Posts By / Matthew Bennett

Research Funding, Society & Research @ BU

Over the last decade, but particularly in the last five years, BU has matured into a university with a strong research track record with some of the most talented researchers anywhere in the world.  It is a fantastic success story and one to be justifiably proud.  Take a look at the graph which shows the growth in our published output as depicted by Scopus data; it truly something!  Our output has grown at a rate of over 13% compared to 3.7% for the UK as a whole.

RAE2008 was a milestone in this journey – the fourth most improved University was the well-deserved headline!   There is much to shout about but we also have to think carefully about how we can continue this trajectory building on this foundation.

To do this we will need to find more income.  Our research income per academic FTE remains modest at around £6.5k compared to a sector average of £50k per FTE.  To grow our research base further we need to up our game.  You may ask why?  Well to make another step change and ensure that we are not just left in the stocks as a teaching-only university as the sector shifts in the coming years we need to grow our learning community of research students, research assistants and post-doctoral fellows which are the lifeblood of a successful research active university.   To do this we will need to attract much more external research income.  It is not, however, just a question of bidding more, but critically of increasing the quality of our bids and thereby our success rates.

There are many reasons why a shift to a research culture driven by societal need is important, not least of which is to give something back as a public institution to society, but it is also important to ensure our ability to bid more successfully for funds in the future.  Let me use my own career as an illustration.  My first passion is glacial geology and I spent much of the 1990s studying the esoteric discipline of sediment transport in Arctic glaciers.  It was a fantastic period in my life in which I was perpetually scraping together funds for my next field trip and never more at home than on some frozen glacier.  Money was not easy to come by because in truth there was little funding available for such work, to be blunt it has little or no societal relevance.  It was not until I joined BU in 2002 that I started to reinvent my research direction working for the first time in the field of contaminated land as an environmental geologist and starting to work first in Central America and then in Africa on aspects of human evolution.  During this second part of my career my success rate with Research Councils increased three-fold, as did the total amount of research income I generated.  In essence I shifted from a field with little societal relevance to one with huge value. My passion for research remains but is just directed slightly differently!  At the heart of this story is the fact that I was able to transfer my skills as sedimentologist – someone who studies dirt – from one discipline to another.

Within BU we have a lot of active and talented researchers some of whom are working in fields of societal importance but some whom are not, preferring to pursue their own, often narrow, research agenda.  By shifting to a more societal focus for the majority of our research our ability to generate income and achieve societal impact is likely to be much greater and this is a shift that we need to make together over the next year or so.  A shift which is something that is essential if we are to make BU2018 a reality.

During the last year BU has been through a process of defining societal research themes and it is worth refreshing ourselves about this journey.  The initial candidate set of themes was generated from a trawl of all the priority funding areas for all major research funding bodies (Research Councils, European Commission, major charities, etc).  This list was debated and refined by the BU Professoriate and subject to an all staff survey, in which candidate themes where put to the public vote.  The remaining ten themes were scoped out and defined and then whittled to eight earlier this year via debate on this blog.  These are the research themes on which BU has chosen to focus its societal research effort.  But crucially they are still up for debate, evolution and further discussion.  To this end I recently invited all staff to an event on the 14 December 2011 at which the research themes will be scoped further and networks of researchers created.  If you have not signed up yet I would encourage you to do so!

To register your place at the Fusion Event on 14 December complete this form:

Your Name (required)

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Your School / Professional Service (required)

Staff or PGR student? (required)
StaffPGR

Please select the themes that you are interested in (required)

Share files easily with the new BU Transfer service!

As part of the Collaborative Tools for Academics project, we have been looking at ways of enhancing the support available to academics to share information both internally and externally. Feedback from colleagues indicated that the University’s file transfer service was not adequate and required improvement. I am delighted today to launch the new file transfer service – BU Transfer.

BU Transfer will enable you to quickly and easily share large files with colleagues internally and externally via a web browser.

You can access BU Transfer from the Staff Portal, the Research Blog and MyBU via this icon.

We are very interested in your feedback regarding the service. Please could you forward all comments to Amina Uddin.

Best wishes

Matthew

REF week on the blog! A Ramble about REF

It’s REF week on the Research Blog and I also have to give a talk to the BU Board on Thursday about progress with our REF preparations, but I am sitting here wondering what to write?  Does this often happen to you?  I often put these things off and turn my hand to something else, like the paper I am currently struggling to complete, or keeping up with my email correspondence rather than tackle the task in hand.  But you see, here am I avoiding starting on the piece again, so I had better get started before it gets any later.

