Posts By / Matthew Bennett

Open Data?

Following on from the recent posts on Open Access Publishing I wanted to pick up on something else that appeared recently in a similar vein, specifically the call by the Royal Society for Open Access Datasets in their report Science as an Open Enterprise: Open Data for Open Science.  The report argues that open inquiry is at the heart of research and that ‘publication of scientific theories – and of experimental and observational data on which they are based – permits others to identify errors, to support, reject or refine theories and to reuse data for further understanding and knowledge.  Science’s powerful capacity for self-correction comes from this openness to scrutiny and challenge.’  These are very fine words and are applicable to all areas of research whether it be scientific or not, but they also go against the inherent element of human nature epitomised by the school kid crouched over their exercise book in case their neighbour should steal an advantage!  Protecting ones sources and ones data is a natural instinct in the competitive research culture in which we live.  The report argues for a culture of change in which we open up our data to other scientists and to the public at large and that by being more open we can increasingly maximise the value of that data for the research community and crucially for society as a whole. 

On a personal level as someone who has had a line of research and a field site stolen from them by petty academic politics and rivalries the ability to gain access to data held by others is very appealing especially when you have something valuable to add.  It is why in my current research grant I gave a commitment which I will honour later this year to make all my data – thousands of digital footprint scans from sites across the World – available via a project website.  The pleasure in doing so lies in knowing that the data will be used by others to explore new ideas and agenda in the future, long after I have moved on to other topics.  This ideal is not without some challenges however.  Issues of data security and accessibility are considerable, as is the need to future proof such archives against changes in technology.  These are the challenges faced by any long term archiving project.  As a real illustration of these challenges I draw your attention to a local example.  Around ten years ago Bournemouth University was a partner in a Heritage Lottery project entitled the Dorset Coastal Digital Archive, a resource of digitised and geo-rectified maps and charts from along the Dorset Coast supported by a range of learning packages.  This web-based archive was hosted by the University and was recently subject to a malicious cyber-attack corrupting both the site and the data back-up and as a result the site has had to be taken down for the time being while a solution is sought.  I also know from personal experience the difficulty and frustration involved in extracting raw data linked to publications several decades old that was deposited in national data repositories.  But despite these issues the benefits are clear or at least they are to me.  There has already been some discussion here at BU in the Research & Knowledge Exchange Forum about whether to establish our own data repository similar to BURO and while this debate has yet to conclude it is an idea which would be in line with the proposals from the Royal Society. 

The working group at the Royal Society behind the report was chaired by Professor Geoffrey Boulton who just happens to be my former PhD supervisor but notwithstanding this association it is a really fine document and makes six clear recommendations:

  • Scientists need to be more open with respect to their data among themselves, with the public and media.
  • Greater recognition needs to be given to the value of data gathering, analysis and communication for example through recognition in future research assessment exercises or in the promotion criteria for academics.
  • There needs to a drive towards common standards for sharing information so that it can be accessed by all.
  • They argue that publishing data in a reusable form to support findings should be a mandatory part or a pre-requisite for publication and a requirement of all the main funding bodies.
  • They suggest that we need more experts in managing and supporting the use of digital data to maximise the potential that it provides to researchers and society as a whole.
  • Finally they recognise that new software tools need to be developed to analyse the growing amount of data being gathered.

Interestingly it is the reference to the role of datasets in research assessment’s such as REF that was picked up in the news, particularly by the THE.  According to this article, if REF panels were to treat datasets on a par with publications there would be a huge revolution in open data access.  Interestingly REF criteria does not currently exclude datasets and 132 datasets were evaluated as part RAE-2008.  This is an interesting and important idea and is no different from the evaluation of artefacts or similar outputs.    Whether we will see datasets more explicitly mentioned in future exercises will be something to watch for with interest.  As an aside I remember a conversation with my former supervisor about defining key research questions; his reply was that there are lots of questions but very little good data available!  The other observation that I would make here is that our own Smart Technology Research Centre is leading the way in the production of new software tools to deal with the ever growing amount of data available. 

So in conclusion I would encourage you to read the report by the Royal Society and would welcome your thoughts and suggestions about how we could incorporate these ideas into our research strategy here at BU.

Decisions, decisions: where do I publish?

