Friday, 29 October 2010

So That's Where the 2.9% Is Going!

Whilst David Cameron tussles with his European counterparts to try and get the EU funding increase reduced from a proposed 6% to 2.9%, we've got a little insight into where some of that funding increase is going. A new organogram! Hurrah! Yes, you read it right, and UKRO have got their hands on this beautiful beast. How dare you say that's taxpayer's money wasted? The European Union - the world - needs a new organogram.
An exciting knock on effect is that DG Research (that's Directorate General Research, or another way of saying the 'Dept for Research' in Eurospeak) has got a shiny new name. Wait for it, wait for's DG Research and Innovation. This is to reflect (serious face now) the EU 2020 Strategy and the launch of the Innovation Union flagship initiative.
If you want the full, gory eurocrat-tastic detail of what the changes will mean, have a look at the UKRO story here. And do try and stay awake, Bond.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

ERC Advanced Grants Info Day

The UK Research Office (UKRO) will hold a series of information events for researchers who are based in or moving to the UK and are interested in applying for the ERC Advanced Grants call (ERC-2011-AdG). This call is expected to open on 2nd November 2010, with deadlines in spring 2011. A flyer is now available for these events, and bookings have opened.

I think the event will be invaluable if you are thinking of applying. It’s free to attend, and the nearest events to us are at LSE as follows:

London School of Economics, Friday 3rd December 2010
The session will start at 13:30 promptly (with registration from 13.10) and close at 17.30.
• London School of Economics, Wednesday 8th December 2010
The session will start at 13:30 promptly (with registration from 13.10) and close at 17.30.

A flyer (.pdf) which covers all four events - the second page includes a summary of the ERC, including some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the ERC Advanced Grants.
UKRO ERC Events webpage with details of how to register.
UKRO subscriber webpage on the ERC Advanced Grants calls, which will include the relevant call documentation once the call is published
UKRO overview (.pdf) of the ERC Advanced Grants.

Friday, 22 October 2010

PVC's Lunchtime Seminars: 'Risk & Uncertainty'

The first PVC’s Lunchtime Seminar of 2010-11 will be taking place in two weeks time on Wednesday 3rd November, and will focus on 'Decision Making under Risk and Uncertainty: a View from across the Sciences'.

This seminar will try to explain how quantitative subjects measure and account for uncertainty in decision making. We will look at examples from monetary policy making, environmental conservation and extinction probabilities, evaluating probability of low frequency high impact events in finance e.g. house price crashes, and how we can deal with increasing life expectancies. The speakers (Prof Jagjit Chadha (Economics) and Dr David Roberts (DICE), Prof Radu Tunaru (KBS) and Prof Paul Sweeting (SMSAS)) will provide short intuitive outlines of their work, followed by a discussion of the issues raised.

Lunch will be available from 12:30pm, and the Seminar itself will start at 1pm. All are welcome, and the event will take place in Woolf Seminar Room 5. I would appreciate it if you could let me know if you intend to come along so that I can book the food.

Video and Slides from Adrian Alsop's Visit Available

A video of the talk last week by the Director of Research at the ESRC, Adrian Alsop, is available here. Entitled 'ESRC Strategic Priorities in Uncertain Times', the talk looked at the Council's possible plans in light of the cuts to funding, including demand management and the shelving of certain schemes.

I'm afraid this is only available if you have a University of Kent login. Slides from the talk are available in the same place.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Willetts 'Keen to Hear Views of the Sector'

After a rollercoaster couple of weeks, David Willetts has been taking stock and surveying the brave new world he's helped to create. In a speech today he welcomed the findings of Lord Browne, and the Comprehensive Spending Review settlement, and welcomed feedback from the sector.

'I know too that people in this room will have anxieties about the shift in spending,' he stated, 'but I have to ask what the alternative is. Given the fiscal crisis and the pressure that we are under, there is no option of carrying on as we are.'

It's a robust defence, and I hope he's not just whistling in the dark as he finishes by saying that 'I believe that higher education, as well as research, should be able to maintain overall levels of activity throughout this time of austerity...[and]...despite the risks associated with any change, the reforms we undertake will improve higher education in the long run.'

