Thursday, 29 March 2012

Research Council Priority Generator

Ever wondered how the RCUK chiefs come up with the strategic priorities? Do they sometimes seem - well - slightly random?

Well Fundermentals has managed to get its hands on the software programme that they use to devise their clever, cross-cutting, interdisciplinary programmes. For the first time we, the people, can click RCUK's 'button of power' and create whole new areas of research endeavour.

Go to the 'Research Councils Priority Generator' to have a go.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Return of PVC's Lunchtime Seminars: Green Crime

Prof John Baldock is pleased to announce the return of the PVC’s Lunchtime Seminars programme with an event that looks at the illegal exploitation of the environment.
‘Green Crime’

Wednesday 4th April 12.30pm-2pm
Venue TBC

The Coalition Government has pledged to be the 'greenest government ever’, setting out an agenda to safeguard the natural environment. Green crime, the illegal exploitation of the environment, is high on this agenda with half of the targets focusing directly on criminal activity or proposing legislation to help protect the environment. This PVC Seminar will be a wide ranging discussion on 'Green Crime', from the quantification of illegal behaviour, through to characterising 'green crime' in the jurisdiction and environmental activism when laws are perceived to have failed.

Speakers will include Chief Inspector Mark Harrison (English Heritage, and Honorary Research Fellow, SECL), Prof Bill Howarth (KLS), Dr David Roberts (DICE), Prof Chris Rootes (SSPSSR) and Dr Freya St John (DICE).

A light lunch is available from 12:30pm, together with tea and coffee, and the Seminar itself will start around 1pm.

All are welcome, but do let meknow if you would like to come so that I can get a sense of numbers.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Notes from HERA Cultural Encounters Information Session

Last Thursday my colleague Lynne Bennett attended a HERA Cultural Encounters Information Session in London.  The Slides from the event are available here.
If you are planning to make an application to this call (either as the Project Leader or as one of the Principal Investigators), it is important that you contact Lynne asap.  The deadline is 4 May but costings for these are complicated and may take much longer than you anticipate.

Lynne provided the following notes from the event. A few of these would apply equally to all large applications – so even if you’re not planning a HERA application, it’s worth having a look at the following:
  • Large collaborative projects should be managed by a steering committee.  Your application should include plans for the committee to meet regularly to review progress against milestones (associated travel costs can be included in the budget);
  • All large collaborative projects should include costs for an Administrator at an appropriate level.  In the case of a HERA application, where there are several European partners, it would be reasonable to have 2 or 3 administrators working on different aspects of the project;
  •  Project management should include regular team meetings and have a robust internal reporting system 
  • For any large AHRC application, knowledge exchange should be embedded throughout the project and should not be added as an afterthought.  (The AHRC are VERY keen on ‘mutually-enriching’ collaborations with non-academic partners.);
  • Non Academic Partners can be included but the AHRC will not pay for their time (only travel and subsistence);
  • Interdisciplinarity means ‘challenging the familiar and conventional’ and ‘moving the boundaries of the discipline’;
  • Collaboration means that you can address familiar questions in new ways that would be impossible for a lone researcher;
  • Read the rules – AHRC and the other funders are continually surprised at how many applicants fail to do this;
  •  The Project Leader must demonstrate in the application that he/she has the experience and skills to lead the project.
Thanks very much to Lynne for these.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Understanding and Applying to The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), 10 May

We will be running an introduction to the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) on 10 May. Lunch and refreshments will be provided.

A draft programme for the day is given below. You are welcome to come along to the whole day, or drop in for part of it. It will be taking place in the Senate Building at the University of Kent's Canterbury Campus. The event is open to academics at both Kent and Christ Church, as well as clinicians working in the NHS. However, I would appreciate it if you could let me know if you intend to come so that I can get an idea of the numbers attending.

What is the NIHR?

Government funding for health-related research is distributed through two main routes: the Medical Research Council (MRC), and the NIHR. The MRC deals with more fundamental research, the NIHR with research that will affect the NHS, including social care and public health research. Its role is to develop research evidence to support decision making by professionals, policy makers and patients.

