Friday, 27 July 2012

Knownaginta: Probably the Best Mission Group in the World

I read with interest in this week's Times Higher that the 94 Group was considering a name change. As you can imagine, this unleashed enormous excitement at Fundermentals Towers, as it combines two of our favourite things: mission groups and branding exercises.

Yes, this is a great opportunity for a self-selecting coterie to come up with a fresh-faced new image and some broad, aspirational tag lines. In fact, rather than farming this out to an expensive branding agency, we at Fundermentals would like to offer our services for free.

We'll offer them a range of options. We have to think carefully about the name. We could either have:

  • A name with some basis in reality, like a translated word. For example, we could have '94' in Latin: 'Nonaginta Quattuor'. Which has a learned ring to it, and is sure to please all the fresh faced students brought up on a diet of Harry Potter, as it sounds a bit like a spell. Maybe we could get the collective VCs to dress up as Dumbledore et al? No harm in appealing to the masses when we've got to part them with £27k. 
  • Or a name that is based around a neologism with no baggage. You know, like Aviva, or Carillion. Or Consignia. I don't think anyone's using that at the moment. 
  • Better still, how about a combination of the two. Combine 'Nonaginta' with 'Knowledge' and what do we get? 'Knownaginta'! Bingo!
Yes, I can see it now. The Knownaginta Group. I tell you, I'm wasted in university administration.

Next we need to think about a new tag line. Their current one, 'To Promote Excellence through Research and Teaching', is just a bit...meh. I mean, which university or mission group doesn't do that? No, I think they need to either go for honesty ('Protecting our Interests - Together'), or something Blairite, bold - and ultimately meaningless. How about: 'Building our World on the Foundations of Knowledge'?

Hmm. I'll have to develop a new Priorities Generator to help me out with this one.

Alternatively, they could just steal the tag line that already exists.

  • 'Knownaginta: Because You're Worth It'. 
  • 'Knownaginta: Think Different'. 
  • 'Knownaginta: It's Good to Talk.' 
  • 'Knownaginta: Probably the Best Mission Group in the World'.

Right, this is getting silly now. I think the Fundermentals' readership should have a go. I'm willing to offer a spangly prize - which may or may not be a pen stolen from the ARMA Conference -  to the best combination of new name and tag line for the 94 Group. Over to you, Twitter...

Friday, 13 July 2012

When is a Conference not a Conference?

Whilst academia is, by definition, a rarified and cerebral place, it is not immune to the tides of fashion. Thus, when it comes to organising a meeting or a conference, the hosts reach for the most zeitgeisty, a la mode nomenclature. Gone are the days when you called a conference a conference and a meeting a meeting; that's sooo last century! To attract the flighty fashionistas of academia these days you've got to work those analogies. So, in keeping with its public service remit, Fundermentals brings you a cut out and keep guide to the brave new world of academic gathering.