My beloved cat – Tilman Bennett – is sitting on the key board right now trying to help write this post as he often does.  We will ignore the fact that he has just dribbled in my tea and focus instead on when we first met in August 1997.  In those days academic publishing was relatively decision free – you wrote the paper, selected the journal from the one or two in your field and committed it to the post to await the verdict of an editor and reviewer in due course.  Fifteen years later everything is online with a bewildering array of journal titles to choose from and academics now keep libraries of PDF’s instead of cat-eared photocopies.  Despite these changes traditional publishing models remain largely the same; free to the author with the reader having to pay for the privilege of reading your work. 

This model has been challenged in the last few years by Open Access Publishing in which articles are free to read and the author has to pay for the privilege of being published.  There are also some new online journal titles which are free at the point of submission and for the reader as well.  This debate has been stoked further in recent weeks by the publication of the Finch Report which advocated a move to Open Access Publishing for all government funded research, a view endorsed recently in an article in the Guardian, although not funded, by Willets the Minster for Higher Education. 

The Finch Report proposes three different models of Open Access Publishing:

  • Gold Open Access: where the costs of peer review, editing and production are met by charging an author’s fee, but the article on publication is free to readers.
  • Green Open Access: where articles are published in subscription based journals as now, but a copy is place in an open access repository.
  • Green Open Access (Overlay): where articles are placed in repositories which are only open up to the public once peer review has been completed.open access logo, Public Library of Science

The government supports the use of Gold Open Access which they estimate will cost the research community around £40 to 50 million a year to ensure that all publically funded research is available free to the user.  This assumes that publishing models remain largely as they are now, with existing journals and the publishing houses that produce them simply switching production fees from the subscriber to the submitter.  This is a point worth returning to, but if one accepts this for the moment then you have to ask where this additional money is to come from and sadly the answer is from existing research budgets.  There is no new money on the table although publishing costs will become eligible expenditure within government funded research in the future.  The alternative of course is that researchers will change their publishing habits, especially where they don’t have access to publication costs from research grants or where institutional open access funds like our own [the BU Open Access Publication Fund] become increasingly stretched, to favour those publications which are free to both the submitter and subscriber.  This is an intriguing question; will open access change publishing habits?  One would like to think so especially in the face of the shifting cost burden, but in reality journal rankings and the perception of what constitutes a quality journal are so ingrained in UK academics, particularly as the unofficial currency of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), it is perhaps unlikely at least in the short term.

This creates a rather negative view on something which is actually a real positive to the research community.  Ultimately it is about allowing the free movement of knowledge between researchers, the public and business/industry to help drive innovation, societal gain and economic growth.  Removing the restrictions on the dissemination of knowledge is a big deal and one we should actively support as an academic community, or at least in my opinion.  The only questions are around the implementation of this ideal and where the burden of cost will lie between the producer and user of that knowledge.  The point here is that there are some excellent low cost solutions to Open Access.  A couple of weeks back I read a piece in the Guardian about how physicist’s use a discipline specific archive (arXiv, curated by Cornell University) to provide free access to their publications, in addition to publishing in a mainstream and conventional journal.

It is of course possible to do the same using our own institutional repository BURO which is now even more accessible given the new interface provided by BRIAN.  So there are lots of ways to follow the Open Access philosophy without necessarily incurring big costs.  It is perhaps a shame that one method was so openly favoured by the Finch report.

So far the response to the Finch Report from academics has been very positive since most researchers want to be read, but it is also a change and as we all know academics can be quite conventional in their outlook.  In this respect you can understand how the model of Gold Open Access appeals since it simply involves the journals we know and love just changing the cost from reader to author and most big publishing houses already offer this service.  There has been some negative reaction from Russell Group institutions who are concerned about the cost implications given the output of their staff and the high proportion of RCUK funding they receive, but otherwise it has been welcomed by most.  I have seen some comment from journals based around learned societies dependent on their income who feel threatened by a shift in publication models; something which is understandable and potentially an issue if the publishing landscape was really to change radically. 

This is the big question – will it change the publishing landscape for research in the future, or will the status quo remain with a simple shift in who pays?  This is an intriguing question since part of me would like to see the growth of free publishing options – free at point of submission and free to the reader – and there are some online journals that are growing in reputation that do just that, but in truth I suspect that as conventional souls academics will simply continue to publish in the same journals they have and look to their institutions or research funder to bear the cost.  I would love to see the publishing landscape change but I suspect that Tilman and I are living in an utopian dream if we believe this is likely. What is clear however is that Open Access is now something that all researchers will need to actively consider in deciding where and how to publish our results.