For the Board presentation I am taking a historical view of REF and its ancestors.  It started out in 1985 as the Research Selectivity Exercise, before progressing in its third iteration to the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) in 1992 which was the first time research funds (QR – Quality Research Income) was distributed as a consequence of the outcome.  In some ways it was only in 1997 that universities had really got their act together and begun to take the RAE seriously, and by 2001 it was a major focus of energy in higher education and was beginning to result in a progressive concentration of research funding in a few key institutions.  BU’s greatest success to date was in 2008 when we were the fourth most improved university in the country, and for the first time BU started to receive significant QR income as a result. 

Apart from dominating the lives of many researchers, you may well ask what it has done for UK research.  Well, the answer is actually a huge ton!  In the 1970s, research in UK universities was funded via a government block grant and the UK was a middle-ranking research power, complacent, inefficient and underperforming.  According to the recent BIS survey with the catchy title International Comparative Performance of the UK Research Base – 2011 the UK is now a leading research nation in the world, second only to the US.  The much quoted headlines run something like: 1% of the world’s population, 3% of R&D spend, 4% of researchers, but 6% of articles, 10% of citations, 14% of the most cited articles.  According to HEFCE, for every pound spent on research in the UK you get between four and seven pounds back.  When seen in this context, the RAE has done its job extremely well by introducing competition into the sector.  There are parallels here with the current move to introduce competition around student numbers.

Since RAE2008, goal posts have changed again as the name has changed to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) with the introduction of ‘Impact’ as an element of the assessment.  In 2014, it will contribute 20% of the overall profile that a Unit of Assessment (UOA) will receive.  At its simplest, impact is about justifying research spending from the public purse by demonstrating the societal benefit – economic, environmental, social, or cultural – from research.  It is a great concept and speaks to the heart of societal relevance which we are placing at the centre of BU’s future research strategy.  It will be assessed as part of REF via a series of case studies and each case study has to be based on a piece or body of research undertaken in the last 15 years, with an evidenced impact since 2008.  The basic idea is that impact often takes time to come to fruition, but for a youthful institution like our own this is challenging since the research belongs to the university where it was done, not to the researcher. In the last 5 years there has been a steady influx of talented researchers to BU, but in many cases their impact belongs to another university!  

The need to evidence societal benefit is also important – it’s not enough just to have changed government policy for example; one needs to demonstrate the benefit of that change to ordinary people.  The example we often use is that of seatbelts.  Professor X does some research into seat belts and convinces government to legislate with respect to their introduction.  This only counts, however, as interim impact – to complete the case study, one would have to demonstrate how that legislation has reduced road traffic accidents.  So evidencing one’s claim is critical.  I have used this example on several occasions but was somewhat challenged when an individual in the audience pointed out that this could also be construed in a negative way since seatbelts have reduced the number of organ donors!  You will no doubt be able to guess at this point that I was talking to staff in HSC at the time. 

The point is that it is all about the narrative you build from a piece of research and how you evidence that claim.  There are some challenges for us around the issue of impact, but it also offers great opportunity.  So I think it is time for me to finish here and go back to working on my Board presentation.

Fusion event 14 December – Launch of the BU Research Themes

On the afternoon of the 14 December 2011 we will be launching the Fusion Seminar series with an event focused around launching the eight BU Research Themes.  It would be great if you could hold this date within your calendars and register for the event.

January through to March the monthly Fusion Seminar series will focus on sharing research, education and professional practice within BU and will culminate in April in a one-day Fusion conference involving both staff and students when the key research themes will be centre stage.  Dates for these events are:

  • 18 January (1.5 hours)
  • 22 February (1.5 hours)
  • 21 March (1.5 hours)
  • 18 April (whole day)

The event on the 14 December is the first in this programme and will focus on Fusion within the eight BU Research Themes.  Following consultation these themes are now fixed as: (1) Health, Wellbeing & Aging; (2) Culture & Society; (3) Creative & Digital Economies; (4) Entrepreneurship & Economic Growth; (5) Environmental Change & Biodiversity; (6) Green Economy & Sustainability; (7) Leisure & Recreation; and (8) Technology & Design.  The event will combine time for cross-BU networking within these themes, with some short keynote talks by theme champions focusing on defining the challenges in education, research & practice within each theme.  We are still looking for one or more champions per theme to step forward and help shape the theme and also the event on the 14 December.  Please get in touch with either myself or Julie Northam.  Once we have all the speakers in place we will be back in touch with a full programme.

