Monday, 29 November 2010

KentHealth Studentships

KentHealth, the umbrella organisation that aims to facilitate collaborations between the University and external health organisations, is offering funding for studentships.

The purpose of this fund is threefold:
• To encourage the development of a collaborative research culture between the University and health practitioners within Kent
• To build the University’s capacity to respond to health-related research priorities of the Funding Councils and other external funders
• To foster collaborative research with non-University health-related research groups in Kent.
Collaborative bids are invited from University and non-University health researchers; the closing date will be 31st December 2010.

Contact Karen Allart for more information.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

REF Sub Panel Chairs Announced

Just in case you missed it...HEFCE has published a list of the sub-panel chairs for the Research Excellence Framework (REF). This was published on 19th Nov. SSPSSR's Prof Peter Taylor Gooby will be chairing Panel C22, Social Work and Social Policy. The chairs will now play a key part in selecting the members of the panels, who, in turn, will play a major part in shaping the particular slant that the panel will take on how submissions will be asssessed. So do take time to have a look at the list and see who has been appointed to take the lead in your area; it could give you a good indication of the direction your discipline will take.

RCUK to Concentrate on Large Grants

This week's Times Higher is reporting on how the Research Councils are aiming to 'concentrate cash'. You can see their point: last time round they went for 'salami slicing', spreading the pain so that everyone got a couple of groats and a rotten potato, which they had to eke out whilst shelving their big projects.

Wellcome has already gone down the route of selecting the few, of course, and STFC have said they're going to do something similar. There are noises about EPSRC following suit, and rumours from the BBSRC about limiting the number of proposals each university can submit. Meanwhile the ESRC are talking about ditching their Small Grants scheme for all but earliest of early career researchers.

However, concentrating funding on the few is not without its detractors: as THE reports, some 'have pointed out that the efficiency of research groups tends to drop when they grow beyond a certain size.' So big doesn't necessarily mean good.

There's also the question of maintaining morale, especially for young academics. If there's nothing for small project or pilot studies, it will be easy for them to become disillusioned. Worse still, if the Councils concentrate on what they think are the current strategic priorities, there'll be no fostering of future (as yet unrecognised) priorities.

The comments that follow the THE piece are illuminating. Almost all make the point that some of the best research comes from small grants, which give investigators the opportunity to explore risky and tentative avenues, whilst larger grants tend to stick to more incremental developments of understanding.

Let's hope the Councils take these thoughts on board and don't slavishly try to follow what the government wants.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

44% Cut to RCUK Capital Spending

Research Fortnight is reporting that RCUK is preparing to make a 44% cut to its capital spending. 'Two Brains' Willetts today outlined how this cut would be made from various portfolios within BIS. Some projects would be spared - such as the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation - but others - such as the ISIS synchrotron - might be hit.

About Turn on Adrian Smith Job

After all the speculation and concern over Adrian Smith's job cut at BIS, it's been announced this week that he is going to be appointed to the new, combined role, rather than drafting in a career civil servant. Smith will become Director General of Knowledge and Innovation in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
So sighs of relief all round, though Research Fortnight has noted that Smith has taken over, in his combined role, from Stephen Marston, who was Director General for Universities and Skills. It still remains to be seen, then, what happens in the light of Browne's recommendations over student fees.
Incidentally, is it just me or is there a touch of the former Dr Who Jon Pertwee about the new Director General?

EPSRC Transfers to Shared Services Centre

I've mentioned the RCUK Shared Services Centre in the past, and the - ahem - less than fullsome reviews it's had. Despite all this, RCUK is ploughing ahead, and this week sees the transfer of EPSRC's backroom operations to the SSC.
Don't you worry, say EPSRC in a press release, the transfer will be seemless. You won't have access to the grants progress checker whilst the transfer takes place, and 'applicants may experience slightly longer processing for proposals submitted during the transfer period'. But otherwise, seemless.
From December onwards you should contact the SSC rather than EPSRC about any queries to do with the processing of your application.
Dr Annette Bramley, who sounds like she should be a Beatrix Potter character but is actually the gloriously entitled 'Head of Change Implementation', delivered a ringing, New Labourish endorsement of the Service, packed full of 'streamlining' and 'enhancing', 'simplify' and 'benefit'.
You can read the statement in full here, but suffice to say she thinks the change will be brilliant, and will herald a new arcadian dawn. Let's hope so - but remember, 'et in Arcadia ego'. There's decay and death, disruption and frustration in Arcadia as well.