So where does this leave academics within BU?  Well we have had the BU Open Access Publishing Fund for the last 15 months supported centrally and we will continue to monitor its use and invest further in this fund to ensure that this caters for academic demand within BU.  There is no doubt that this fund will need to grow in future and while one could expect subscription packages to decline I doubt, being a little cynical about the publishing industry, that this will happen very quickly or in pace with the needs to invest further in our Open Access Fund.  I would encourage all academics with Charity or RCUK based funding to start to embrace Open Access Publishing at least as part of the dissemination strategy for all their current grants and to ensure that they bid for open access funds as part of future grants as this becomes possible (it is already possible with some funders, including Research Councils).  This already entered my own planning with respect to dissemination of the results from own NERC grant.  In short Open Access Publishing is set to increase and to be a big part of our futures and as publishing model change we will need to change with them.  Increasing our academic reach through Open Access is in line with BU’s research strategy to be more societally focused and to impact on the world in which we live.  In the meantime periods of transition and change require one to be adaptable and I have no doubt that we will need to be.  For those wanting a cat update, he is now asleep on the floor dreaming of a day when open access extends to the cat food cupboard!

Jumping Trains

I am sitting on the train returning to BU after attending a rather dull function in London last night and my mind is racing over stuff as the countryside flashes by the train window.  It is funny where peoples mind goes while sitting on the train, there are those in the carriage who have their head down typing frantically at laptops and I-pads, others gossiping with colleagues and friends on route to meetings and days out, others engrossed in the newspapers whose headlines are screaming loudly about last nights penalty shoot out.

My own mind is racing free form over problems with my own research, worrying about the kids, thinking about BU’s regional strategy, interviews this afternoon when back on Talbot, the usual mix of stuff – unfocused, but aware of the passage of time, the approach of deadlines and challenges, all hurtling towards me like the landscape outside.  A week ago we launched BRIAN and despite teething problems it is looking good, new stuff to learn and the articulation between it and the VIVO which runs the new staff profiles is an added complication.  The idea of a system that can find your publications for its self and output them to the world is cool and the ability to tailor and modify your staff profile more easily,  potentially with weekly updates, is all quite exciting.  When I started out as an academic twenty years ago you used to get a nice pile of off prints through the post when ever you had published something and one of the tasks I was taught early on was to sit down with your address book and send them out not only to your parents and academic mates, but also to the key figures in your field.  Part of raising your own profile and getting read.  Those days are gone and paper off prints are largely a thing of the past, but the need to raise the profile of your work with fellow academics remains.  Tools like BRIAN, Twitter, Facebook, Academia.edu, and LinkedIn all allow you to do so, even for people like me who feel uneasy about the social networking revolution.

We commissioned some work recently from Elsevier looking at the academic reach of work at BU – who was citing it, where and how often.  Interesting stuff which has been passed on to the research leads in each School – why not ask them about it?  The message from this work was not great while we do some really cool research at BU, to be honest it is not getting read and cited as much as it should be.  We intend to launch a bit of a campaign in the autumn to tackle this issue and help staff understand how to maximize their academic reach and get read/cited more often.  Optimizing ones profiles on Scopus, Web of Science, use of social media, using BRIAN to enhance your external profile are all things that we will advise and encourage on.  But lurking here is a train analogy inspired by the train I am sitting on.

We are good as academics of working within an existing networks like rail networks – for example South West Trains – our work is read and cited by our colleagues within BU, our academic mates and collaborators, and others in our network.  There are other networks out there however – Southern Trains or just now looking out of the window Cross Country Trains – with academics in other countries, national regions, or social/academic networks doing similar work whether or not they identify themselves with the same network or discipline badges as we or not.  The key to improving ones own academic impact, getting read and cited is being able to jump between those networks; to be the linking track.  It is easier said than done – rail networks meet at stations, which in our parlance are academic conferences, not just those which rally our own discipline but also those of cognate disciplines providing the chance to meet other academics, collaborate and be remembered.  The problem is that conferences are a bit like last nights chip paper full of promise when hot with chips but quickly forgotten and confined to the bin when home with a real meal.   I suppose I am saying it is often hard to capitalize on the contacts made at conference and ensure your work is remembered.  Follow through is essential to make sure these contact see your written work which is what counts.  Reaching out directly by cold emails with PDF’s copies of your work is one way, asking to collaborate directly is another, but the one I want to emphasis here is study leave.  There is nothing like a period of study leave to build new networks and with the study leaving funding available now as part of the Fusion Investment Fund there is no excuse; the idea way of jumping tracks for a bit.  It looks as if the first round of study leave funding will be under subscribed, in contrast to the other strands, but with another opportunity to come in December it is worth perhaps thinking about how one can use such opportunities to jump trains for a bit and widen your academic network?