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

CSR: Good, Bad, or Ugly?

The dust has not yet settled, but the commentators are already trying to work out whether the Comprehensive Spending Review was good, bad, or indifferent for research in the UK. It's certainly a lot better than some of the scare stories we heard beforehand, which suggests that the government was canny in managing expectations.

In the Review it stated that 'a ring-fence will be maintained by BIS to ensure continuity of investment in science and research.' Which sounds good, until you realise that that will mean a 10% cut in real terms. The only area whose budget will be maintained in real terms is the MRC, as the government has made Health a priority.

You can almost hear the collective sigh of relief as everyone concerned with UK research dares to look again at government funding. Both Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, and Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (Case), have cautiously welcomed the news.

However, there are still some nerves jangling out there, and we're not out the woods yet. We have to see the detail, and the effect the cuts will have on QR funding. Will it lead to a concentration of funding on research intensive (i.e. Russell Group) universities? Is STFC for the chop? The next few months and weeks will tell.

Join the Team: 2 Funding Officer Jobs Advertised

We've recently had two Funding Officer's leave us: the Sciences Funding Officer is going on to a job at Nature, and the Social Sciences one is being seconded elsewhere at the University. So we've two vacancies: one full time permanent, one part time temporary.

If you've got appropriate skills, the necessary background and an interest in developing research funding in either of these faculties, we'd love to hear from you. More details available at:

ERC - Stats from the Last Round of Starting Grants

It feels like this blog has been a bit ERC-heavy lately. But hey, that's obviously what's in the news at the moment (assuming you're keeping your eyes averted from the blow-by-blow commentary on the Comprehensive Spending Review). UKRO's got hold of some interesting stats from the last round of the Starting Grants. The most interesting, to me, is the fact that the success rate has rocketed from a derisory 3.3% three years ago to an almost respectable 14.9% this year. RCUK's declining success rate and ERC's rising one are just about even now.

More stats as follows:
  • Average age of researchers – 36 years;
  • Genders – 26.5% female (an increase from the previous call where 23% were female);
  • Grantees by country of Host Institution: UK (79), France (71), Germany (67), Switzerland (27), Israel and the Netherlands (25 each), Spain (23), Italy (22) Sweden (20). The results for other countries are in the attached statistics;
  • Grantees by nationality: Germany (83), France (62), Italy (41), UK and Israel (28 each) and the Netherlands (26). The results for other nationalities are in the attached statistics;
  • Mobility: the statistics presented also include an analysis of those grantees that are: staying in their country where it is the country of their nationality; staying in the country but who are nationals of another European country; staying in the country but who are non-EU nationals; and those moving to the country of their Host Institution (whatever their nationality);
    • Of the 79 grantees based at UK Host Institutions: ~22 are UK nationals staying in the UK; ~39 are European nationals already based in the UK and staying in the UK; ~8 are non Europeans already based in the UK staying in the UK; and ~10 are where the Principal Investigator is moving to the UK (whatever their nationality).
More information on UKRO's information services - though you need to login in order to access this.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Your Chance to Have Your Say on FP8

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is consulting the sector on what shape, and what focus, FP8 should have. In his introdcution to the consultation document David Willets said that 'we would like to see the programme develop in the future so it becomes less bureaucratic; more attractive to participants, especially businesses; and achieves demonstrable impact in terms of high value goods and service and improved policy-making.'

But what do you think? The document poses 42 questions, including:
  • What should the UK’s high-level objectives be for FP8?
  • How can FP8 support innovation in the UK?
  • What are your views on the split of the FP7 budget between specific programmes? Should this change in FP8?
  • Which areas of Framework Programme funding provide the most EU added-value? And which the least?
  • Can efficiencies be found in the Framework Programme because of overlaps between different areas of funding?
  • Which grand challenges are best tackled on an EU-wide rather than a national level? Within these areas which particular aspects would benefit from an interdisciplinary focus?
  • How should FP8 engage with countries outside the EU?
  • Should ERC’s current emphasis on funding a single investigator continue into FP8?
The full consultation document is available here, and you have until 4 January 2011 to respond, so make sure your views are heard and reply now!

