Labelling the expertise of STEMM research communication advisors
Research communication advisory roles are increasingly common in higher education, and they play an integral part in supporting, strengthening and augmenting the developmental work of academic supervisors in higher degree programs. Like many third space professional roles, however, the role is emergent and has not to date been well defined. This study sought to better articulate the role of a Research Communication Advisor (RCA), in particular for those working with higher degree by research (HDR) students in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM). Communication support provided for emerging STEMM researchers needs to take into account their varied entry pathways, their cultural and linguistic diversity, and their global mobility, along with different disciplinary expectations around the ways they communicate. STEMM HDR candidates are also facing increased pressure to publish during candidature, as well as meeting the usual final thesis writing requirements. To understand the ways that STEMM RCAs support this cohort, we surveyed practitioners in a range of Australian universities and profiled them in terms of the relationship between their professional expertise and their work. We identified three key areas of expertise – relational, pedagogical and contextual. Based on our analysis we recommend that STEMM RCAs’ roles be enhanced by the establishment of a network of professional practitioners to formalise professional guidelines and standards. Further, by making explicit RCAs’ professional practice, we highlight the value of investing in these roles as part of the strategic development of higher degree programs.