The Quest for Innovation

This time last year I was coordinating and drafting a new Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) Strategy and I thought it worth updating you on progress as part of my weekly column.  As some of you may know the strategy was submitted in July 2011 and approved by HEFCE in September. The basic thrust of the strategy was to invest in a series of key sector specific themes, while also appointing a senior Business Engagement Leader.  The initial themes where: Soho-on-Sea, prosthetic engineering, a tourism academy, a science hub and Centre for Entrepreneurship, with additional themes coming on line each year of the strategy as each developed and became sustainable.  The basic strategy remains the same although some of the themes have changed a little along the way.

Soho-on-Sea was the first of the themes to get underway in the autumn.  Having since been rebranded externally as the INTERNATIONAL VFX HUB, the theme has attracted a number of industry ‘Friends’. For the full list and additional information on the Hub’s 8–Key Projects visit: www.internationalvfxhub.com. Partnered with Arts University College Bournemouth and supported by Skillset, the VFX Hub aims to solidify Bournemouth’s international reputation as a leader in excellence within the animation and VFX industries. UK Trade & Investment recently identified Bournemouth as a key provider of ‘creative industry services’ and is attracting investment to the area from international partners, allowing Bournemouth to compete with London’s Soho on both price and value. Upon approaching industry for feedback, Project Director Peter Truckel and Business Engagement Consultant Lindsay Watson have been overwhelmed by positive responses. Many companies have already committed in principle to having their work produced by the VFX Hub. As a whole, the 8-Key Projects combine to deliver an industry bridge allowing professionals to collaborate with academics and students on commercial projects, research, training development and profile building.  At the centre of this initiative is a VFX Festival which will run from summer 2013. The initiative is developing rapidly; having recently returned from Los Angles, Professor Tim McIntyre–Bhatty and the VFX Team hosted a series of meeting with key animation studios.  Dreamworks, Pixar and Lucas Films are all interested in taking part in various VFX Hub activities. BAFTA have also confirmed their interest in the Festival and the Hub will have it’s first interview with the Guardian newspaper in the coming weeks. Sign-up today to receive regular Email Updates from the VFX Hub – www.internationalvfxhub.com/updates

In terms of the Science Hub, this is proceeding through the initial stages of trying to secure large-scale EU Investment in setting up a regional science facility where local companies can get access to laboratories to engage in ‘R&D’ work especially around the bio-environmental issues.   The bid has already passed through some of the initial pre-application stages and shows promise of proceeding to a full application later this summer.

The tourism initiative is developing nicely around a consortium of local authorities who aim to develop a regional/national academy of tourism excellence here in Bournemouth.  With a successful project on Digital Destinations already awarded by the ESRC, the team are currently awaiting the outcome of a multi-million pound bid to the Coastal Communities Fund for the establishment of a National Coastal Tourism Academy in partnership with Bournemouth Borough Council which will really set this theme alight if successful.  The project is being led by Professor Alan Fyall, Dr Phil Long and Dr Philip Alford with high-level presentations already delivered to tourist authorities in Belgium, Northern Ireland and across the UK to engage industry beyond the region.  The first external event is to be hosted at BU on 10 July 2012 where Dr Keith Dinnie from the Netherlands will deliver a one-day workshop on Destination Brand Ambassadors while from September onwards a variety of short-course and CPD opportunities will be launched for professionals in the area of destination marketing and management.  Although with a strong industry-engagement focus, this initiative is supported academically through the launch of Elsevier’s new Journal of Destination Marketing & Management by Professor Alan Fyall and a number of colleagues from the School of Tourism.

A decision was taken early in the academic year not to proceed at this point with the design sandpits around prosthetic engineering and after some delay this theme was replaced early in 2012 by one around Dementia with the aim of placing BU at the heart of regional dementia hub.  Around 100 people attended a public meeting that served as the launch of the Bournemouth University Dementia Institute (BUDI; www.bournemouth.ac.uk/dementia-institute) on 16 May.  There is huge interest locally from a range of stakeholders in taking dementia education, research and practice forward across Dorset.  This project led by Professor Anthea Innes is also accelerating rapidly, aided by the increased focus on Dementia afforded by the Prime Minsters commitment in the early spring to invest in this area. There is real potential in this area for BU to shine not only in terms of practice based research but as a community making a real difference to society.