You can register for the event and sign-up for the themes most relevant to you using the form below.  It is important to register for the themes that interest you so that we can schedule the parallel sessions accordingly to avoid clashes!

Best wishes

Matthew

Your Name (required)

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Your School / Professional Service (required)

Staff or PGR student? (required)
StaffPGR

Please select the themes that you are interested in (required)

Launch of the Research & Knowledge Exchange Office

Following the announcement by the Vice Chancellor in August 2011 that CRE would move from Finance & Commercial Services I am delighted today to formally launch the Research & Knowledge Exchange Office (R&KEO) with the remit of supporting all research and knowledge exchange (formally enterprise) activity at BU.

Under the new arrangements our existing research and knowledge exchange units will report directly to me forming a collection of discrete, but cognate elements.  Administrative support for the new R&KEO will be based in the Research Development Unit working in support of all the different teams. An overview of the status of each team is provided below.

Research Development Unit – This will continue to be led by Julie Northam and has been expanded to also include knowledge exchange development. Two new posts will be advertised later this month: a research development officer to focus specifically on research ethics, governance and conduct, and a commercialisation and KTP officer.

RKE Operations – Previously CRE Operations, this will continue to be led by Julia Taylor.  We are currently reviewing the R&KE processes and systems, with a view to improving the already excellent service delivered by this team over the next 3-6 months.

Business Engagement Unit – This is a new unit to be established as part of the HEIF-5 strategy.  We will soon advertise for a Business Engagement Leader, followed by four Business Engagement Consultants each related to the investment themes set out in the HEIF-5 Strategy.  It is hoped this team will be established from January 2012 and will work closely with the BU Foundation in developing BU as Knowledge Broker.

Graduate School – Professor Tiantian Zhang joins BU as the Head of the Graduate School in January 2012 when we will formally re-launch the Graduate School.  Until then Fiona Knight, and the School PGR administrators are keeping everything running smoothly.

DM Centre for Entrepreneurship – The CfE is led by Professor Dean Patton and has recently moved into the Business Engagement Centreof the 6th floor of the EBC and currently in the process of seeking potential tenants initially around the two specific themes as set out in the HEIF-5 Strategy, namely: (1) digital and creative; and (2) tourism & leisure.

You can access a structure diagram of the new R&KEO here: R&KEO structure diagram

I will ensure future developments with the R&KEO are announced regularly via the BU Research Blog.

Matthew Bennett

The Graduate School Needs You!

Historically the Graduate School has provided both generic research methods training as well as personal development programme for Postgraduate Research Students (PGRs) at BU.  In the future the research method training is to be provided on a more bespoke basis within Schools so that PGRs are equipped with the specific skills they need for their research.  Some Schools may wish to put on specific training course or alternatively encourage PGRs to attend relevant Masters units, for example.

In future, the focus of the Graduate School will be on more generic skills development using the Vitae Framework as the basis for this.  Fiona Knight of the Graduate School is currently putting together a development programme based on the Vitae Framework which will require new PGRs to collect a portfolio of evidence via attending events here at BU or elsewhere.  There will also be an opportunity to collect evidence from independent development activities as part of their research programme such as giving talks or attending project specific events.  This framework is being developed with both our PGR and ECR students in mind and is being implemented this Autumn.  A specific briefing for supervisors will follow.

In the meantime I am looking for your help in populating this framework.  Offers of assistance would be very much appreciated and we are looking for three levels of engagement: (1) Master Classes by an experienced researcher lasting less than 2 hours; (2) one day course on key events; and (3) offers of multi-day courses.  It seems such a shame to paying external consultants to run these events when we have so much research talent within BU.  As an incentive we are prepared to offer academic staff contributing one- or multi-day events modest payments (circa. £1k) to their personal research funds for research consumables, travel or conferences in recognition of the time taken to run these events.

We are looking for volunteers to run master classes on: Collaboration in Research; Intellectual Property in Research; Research Philosophy; Research Governance; Publisher’s Perspective on Publishing; Coping with Peer Review; Publishing in the Social Sciences; Publishing in the Sciences; Making your Mark at Conferences, Managing your Supervisor; Research Impact.

We are looking for volunteers to run short courses on: Introduction to Quantitative Research; Introduction to Qualitative Research; Languages for Researchers; Research Ethics; Managing Research Data; Time Management; Project Management Tools; Introduction to Statistical Approaches in the Sciences; Introduction to Statistical Approaches in the Social Sciences; Open Access Statistical Tools; Conducting Interviewing & Focus Groups; Perfect Academic Posters; Developing an Academic Career.

