Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Wellcome's 10 Year Plan Published

Wellcome's mustachioed head-honcho Mark Walport outlined the Trust's 10 year plan yesterday. Based around 5 challenges, the plan is intended to give scientists plenty of time to develop solutions.

"We face many serious challenges, including ageing populations, the threat of global climate change and the emergence of new diseases”, said Walport. The full list consists of:


  • Maximising the health benefits of genetics and genomics: Understanding how genes affect our health and disease to develop new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent illness.

  • Understanding the brain: Exploring how the billions of nerves in the brain allow us to think, learn and remember, so that we can find new approaches to treating mental illness and neurological disorders such as stroke, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

  • Combating infectious disease: Examining the link between infectious disease in animals and humans to develop new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the bacterial, viral and parasitic diseases that kill millions of people worldwide every year.

  • Investigating development, ageing and chronic disease: Understanding how the human body develops, functions and ages, so that we can tackle the growing burden of chronic disease across the world.

  • Connecting environment, nutrition and health: Developing new initiatives to examine critical issues such as malnutrition and obesity, and the health impacts of climate change and population migration.
Walport went on: “The Wellcome Trust is extraordinarily well positioned to give researchers the freedom and security to pursue the questions that will provide answers to these challenges. But scientific discoveries – and their application to patient benefit - take time, and that is why we are setting out our plans for the next decade."
More detail is available here.

New Head of ERC Announced

Not sure of the transparency of the process with this, but the Vice-President of the ERC and Vice-Chair of the Scientific Council has been 'elected unanimously' by the self same Scientific Council to be the next President of the ERC. Professor Nowotny (for it is she) is Professor Emeritus of Social Sciences at ETH Zurich, and Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board of Vienna University. She replaces Professor Fotis Kafatos, who will remain as a member of the Scientific Council. And, faster than you can say 'nepotistic', Prof Kafatos has been proposed as Honorary President of the ERC.
Whoever said the EC was all about jobs for the boys? It's jobs for the girls too!

JISC Open for Business Again

Apologies for the week-long gap in updates on this site: I was called to do jury service. Now I'm back in the office and trawling through emails and updates. The first that caught my eye was this:

In January the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) had put a number of calls on hold, whilst it waited to hear from HEFCE as to how exactly the Funding Council would cut £130m from its budget. Now JISC has announced that the previously announced managing research data grant funding call and strand two of its developing community content grant funding call will go ahead. More details here.

Monday, 15 February 2010

STFC: Committee & Panel Vacancies

A number of vacancies have arisen for outstanding individuals to become members of STFC's Committees and Panels, as listed below.
The vacancies have arisen, or will be arising, due to the normal rotation of membership on:
Science Board - 3 vacancies
The Particle Physics, Astronomy and Nuclear Physics Science Committee (PPAN) - 4 vacancies
The Physical and Life Sciences Science Committee (PALS) - 3 vacancies
The Projects Peer Review Panel (PPRP) - 8 vacancies
The Nuclear Physics Grants Panel (NPGP) - 2 vacancies
The Particle Physics Grants Panel (PPGP)
Theoretical - 2 vacancies
Experimental - 2 vacancies
The CERN Fellowship Panel
The Science in Society Advisory Panel (SiS) - 2 vacancies
The Education, Training and Careers Committee (ETCC) - 4 vacancies
If you wish to nominate yourself or a colleague please complete our online form.
The closing date for these posts is Monday 22nd March 2010. More detail on their website.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

PVC's Lunchtime Seminars: 'Flesh and the Body'

Patricia Debney, a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing based in the School of English, will be taking the helm for the next PVC’s Lunchtime Seminars. She will be leading a discussion on ‘Flesh and the Body’, and in particular focusing on illness and ideas of 'normality': how do we understand and negotiate them in their social, cultural, artistic and medical contexts? She will also explore notions of physical 'difference' more generally, in both its visible and invisible forms. How do society, culture and individuals understand and incorporate ‘difference’?

As always, the panel and the audience will be made up of a wide range of academics from across all faculties who will be able to input into the discussion. All are welcome, but I’d appreciate letting me know if you intend to come so we can sort out the catering.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

A Closer Look at ERC Award Figures

I had a look at the ERC awards page yesterday. It made interesting reading. In the three rounds they have stats for (two Starting Researcher, one Advanced), there were 136 Fellowships based at UK universities. 70% of these were at Russell Group universities, 14% went to 94 Group universities, 7% went to small specialist centres (such as MRC institutes or Cancer Research centres), leaving the remaining 9% (or 12 awards) to be split between the 100 or so other universities in the UK, including Strathclyde and Portsmouth, who have a respectable 2 a piece.
I'll have a pint of whatever they're drinking...