The DM Centre for Entrepreneurship located on the 6th floor of the EBC has now gained four tenants in the form of media related businesses and is building a presence within the region.  In January 2012 the BU Board approved the creation of a subsidiary company to manage the Centre – BU Enterprises Ltd – and the this operation is already ahead of its planned business position this year.  The Centre has a new website and Professor Dean Patton as head of the Centre is gradually building a network of individuals in the local business community which will allow the Centre to flourish and develop further in the coming months.  Mark Painter, the Centre Manager, is currently meeting with a range of colleagues across BU to look for opportunities to work with and support other Schools. At the same time, the Centre is moving forward with a number of external events and seminars to be held at the EBC later in the year. Discussions are currently under way as to how we can expand the opportunities provided by the Centre especially in the area of student start-ups and in developing an internal culture of knowledge exchange.

We have also given a commitment to invest in the work under taken by Sarah Bate around Face Blindness (prosopagnosia) which has huge potential.  Sarah is using this investment to create a ‘Centre for Face Processing Disorders’ that aims to carry out the first large-scale investigations into the assessment and treatment of prosopagnosia.  In addition, the Centre will provide support for professionals who work with children with face processing deficits, provide unique educational placements for undergraduate and postgraduate students, and facilitate the networking of academics/practitioners interested in this field of study.  As illustrated by our commitment to Sarah’s work, we are always in the market for new themes which can help bring about our aspiration to deliver a step change in Knowledge Exchange Performance for BU with a strong focus on the creation of knowledge networks which unlock collaboration, information flow and new initiatives

The final component of the strategy was to appoint a Business Engagement Leader to help broker new business for BU, provide some corporate management of our key business clients, to help develop the sector specific themes and seek our new innovation.  The post was advertised back in January 2012 but unfortunately we were not able to make an appointment before Easter and are currently awaiting a second round of interviews.  It is vital that we get the right person, and while the delay is irritating to a naturally impatient person like my-self we hope to make an appointment in the next few weeks.

So that is in way of a brief update on progress and if you have any great ideas or suggestions then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.  HEIF is about finding and investing in innovation, so please step forward and innovate if you have a theme needing investment!

 

Friday!

If you are reading this the chances are that you have followed the new link on the blog and are expecting ‘news from the PVC’.  About a month ago I rashly promised to contribute a weekly column to the blog to let you know what was in my mind, what is new at BU or in prospect that has not yet made its way onto the blog.  The problem this morning is that the new link went live last night and I thought I had better write something but my brain is somewhat befuddled after a long week, it is also early on Friday morning and I am counting the minutes until the coffee shop opens and I get coffee to kick start my day!

Much of this week has been taken up with the first panel meetings for three strands of the Fusion Investment Fund.  We have been discussing how to process and assess the applications which are due on the 1 July and I will be posting the agreed assessment criteria along with some FAQ’s on the staff portal and blog first thing on Monday.  I have run a number of surgeries and briefing session over the last two weeks and plan to run at least two more events before the deadline.  The ideas and innovation emerging are fantastic and most of the applications seem to be heading toward the Co-Production/Creation Strand, with Mobility & Networking close behind and Study Leave attracting less interest.  My only observation is that many of the schemes being put forward to the Co-Production/Creation Strand could be re-shaped as Study Leave or a Mobility grants.  I do believe that the Study Leave Strand is really powerful, but also understand that people don’t necessarily want to be away from home, although as someone pointed out this week there are lots of HEI’s and Businesses in the UK that are in commuting distance of Bournemouth; you don’t have to go over-seas to take study leave!  I would also like to remind people that it will also fund inward mobility; that is the costs of bringing someone to Bournemouth for a period of time.  I will try to capture some of this in the FAQ’s which are emerging from the sessions that I have run, but I also would be happy to talk to anyone directly who wants to talk through an idea.  My calendar is a bit of a nightmare so a meeting might not be possible but if you drop me an email with your number and some time slots when you are free I will try to call you between meetings next week.

So it is now five to eight and the coffee shop beckons!  Have a nice weekend.

Search for a volunteer/champion…

I opened by ‘ideas book’ full of random notes and reminders of things that I should have done ages ago just now and found a small yellow, innocent looking post-it with the words ‘PGR & ECR journal?’ Do I hear a stampede of volunteers to get this off the ground? We could fund this and make it happen via the Fusion Investment Fund if there is an interest, may be even call the journal ‘Fusion’ if the title has not already been taken!

