Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Lab Food Chain

Research Ethics Committees: Help or Hindrance?

UCL are holding a two day conference examining the work of university research ethics committees. It will take place on 12 and 13 November 2009.
While ethics committees are now a familiar feature of research institutions especially within the NHS, academic work on their role, remit and function is still in its infancy. The theme for the conference is how effective ethics committees are in reducing risks to subjects of research without over-burdening researchers with bureaucracy.
More details available here.

'We Do the R Better than the D' - Mandelson

Peter Mandelson has used his speech at the Labour Conference to outline his vision of the future of university research and development.
“I want to see an innovation nation. Science is one of the jewels in the crown of Labour’s years in office. And we want closer links between businesses and universities so that good ideas don’t stop at the research lab or the library door,” He said. “We’re one of the world’s biggest investors in research and development. But we still do the R better than the D and that must change.”

EPSRC Launch Impact Website

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has launched a new website, 'Impact World'. The Council is strongly pushing the Impact agenda, with pages for 'Case Studies' and their 'Campaign' to 'reach out to new audiences to communicate the impact that our research has on the world around us and show the public why engineering and the physical sciences are vital for our future.' The site is available here.
Elsewhere, the Chief Exec of EPSRC, David Delpy was interviewed by the Times, and stressed the importance of Impact, but also of the long term and speculative nature of research. “I’d think we were successful if 60 per cent of the research we fund fails,” he says. “If we are funding what we should, which is adventurous, speculative research, then there will be failures.”

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

'Sell, Baby, Sell'

Dan Stern, a PR man writing in the THE, suggests that academics need to fully engage with what the market wants. 'In order to succeed, you are going to have to learn to relate your research to the outside world. Put on your lipstick, do your hair and go out and sell, baby, sell. The innovation system demands that communication takes place throughout the life cycle of the project and beyond.'
The full article is available here. Sceptical comments follow.

'Open' Directors of Research Network Meeting: Ref Consultation

There will be a Directors of Research Network Meeting open to all staff on Monday 12 October 2009 at 10am, to discuss the proposals contained in the Ref Consultation paper (see this post). All welcome; venue to be confirmed.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Mammoth Trap

'The Research Excellence Framework is starting to ask what sorts of curiosity our culture can afford, and that scares me even more than the demise of the silly survey because it strikes at the heart of what it means to be civilised, to have instincts other than survival. If academic endeavour had always been vetted in advance for practicality, we wouldn't have the aeroplane or the iPhone, just a better mammoth trap.'
More from David Mitchell in the Observer on the Ref here. Thanks to Gill for highlighting this.


The ESRC, together with the MRC and a clutch of government departments, have launched a funding initiative for an interdisciplinary research group on 'subjective wellbeing', or 'happiness or life satisfaction as reported by individuals,' and how this relates to public policy. The turnaround on this is tight: they want expressions of interest by 16 Oct. However, this need only be a one page summary. Funds of up to £4.4 million (at 100 per cent full economic costing, at current prices) are available over a five year period. More detail here

Marie Curie: Applications Up 40%

Away from RCUK, other funders are feeling the pressure of increased applications. The European Commission's Marie Curie individual fellowships, which closed on 18 Aug, have received 40% more applications. UKRO are reporting that success rates are likely to tumble.

Friday, 25 September 2009

'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself'

The Times Higher recently analysed Research Council success rates, and the news was not good. For the first time success rates have fallen to 23%, with the AHRC and ESRC bottom of the pile at 19%.
It’s easy to be dispirited by this. However, success rates only tell a partial story. If your research is good, your case compelling, and your application well framed it is much more likely that you will be funded.
This is shown by some big wins from the very Councils holding up the bottom of the success rate league:

  • Jeremy Carrette (Secl—Religious Studies) has just been awarded £450,000 (TBC) from the AHRC for a project on Religious Non-Governmental Organizations and the United Nations in New York and Geneva;
  • Caroline Rooney (English) and Anne Hammerstad (PolIR) got 2 of only 14 fellowships made by the ESRC in their ’Global Uncertainties’ Programme. Caroline’s award was £274k, and Anna’s was £162k. Programmes are notoriously hard to succeed in, so this is a great achievement.

And it’s not just good news at RCUK. Jim Mansell (Tizard) and Ann Netten (PSSRU) are part of a successful consortium that established a £15m School for Social Care Research (SSCR). Jim and Ann are due to receive £1.1m each from the NHS for their part in the SSCR.

So be brave: Research Services are ready to help with your applications to ensure that they stand every chance of bucking the success rates.

Brace for Impact

‘Social and Economic Impact’ has become a key factor in funding research. Applicants to the Research Councils now have to explain the wider impact of their research, and Hefce has announced its intention to consider impact as part of the forthcoming Ref (see post, below).
However, this does not mean that you should change the research you do. Instead, you should think about how your research affects the wider world. So, when working on Research Council applications, bear in mind four points:

Broad definition
Think broadly about the potential effects of your research: ‘impact’ can include cultural, economic, health, social, environmental, and legal effects of your research.

Think about your research from a more general perspective: what the Councils are really looking for are potential ‘case studies’ or ‘stories’ that can be used by them to justify their funding to government and the public.

Long term
Think about the long term impact of your research: The Research Councils recognise that it sometimes takes a long time for a project to have impact (an MRC/Wellcome study suggested that the average time lag is 17 years).

‘Due diligence’
Finally, what the Councils really want is reassurance that you have applied ‘due diligence’ to considering the ‘Impact’ of your research. Your Impact Plan should demonstrate this.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Dual Support System Under Threat?

The Business Secretary Peter Mandelson has announced a review of HE funding to cut back on overlaps. There's no more detail yet, but the fear is that the Dual Support System is under threat. The government has been under pressure to cut what are seen as costly quangos.
Apparently BIS, Hefce and RCUK were caught off guard by Mandelson's remarks, and none have commented.
Would a review be a bad thing? Not necessarily, but it depends on what is provided as a replacement to Dual Support. The fear is that, in the current economic climate, government will be looking to fund less rather than more. We'll watch with interest...

Ref Consultation Document Published

Hefce have published a consultation paper on the successor to the RAE, the Research Excellence Framework (Ref). ‘Impact’ is going to play a large part in the assessment, and the number of units of assessment have been drastically cut. A summary of the proposals is reported in Research Fortnight , and the full consultation can be seen here.