Friday, 28 September 2012

King Arthur & the Internet of Things

'We have been charged by God with a sacred quest'
The TSB this week advertised for an Internet of Things Ecosystem Demonstrator. Now read on.

Prof Arthur and his RAs, along with their servants, "ride" up to a castle. Prof Arthur's administrator, Patsy, blows a horn. 

Arthur: HELLO! (waits) 
 Bedevere: HELLO! (waits) 

An armour-clad face appears at the top of the rampart. It speaks in an outrageous French accent. 

Soldier: 'Allo! 'Oo is it?
Arthur: It is I, Prof Arthur, and this is my team of Researchers. Whose castle is this?
S: This is the castle of my master, Professeur Guy de Lombard.
A: Go and tell your master that we have been charged by God with a sacred quest. If he will give us food and shelter for the night, he can join us in our quest for the Internet of Things.
S: Well, I'll ask 'im, but I don't think 'e'll be very keen-- 'e's already got one, you see?
A: What?
Lancelot: He says they've already *got* one!
A: (confused) Are you sure he's got one?
S: Oh yes, it's ver' naahs. (to the other soldiers:) I told 'em we've already got one! (they snicker) 
A: (taken a bit off balance) Well... ah, um... Can we come up and have a look?
S: Of course not! You are English types.
A: Well, what are you then?
S: (Indignant) Ah'm French! Why do you think I have this out-rrrageous accent, you silly professeur type?!
Galahad: What are you doing in England?
S: Mind your own business!
A: If you will not show us the Internet of Things, we shall take your castle by force!
S: You don't frighten us, English pig-dogs! Go and boil your bottoms, son of a silly person! Ah blow my nose at you, so-called "Arthur Professeuuur"! You and all your silly English Reeesearcheuuurs!!! 

(the soldier proceeds to bang on his helmet with his hands and stick out his tongue at the researchers, making strange noises.)

Galahad: What a strange person.
A: (getting mad) Now look here, my good ma--
S: Ah don' wanna talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food-trough wiper! Ah fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!
Galahad: Is there someone else up there we can talk to?
S: No!! Now go away, or I shall taunt you a second time!

(In the distance, the sound of Horizon2020 gently crumbling can be heard).

Thursday, 27 September 2012

ESRC Publishes Photofits of 'Knowledge Navigator'

I was very excited to see that the ESRC is advertising for a Knowledge Navigator. The successful candidate will be expected to 'scope' and 'explore', as well as fend off tigers, cut through virgin jungle, and survive on a diet of grubs and boiled scorpions. In a radical change from usual protocol, the ESRC has decided not to provide Further Particulars, but instead to issue a series of photofit images of 'the Ideal Candidate'. I've reproduced these below. Don't even consider going for it if you don't match these.

You have been warned.

The Launch of the ECR Network

This year, as part of the Grants Factory, we are launching an ECR Network. This will give early career researchers the opportunity to meet and discuss issues that are relevant to them, as well as hearing from more senior staff about their experiences. The first two events are as follows:

4 Oct: Planning a Personal Research Strategy (Keynes Seminar Room 4, 2:30 – 4:30pm)

This event will be introduced by the VC, Prof Dame Julia Goodfellow, who will discuss what support there is and should be across the University for ECRs. This is an opportunity to talk about your experiences, and think about what would help in the development of your career.

This will be followed by an informal talk by Prof Darren Griffin (Biosciences) and Jenny Billings (Centre for Health Services Studies) about developing a personal research strategy. They will cover issues around strategically planning and developing your research, balancing idealism with realism, and how to cope with the unexpected.
17 Oct: Getting Published in Journals (Senate Chamber, 9:30 – 11:30am)

Organised by KLS but open to all, this event will look at how to improve the chances of getting your articles selected for publication in journals. A panel of academics with extensive publishing experience will cover issues including:
·         How articles are selected for publication
·         Choosing a journal
·         Disseminating a thesis
·         How to improve the chances of your article being read
·          How to deal with referee comments

The panel will be chaired by Prof Sally Sheldon (KLS), and consists of Prof Rosaleen Duffy (Anthropology), Prof John Mingers (KBS), Prof Tim Strangleman (SSPSSR), and Prof Jon Williamson (SECL). 

