more appropriate, provide better career development opportunities and generally ensuring that anyone working in a project based role has a clear understanding and support for where they are and where they want to go. You can read more information about these fabulous women below. Read their bios, be inspired and then decide – what will you choose to challenge?

Whilst this is an article about International Women’s day, our networks are fully inclusive and provide, share and receive support from all of our members.

We asked Charlie, Emma, Rebecca, Kate and Suzanne to briefly tell us about themselves, including what gets them out of bed and what is their superpower…. Their stories will follow 🙂