Over the last few years I have talked to several people about the idea of an internal journal to help PGR students – doctoral and masters – publish. There are also some cracking undergraduate dissertations each year which could be published as well via such a vehicle. Internal journals are also ideal places for Early Career Researchers (ECR) to try out and develop new ideas before launching them on the big journals. I believe for example that the Business School has recently set up a working paper series which is a similar concept.

So what I have in mind is a BU journal – Fusion – which is managed by a small editorial board of PGR students and staff publishing material online with full internal peer review. Papers could either be visible internally only or externally depending on whether staff/students plan to publish it in an external journal later. We could form the scope in such a way as to embrace research, education and practice and therefore live up to the name of Fusion. It could also be a place to share ideas and showcase the work of our students, early career researchers and to try out new ideas.

If this is to get off the ground I need an energetic champion(s) who fancies taking this forward with my full support, and financial backing, as well as volunteers to join an editorial board and any idea or thought around this concept would be welcome to add into the mix. I look forward to hearing from you!

Matthew

BURO and Academic Staff Pages to become read-only

The new publications management system, BRIAN, will be available from 22 June.  In order to migrate current data into BRIAN (Bournemouth Research, Information & Networking), the BURO and Academic Staff Pages will only be available in read-only mode from Monday, 28th May 2012.  Staff will be able to modify their profile using BRIAN from the 22 June.

I would advise you to stop inputting any further information into BURO from today, which will enable the BURO team within the Library to complete any outstanding actions.  From the 22 June staff will be able to use BRIAN to manage their BURO records.

You can update your Academic Staff Pages up until Sunday, 27th May 2012.  This information will migrate across to BRIAN and so any amendments made this week will be imported into the new system.

For those who have never heard of BRIAN – watch this space for a series of articles on the BU Research Blog and staff portal over the coming weeks.  We recently published details  link on a series of demonstrations for staff about the new system.  If you have any concerns or queries then please contact Jo Garrad in the Research Development Unit who is coordinating the BRIAN launch.  

I appreciate your cooperation over the next few weeks while we make the necessary transition.

Best wishes

Matthew

The pursuit of mud

I am fortunate to have been let out of the office and into the sunshine this week to pursue a small piece of data collection I have wanted to do for ages as part of my NERC grant.  It involves standing knee deep in mud!

I have been working for a while on the control of substrate on footprint typology and believe firmly in working in natural depositional environments to do so when I can.  In recent years the team has done a lot of work on various beaches looking at the control of moisture content and walking speed on print form and linking this to plantar pressure data taken in the lab.  We have also done some really cool work in Namibia on footprint morphology and substrate properties, which one of my colleagues recently reported at the Annual American Physical Anthropology conference in Portland.  But testing the limits of print preservation needs some real mud!

Plotting BU’s research strategy and REF submission is no match in terms of fun when one could be wading bare foot and knee deep in mud, although the two feel quite similar at times!  This week I am collecting data from a range of estuarine muds – different grains sizes, moisture contents to explore the limits of footprint formation and typological variance.  Visiting different sites we make a trail of prints and then photograph each print, perhaps 30 or 40 times, from different angles and perspectives to provide the data to build three dimensional models using photogrammetry.  We will then combine these models to create an average print and compare this to the sedimentological data we are also collecting at each site.  In the past I have used an optical laser scanner to analyse foot prints, but no one in their right mind would let me loose with one of those in this mud!  So it’s a week of mud for me and I will see you all back in the office next week.

 

Launch of the Fusion Investment Fund

I am delighted today to launch the Fusion Investment Fund which, at c. £3m per annum for the first three years, represents the significant investment that BU is making in the development of staff and students, and the embedding of the Fusion philosophy.

At the heart of the BU2018 strategy is the powerful fusion of research, education and professional practice, creating a unique academic experience where the sum is greater than the component parts. Fusion is the key concept which underlies the BU2018 strategy and its delivery is critical to the University’s future mission. As a founding concept Fusion will allow the organisation to achieve its ambition of transforming the academic footprint of BU while remaining a similar academic size. It is the key academic strategy and central to the culture at BU. In essence Fusion is the combination of inspirational teaching, world-class research and the latest thinking in the professions which creates a continuous and fruitful exchange of knowledge that stimulates new ideas, learning and thought leadership.