These events aimed at ECRs, including Research Associates and Assistants (RAs), but are open to all academic staff. The events are free and refreshments will be provided.  Do let me know if you intend to come along so that I can get an idea of numbers.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012


I've come to realise that, in order to get ahead in research administration, the most important skill to possess is an ability to master acronyms. It's an unwritten rule that, whenever two or more research administrators are gathered, each must shoehorn as many acronyms as possible into a sentence, so that to any outsider they sound like Russians gargling nails. Thus, a typical exchange would run something like this:

'Judith! I've not seen you since the ARMA conference.'
'Good to see you Maureen. I've been away at EARMA in Dublin. I stayed around for ESOF, too.'
'How was it?'
'Brilliant. Some of the INORMS lot were there, you know, from SRA, CAURA, ARMS, SARIMA and WARIMA.'
'Not NCURA?'
'Oh yes. NCURA, naturally. Oh, and ACU. Good times! So how are things with the REF at UCL?'
'OK, but the 3A, 3Bs and 4 are proving difficult. Much harder than the RAE. I don't know what HEFCE were thinking. How about KCL?'
'The same. The VC and PVC think things will be easier if the JISC RMAS system ever gets off the ground. The HoDs are less sure.'
'I hear the problem with that is individual researcher IDs. HR has concerns. But if they take on board the lessons from CERIF-CRIS...'
'Hopefully ORCID will do that.'
'Yes. But the ResID lot will need to pull their finger out first.'
'True. But then is RCUK going to accept it? And what about HESA? It'll affect ROS. And e-VAL.'
[general sucking of teeth]
'Oh, did you hear? We got that big EPSRC grant!'
'Was that the joint call with the MRC and NIHR?'
'No, the one with NERC and AHRC. The PI and Co-I are ecstatic!'
'I imagine there's a raft of RAs and PhDs?'
'Of course! But the SSC has cocked up the award announcement.'
'Yes. Gave the wrong amount via JeS!'
'It wasn't fEC?'
'So much for TRAC!!'
[both laugh, and wipe tears from their eyes]

Ah, you had to be there.

ERC Stats

We all love a good stat or two, and UKRO have obliged by providing some for the last round of ERC Starting Grants. I tweeted these yesterday, but in case you missed them, here are headlines:

  • Success rate by domain: Physical &Engineering Sciences 11.5%; Life Sciences: 12.0%; Social Sciences & Humanities: 9.7%
  • Top 5 host countries: UK (131), Germany (78), France (73), the Netherlands (51) and Switzerland (33).
  • Top 5 countries by PI nationality: Germany (92), UK (68), France (67), Italy (42) and the Netherlands (37)
  • Top 5 (or 7) in UK: UCL (16); Cambridge (13); Oxford (12); KCL (8); Bristol, Edinburgh and Imperial (5 each) 
  • Average age of PI: 37 (the same as for the previous call) 
  • Percentage of female PIs: 24%  (an increase from 21% last year) 
A fuller breakdown of previous rounds of both the Starting Grants and Advanced Grants is available on the UKRO website (pdf). Start crunchin' those numbers...

Monday, 17 September 2012

'I Find your Lack of Faith Disturbing'

Triggered by Dr Who's appearance at the STFC, Fundermentals has been leaked a draft of the next Star Wars film, provisionally entitled Star Wars Episode VII: A New Hopelessness: 

[The Conference Room of Polaris House, Death Star Avenue. Eight Imperial EPSRC senators and generals sit around a black conference table. Imperial stormtroopers stand guard around the room. Commander Emecz, a nervous looking young general, is speaking.]

General Emecz: Until this policy is fully operational we are vulnerable. The Rebel Alliance is too well equipped. They're more dangerous than you realize.

General Hayter, Commander of Capability, twists in his chair.

General Hayter: Dangerous to your PR, Commander, not to this Agenda!
Emecz: The Rebellion will continue to gain support in the Sector as long as....

[Suddenly all heads turn as the Grand Moff Golby, governor of the Imperial outland regions, enters. He is followed by his powerful ally, The Sith Lord, Darth Delpy. All of the generals stand and bow before the governor as he takes his place at the head of the table. The Dark Lord stands behind him.] 

