Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Violence Research Group: Terrorist Offenders and the Community

The Violence Research Group, which was launched with a PVC's Lunchtime Seminar in March, will be holding a seminar tomorrow. Polly Radcliffe from SSPSSR will introduce a discussion on 'Terrorist Offenders and the Community'. She will address issues of notions of threats, risks and community in the enlisting of Islamic organisations to re-educate and reintegrate Terrorist Act offenders on licence - preliminary thoughts.
It will start at 2pm, and all are welcome. The venue is Keynes Seminar Rm 11.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Leverhulme: Imminent Change to Electronic Submission System

From 14 July 2010 the Leverhulme Trust will be launching a new online application system for outline applications for the following schemes: Research Project Grants, International Networks and Artists in Residence.
The current system will shut down at 4pm on 30 June 2010. If you are in the process of preparing an outline application, or intend to start you should SUBMIT your application by this date. Any information entered and not submitted before this date will be lost and applicants should use the new system after 14 July.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Virginia Tech Partnering Award Programme

The University has announced a Partnering Award Programme, aimed at fostering research links between Virginia Tech and the University of Kent. Travel grants of up to $2,000 (about £1,300) are available to help academic staff to forge relationships that will result in the submission of grant proposals for collaborative research projects. The team will be expected to submit a joint funding application within 12 months of receiving a Partnering Award.

The money should be used to travel to VT, meet your proposed collaborator and develop your joint funding application.

For more information about staff at VT who might share your research interests please go to:

The College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
The Center for Gerontology
The Department of Psychology
The Department of Economics

We will need details of your proposed partnership by 15/9/10 with decisions announced by 1/10/10. In the first instance please let us know if you are interested in this scheme and who you have identified at VT as a possible partner. We can then let you know what further information we need about your proposed collaboration in order to make a decision.
Please do not hesitate to contact Jacqueline Aldridge (on leave until 7/7/10), Phil Ward or Karen Allart if you need further information.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

BBSRC Mock Panel to be Held at Kent

Alf Game and Helen Meade from the BBSRC are coming over to Kent next Wednesday (30 June) to run a mock peer review. This is something that the EPSRC runs regularly, but it's new territory for the BBSRC. A mock panel is an opportunity to experience what it is like in a real peer review panel. Participants are given a range of previously submitted applications to assess, and have to introduce, discuss and prioritise them. At the end you will find out which of the applications were successful in reality. It’s a really useful exercise to help understand the issues and restrictions the real panel operates under.
Numbers are restricted, and places are given on a first come first served basis. Lunch will be available from 12pm, and Alf will kick off the meeting with a brief overview off the committee process before getting down to the business of reviewing applications. If you would like to take part please drop me a line.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Sign of Things to Come?

The ESRC has sent an email to applicants to their Research Seminars scheme warning them that the outcome of the latest round has been delayed. 'The competition panel met recently, and as you may know, we had expected to announce funding decisions during June. However, in view of uncertainties about public spending and the advice being given to all government departments and public bodies, we do not now expect to be in a position to announce funding decisions until the end of July.'
Something tells me that these kind of messages will become more and more common over the next few weeks and months...

What's in Store for Socioeconomic Sciences and Humanities in Europe

UKRO, the UK Research Office in Brussels, has got hold of the Work Programme (WP) for Socioeconomic Sciences and Humanities for the forthcoming year. This is the document that sets out where the funding will go in this area, what the topics will be, and what parameters are for individual projects.

This year the EC is looking at specific ‘societal challenges’ to be addressed by large scale projects. There will be €84m available, with about a 70/30 split between larger and smaller projects.
The six Societal Challenges likely to be included in the 2011 calls are:
  • Europe moving towards a new path of economic growth and social development;
  • Economic, social and political conditions for satisfying the world food needs;
  • Sustainable health behaviours in Europe;
  • Tacking poverty in a development context - Specific International Co-operation Action (SICA);
  • The evolving concept of borders; and
  • Cultures of Corruption and resistance to corruption in the private and public sphere.
The final Work Programme is expected to be published at the end of July 2010. Calls for proposals should open later in the year, with deadlines at the beginning of the new calendar year. So this is a good opportunity to think about whether your work fits with the priorities and the challenges outlined in the WP, and whether you are well placed (in terms of having a good network of European partners) to take advantage of this funding.