ERC: Panel Members & Chairs

UKRO has passed on info on who the panel members and chairs will be for the current round of ERC Starting Grants. It's worth having a look at these, to get some idea of the great and the good who will be looking at your application, and to do a bit of digging if you've not come across them before, so that you can try to prepare for the angle they will take on your proposal.

Note that the panel members list is for the last call, not the current one. However, the ERC is intending to use these members to form the core of two new panels, which will sit in alternate years. I'll pass on the info on this when it's available.

You can have a look at the lists here:

Friday, 15 October 2010

Bonfire of the Quangos: Funding up in Flames?

I always thought that bonfires were meant to create light rather than darkness, but reading commentators yesterday after the government's announcement of the 'bonfire of the quangos', it feels like this one is throwing out nothing but gloom. Research Fortnight has reported that health and environment quangos are particularly badly hit. One that will affect us at Kent is the Defra's Darwin Advisory Committee, which distributes funding for the Darwin Initiative. Kent's done particularly well with these over the last few years, as it fits squarely with the work being done in the Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology, which often focuses on biodiversity in the developing world.
The detail is all still to be confirmed, but the announcement, together with the speculation that has followed, has done nothing to lift the pessimism that's rife in research funding at the moment.

New ERC Scheme to Be Introduced

UKRO are reporting that the European Research Council (ERC) are considering introducing a new scheme in the 2012 Work Programme. The new scheme will only be open to current or previous ERC award holders, and will provide 'proof of concept' funding. This will allow PIs to undertake activities such as technical validation, market research, clarifying their Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) position and strategy or investigating commercial and business opportunities. The intention is to 'fill a gap' in the earliest stage of an innovation.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Research Services Newsletter Now Available

The Winter Edition of the Research Services newsletter, Research Active, is now available. Amongst other stories it features:
  • Information on Kent's new Health Strategy;
  • Feedback on the mock panels and Dominic Abram's 'Pathways to Impact' workshop;
  • Details of the research interests of the 28 new staff who have started since May;
  • Highlights from recent awards;
  • Details of the Grants Factory programme for this term;
  • Information on the Research Council's new post award assessment system.
An electronic version is available here.

Monday, 11 October 2010

What Makes a Good European NMP Application

UKRO, the UK Research Office in Brussels, has recently attended an Industrial Technologies Presidency Event in Brussels. The event included information on the current calls under the Nanosciences, Nanotechnologies, Materials and new Production Technologies (NMP) theme of FP7. Luckily, UKRO was taking notes, and had these tips to pass on about what to watch out for when preparing an NMP application.

Good NMP proposals:

* Focus on solving the particular problem that is presented in that topic;
* Present clear objectives to address this problem;
* Put forward clear and consistent work plans, which flow logically;
* Appropriately address risk;
* Have the appropriate capacity and effective management processes within the consortium;
* Give consideration to the efficiency and sustainability of resource allocation; and
* Indicate a clear identification of the ‘impact’ of the project and the potential take-up of the end product if one is to be developed.

Some advice - concentrate on:

* Addressing the needs of industry. Academia should really understand these needs and make sure they are appropriately addressed in the project. Consider even working with industry associations to ensure you have fully understood their needs;
* Ensuring that there is active and strong industrial and end-user participation; and
* Ensuring that the proposal addresses the whole value chain.

Things to avoid in NMP proposals:

* Avoid projects that just have a pure ‘development’ focus where no research is being carried out or where no new knowledge is being developed;
* Don’t use consultants on the grant as a way of making it look like there is industry or SMEs involved. The industry involvement you have needs to be relevant; and
* Don’t submit ‘local’ proposals where the benefit will just be for one company. Think about the benefit EU industry will get in general.

Virginia Tech Partnering Programme: Awards Announced

Two awards from the Kent-Virginia Tech Partnering Program have been announced.The Program is aimed at encouraging and facilitating collaboration between Virginia Tech in the USA and the University of Kent in the UK. Partnering Awards of up to $2000 (approx £1,300) were available to support travel in either direction to develop their research plans or for small scale data collection to provide preliminary data for their research.