  • Research Festival: like this ESRC Research Methods Festival (a one day event consisting of three plenaries), this is basically a conference. However, call it a festival and it sounds much more fun. I'm picturing bunting and coconut shys. Far more interesting than a boring old session on data mining. I wonder if anyone ever asks for their money back.
  • Research Showcase: similarly, showcase sounds a bit like you're in line for a mix of shopping and Paris Fashion Week. Oh! The disappointment. Here's King's taunting their students  with one.
  • Research Carousel: look at the pretty horses! All golden and beautiful! See them spin, round and round! Oh, uh, no wait: it's a parallel session on 'Building Oral Fluency and Competency in a Second Language.' 
  • Research Charette: a Charette is, apparently, 'more than a one day event'. It's a 'multiple-day collaborative design workshop.' Beyond that I can't help you.
  • Unconference: a conference for anarchists with a love of Post-Its. 
  • Research Slam: Really? Yes, really. Taking their cue from poetry slams, The Below the Radar Research Group have come up with this marvellous neologism. Reminds me slightly of the Flight of the Conchords Hiphopopotomous vs Rhymenoceros.I'd be very disappointed if it wasn't actually like that.
  • Town Hall Event: I'm seeing pitchforks and burning torches. Or have I just watched too many Frankenstein films? However, rather than burning a monster that never wanted to be created, you get to hear the latest on the REF. As John Lydon said, ever get the feeling you've been cheated?
  • Big Conversation Event: Like a Town Hall Event. Much favoured by government departments, to give the impression that interaction is two way when it probably isn't. Here's an example from the NHS
  • Sandpit: a favourite of the Research Councils, this is a chance for academics to - if you will - 'meet', and (ahem) 'talk'. To - so to speak  - 'think outside the box'. You know, push the envelope. Blue skies thinking.  And play with outsized plastic toys in a safe, caring, creative environment. I made that last bit up. 
  • Greenhouse: basically the same as a sandpit. But hotter. And less toys.
  • Makefest: once again, sounds a little like a primary school activity but, according to the 'Centre for Geospatial Science' at Nottingham, a 'makefest' is 'an event devoted to practical tests of ideas and the development of ideas of interest to demonstrate the possibilities for new research.' You know, like a conference. 
  • Brown Bag Lunch: a lunchtime meeting organised by skinflints. Bring your own. And no rustling.
  • Round Table: King Arthur, right? Knights? Valour? Chivalry? Damsels? Dragons? A holy grail or two? Possibly death? Wrong. It's a meeting. And often the table isn't even round.
  • Workshop: this has become so ubiquitous that it may take you a moment to register that it's not normal. You are not an artisan carving a piece of wood. 
  • Bootcamp: if you don't mind your metaphors mixed - and in this context, the more mixed the better - a bootcamp is a series of workshops that conjure up images of tough, militaristic training to hone your body and mind. And your research. Here's one from the ASHP Foundation, complete with white coat (tick) and army boots (tick). 
  • Surgery: I have to 'fess up: this is one I've used. A drop in session, or what someone living prior to the year 2000 might quaintly have called an 'unscheduled meeting'. 
  • Captain's Table. Nope. You've got me there. I think this is a specialism of the University of York. Thanks to two Tweeters - who probably want to remain anonymous - for highlighting this.
  • Grandfather's Chat: I think I'm having my leg pulled now. This was suggested by my colleague Carolyn Barker, who says it refers to a meeting with your supervisor's supervisor. By a fireside. With a bag of Werther's Originals. Possibly. Can anyone confirm?
Please send in any examples you've come across. Perhaps we could have a Blog Slam with the entries?

O Tell Me the Truth about Concordats

It’s a little known fact that, shortly after graduating, WH Auden worked in Oxford University’s Research Office. Whilst he was there he had to deal with various strategic policies, concordats and memoranda of understanding. He became increasingly frustrated with these, and vented this irritation in an early draft of one of his most famous poems, ‘O Tell Me the Truth about Love’. In the week in which Universities UK announced its ‘Concordat to Support Research Integrity’, and LERU issued a paper on gender in universities, it’s worth reprinting this forgotten masterpiece.

O Tell Me the Truth about Concordats

Some say concordats show the way
They move the question on.
But others scoff and turn away
And say that they’re all wrong.
And when I asked the bureaucrat 
Who looked as if he knew, 

His boss got very cross indeed, 
And said it wouldn't do.

What are these words, these shiny words,
That trumpet and aspire?
That build imagined pleasure domes
With proselyte desire?
And when you try to pin them down
They flit like darkling bats
And float like smoke above the town
O tell me the truth about concordats.

At meetings they’re referred to
And duly noted down
But all around the table
There’s academic frowns.
They struggle with their purpose,
They struggle with their sense.
They try to take some action
For fear of seeming dense.

Do they shout like manifestos?
Or rattle like shopping lists?
Could one give a first-rate imitation
If one’s somewhat Brahms and Liszt?
Do they whisper in your ear,
Or demand: ‘do this, do that!’
Do they need your full attention?
O tell me the truth about concordats.