UKRO are wary about widely distributing the WP, but if you would like to talk more about your work and your options, drop me a line.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

'Newton Scholarships' amongst the First Victims of the Cuts

The Treasury has issued a statement detailing a number of projects that will face the axe under the new austerity regime. From a funding perspective this includes the Newton Scholarships, which were introduced by Peter Mandelson to encourage overseas postgrads to come to the UK. The Newton Fellowships will continue to be funded.
The Dept of Health's Health Research Initiative will also go, as will the University Enterprise Capital Fund.
However, there is some good news: BIS has also announced a series of projects which will be saved from the chop, including the NERC Discovery Ship and the International Space Innovation Centre in Harwell.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

How to Do More with Less

Following Vince Cable's call to 'do more with less', William Culerne Brown in Research Fortnight has come up with ten ideas. These include:
  • ditching the 'open access' agenda;
  • ditching the public engagement agenda;
  • canceling the research outcomes system, currently under development by RCUK;
  • simplifying and standardising contracts, to cut down on the time spent negotiating them;
  • simplifying grant proposals, especially in the minutiae of costing;
  • repealing the Medicines for Human Use (Clinical Trials) Regulations 2004, which he sees as much too complex and burdensome;
  • ditching the REF, and transfer QR to RCUK;
Controversial, but invigorating stuff! For the full list, and more justification of each idea, go to the main article here.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Advice on the 'Pathways to Impact' Section of JeS

We recently ran a workshop on preparing the 'Pathways to Impact' section of the JeS form. Here are some notes drafted by my colleague Jacqueline Aldridge on the most important points to come out of this.
  • Don’t wait until the end of the application process to design your impact activity – it should be integral to the project.
  • You need to be very specific and concrete – named contacts in named organisations make your plan look credible.
  • Stick to appropriate and achievable aims for your impact statement.
  • Vague or grandiose indications of possible impact are liable to be ignored. Try to avoid the ‘oh yeah?’ response.
  • This attachment is now called ‘Pathways to Impact’ so you need to plot exactly how you will take your findings from academic to other communities and how far along this pathway you will get within the life of this project.
  • Every impact plan talks about workshops, press releases, websites – bring yours to life with project-specific detail
  • Consider what you will do if the project findings are not what you expect.
  • Specify which project resources will be devoted to this project (costs for a seminar, a proportion of PI/postdoc time).
Thanks to Jacqueline for these.

Friday, 11 June 2010

New Director General for EC's DG Research

UKRO is reporting that Robert-Jan Smits has been appointed as teh new Director General for the EC's Directorate General for Research, which runs the Framework Programme. He moves from being Deputy Director-General at the Joint Research Centre. He will take over from José Manuel Silva Rodríguez on 1 July 2010.
Interesting that he was only at the JRC since Feb and appears to have leap frogged the previous incumbent of the Deputy Directorship of the JRC, Anneli Pauli, who moved on to become Deputy Director of DG Research. I'm sure it's all sweetness and light, but I imagine some nails are
privately being spat in the Pauli household...

Thursday, 10 June 2010

LERU : Position Paper on FP8

The League of European Research Universities (LERU) has issued a position paper on FP8. Amongst its recommendations are:
  • Increased funding to meet the EU2020 goals, particularly for the ERC. In fact, the LERU liked the ERC generally, saying the peer review of other areas should take a leaf out of the ERC's book, and that auditing should be simplified and eligibility widened to encourage more participation;
  • Similarly, it liked the Marie Curie actions, thought they should be supported, and considered recent moves to shift them from DG Research to DG Education as a wrong step;
  • Responsive-mode funding should be increased, and that there should be more transparency in the selection of topics for managed programmes;
  • Liked the Joint Programming Initiatives in theory, but thought they lacked transparency;
  • Approved the moves by the EC to simplify the process and procedures around the Framework Programme.
The full text of the position paper can be accessed via the link, here.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Lessons Learnt from the Impact Pilot Study

As many of you will be aware, HEFCE have been running a pilot study to understand how the assessment of impact will work in the REF. It has involved 29 institutions. Here at the ARMA Conference, both HEFCE and some of the participants have been speaking about their experiences of the exercise, and what lessons have been learnt from it.

First, some basic parameters for the pilot study:
  • Five units of assessment (UoAs) were focussed on:
  1. Clinical medicine
  2. Physics
  3. Earth Systems
  4. Social Work and Social Policy
  5. English Literature and Language
  • The assessment was based on a narrative and case studies, with 1 case study for every 10 Category A staff from RAE2008;
  • There was a template for the case studies, which can be viewed here;
  • Impacts were expected to have been felt between January 2005 – December 2009; based on ‘underpinning’ work of 2* quality or above that took place as far back as 1993;
  • Impact was understood to mean ‘any identifiable benefit or positive influence on economic, social, public policy or services, cultural, environmental or quality of life.
From a universities point of view, their experience was as follows:
  • ‘minimal initial interest’ from academics, and some of those that did express an interest did not have relevant experience of impact;
  • The guidance was ambiguous, and it was unclear what the boundaries between inputs (‘which are not the focus of the assessment’) and outcomes were;
  • The templates were unclear;
  • It was difficult to gauge how some activities would be assessed or weighted by specific panels;
  • There was a tendency in case studies for the attribution of impact to be stressed more than its significance;
  • There was a desire to avoid claiming ‘mere’ knowledge transfer’, which led to an overly inhibited account of the contribution that the research had made to any impact;
  • There was a relatively low level of appreciation of what counts as impact for the REF, and many academics talked of high impact journal, esteem indicators etc.
  • There was a tendency to focus on recent activity by current members of staff with strategic potential. Were staff missing the opportunity to use ‘profitable’ previous research, which had had impact, but whose areas had subsequently become dormant?
  • Difficulty of accessing external impact indicators – eg figures for attendance at events which academics participated in, etc.
From HEFCE’s perspective, some initial questions raised by the exercise included:
  • How can the template be improved? For example, to ask for information in a different order;
  • How can claims be corroborated?
  • How should the impact narrative and case studies be weighted?
  • How should the difference between public engagement and public benefit be differentiated?
  • How can interim impact be assessed?
HEFCE have also been looking at the nuts and bolts of the systems for collecting REF data. Whilst most in the sector recognise that the 2008 system was better than its predecessors, there is still plenty of room for improvement, and they are looking at ways of getting around problems with – for example – formatting text, possibly by asking submitters to upload pdfs.
HEFCE will report back on the exercise formally in October 2010, when it will issue:
  • Sub profile of each of the institutions that took part in the exercise;• A report from each panel;
  • A report on the lessons learnt from the HEIs;
  • A report from the impact workshops that HEFCE is undertaking.

