Thursday, 29 April 2010

EPSRC Demand Management and 'Office Rejection'

I've been seeking further clarification on the way the EPSRC's new 'demand management' - or blacklisting - system will work. In particular, I was wanting to know whether proposals that had not gone to the panel, so called 'office rejects', would be included in the three unfunded proposal allowance applicants get before blacklisting kicks in. The answer is, unfortunately, yes. However, EPSRC are reassuring on this; a proposal would only be rejected by the office if:
  • it had been sent out to peer review, and the reviews were so unsupportive that there was no point in it going to panel. This may seem fair enough, but I know of at least one case where a proposal was rejected was rejected on these grounds, but the reviews were based on a misunderstanding, and were factually inaccurate;
  • it doesn't fit with the call criteria, or with the remit of the EPSRC. Once again, this seems fair, although there is the question of interdisciplinary proposals. In these situations, however, EPSRC encourages applicants to contact it first and submit a 2 page 'remit query' so that it avoids being rejected on these grounds.
I asked if a proposal would be rejected by the office on a technicality - eg not having the right attachment, or a section of JeS being filled incorrectly, or the costings being incorrect. No, she said, this would not happen: if there was enough time before a deadline (or the deadline was open) the office would come back to you to rectify this. Also, JeS would be unlikely to allow you to submit an incorrectly completed form. If there wasn't time before the deadline and the application was incomplete in some way, the application would be returned, but it wouldn't count as a rejection, as it would not have gone through an assessment process.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

European Environment Funding Info Day

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), with BBSRC, NERC and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) are hosting a UK FP7 Information Day on the Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Biotechnology (FAFB) and Environment (including climate change) themes of the FP7 Co-operation Programme. The event will include information on the calls in the 2011 work programmes, which are expected to be published at the end of July 2010.
Attendance is free; contact Ian Sutherland at Defra if you want to go along.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Politicians on the Case

In response to the Campaign for Science and Engineering, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have expanded on their manifesto pledges for science and engineering.
The Conservatives are pledging to postpone the Research Excellence Framework (REF) by two years. In addition they stated that, if an appropriate system for measuring impact cannot be found, they will scrap it altogehter.
The Lib Dems intend to increase the number of postdoc places by reducing 'under-utilised' PhDs. They will also move Science more centre stage by moving the Government Office to the Cabinet Office. They also hope to tackle the crisis in UK physics, which is taken to mean they will deal with the budgetary problems over at STFC.
The full responses can be seen on the CaSE blog. The Labour response to CaSE is due shortly.

Lifelong Health and Wellbeing: Advanced Notice

Five of the seven Research Councils, together with a clutch of government departments, have issued an advanced notice for the third round of the 'Lifelong Health and Wellbeing' programme. This is intended to fund multidisciplinary research to understand, prepare for and encourage healthy living in later life.
Phase 3 will seek proposals on (but not restricted to):
  • Mental health and wellbeing, including quality of life, preserving cognitive function;
  • Resilience for successful ageing: from cell to society, including life course influences, markers for ageing and processes of ageing;
  • Age-related conditions, including frailty and interventions to promote independence in later life.

They're offering both research grants (up to £10m) and pilot grants (£2.5m for 10 projects).
The call itself is due in early May, so have a look at their website and give some thought as to whether you have the necessary collaborations or projects that would be suitable to LLHW funding. If you need any help with this, don't hesitate to get in touch.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

'Violence': Seminar Recording Available & Next Meeting

Thanks to all those who took part in the 'Relgion, Community and Violence' Lunchtime Seminar at the end of last month. For anyone who didn't make it (or even if you did and want to relive it!), a recording is available on the Research Services website here.
The Violence Research Group will meet again on 12 May between 3:30-4:30. It will focus on considering where next to go with the Group: there is clearly a wide interdisciplinary interest in violence at the University, but how should this be developed, and what specific activities should be undertaken, including possible collaborative research? In addition they will think about another public event, possibly on the theme of whether violence is innate or learned. If you want to be involved drop me a line.

'Responsive Mode' is Sooo Last Year...

Hot news over at EPSRC: 'responsive mode' funding has now become 'research base' funding. I phoned them to check whether this was a fundamental shift in their priorities: did it, for instance, indicate a crunching of tectonic plates, a la the Wellcome move to fund investigators rather than projects? After some confused, muffled discussion at their end (hand over the mouthpiece, shouting across to colleagues on the other side of Polaris House, you know the kind of thing), they said that no, but that there'd been an updating of the website and this 'must be part of that.'
Reassuring to know they're all on message with this change. If it's not a significant change, then why bother? If it is significant, then shouldn't their staff be better briefed?

Lunchtime Seminar: 'Energy Security and Climate Change'

Dr Amelia Hadfield in the School of Politics and International Relations will be hosting the next PVC’s Lunchtime Seminar on 5 May.

She will bring together a panel of academics to examine two key aspects of contemporary energy policy: ‘energy security and climate change’. As well as outlining the broad definitions of what these are as government policies, she is also keen to discuss these from the perspective of those on whom it actually impacts: consumers of energy, ordinary citizens.