If you are interested in helping out then please contact Fiona Knight [fknight@bmth.ac.uk] by Wednesday 12 October 2012.

Research Strategy: Initial Thoughts

Along with a few colleagues I am currently trying to identify the headlines of our new research strategy, one of several sub-strategies which which make up BU’s Fusion Strategy.  At this stage we are simply coping out ideas before putting pen to paper.  Once a draft is written it will be iterated through BU’s Research & Enterprise Committee and subject to much wider consultation.  The starting point is our new Vision & Values [http://2018.bournemouth.ac.uk/] and the key statements around research.  These are:

C2 Create a world-class learning community

C3 Develop strategic local, regional, national and international partnerships

C4 Build strong professional and academic networks worldwide

S1 Fuse research, education and practice to create a unique academic experience where the sum is greater than the component parts. As part of that fusion…

S2 …undertake world-class research in recognised areas of academic excellence

S5 Be recognised internationally as a thought-leader

I5 Inspire our staff and students to enrich the world

 

These statements are underpinned by:

P1 Recruit, retain, recognise, and develop a high performing workforce;

P2 Engage and inspire staff to deliver an outstanding student experience and to fulfil their potential;

E2 Provide world-class facilities

 

Over the last few months I have trailed a range of ideas on the blog and elsewhere but the key one is the importance of societal relevance and impact; the research that we do should have an impact on the world and society in which we live.  To be clear this is not to say that we should only do applied research, but that we should focus our energy however abstract or applied on tackling the societal challenges of our day.  Using this context it is possible to frame a strategy that is  shaped by societal challenges and through the impact of our research  in turn shapes society’s future agenda.  One could summarise this via the strap-line: driven by societal need, shaping societies future.   In order to deliver on such a mission we would need to create a world-class learning community focused on research excellence and through knowledge exchange enter into a dialogue with society.  The model shown below is a way of illustrating this and identifying the key elements which need attention within the strategy, if you prefer the key sections within the strategy.  I am very interested in hearing your views on this; for example things that are missing or different perspectives?  I am also keen to know your views on where the ‘levers for change’ are within this model, or put another way where should we focus or energy?  Either post a comment or e-mail me directly, I would also be happy to arrange to meet with indivdiual research centres or groups of staff to discuss this if you would like.

Head of Graduate School Appointed

I am delighted to announce the appointment of Professor Tiantian Zhang as the new Head of the Graduate School.  Professor Zhang will take up her new post in January 2012 when we will also have a formal launch of the new Graduate School.  She is currently Director of LIRANS at the Bedfordshire University.  As a researcher she focuses on cryopreservation of reproductive cells and embryos of aquatic species; effect of cryopreservation on genome and metabolic activities of reproductive cells; and fish stem cell culture development and cryopreservation. Her research also includes ecotoxicological studies using fish cell lines and other biological materials. Professor Zhang has presented at over 60 international conferences leading to over 120 publications. She has supervised 18 PhD and 6 Research Masters students.  She is an outstanding scientist with exciting ideas of how to take the Graduate forward over the next few years shaping Postgraduate Student experience.  You can find further details about Professor Zhang at: http://www.beds.ac.uk/research/lirans/personnel/zhang_t

HEIF-5 strategy approved by HEFCE

I am delighted to share with you the news that BU’s HEIF-5 Strategy was approved by HEFCE at the end of last week securing institutional investment for Knowledge Exchange for the next four years.  In broad terms this is worth around £700k per year in funding.  The strategy was submitted to HEFCE back in July and set out our approach to Knowledge Exchange (formerly referred as enterprise) activity within BU.  Outlined below are the key elements of our new HEIF strategy.  We will be developing the concepts and ideas further within the Fusion Strategy currently being developed.

The aim of the strategy is: to support Knowledge Exchange (KE) that enhances regional/national economic growth while strengthening Bournemouth University’s (BU’s) core business of research and education. At the heart of BU’s new Vision & Values launched July 2011 is the concept of fusion, in which education, research and professional engagement create a distinctive academic proposition in which the sum is greater than the component parts.  It is based on a mutual exchange of ideas with business, is grounded in our research and educational strengths and will drive both regional and national economic growth.  Previously KE (enterprise) has emphasised the revenue stream rather than the inflow of information, in terms of market and commercial intelligence, which is more aligned to our core business.  As a consequence KE has failed to gain widespread traction with staff and growth has been modest.  As part of our new strategy we seek a step change in performance starting with a fundamental change in culture and approach linked to our new Vision & Values that will make BU one of the most trusted knowledge brokers on the south coast driving economic growth and entrepreneurship in selected economic sectors.

