A Q&A with our Senior Consultant, Andrea Chiarelli

By Lucia Loffreda, 02/04/2020.

Andrea joined Research Consulting in 2016, when he was completing his engineering PhD at the University of Nottingham, and has been with us ever since.

He has recently been promoted to Senior Consultant, and he focuses on projects in the areas of scholarly communication and university management. We thought this would be a good chance to get to know him better!

How did your past experiences and background lead you to Research Consulting?

I studied nuclear and energy engineering at the Polytechnic University of Turin (Italy), spent some time doing research at Virginia Tech (USA) and then completed a PhD in civil engineering at the University of Nottingham. As both Virginia Tech and the University of Nottingham are in the global top 200 universities, I was lucky enough to experience first-hand the similarities and differences in how leading institution conduct research and support their academic staff and students.

My role at Research Consulting was my first job after leaving academia. The opportunity to continue carrying out research, but in a completely different environment, was exciting: I made the decision to leave the world of numbers, equations and laboratory experiments to shift into a role dominated by qualitative insight.

My international experiences of academia led me to appreciating the importance of different perspectives, not only in research but also in management. Particularly, living in different countries made me reflect more on the principles of openness and sharing, which played a big role as I was growing up: I was always interested in the open source software movement, so taking my teenage interests a bit further only felt natural.

Initially, my work at Research Consulting tended to focus on open science-related topics, which is very much in line with the above values, but my interests then started broadening to include university management and strategy, too.

Following up on that, what are the values that drive you?

I think I am most driven by the values of generosity, cooperation and hard work. These feed into my conviction that our world needs more equality, a sense of (global) community and better access to resources and information. Universities, through the research they do and the impact it makes, really embody these values, which is what makes this work so interesting for me.

Andrea presenting the findings of our landscape review on preprints at FORCE2019.

Could you share some highlights from your recent work in the company?

One of the longest projects I’ve been leading on recently focused on the preprints landscape (see the photo above), and involved extensive research, a consultation with almost 40 international stakeholders in scholarly communication, a conference presentation and the preparation of an academic article. Although this might sound like a handful, it was a very enjoyable project, and our client, Knowledge Exchange, supported us with interesting insights and enthusiasm.

More recently, I’ve been supporting the University of Oxford in reviewing their research data management services and structures, which aim to deliver open and reproducible research. Once again, this is a wide-ranging consultation, led by the University’s IT Services, Research Services and the world-famous Bodleian Libraries and engaging stakeholders via interviews, focus groups, workshops and a survey. I’m working on this with my colleagues at Research Consulting, but also with some experienced associates, including Charles Beagrie and Tracey Clarke.

I think that, at this point, it isn’t difficult to guess that the projects I enjoy most are those where I get the chance to hear people’s needs and work to make sure these are heard by the right audiences. The consultation-based work we do gives me the unique chance to hear from disparate stakeholders in higher education, government, the private sector and more, and I truly enjoy the intellectual challenge of reconciling (or trying to!) different perspectives and positions.

Finally, I’d like to add that I’ve been contributing (although in a smaller capacity) to all sorts of other projects, including our review of DFID’s open access policy, the 2018 STM report and a benchmarking study of research contract functions in the UK and Australia.

Now, looking to the future, what are your professional goals at Research Consulting?

Both as a consultant and as an individual, I aim to continue learning from my colleagues and our clients alike. The type of work we pursue is ideal for that: I get to talk to a wide range of people, who offer their unique perspectives, conflicting needs and ambitious goals.

In terms of our areas of focus, I will continue supporting our clients in scholarly communication and university management. In addition, thanks to the Executive MBA I’ve been undertaking at Nottingham Business school, I am now better equipped to support our clients in terms of strategy review and development.

I will also be taking more responsibility for project delivery and play a more significant role in terms of organisational management and business development. Our company has been growing fast, which means that our approaches, management structures and project types are constantly evolving, while our ambition to make an impact continues to increase.

Last but not least, I will continue supporting and training our fantastic team, probably increasingly so as the remit of my role broadens.

What advice do you have for prospective applicants at Research Consulting?

We are a small but growing company. This means that, beyond our roles, we all have responsibilities that might rest with dedicated departments in larger organisations. For example, in addition to my consultancy role, I am responsible for making sure that our operations run smoothly, our project management system and workflows are tailored to our needs, and our facilities remain appropriate. In the recent past, this meant orchestrating our office redesign and reconfiguring some IT assets to enable the team to effectively work remotely in the context of the current global pandemic.

In terms of joining our team, you might find that we occasionally advertise full-time positions, but more commonly we take on interns (which is just how I started!). One of the first things people notice upon joining our team is that they have to be ready to take on any challenges that come their way, with a humble and proactive attitude. Our most successful interns have been quick learners and had good people skills. They were rewarded, as I still am, with ambitious, impactful and meaningful projects to work on, in a fast-paced and intellectually stimulating environment.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?

In my free time, I really enjoy coding, which is probably why I naturally took on the role of operations and IT manager alongside my consulting responsibilities. I have programmed some arcade videogames and started working on a website idea – however, my MBA has absorbed much of my free time. I am enjoying the learning experience and have connected with a number of great people during this course, but I do look forward to returning to my weekend coding!