Research Escapes the Cut

Last week it was announced that teaching would bear the brunt of the major cutbacks to the 2010-11 higher education budget. HEFCE stated that research funding will be increased by £32 million in the year ahead to just over £1.6 billion, a 2% increase on last year - i.e. a flat settlement in real terms. This compares well with the teaching budget, which was cut by 1.6%.

Elsewhere, Research Fortnight report that HEFCE unveiled the formula by which it will distribute quality research funding in the future: ' In cash terms the change is minimal, but it is a direct response to the government’s desire for greater concentration of research funding. As part of plans to distribute the cash amongst a smaller number of universities, Hefce will change the distribution of funding for 2*, 3* and 4* work, as judged by the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise. The old weightings of 1:3:7 will be changed to 1:3:9. The shift will benefit institutions that have a higher proportion of 4* research in the 2008 RAE. First estimates from the Research Fortnight Benchmarking application show Oxford and Cambridge gaining about £4m a year between them, a rise of about 3 per cent, with the losers scattered among the English members of the various university groupings.'

Friday, 5 February 2010

Applications without Impact Get Funded

An interesting article in this week's Times Higher: apparently applicants who refuse to complete an impact statement are not necessarily less likely to secure funding. Zoe Corbyn writes that, using figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, she's uncovered a "modest revolt" against impact statements at some of the councils. Whilst she admits that it's only a 'snapshot of researchers' behaviour', it does demonstrate that researchers who refuse to complete the statements are still winning funding.
Interestingly, the THE analysis shows that the BBSRC and ESRC applicants were most compliantwith the Impact demands (all provided the requested information), whilst EPSRC and AHRC applicants were least so (7% and 4% respectively didn't). Despite this non-compliance, however, 12 AHRC applications and 3 EPSRC without statements got funded.
The article was accompanied with a 'word cloud' of commonly used words found in the impact statements, reproduced above.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

STFC Cuts Confirmed

The Science and Technology Facilities Council is to go ahead with planned funding cuts, it reported on 26 January. In its press release, the Council said that these included 'a “managed withdrawal” from some projects and programmes, and reduction in support for others. STFC is committed to extensive consultation with affected communities to ensure as sensitive a transition as possible. Of necessity, the detailed implementation of some measures requires input from these stakeholder discussions.'
More detail of where the cuts fall is available here.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

More Details of Wellcome's New Scheme Announced

The Wellcome Trust has issued more information on its new Investigator Award scheme, the timetable for it, and how this affects its other schemes.

The following grant schemes will be phased out:
  • project grants

  • programme grants

  • equipment grants

  • biomedical resources grants

  • technology development grants

  • University Awards

  • Flexible Travel Awards

The schemes managed through their Technology Transfer and Medicine, Society and History divisions are not affected by these changes.

Full details of the Investigator Award application form and process will be available from 2 June 2010. You can then apply between 1 October 2010 onwards and Monday 22 November 2010 for the first round. Applications received after this date will be considered at subsequent funding rounds.
In order to manage an expected high volume of applications during the phasing out of the above schemes and to ensure that each application is given a fair and rigorous assessment, Wellcome will have to limit the number of applications that any applicant may have under consideration at one time during the transition period. You will not, therefore, be able to submit applications for Investigator Awards if you either:

  • Are waiting to hear the outcome of an application submitted to a grant scheme that is being phased out;or

  • Are currently a programme grant holder and the grant still has more than two years to run.

FP8: Under Starter's Orders...

The formal process to develop the next Framework Programme (FP8) is expected to start in early 2011, reports UKRO. Prior to this the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) will hold a UK stakeholder consultation to gather input for the formal UK position on FP8. This is expected to be carried out in the third quarter of 2010.
BIS recently participated in an event hosted by the Royal Academy of Engineering which brought together UK business stakeholders to share their views on the current and future Framework Programmes. The slides from this event are now available via the link above, and would be of interest to subscribers wishing to find out more about the FP8 development timetable and the challenges faced by business when participating in FP7.

AHRC Submission 'Blackouts' in March-May 2010

The AHRC is moving its operations to Swindon, and there's going to be some substantial 'application blackouts' in the coming months.

  • Research Grants and Fellowships Schemes: you won't be able to apply between 19 March 2010 - 31 May 2010. In addition, Fellowship applicants are strongly advised to submit their applications before the end of February as the outcomes of some applications submitted in March are unlikely to be announced until spring 2011. They are also rescheduling their panel meetings during 2010 which may mean that applicants will not receive outcomes when they would have been expecting them.

  • Research Networking Scheme: no applications accepted between 26 February and 31 May 2010.

  • Knowledge Transfer Fellowships: no closing date in May. The scheme will re-open later in 2010 on an open deadline basis on a date to be confirmed.

  • Knowledge Catalysts: no applications accepted between 26 February 2010 and 31 August 2010. This will give time to consider the outcomes of the current review of the scheme due to be completed by end of March and implement any changes in the light of the review.