FP7 Success Rates

Each of the EC’s Cooperation areas has a National Contact Point (NCP), and I went along to a talk given by the UK’s NCP on Socioeconomic Sciences and Humanities (SSH) on Friday. The NCP passed on some interesting success rate stats.
First, the success rates for all areas and all 'pillars':
  • Overall success rate: 16%. The overall success rate for the UK is slightly higher, at 23%.
  • Co-operation: 18%
  • Ideas: 4% (skewed by first starting grant call)
  • People: 29%
  • Capacities: 18%
Secondly, the success rates for each area within Cooperation:
  • Health: 18.2%
  • Food, Agriculture, Fisheries and Biotechnology: 16.9%
  • Information & Communication Technology: 15.45%
  • Nanotechnology: 36.1%
  • Energy: 15.7%
  • Environment: 13.9%
  • Transport: 22.8%
  • SSH: 10.9%
  • Space: 27.7%
  • Security: 13.3%
10.9% for SSH; not a great start. Drill down further, and you can see which topic areas are the likeliest to yield funding within SSH:
  • Activity 1: Growth, employment and competitiveness in a knowledge society: 6.35%
  • Activity 2: Combining economic, social and environmental objectives in a European context: 5.26%
  • Activity 3: Major trends in society and their implications: 4.51%
  • Activity 4: Europe in the world: 7.27%
  • Activity 5: The citizen in the European Union: 6.17%
  • Activity 6: Socio-economic and scientific indicators: 15.38%
  • Activity 7: Strategic activities: 11.76%
  • Activity 8: Foresight activities: 21.43%
So it’s the eighth of these which is pulling the overall average up. However, the eighth is the area which is only open to NCPs and other overarching organisations to bring together policy across Europe, not for research itself. Which leaves quite a gloomy picture, I’m afraid. The message to take away is that you have to be sure that your research fits squarely within the individual topic of the call, is timely, makes sense, and has an appropriate mix of partners to be in with any chance of funding. Otherwise, don't even think about it...

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

EPSRC: FAQs on Computing Costs for the Research Councils

EPSRC has published advice for those confused by the changes (introduced in January) to eligible costs for computers. The EPSRC Funding Guide now states:

“Any proposals requesting items that would ordinarily be found in a department, for example non-specialist computers, should include justification both for why they are required for the project and why they cannot be provided from the research organisation's own resources (including funding from indirect costs from grants).”

EPSRC has had many questions from the community about what this means to them, and has offered the following FAQs to answer the more common ones.
  • Q1: My research proposal involves significant amounts of computational calculations, can I ask for a high performance computer?
  • A2: Yes, if your proposed research requires a high performance computer to do calculations you may request one on the proposal. Please provide details in the Justification of Resources about why you need such a computer for the project and what specifications such a computer should have.
  • Q2: As part of the proposal I am attending conferences and visiting collaborators, can I ask for a laptop?
  • A2: Requests for a laptop for carrying out basic tasks while travelling are not permitted. However, if you plan to do more advanced tasks while away from your department and can provide sufficient justification for why the project requires a high performance laptop then this may be permitted.
  • Q3: Can I request resources for both a desktop and a laptop?
  • A3: No, EPSRC would not expect to fund both a desktop and a laptop for a single researcher on a proposal. Requests for a laptop and docking station may be considered.
  • Q4: Can I request resources for a printer and/or scanner?
  • A4: No, printers and scanners should be provided by your department.
The Mathematical Sciences programme receives many requests for Macintosh computers; since these cost significantly more than the equivalent PC you should provide justification for why a Macintosh is required for the project.

Thanks to Peter Clarkson for highlighting this info.