It’s free, and all are welcome. It will be held in the Senate Chamber, with lunch from 12:30pm. Do let me know if you can come.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Internal Peer Review Panels - More Info

Further to the post giving details of the upcoming Internal Peer Review Panels, I've got further detail of the Humanities meeting, an additional Social Sciences meeting, information on what's involved, and contact details if you want to get take part.

The format of the meeting is as follows: each participant brings along a draft application. It doesn’t have to be complete, but we would ask for at least a draft Case for Support and perhaps a lay summary. Each person gets paired up with another participant, and they have half an hour to read each other’s proposals. They then have 5 mins to present it and be questioned on it by the group.

In the past this has worked well as it highlights any shortcomings or false assumptions in the applications, and make people realise how quickly a decision is reached in a real peer review panel.

Details of each panel are below. Contact the named Funding Officer if you want to take part.

  • Wednesday 5 May 2010: Biomedicine & experimental psychology – Wellcome/MRC/NHS Internal Peer Review Panel. Howard Rodgers Room (Room 234), Ingram, 2-4pm. Chaired by Prof. Mick Tuite (Biosciences), with input on the NHS from Annette King (CHSS). Contact Eve Dyer ( if you want to take part.
  • Wednesday 26 May 2010: Humanities - AHRC Internal Peer Review Panel. Grimond Seminar Room 6, 12:30-2pm. Chaired by Prof Paul Allain (Arts) Contact Lynne Bennett ( if you want to take part.
  • Thursday 27 May 2010: Engineering, digital arts, computing, mathematics – EPSRC Internal Peer Review Panel. Brian Spratt Room, Cornwallis, 2-4pm. Chaired by Prof Peter Clarkson (SMSAS) and Prof. Simon Thompson (Computing). Contact Phil Ward ( if you would like to take part.
  • Wednesday 14 June 2010: Social Sciences – ESRC Internal Peer Review Panel. Venue TBC, 12:30 – 2pm. Chaired by Prof Dominic Abrams (Psychology). Contact Jacqueline Aldridge ( if you want to take part.
  • Tuesday 1 June 2010: Biology, ecology & conservation sciences – BBSRC/NERC Internal Peer Review Panel. Senate Committee Room 1, 2-4pm. Chaired by Prof. Peter Bennett (DICE) and an academic from Bioscience (TBC). Contact Phil Ward ( if you want to take part.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Lone Researchers: Designing a Fundable Project

Prof. Paul Allain and Prof. Elizabeth Mansfield will lead a new Grants Factory workshop on Tuesday 22 June - on how to take a research idea and turn it into a fundable project.

Both Elizabeth and Paul have exceptional track records in attracting research funding from a wide variety of sources - although neither work within fields where project-based research is a necessary component of a successful research career.

Consequently this workshop should appeal particularly to any academic who feels that their research topics and methods do not fit the standard 'aims/questions/methods/dissemination' project structure required by funders. Staff at all levels and using any methodological approach (from archive research through interview-based projects to modelling) will find this session useful.

The workshop runs from 11.00-3.00pm and includes lunch. Places are limited so let me know as soon as possible if you would like to participate.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

REF 'Main Panel Chairs Designate' Advertised

HEFCE are advertising for 'Main Panel Chairs Designate'. Yes, I know they sound like something you'd find in an IKEA catalogue, but we're talking (great and good) flesh and blood here. 'Their role,' the ad says, 'will be to provide advice to the REF Manager on the further planning and development of the framework, before taking up their role as Main Panel Chairs once the panels have been appointed later in the year.
The four Main Panels will broadly cover the following areas of research:
  • Main Panel A: Medicine, health and life sciences

  • Main Panel B: Physical sciences, engineering and mathematics

  • Main Panel C: Social sciences

  • Main Panel D: Arts and humanities.'
So get your 3 sides of A4 off to HEFCE. But you've got to be quick: the deadline's 22 April. Details here.

Lords: 'Such Funding Should Be Protected'

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has said that the government should be clear about its commitment to research funding in order to calm fears about cuts. In 'Setting Priorities for Publicly Funded Research', a report published on 1 April, it asked for clarfiication on how the government could keep its commitment to funding research whilst making the cuts to higher education and research announced in the Budget.
The Lords want research funding to be protected, and for the government to publish annual figures on all research spend, including that through government departments.
In addition, the Lords questioned the REF impact assessment, considering the 25% weighting to be too high.
Full details are available in this report.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

The Sweeney Speaks: Citations, Timing, Impact

Following the publication of the response to the REF Consultation last week, David Sweeney, Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Director of Research at HEFCE, has been speaking frankly to the Times Higher. He told the magazine that HEFCE was 'edging out' of plans to use citations. He said that the costs to institutions of including such a measure could be high. He added that the council had also received an analysis suggesting that their use could disadvantage female staff.
'Equal opportunities is a problem that concerns us, so we are very nervous about the use of citations,' he explained. This did not mean that citation data were being ruled out once and for all, he said, but 'we will be discussing it closely with the panels before we give it any significant role'.
In addition he suggested that it was very likely that the REF assessment process would be delayed by a year. This would push the REF assessment to 2014 and REF-based funding to 2015.
Finally, he robustly defended the inclusion of impact in the face of criticism from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee last month. 'We will test the methodology and if it doesn't prove adequate then we will reconsider, but we remain confident that the issues can be surmounted,' Mr Sweeney said.
The full article's available here.