Dr Roger Giner-Sorolla (School of Psychology, University of Kent) and Prof Danny Axsom (Department of Psychology, Virginia Tech)

Both Dr Giner-Sorolla and Prof Axsom have research interests in sexual violence, and the Partnership Award will allow them to explore perceptions of shame and guilt in sexual crime. Dr Giner-Sorolla will travel to Virginia to work with Prof Axsom in Jan/Feb 2011, and together they intend to prepare an application to the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK, with Prof Axsom as the Co-Investigator.

Prof Toni Calasanti (Department of Sociology, Virginia Tech) and Prof Julia Twigg (School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent)

Profs Calasanti and Twigg have been working in parallel areas, and the Partnership Award will allow them to bring together their expertise to explore issues of embodiment, gender, and aging. Prof Calastanti will travel to Canterbury to work with Prof Twigg in Mar/Apr 2011, and together they intend to prepare an application to the Economic and Social Research Council as well as private funders in the US.

Congratulations to all those involved in these partnerships. They offer an exciting opportunity to make connections and explore shared research which will, we hope, lead to both a productive collaboration and fruitful long term ties between our two universities.

The Program will run again next year, and it is anticipated that the new call will come out in December with a deadline in April.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Grants Factory 2010-11 Programme Announced

Following the success of last year’s programme, John Baldock has announced a new series of Grants Factory events. These are all led by senior Kent academics with outstanding track records in obtaining funding and/or as panel members for major funding agencies.
These events are a good opportunity to pick up insider knowledge on different aspects of preparing research funding proposals and take time out to discuss your research with academic colleagues from across the University.
The programme is listed below and here, and includes workshops, talks and opportunities to test draft applications in a funding panel environment.
Please contact Lynne for further information.

Master Classes: what the guidance doesn’t tell you

  • Prizes & Pitfalls of Collaboration (Wed 15 Sept): Dr Peter Bennett and Prof Jon Williamson
  • Brace for Impact: How to write your ‘Pathways to Impact’ (TBC - Autumn Term): Prof Liz Mansfield
  • Eurovision: Is European funding for me?( Wed 19 Jan): Jenny Billings and Prof Simon Thompson (in conjunction with the UK Research Office in Brussels (UKRO))
  • In the Belly of the Beast: How the peer review panel works in practice (Thurs 3 Feb): Prof Mick Tuite
  • Collaborating with Industry (Thurs 17 March): Winston Waller (in conjunction with Kent Innovation and Enterprise)
  • Brace for Impact: How to write your ‘Pathways to Impact’ (TBC - Spring Term): Prof Liz Mansfield
  • Designing a Fundable Project (TBC - Summer Term): Profs Paul Allain and Liz Mansfield
  • Writing a Successful Fellowship Application (TBC): Profs Paul Allain and Darren Griffin
Peer Review Panels: test drive your project

An opportunity to put your draft proposal through a mock panel exercise relevant to your subject area and come away with specific feedback from the ‘panel’ to help you finalise your own application and give it the best possible chance of success. Each participant is expected to read and review another participant’s draft application and to do a 2 minute presentation on the proposal to the rest of the ‘panel’. No advance preparation is required – this all takes place within the 90 minute session.
  • BBSRC Applications (Mon 6 Sept)
  • Social Science Applications (Wed 3 Nov)
  • Medway – Humanities & Social Sciences Applications (Wed 3 Nov)
  • EPSRC Applications (Wed 10 Nov)
  • FP7 & Other EC Applications (Thurs 11 Nov)
  • Humanities Applications (Wed 17 Nov)
  • BBSRC Applications (TBC – January)
  • Humanities Applications (TBC – Spring Term)
  • Social Science Applications (TBC – Spring Term)
  • BBSRC Applications (TBC - April)
Grants Factory Workshops: the grant-writer’s toolkit
Led by Prof David Shemmings
  • Wed 27 Oct (Canterbury)
  • Wed 24 Feb (Canterbury)
  • TBC (Medway)

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Be Wary of RCUK 'Priorities'

A great report in the press this week, following the announcement that Robert Edwards was to receive the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

As you may be aware, Edwards was the developer of in-vitro fertilisation treatment, which has led, since 1978, to millions of 'test tube babies'.