Humanties Matter!

Whilst the fretting and hand-wringing over cuts starts to swell in the UK, the US is facing similar challenges. In some universities whole departments and disciplines are being cut. One example is at the State University of New York at Albany, where they're planning to cut French, Italian, Classics, Russian and Theater Arts. Prof Gregory Petsko, a biochemist at the Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center at Brandeis University, has written a spirited defence of these disciplines, and the need for a broad range of disciplines in modern universities, in this open letter to the SUNY president. A refreshing read.


Thanks to Annette King (CHSS) for highlighting this.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Night of the Long Knife

Research Fortnight has reported that Adrian Smith, Director General of Science and Research at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (that's DGSR at BIS) for the last two years, is for the chop.

Now stiffle that yawn and pay attention at the back. This is more important than it sounds. See, the DGSR is the person responsible for the Research Councils at BIS. If he's to be replaced by a career civil servant - which looks likely at the moment - research might lose its strong voice.

The cutting of the DGSR is part of a bigger shake up of BIS. Science, research, universities and space will now all be bundled together in the somewhat gnomic and Orwellian 'Knowledge and Innovation'. Surely that's doubleplusgood?

Not so. The Chief Scientific Adviser, John Beddington, considered the decision 'deeply regrettable'. His predecessor Robert May went further, calling it 'substantially both stupid and ignorant and it is politically foolish..If [the head of the new section] is a successful civil servant they are very unlikely to know much about science.'

Let's hope the career civil servant is sympathetic to science - or wears a hard hat.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Grants Factory Goes on the Road

The Grants Factory is leaving the comfortable confines of the Canterbury and Medway campuses and holding a session externally. As part of the 'KentHealth' initiative, Professor David Shemmings will be running one of his very successful workshops on 'the Grant Writer's Toolkit' at the Kent & Canterbury Hospital on 3 December.

This will be an opportunity for both academics, medics and researchers to get together to understand what makes a good application, what to look out for, what to emphasise and what to avoid.

It will also be a chance to foster new collaborations for research proposals, and to network with potential partners.

More info on all the KentHealth events is available here. If you're interested in attending drop a line to Karen Allart.

Monday, 15 November 2010

STFC: Changes to its Grant Schemes

After its consultation earlier this year, the Science and Technology Funding Council (STFC) has decided to implement changes to its grants schemes. The existing system of standard and rolling grant mechanisms will be replaced by a single consolidated grant scheme containing core and non-core staff post funding. Core staff posts would be those key posts identified by the grants panel as being crucial for long term support of research activities.

What does that mean? Well, time will tell. But it looks like they're mixing and matching elements of Wellcome's funding of the big stars of the reserarch firmament, and EPSRC's 'demand management'.

The main features will be:
  • One consolidated proposal per department (or equivalent) per subject area submitted every 3 years;
  • Core staff posts could be funded up to 4 years, non core staff posts up to 3 years (but with flexibility to spend over 4 years using the existing rules for applying for a grant extension);
  • An individual academic can only be supported for exploitation on a maximum of one consolidated grant.
To be honest, I haven't entirely got my head around this. However, STFC say that doing things this way will reduce the number of grant applications submitted over 3 years from ~600 to ~110. So you can see where they're coming from. But we'll have to wait for the dust to settle a little before decided on the effect this will have.

Details on the key features of a consolidated scheme and the other Panel recommendations can be found in the full report (PDF - link opens in a new window).

Friday, 12 November 2010

REF Impact Pilot: Less Would Be More

Hefce has published the findings of the REF Impact Pilot exercise. Whilst broadly supportive of the assesment of Impact as part of the REF ('workable' was there somewhat less than glowing conclusion), it was felt that the weighting given to impact assessment should be reduced from the planned 25 per cent.

29 UK HEIs took part in the exercise. Each participating HEI made an impact submission to two of the five pilot Units of Assessment (UOAs). The REF team then recruited an expert panel for each of the five pilot UOAs to assess the impact submissions and report their findings on the assessment method.

As well as reducing the weighting, they thought that:
  • The expert review of case studies was an appropriate means for assessing impact.
  • The case study approach should be developed further for use in the REF - with some improvements, such as better guidance, changes to the template, and a clearer understanding of the parameters of impact.
The full report and annexes are available here.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

DSTL to Visit University: 29 Nov

Kent Innovation and Enterprise are running a joint network event with the DSTL (Defence Science Technology Laboratory , which is part of the Ministry of Defence) on the 29th November. The objective of the event is to provide networking opportunities, to find out about the MOD’s high priority/impact areas and to identify and develop funding and collaboration opportunities.