Governor Golby: The Sector will no longer be of any concern to us. I've just received word that the combined forces of the REF and the new fees regime has destroyed the Sector permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.
Emecz: That's impossible! How will we have any control without buy in from the grassroots in the Sector?
Golby: The RCUK governors now have direct control over territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this Agenda.
Hayter: What of the Rebellion? If the Rebels have obtained a complete overview of our plans for the 'Shaping Capability' Agenda, it is possible, however unlikely, they might find a weakness and exploit it.
Darth DelpyThe plans you refer to will soon be back in our hands.
Hayter: Any attack made by the Rebels against this Agenda would be a useless gesture, no matter what supporting data they have obtained. This Agenda is now the ultimate power in the universe! I suggest we use it!
Darth Delpy: Don't be too proud of this policy terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a discipline is insignificant next to the power of Academic Backlash.
Hayter: Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Delpy. Your sad devotion to that ancient Academic Jedi religion has not helped you conjure up the trust of the community, or given you enough clairvoyance to find the rebels' hidden fortress...

[Vader makes a pinching motion and Hayter starts choking]

Darth Delpy I find your lack of faith disturbing.
Golby: Enough of this! Delpy, release him!
Darth Delpy: As you wish.

[He drops him, and swooshes from the Room to get a cup of tea from the RUCK canteen]

Friday, 14 September 2012

Who's Who

Who: Then
Who: Now
I was very pleased to see that the STFC has in place a former Dr Who as Director of IT and International Strategy. I believe that this is very forward thinking of the Council. After all, you don't get much more international than Gallifrey, and there's not a lot that Dr Who doesn't know about IT.

I hope this is the first of many such appointments. I look forward to Jude the Apostle being appointed to oversee the Shared Services Centre, and Richard Nixon taking over RCUK's 'Open Access' remit.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Mists, Mellow Fruitfulness & ERC Deadlines

Ah, Autumn. Season of mists, mellow fruitfulness and ERC deadlines. Yes, with the deadline for Starting Grants on 17 Oct and Advanced Grants on 22 Nov applicants should now be polishing and pimping their applications, fettling and finalising their bids. UKRO has been providing some useful workshops for those planning to apply (there's still time to attend the ones that are scheduled for later this month and October), and it's worth bearing in mind some hints and tips that have come out of these.

  • Firstly, try and get a look at previously successful applications. This is true for any funder, of course, but perhaps more so for the EU, as people are often confused by the specific language and structure that is expected. Seeing how someone else has done it really helps.
  • Secondly, and following on from this, make sure you 'give them what they want'. Look at the criteria, and make sure you are meeting them. These grants are about you and your project: be clear why you are the right person with an exciting, ground breaking project at the 'frontier' of knowledge.
  • In turn, leading on from this, the ERC are looking for something different. Perhaps more than any other funder, this is the chance to take risks, to do something challenging. So use your imagination and think big - but couch it in a robust managerial framework that will reassure those of a nervous disposition.
  • Get feedback. Lots of feedback. Here at Kent we've got the Internal Peer Review system, so get in touch with us as early as possible. But get feedback elsewhere, too: your proposal needs to be easily understood and inspiring by people who might not know the field, and whose first language may not be English. 
  • Submit early and often. Each time you submit it overwrites your last version. Don't leave it until the last minute when there will be, inevitably, a software crash.
  • If you're shortlisted for interview, prepare throughly. Set up a mock panel (we can help with this) and go through a dry run. Take on board the feedback. Go over to Brussels the day before the actual interview and scout out the terrain. You don't want to get lost and arrive breathless, confused and red faced, or get derailed by Eurostar holdups. 
  • At the interview, they will use reviewers' comments to question your proposal. You won't have seen these, but try and pre-empt them by thinking what elements of your project will be seized on.
  • Finally, think of the poor panel. Not only will they have ploughed through hundreds of applications, but they then have to sit for days in a small, stuffy room watching anxious academics perform. Engage them, and be enthusiastic and confident.

Thanks to Jo Frost at UKRO for running these events, and to Dr Lawrence Moon of KCL for sharing his experiences of applying to the ERC.

The Consolidator Grants came later, on 21 Feb, so annoyingly don't fit neatly into my Keatsian reference. But we never let the truth get in the way of a glib opening sentence here at Fundermentals Towers.