Now what normally happens when a British Nobel Prize laureate is announced is for one of the Research Councils to jump on the announcement and claim credit. Strangely, all have been a little quiet this time around. Why? Perhaps it's because the MRC originally rejected Edwards application in 1971. This was for a number of reasons, including the government policy at the time that focused on limiting population growth rather than encouraging more. So Edwards had to turn to private sources of funding.

So if your research doesn't fit the current RCUK fads, don't worry: your time will come.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

ESRC to Follow EPSRC's Lead in Blacklisting?

Phil Sooben, Director of Policy and Administration at the ESRC, has been offering some gloomy insights into what the ESRC may do if the cuts in the Comprehensive Spending Review are the anticipated 25%.

At the annual RCUK UK Research Conference he suggested that 'the only way to release significant funds for new activities would be to stop existing ones.'

By 'activities' did he mean funding schemes, or research projects? The Times Higher, which reported his comments, seems to think it's both, and talks of the ESRC 'rescinding' grants. Hmm. Not sure of the logic on that one. Why are shiny new projects inherently more worthy of funding than the old, dusty projects, which have gone through just as rigorous an assessment process? Just to keep their headline success rates buoyant?

If it's the latter, it does seem to suggest - as one comment on the Times Higher webpage points out - that 'RCUK funded research will essentially become contract research: the researcher investigates a specific topic proposed by the funder.' It will be a depressing switch. Most academics I talk to prefer responsive mode funding, and a move to throw limited funding at the government's topic of the day is a retrograde step. Surely, in these conservative times, the government should be happy to let the academic market decide what's important, rather than imposing priorities centrally?

In addition, he admitted that 'we'll be pushed even harder on the impact agenda and we will have to demonstrate that the work we are going to fund has wider relevance - without throwing out of the window support for blue-skies research.'

And, in a long anticipated step, he mused on the possibility of following EPSRC's lead in blacklisting persistently unsuccessful applicants. Using a football analogy, he suggested that 'the logic is that if you take enough shots at goal, eventually you will score. But my answer is if you continue to miss you'll be dropped from the team.'

Interesting, and worth bearing in mind when Adrian Alsop, the ESRC's Director of Research, visits us next week. More on this can be found on the Times Higher website.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Research Fortnight: How 15% Cuts Will Hit

Exquisite Life, the Research Fortnight blog, has done some modelling of the effect that 15% cuts will have on the sector. It's not good. It models three different scenarios: the Cable, the Willetts and the Universities UK (UUK).

The Cable one spreads the pain most widely, cutting funding to 2* and some 3* research. The Willetts concentrates funding on the bigger, broadly strong departments, maintaining critical mass across the system but at the expense of smaller, sometimes higher quality departments. So, a loss of diversity. A spreadsheet showing the effect of this is available here. The UUK suggests that departments have to cross a quality threshold (based on the last RAE) before they can receive funding.

All choices are awful, but some cuts are inevitable. However, the blog's author, William Cullerne Bown, thinks that 'bad as they may be, all three scenarios are, in my book, better than the Russell Group’s preferred Option 4 - limiting QR to the top 30 or so universities. At least these scenarios all leave some dynamism, some competition in the system.'

Friday, 1 October 2010

PVC's Lunchtime Seminars 2010-11 Programme Announced

Prof John Baldock, PVC Research at Kent, has announced the Lunchtime Seminars programme for 2010-11.

As in previous years, these are an opportunity for academics from across the University to get together to hear about work happening in other Schools, to share expertise, and identify areas of common interest that might lead to future collaboration, funding and publication.

This year we have asked staff to suggest topics, and the programme reflects a diverse range of people who volunteered to host a session.

Do come along if you are able. Lunch is available from 12:30, and the Seminars themselves begin at 1pm. The format is usually one where the panel make very short presentations of their work and arguments and then discussion amongst the panel and with the audience follows. The events end just before 2.00pm. Venues will be confirmed in due course. Please contact me if you would like to attend any or all of these events.

The Pro Vice Chancellor Research

Lunchtime Research Seminars 2010-11