Last year it gave out £210.5m of research grants through a range of programmes. This event will be a chance to understand how these differ and fit together, and to hear from those who have had experience of working for or with the NIHR.


10:00 Registration and Coffee

10:30 Introduction
Prof Peter Jeffries (Director of KentHealth) & Bridget Carpenter (Co-Director Business, NIHR Research Design Service South East)

10:45 Decoding the Acronyms: What is the NIHR?
Moderated by Phil Ward (Research Funding Manager, University of Kent)

An Overview of the NIHR
Ann Deehan (Infrastructure Workforce Senior Lead, Dept of Health)
Central Commissioning Facility (CCF)
Angie Borzychowski (Assistant Director, Research for Patient Benefit)

11:30-11:45 Tea & Coffee

NIHR Evaluation, Trials & Studies Coordinating Centre (NETSCC)
Liz Tremain (Senior Programme Manager, NETSCC)
Trainees Coordinating Centre (TCC)
Dawn Biram (Information & Evaluation Manager, TCC)
Comprehensive Local Research Network (CLRN)
Ian Akers (Portfolio Manager, CLRN Kent & Medway)

12:45 Case Study: Applying for and Managing an NIHR Grant
A ‘warts and all’ experience of an NIHR-funded project by its Principal Investigator

13:15-14:00 Lunch

14:00 Getting Down to Business: Issues to Consider when Applying
Six parallel sessions on preparing a good proposal

Essential Elements
-Patient & Public Involvement
-Governance & Sponsorship

Adding Value
-Strengthening your proposal through health economic evaluation
-Considering statistical issues

15:30-15:45 Tea & Coffee

Framing it Right
-Using the right language
-Calculating costs

16:30 Close & Application Clinic
The formal programme will close at 16:30, but the RDS SE team of research advisors will be available to provide individual advice on proposals. Booking is essential: please contact Annette King if you would like to book a slot.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Research Funding Increase at DFID

Interesting news reported by Research Fortnight yesterday: DFID research funding is to increase by 60% and DH by 12%, whilst Defra and the Home Office are going to decrease by 21% and 9% respectively.

In cash terms, this means DFID's overall budget will rise from £7.6m to £11m in 2014-15. Research on 'wealth creation' will see the biggest increase, with 'water and sanitation' and 'governance and security' next in line. However, 'global partnerships' is the largest recipient of DFID's largesse.

But this isn't the whole picture, and smaller areas have had a disproportionately large increase, such as those focusing on humanitarian issues.

Whilst this is good news for those working in this area, there's a cruel irony in DFID's budget: they're getting more funding for research, but less for administration. Their administrative budget has been cut by a third. This means that they're going to struggle to actually distribute the research money. In the words of a yellow cartoon character, 'd'oh!' It's hoped that this - ahem - 'difficulty' can be offset by getting RCUK, Wellcome et al to help out. It all smacks slightly of crisis relief efforts, with sacks of cash being thrown off the back of lorries by third party workers to outstretched, imploring hands. Which I guess is apt for the department that deals with International Aid.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Impact's Winged Chariot

The President of the ERC has rejected the impact agenda, reports the Times Higher. At a conference last week Helga Nowotny said that there was an 'inherent tension' between the blue skies research supported by the ERC, and the 'demands of policymakers for practical innovation.'

'It all looks so easy, so obvious', she suggested, as politicians scrabbled to harness scientific research to pull European economies out of recession. 'But frontier science does not work like this. We cannot programme scientific breakthroughs or order them from a menu...We can't foresee the consequences of what we discover.' Politicians needed to trust 'the cunning of reason' to find uses for apparently 'useless' knowledge.

She pledged to uphold the ERC's independence in the face of political demands. 'It is very obvious that if we were to step back from the principle of excellence by only a tiny bit, it would be the end of the ERC,' she said.

How refreshing. Now I'm not saying that impact is a useless cul de sac, or that it diverts academic time and energy from the task in hand. However, I do think that it is not appropriate for all research and all projects, and we shouldn't have to try and shoehorn all research into impact's glass slipper.