The Fund exists to support a range of practical initiatives and pump prime activity around Fusion. Launched today are three of the funding strands available to BU staff:

  • Co-creation and co-production – this strand provides grants focused on supporting activity that drives fusion with specific emphasis on research and/or professional practice. The budget in 2012-13 for this strand is £400k and individual grants awarded will be between £10k and £75k each.
  • Study leave – this strand provides up to 50 opportunities per annum for paid study leave for staff to engage in business/industry secondments, international staff exchange, pedagogic development, and/or research practice. The grants are designed to buy individuals out of one semester/term of teaching and provide support for either overseas travel and subsistence or for expenditure associated with distance working within the UK. It is intended that these awards will be made primarily for study from BU rather than simply to provide staff with teaching relief.  Note that exceptionally awards may also be made to support incoming staff visiting BU who will material enhance Fusion or the development of international or business development.  In this case the BU sponsor should make the application for funding before any invitation is extended. The budget in 2012-13 for this strand is £750k and individual grants awarded will be up to £15k.
  • Staff mobility and networking – this strand provides support for staff to support UK or overseas travel and subsistence in pursuit of any aspect of Fusion – research, education, and/or professional practice. The budget in 2012-13 for this strand is £200k and individual grants awarded will be between £5k and £10k each.

These funding streams are in addition to the other Fusion Investment Fund initiatives already launched – the 100 annual doctoral opportunities advertised earlier this year and the Grants Academy that was launched last month. The other initiatives that form part of the Fund (such as the Student Mobility grants) will be announced in August 2012.

Strand Committees: Each strand will be managed by a small committee responsible for running and monitoring the allocation process – call, review, allocation and reporting. They also have responsibility for developing detailed application criteria as appropriate and developing FAQs. Committee members will usually serve for between two and five years and are not excluded from applying for funding via the strands.

We are now seeking to appoint committee members. If you would like to serve on one of the committees then please self-nominate via email to me (cc’d to Julie Northam) to express an interest by 27 April 2012.

For each committee we are seeking two Professors and two Senior Lecturers/Lecturers. You will need to confirm in the email which of the three strands you would like to be considered for. This is a prestigious opportunity to be involved in supporting colleagues and the University to meet the BU2018 aims and I look forward to receiving your nomination emails.

 

Applying to the strands: The first deadline for these strands is 1 July 2012, for awards in 2012-13; there will be subsequent deadlines later in the academic year for the mobility and co-creation/production strands. Applications to the Fund are made via one standard application form. Further information about the Fusion Investment Fund will be available shortly from the new Staff Portal when it is launch later this month. In the meantime you can access further details via the Research Blog: http://blogs.bournemouth.ac.uk/research/fusion/fusion-investment-fund/.

Congratulations to BU’s newly appointed AHRC reviewers!

Congratulations to Neal White and Dr Bronwen Thomas in the Media School who have both been appointed as reviewers to the AHRC. This is fantastic news!

Their membership of the AHRC peer review college will run from April 2012 until December 2015.

College members are invited to submit peer reviews which are used by moderating panels as the basis to make decisions on whether applications are of a fundable standard. Assessments are made using a pre-defined grading scale. Typically three reviews are required for each funding proposal.

Dr Richard Berger is already a member of the AHRC peer review college – you can read his previous blog post on the life of a reviewer here – http://blogs.bournemouth.ac.uk/research/2011/11/23/life-as-an-ahrc-panel-reviewer/

This is great news for Neal and Bronwen, and also for the Media School and the University. Congratulations!

Weetabix & the Art of the Studentship Proposal

It is a while since I last posted anything on the blog having been busy working on our new strategic plan currently out to consultation. With this in mind and the imminent deadline for the PhD Studentships competition I thought I might share some ideas about writing the perfect proposal. There is nothing very special about this insight, just a few reflections which might help or at the least may amuse.

In my experience research grants tend to fall into two broad categories, namely: (1) concise bids often consisting of just one or more pages like the BU Studentship competition; and (2) complex bids, with longer cases of support. The art of writing each type of proposal is different and we will concern ourselves here with the former rather than the latter. The aim is answer a series of specific questions with a few carefully selected words making a cogent case.