DSTL is keen to try out a different way of working with universities by bringing a group of DSTL staff from across different domain groups to the campus. This is the first time the DSTL is holding a joint event like this with a University.

The event will start at 10:00 and the morning session will be look at DSTL technology and research needs, and the Centre for Defence Enterprise. The second session will focus on a number of research areas, and will encourage discussion and feedback. A buffet lunch will be served around 12:30 and the event will conclude about 3:45pm.

This is an open event and academics who would like to find out more about the DSTL are encouraged to come along. Contact Lucy O'Grady if you'd like to attend. There will be a poster exhibition, so if you have a poster that might be of interest to DSTL, or would like to prepare one, let Lucy know. Finished posters would need to be ready by Thursday 25th November.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

BIS Publishes Milestones for Reform

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has set out its plans implementing changes to higher education. It intends to 'establish a higher education, science and research framework that promotes world-class competitiveness in teaching and research.Ensure progression, fair access and better quality for students. Strengthen links between universities and industries and support innovation and technology development.'

Amongst its milestones to achieve this are the following:
  • Develop a white paper on the future strategy of higher education - by March 2011
  • Introduce legislation to make possible the 'new arrangements' - by May 2012
  • Set out changes to the REF, including assessment of impact - by March 2011
  • Reform QR funding to focus on excellence - by July 2011
  • Implement recommendations of Wakeham Review - by March 2011
  • Reform HEIF funding - by July 2011
  • Establish network of Advanced Technology Centres - by April 2012
  • Complete move to RCUK Shared Services Centre - by March 2011
So hold on to your hats. By March next year we'll begin to see the reality of the government's brave new world. As the document says, 'the Coalition is committed to a programme of reform that will turn government on its head.' Does that mean upside down government? We'll wait and see.

Friday, 5 November 2010

PVC's Lunchtime Seminars: 'Drama & Neuroscience'

After the packed-out success of the first PVC’s Lunchtime Seminar this year, the next will be taking place on Wed 1 December in the Senate Building. This time the focus is on Drama and Neuroscience. Hosted by Dr Nicola Shaughnessy (Arts), there will be an external speaker, Lorna Marshall, who will bring her experiences and insights to the Seminar.

All are welcome. Lunch will be available in the Foyer from 12:30, with the Seminar to follow at 1pm in the Chamber. Do let me know if you intend to come so that I can book the catering.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Feedback from the Social Sciences Mock Panel

Well, another day, another Grants Factory event. Yesterday it was the turn of a Social Sciences 'mock panel', which gave academics in the Faculty (and beyond) the opportunity to test drive their applications, and understand some of the pressures, the issues, and the difficulties that real peer review panels operate under.
The chair for the event was Prof Peter Taylor Gooby, who has been involved in a number of funder panels, and was able to give useful insight into how they work. Some of the points he raised included:
  • it helps if your project can 'press' both theory and practice buttons. Show that your project will be useful to both academics (and your discipline more broadly), as well as having applications outside of academia;
  • For the ESRC, you only have 6 pages for your Case for Support. Make sure you get on to the methods/design/analysis section as quickly as possible. As a broad rule of thumb, you should be on to the methodology by p2. Funders want to know what you're actually going to be doing during the project.
  • Try and get a balance of qualitative and quantitative research. Both can inform each other, and you can avoid being shot down in flames by a panelist who only works with one or the other.
  • Be aware of - and be honest about - any weaknesses or potential difficulties. They will be picked up straight away by the panelists, so it's good to be up front, to demonstrate that you recognise them, and to show that you have in place mechanisms to overcome any problems in the research methodology.
Further mock panels are coming up, for EPSRC, the EC, and the Humanities. The Social Sciences one will run again in the Spring - date to be confirmed. Let me know if you would be interested in coming along to any of these.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Shiny New Leverhulme Website

Leverhulme have redesigned their website. Hurrah! Anyone who's tried to find info on their funding schemes will breathe a sigh of relief at the cursed drop down menu finally being - well - dropped. The redesign's not too radical, but does make for clearer browsing. Bear in mind that the 'Note from the Director', which laid out the funding criteria for the Trust, has now been deleted, and instead the info is all here. Do make sure you read this if you're thinking of applying to Leverhulme, and make sure you're clear as to why you're applying to them rather than to one of the research councils. Somehow I think that 'well, the ESRC's run out of money' just won't cut it...