Monday, 25 March 2013

SSC Close the Circle

Shelby SuperCars Inc. Share an acronym
with the Shared Services Centre.
Oh! The glamour!

There's good news from the Shared Services Centre this week. And it's not often I get to write that sentence.

One of the long standing gripes for us research managers and administrators is that, whilst we're integral to the submission process for all Research Council applications, we don't directly get to hear the outcome of them unless they're successful. Whilst it's always nice to get good news, we would welcome bad news as well.

Why? Well, for one thing, it would let us tidy up our records. You know how anal us bureaucrats are. But, more importantly, it would help us to help the academics. When they get the dismissive one liner from the SSC, the chances are that they'll be a sobbing wreck on their office floor. If we had the nod from the SSC we could get in touch with them to talk about other alternatives. Or at least rail at the unfairness of it all with the applicant. We could share their pain.

So it was great to get the SSC email update this week and read the following: 'the Research Councils have agreed to provide feedback to Research Organisation administration offices on the outcome of proposals.'

Fabulous! But not only that, it sounds like the info they intend to provide will be more thoughtful than just a yes/no outcome. 'This will provide information on the relative ranking or scoring of proposals, as well as written feedback on the decision.'

Great news, then. They don't say when this system will be rolled out, but hats off to SSC for recognising a problem and moving to provide a solution.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Open Access and Jisc APC

Whilst the rest of the sector tear chunks out of each other over Open Access, something more constructive is happening over on the Jisc farm. As I’m sure you know, Jisc is a registered charity that works on behalf of UK HE and FE to champion the use of digital technologies.

'Hey! Sir! You like? I give you good APC price'

When Finch prescribed a strict course of Gold OA, Jisc recognised the potential for a 24 carat headache. they foresaw crowds of naifs, like daytrippers at a Moroccan souk, each haggling separate deals with stall owners. What was needed was some unified system to handle article processing charges (APCs), which would simplify the payment system, but also allow - so they hoped - for some bulk negotiating leverage. Moreover, it could help institutions to better manage their RCUK block grant.

Having recognised the need for such a system, they had a look around at what was already available, and identified a small start up company that seemed to have just what they needed: Open Access Key (OAK). Linking up with them made sense for both parties: Jisc got a ready made system that seemed to be fit for purpose; OAK got the backing of a known and trusted body, a government-funded supplier that had had experience of rolling out similar such projects.

On Friday I went up to that London to have a look at the system - branded as ‘Jisc APC’ -  in practice. I was impressed. It seemed to work, and seemed to provide a smooth, effortless integration between the needs of the publisher (i.e. to be paid), the academic (i.e. to have their work published) and the institution (i.e. to manage the money and approve the payment).

The bulk of the audience, however, was made up of more seasoned information service types than me, and there was much close questioning of the practical detail. Many of the questions revolved around money, inevitably: how will fees be split between different institutions? How often will requests for payments be sent? Will administrators have control over the system? Will they approve the payment, or is this automated?

To their credit, both Jisc and OAK fielded the questions openly, and were honest about the state of development. The major fly in the ointment is the buy in from publishers. Whilst Jisc have been talking to all the major players, none has yet committed to it. Nevertheless, Jisc believed that, initially, one or two would soon be on board, and that would start a snowball. Whilst there might be some benefit in them dividing and conquering the sector, the certainty, simplicity and administrative clarity offered by Jisc APC was very tempting.

Jisc are currently working with 52 pilot institutions who have expressed an interest to trial the system. Hopefully it will be positive, and one more hurdle to OA will be overcome.  

Friday, 15 March 2013

AHRC Chief to Star in Game of Thrones. Possibly

Whilst Fundermentals has at its heart a Reithian public service remit, we know that it's readership is less high minded. Especially on Fridays.

Well who am I to stand in the way of pubic demand? Ladies and gentlemen I bring you, courtesy of my estimable colleague Brian Lingley, a lookalike! I feel humbled in the presence of such genius.

Here we have AHRC supremo Prof Rick Rylance and Game of Thrones actor Clive Russell. The likeness is uncanny. Moreover, although I've never watched it, the ever-reliable Wikipedia tells me that the first series of Game of Thrones 'follows the members of several noble houses in a civil war for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms.'  The fact that there are seven Research Councils is surely just a coincidence, and that there's no vying amongst the Council CEOs for the ultimate power of the RCUK Chair. One ring to rule them all! Or am I getting my grim, bloody mythological fantasies mixed up?

Bread and circuses, people, bread and circuses...


Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Leverhulme Programme Event at Kent

Lord Leverhulme.
With a tie. Knotted.
Each year Leverhulme announces two areas of interest for which it will provide grants of up to 1.75m. It only funds two grants. This year the topics are:
  • The Nature of Knots
  • Innovation for Sustainable Living.

These are intended to be interpreted broadly, but more detail is provided on Leverhulme's website, here. Whilst Leverhulme do not set a limit on the number of applications per university, the small number of grants awarded would suggest that we do not put huge effort into a large number of applications.

With this in mind it would make sense for anyone interested to get together to meet others, talk about their work, and see what mileage there is collaboration inside or outside the University.

To this end we will be will be holding a meeting at 12:30pm on 18 March in Woolf Seminar Room 5. Come along if you want to find out more about the Leverhulme Programme Grants, and to hear from a previous applicant about what was involved.

Writing a Response to EPSRC Reviews

Making a virtue of criticism
Last week we had an impromptu Grants Factory workshop, prompted by the visit of the EPSRC's Jane Nicholson the week before. Focussing on applying to EPSRC, Profs Simon Thompson (Computing) and Sarah Spurgeon (EDA) spoke about their experience of sitting on EPSRC panels, before running a 'mock panel' exercise in the second half of the event. It was a really useful event, and I thought it would be good to jot down some notes from it, particularly around the vexed question of responding to reviewers' comments, which is crucial in applying to any of the Research Councils. So, if you have recently received your comments and are mulling over your response, some top tips:

  • The panel aren’t re-reviewing the application. They are instead moderating the reviews and ranking the applications accordingly. Thus, the PI response is critical, as it’s your only chance to answer any concerns or criticisms. Whilst it’s not mandatory, you should always provide a response. As Prof Sarah Spurgeon said at the event, ‘writing a good response does make a competitive difference’.
  •  Some of the reviewers’ comments can be hurtful. You’ve invested time in the application, and they can be dismissive or even wrong-headed. Don’t respond in haste. Take time to provide a measured, considered response. Don’t dismiss any comment that is ‘obviously’ wrong: you can make it clear that you disagree without using emotive language. For instance, suggest that you want to ‘clarify’ a point.
  •  Go through the reviewers and pick out every comment that needs a response. List them, and answer them in order.
  • Give evidence to rebut the criticisms. Once again, don’t be hasty and impassioned. This is the time to be clear and analytical. Give the panellists just the information they need, the information necessary to ‘empower’ them;  it’s not the time to be quoting complicated mathematical formulae – unless absolutely necessary.
  • Some responses may not be given to the panel before the meeting, but tabled on the day. The panellists have to read them quickly, so make it easy for them: plain language, clear formatting, bullet points. Don’t be ‘clever’ with unusual fonts, minimal margins or complicated figures.
  •  Don’t clutter the response by thanking the reviewers, or take too long highlighting the positive points. The panel will have already seen both the application and the reviews, and will already have a view.
  • Don’t feel you have to write to the limit. To quote Prof Spurgeon again: ‘a short response is more powerful.’
  •  Finally, if the reviewers have suggested a good idea, there’s no harm in welcoming it and agreeing with them – as long as it doesn’t contradict the main thrust of your proposal.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

ECR Network: Relationships with Senior Staff

The next Early Career Researcher Network event will take place next week (Wednesday 13 March, 12-2pm, Cornwallis SR6), and will look at ‘Relationships with Senior Staff’.

What? You want me to take all your lectures
and seminars again?
ECRs have very different experiences of working with senior staff. Some have had very supportive mentors and managers, who guide them and help them, lightening their teaching load, discussing and developing their research plans, and providing funding so that they can attend conferences etc. For others, the experience is less positive, and some feel that unreasonable demands are being made of them, resulting in a sense of isolation and burnout.

Led by Prof Dominic Abrams (Psychology) and Prof Ray Laurence (SECL), this workshop will explore how you can best develop positive relationships with senior staff, and what to do if you feel that the expectations of others are unrealistic.

The workshop is free and open to all, and lunch will be provided. However, places are limited so do get in touch as soon as possible if you wish to come along.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

A Splat of Pure Green

Whilst the UK academic community has been in convulsions recently over Open Access, desperately trying to work out how best to handle Green and Gold, Lord Percy was there four hundred years before.

There's plenty to learn here, so sit back and enjoy the many levels of meaning as Percy creates a splat of pure Green.

Thanks to a certain source for drawing this to my attention. You know who you are, but I'm not sure you want to be linked to such frivolous nonsense...