You may remember if you are of a certain age the cereal box competition “paint a picture or design a box lid and then in just eight words explain why you love Weetabix!” These types of competitions always used to frustrate me because irrespective of how good your artwork was, and your mum would always tell you that it was super, you still had to write something snappy! And as a kid I didn’t like writing much and snappy has always alluded me. I view short, one page bids in the same way and with distaste. You get just 300, or at most 500, words to make your case. Slightly more than eight but I am sure we will all agree not enough! Writing such proposals is a skill and like all skills needs practice, but in the hands of a master becomes an art. Now I don’t claim to be a master but the process starts like most things with a great idea, and complete clarity as to how it should unfold and be delivered. It is the clarity of thought that is the key to being concise and I suppose is the real test of art.

The current competition for BU Studentships is a case in point and with the deadline imminent I thought I would share a few personal reflections on the art of the concise bid. You have a generous 500 words with which to make the case for a studentship plus various supplementary opportunities to clarify specific points. The starting point for me in writing such a bid is clarity around what the aims and objectives of a project are, and ultimately its tractability. Having a clear understanding is critical and I personally start by writing it all down in note form, or talking it through with a colleague in order to have a good grasp of the arguments one could deploy. Test it, view it from all angles and select your pose and line of attack with care. When I start to write I try to stick with the: wow, what, why, now, how and impact scheme of things. Now if I had a way with words I would be able to turn this into some form mnemonic but I haven’t so we will have to stick with ‘WWNHI’. The wow matters and starts with the title because you want to entice your reader to read on. Most assessment panels of this sort consist of learned academics or lay readers without necessarily having your subject specialism. If you turn them off in the first line, they won’t read on. It is like the headline and lead sentence of a newspaper article; its got to grab the reader and compel them to read on, so they do in fact read. So should your title and opening few lines, so with this in mind the wow factor matters! The what then follows in order of priority. What is that you propose to do and how can you say this in a few concise words or a sentence or two at most? You might propose a major problem in the ‘wow’ and the ‘what’ is your solution for example. Some academic like to state this as an aim others as the answer to a question, but however you do it you need to be clear about what it is that you will deliver. Avoid lengthy lists of objectives and goals and remain focused on the primary goal.

The why and the now tend to collide thereafter. Why is it important and why must it be studied now rather than at some point in the future? Why is timely, topical or urgent? Again a few concise lines should be sufficient to serve, cross referenced to a few key references. Now there is no need to show off your erudition by citing the whole of your library, but a few choice references help assure the reader that you are a master of the relevant literature and that it has not all been done before! You want to always avoid the idea that it has all been done before at all costs, but also you need to be authentic to the reality of research in your chosen area. We are on a roll now and have probably used up may be 150 to 200 of our words at most and we are ready for the how. The key issue here is to demonstrate that a problem is tractable and in the case of a studentship, that you have access to the resources or data required. That above all else it is deliverable by your chosen student and in three years not a life time of servitude! This is not another place, however, to show off your erudition and understanding of research philosophy or approach; save it for that great methods paper you wish to write sitting in the garden this summer. The key here is to demonstrate that your approach is well tried or novel/original and will address the questions posed in a timely manner.

We probably have used up another 100 or 150 of our precious words and are ready to deliver the final punch – fund this and you will deliver the earth! What will the return on the investment be? What is the impact of the proposed research? How will it change the world for the better? Now your research may only have academic impact, but if you can demonstrate societal impact so much the better. The key is to be specific, concise and not to promise the impossible but be authoritative about the return on investment you will and can provide. In the case of the BU Studentship form there are specific sections later in the form for you to document this in more detail, so confine yourself to a few well-chosen sentences that complete your case and compel the reader to give the funding you seek.

All of the above can be done in as little as 300 words, you have 500 on the studentship form so use them wisely and whatever you do don’t use them for the sake of it. This is definitely one of those case where less can be more. One final piece of advice ‘you should not be able to see the brush strokes in the final piece’. What I am saying is that if you use WWNHI well, no one should be aware that you have followed the magic formula at all. My final parting shot is to say that unless you have clarity of thinking you won’t have clarity in your prose so don’t start to write until you have it all worked out and have viewed it from every angle and worked out the best way to sell your idea. And yes it is about selling your idea to the assessment panel. They won’t just recognise your genius. Like any art its needs practice and careful work and I for one don’t profess to be an expect. Whatever your colleagues may say in bravado a proposal is not something that can be dashed off the night before the deadline whatever you may think and assessment panels are never understanding or willing to cut you slack. Write it, hone it, re-write it, seek comments on it, re-write it some more and perfect it and then send it in with a wink and a prayer. Good luck!

Matthew