Nowotny should be applauded for taking a stand and allowing the ERC's award holders the opportunity to breathe, to pursue research for research's sake, and not to have to look over their shoulders at impact's winged chariot hurrying near.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Light up the Cigars, Boys

I was very excited to read today about the elevation of the Universities of York, Durham, Exeter and Queen Mary's to membership of the Russell Group. My excitement was tempered, however, by a concern that RG was beginning to lose its elitist edge. After all, with this move the 94 Group becomes more of a select group than the RG: 94 has a svelte membership of 15 against the morbidly obese RG 24. In fact, the Russell Group is now less selective than the University Alliance (23 members), and only slightly more selective than the Million+ group of post-92 universities (26 members).

It's ironic that, in the year it reaches the age of majority, RG should run to fat so quickly. RG is going to have to start thinking about how to slim down, to regain the trim figure it cut in its prime.

Might I suggest the Fundermental Diet? It comes highly recommended by snobbish institutions the world over, and is remarkably simple. All it needs is for a self-selecting group within its ranks - let's say, for the sake of argument, Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial - to break away and form a 'premier' body. Let's call it the 'Premiership' RG (TM).

This would make total sense. After all, we need to protect the elite from the influence of the riff raff and the hoi polloi. You know, those concretey, provincial johnny-come-latelys. These - sniff - Million Plusers.

But why stop there? There are always a few extra ounces, a few competitors, to shave off. Once the Premiership RG is up and running the case could, nay should, be made for distinguishing between the 'Ancient' Premiership (TM) of Oxford and Cambridge, and the 'Modern' Premiership (TM) of Imperial.

If this distinction isn't made, how will league tables, potential students and funders tell them apart? We need this distinction or all sorts of chaos will ensue. Institutions might be treated equally, with quality research being recognised wherever it is found - and then where would we be?

Yes, these distinctions, these groupings, are very, very important. Ultimately, however, there needs to be a Supreme Champion of Champions, a Summa Cum Laude University, by itself, for itself, standing proud, above the rabble, alone. A touchstone university, that would act as the university against which all universities should be measured. A Premiership RG of one.

But how can we select this RG Sine Pari? Of course, for this we should rely on the tried and tested methods of self-selecting groups the world over. Light up the cigars, boys, and let's fill this room with smoke.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

AHRC Appoints Lyne-ker as New Associate Director

Hot on the heels of the AHRC's appointment of Mark Llewellyn as Director of Research, it has announced that Dr Ian Lyne is to be its Associate Director of Programmes. As you will remember, Mark Llewellyn is something of a babe in arms, having been a jobbing postdoc until five years ago. By comparison Ian Lyne is positively decrepit, having been a BA-funded postdoc at Warwick from 1995-98. That was last century!

Unlike Llewellyn, Lyne's postdoctoral career has been more administrative than academic. By the sounds of it, he felt battered and bruised by the expectations of academia: 'an academic research career is...very competitive and I was beginning to fear that I was not going to enjoy the constant pressure to keep publishing new work. There was also a growing feeling that it would be nice to have a job where one could feel one could see more concrete results, and get involved in more concrete activities.'

Thus, he fled to Durham, where he became an Administrative Officer, before moving to Exeter to be Assistant Registrar (Graduate School). He then got swallowed up in Death Star House as Head of Careers and Skills at the BBSRC, before becoming Head of Policy at RCUK.

An interesting trajectory, then, and not one that would necessarily instil confidence in the hearts of Humanities academics, I think. He will, after all be 'work[ing] alongside Emma Wakelin and Gary Grubb in developing the AHRC’s new range of research programmes.' He it is who will have his finger on the button of the AHRC's Random Word Generator, used in the creation of all their programmes. If his most recent experience at the cutting edge of Humanities research is as a postdoc 14 years ago, there may be rumblings of discontent in the sector.

However, I think this does him a disservice. His diverse career should be seen as a strength rather than a weakness: he has seen academia from both sides: as academic and administrator, as recipient and giver. He should be well placed to empathise with all sides, and make the judgements of Solomon necessary in concocting new programmes. We here in Fundermental Towers wish him all the best in the challenging times ahead.

Finally, whilst I know the photo's blurry, is there the hint of Gary Lineker in Lyne's greying locks? No? Just wait until he picks up a packet of crisps; the resemblance is uncanny.