Introducing Antonija: A Closer Look at Her Role as a Project Manager at RISE
Antonija is a Project Manager at RISE, where she manages two projects aimed at Health and Quantum topics. She has a background in political science, which gives her a unique perspective on project management. In this blog post, Antonija shares her insights on the challenges and rewards of being a project manager, as well as her tips for staying organized and keeping projects on track. She also discusses her experience working with different types of organizations, and why she is passionate about bridging the gap between academia, research organizations, and industry. Whether you are a project manager yourself or you are interested in learning more about the profession, this blog post is a must-read.
Could you describe to us what are the tasks of a project manager and how does your typical day look?
As a project manager, I am responsible for the smooth running of two projects. This involves a wide range of tasks, from communicating with consortium members and coordinating the preparation of reports, to ensuring that all activities are implemented within budget and on time. I also work closely with communication managers and research and innovation managers to ensure that the projects are well-publicized and that their findings are disseminated effectively. In my work, it’s important to be able to work under pressure, think ahead and come up quickly with solutions for unexpected issues. Despite my solid experience in project management, I am always trying to be more organized and resourceful and I am committed to ensuring that the projects I work on have a positive impact on society.
Project management requires strong organizational skills. Could you share some of your favorite tools or techniques that help you stay organized and keep projects on track?
I'm afraid I don't have any fancy recommendations. A good old notebook is still the most efficient tool for me. I like to write things down, highlight them, and mark specific "chapters" to make it easier to find my way around. I've been doing this since elementary school, and some habits are hard to break. I also keep some urgent reminders on my phone. I've used different types of project management tools in my work, and although they're usually helpful, they can take a long time to set up and may require the cooperation of all team members to maintain, which can be difficult. It's also important to "clean up" and organize your computer folders every now and then so that you don't waste time searching for something when you need it.
Can you share with us a project from your past experience that you're particularly proud of?
At my previous workplace, I managed a project called the Dubrovnik International Mining School, which was funded by EIT Raw Materials. The main output of the project was a short mining course for international mining students and early-stage researchers from Eastern and Southeastern Europe. The five-day course in Dubrovnik was packed with lectures, workshops, and social activities, and sometimes attracted up to 70 participants. This required careful planning, coordination of the educational program, promotion and marketing, communication with lecturers and participants, as well as with the hosting venue.
The upgraded project, subtitled "Implementing Innovations," focused on a three-day innovation workshop for raw materials professionals and engineers. I worked on five editions of the Dubrovnik school/workshop altogether, being the main contact person but also doing significant background work. I learned a lot from the experience, and it was rewarding to see such a direct and tangible result of my hard work. I was also pleased to know that the participants enjoyed the course. One of the additional outputs of the project was a publication on the development of a lifelong learning course for increasing the innovativeness of raw materials professionals. The publication described the initial aims, context, and methodology that led to the creation and growth of this unique project.
You mentioned your background in political science. How has this unique perspective influenced your approach to project management, especially in the context of RISE's mission to empower innovation ecosystems in Widening countries and the EU13?
Political scientists like to say that even if you're not interested in politics, politics is interested in you. Although my current projects are not directly related to political science, I can still gain insights into the influence of different socio-political factors on projects in a broader sense. For example, I have learned how much particular governments support research and innovation in their country, how certain regulatory practices or levels of stakeholder and citizen engagement in some countries reflect their general attitudes towards a healthy society, ethics in research, competitiveness in innovation, and so on. I have even noticed how geopolitics can influence decisions related to scientific collaborations or the sharing of results, which proves that science is indeed entangled with politics.
All of our projects have economic and societal impacts, and they aim to influence policymakers in one way or another. Therefore, it is important to understand the comparative context in which we are working. This is why I am glad to participate in RISE's activities aimed at building capacity and strengthening research and innovation in widening countries. Recently, I had the opportunity to hear some good practice examples from certain widening countries on how they have increased their level of engagement and success in Horizon Europe projects. This can be attributed not only to their economic situation, but also to their political mindset. In these countries, there is a common understanding of the importance of innovation, research, and scientific collaboration, and their governments are willing to support these activities with policies and funding. Croatia shares some contextual similarities and challenges with these countries, which is why it is important to establish cooperation and knowledge transfer.
Could you tell us about a specific collaboration or partnership you've been involved in at RISE that highlights the importance of bridging the gap between academia, research organizations, and industry for innovation and competitiveness?
Both of my projects involve different types of institutions, from universities and research institutes to SMEs and large companies. This is particularly notable in my quantum project, which has 28 partners. This can be quite challenging for a project manager, as you need to take into account that each institution has different regulatory frameworks, levels of complexity, and flexibility to certain project requirements. Some will be able to provide you with requested documents or information very quickly, while for others it will be a complex procedure. However, this diversity of institutions is also very useful for scientific collaboration. Progress in innovation and research requires both the standardized and closely regulated research that comes from universities, as well as the innovative potential, entrepreneurial mindset, and flexible approach to new techniques that comes from companies.
In your role as Project Manager at RISE, what are some of the most challenging aspects of your job?
The biggest challenge is probably juggling between two or more projects, especially when important events or milestones coincide. You always have to be one step ahead in planning and engaging your partners, anticipating risks or delays, and keeping the bigger picture in mind while also performing many daily tasks. You also have to meet the expectations of your role from multiple stakeholders. As a project manager, you want to be involved in all aspects of the project, including financial, legal, and scientific matters. However, you are unlikely to be an expert in all of these areas. You often have to wear many hats and do a little bit of everything at once. Some consortium partners may expect you to know more about their scientific topic, while others may see you only as an administrator. Furthermore, a significant part of our work involves communicating with the scientists in the consortium, keeping them aware of deadlines, and asking for their input on various strategies and plans. We need to do this while also being mindful of the fact that they are extremely busy with their day-to-day work, research, and teaching. This means finding a balance between proactively engaging them and not overwhelming them with reminders, tasks, and extra work that is unrelated to science.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Simply put, I like to feel useful. It's great to be a part of scientific teams that are doing groundbreaking work, trying to invent new methods or products. I enjoy helping them to organize and stay focused on our common goal. I also enjoy working with people from different backgrounds and personalities, especially in face-to-face meetings, which usually boost our team spirit. I may not learn much about quantum physics at the end of the day, but I still enjoyed meeting quantum scientists, listening to their discussions, and learning how they get things done. I am also gaining knowledge in other fields, such as finance, law, and ethics, by collaborating on these issues. This job requires versatility and openness to challenges, but it also rewards you with many new experiences and perspectives.