I tried to find the meaning
I searched the halls and quads.
And some who saw me whispered:
‘He’s a miserable sod’.
But still I found no answer
The emptiness remained.
These words so drained of meaning
A vacant picture frame.

Do they make a real difference?
Do they change the way we think?
Or are we better at the races,
Or fiddling with string?
Like shadow boxers sparring
Or like Schrodinger’s cat
They’re blithe and insubstantial
O tell me the truth about concordats.

As I’m sleeping in my bedsit
A nightmare tiptoes in:
A giant, laughing concordat
That affirms and agrees and spins.
It towers high above me -
But disappears, just like that -
Leaving no one any wiser
O tell me the truth about concordats.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Red Dead Research Redemption

I was very excited to read today about The Wellcome Trust's 'gamify your research' initiative. This is the natural and welcome next step in the infantilisation of research that began with EPSRC's 'sandpits'. At the time unreconstructed academics such as Prof Thomas Docherty complained that the concept of sandpits 'regards us as noisy children who can be tamed and contained...after the sandpit, will it be the playpen?'

Playpen! What a ridiculous notion! No, it's the video game, silly. As we all know, the only way to make research appealing is to anthropomorphise it as a well endowed avatar, and set it loose in a post-apocalyptic landscape where it has to kill zombies with a range of cruel and unusual weapons.

This initiative should be lauded. No longer will research be held back for want of a 211-V Plasma Cutter, Blades of Chaos, or an Insect Swarm Plasmid. To be honest, I'm amazed that Crick and Watson got as far as they did without somehow co-opting Black Ops 2 into their quest for the structure of DNA.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Preparing a European Funding Presentation: a Beginner's Guide

Here at Fundermentals Towers we've had quite literally no one beating down our door clamouring to be told the secret of how to prepare a perfect European funding presentation. With that kind of demand we had no choice but to share the 'secret six' key elements of a perfect EC PowerPoint presentation:

  • First, there's no such thing as too much text. What we need is words, and lots of them; 
  • Second, include absolutely all the detail about the development of the policy that underlies any scheme or programme, however unnecessary it might seem. If you could include a timeline of the negotiations that led to the adoption of that policy, that would be a bonus. Extra points can be scored by inserting a picture of the front of the policy document, entitled something like '2017: Towards a more Integrated, Forward-Looking Europe';
  • Third, acronyms, acronyms, acronyms. Make sure you have at least 15 per slide, and never, ever explain them. Other than quickly, under your breath, in passing.
  • Fourth, you need a flow chart. Doesn't matter what it represents. Plenty of arrows, preferably doubling back on themselves or at least double ended.
  • Fifth, you must include some clip art, ideally circa 1995. If you could combine this with a garish use of colours or an eclectic mix of fonts, so much the better. If you no longer have access to your Office95 clip art suite, you can substitute these for some generic pictures of groups of young European people smiling, preferably with books clutched to their chests.
  • Finally, as EC Directive 2045/12-ZD makes clear, all EC-related presentations have to end with a chirpy, 'Thank You for your Attention!' slide.
With these simple building blocks in place your success is assured, and you can look forward to a career of conference coffee and gazing out at rooms full of confused looking delegates. 

Thank You for your Attention! 

Thursday, 5 July 2012

ESRC & NIHR Call for 'Oven-Ready' Dementia Interventions

The ESRC and NIHR whetted the sector's appetite for their forthcoming Dementia Initiative by holding a workshop for prospective applicants on Tuesday. The Call Specification is now on the ESRC's website, but there were some interesting points that came out of the workshop :

  • Stakeholder involvement is key;
  • Projects need to be ambitious and bold;
  • They are especially interested in looking at 'oven-ready' interventions that change behaviour and can prevent dementia;
  • Social care research is seen as a particularly rich seam that has been under-researched;
  • They would welcome the wider involvement of social sciences. 
We're planning to hold a meeting in a couple of weeks time to discuss this call. If you want more information about it, or are considering putting in a bid, drop me or Brian Lingley a line.