Previous Approach (HEIF-4) – Revenue was invested in central infrastructure around innovation & commercialisation, employer engagement, entrepreneurship, and consultancy.  A feature of our investment plan was a fund to pump-prime activity across the entire academic footprint.  Thirty projects were funded and while many have been successful, stimulating valuable business interaction, the lack of strategic focus prevented rapid growth.  Investment returns from commercialisation have been modest.  Areas of strength lie in Continuing Professional Development (CPD) around Health, Engineering and Media where bespoke products have been developed for large organisations (e.g., NHS, Airbus, BBC & MoD). Applied research and consultancy is strong, but exposed to risk being linked to a limited number of clients. Since 2007 an average of 8 Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) schemes per year have generated £640k.  We need to: (1) be more focused, investing not in routine KE activity but in real innovation; (2) capitalise on existing strength in employer engagement; (3) focus on value gained rather than on income derived; (4) focus on, and expand, our key client base building lasting relationships; and (5) disinvest in commercialisation to focus on our strengths in applied research, consultancy and CPD. .

 

Our New Strategy – Best practice in the sector suggests that empowering academics to engage with KE directly through business consultants, minimising expenditure on central support and maximising targeted investment are keys to success.  Central to the new approach is a move away from ‘enterprise’ to ‘knowledge exchange’ where the emphasis is less no longer simply on income derived but value gained from the exchange of knowledge with industry or business.  The true value is the benefit to our core business of research and education.  Our HEIF strategy also distinguishes ‘business as usual’ activity (low-risk) undertaken and funded in all academic Schools from ‘innovation’ (high-risk) to be funded institutionally by HEIF through targeted investment in key themes.

We will create a Business Engagement Unit to coordinate this activity and provide a one stop-portal ensuring continuity in areas of existing success and investment.  We will invest in key innovation themes focused around the creation of networks and also in a modest ‘fusion fund’ to support all innovative ideas.  The Fusion Fund was launched at the start of September via the BU Research Blog (Launch of the BU Fusion Fund).  Outlined below are the five innovation themes to be funded this year (Year One), a further two themes will follow in subsequent years for which there will be an open call to seek the best ideas.

  • Create an International Hub for Visual Film Effects (VFX) based on institutional and industry collaboration, levered from our ‘world class’ research (RAE; 2008 – 70% >3*, GPA 2.85) and our outstanding educational reputation evidenced by the 2010 NESTA report which stated that almost half of the UK VFX industry are BU Graduates. Why? Because the UK has an excellent reputation for VFX and the SW has the second largest Creative Industries sector outside London. The VFX industry is strategically important to the future of film in the UK. VFX was a significant lure for the £575 million of inward film investment in 2010 and is the fastest growing component of the industry growing revenue by 16.8% and its workforce by 16.4% (2006-08). Unlike other creative industry sectors, animation has modelled successful centres of excellence outside London. We have the opportunity to create an international hub for VFX creating jobs, driving economic growth and entrepreneurship on the South Coast while also enhancing BU’s research and education activities. How? By establishing, in collaboration with The Arts University College at Bournemouth, an international VFX Festival; offering office space for VFX firms; by building a training, production and consultancy service; and by linking with the DM Centre for Entrepreneurship.
  • Host an international programme of Design Sandpits for Prosthetic/Medical Engineering using our reputation in medical devices (evidenced by EPSRC grants with industrial partners – prosthetics & strokes; RAE-2008 40% >3* GPA 2.1) to draw in researchers to work with the UK’s leading manufacturers and BU’s visiting faculty of medical practitioners to tackle key design challenges.  Why? Over 25% of all prosthesis users do not use their artificial limbs due to discomfort; the lack of science in their design and fitting is the primary cause. In the UK alone there are around 60,000 below knee amputees. Simple medical devices can help stroke victims of which there are 150,000 each year in the UK with 450,000 severely disabled. The demand for effective medical devices is clear. Within our sub-region we have a number of major manufacturers of medical devices (e.g. Ossur, Otto Bock, Ohio Willow, Dorset Orthopaedics, & Blatchford) who will benefit via international exposure. How? Via sandpits which are intensive multidisciplinary forums which facilitate collaboration between academics, industry and other stakeholders undertaking analysis of pertinent issues, encouraging innovative problem solving that fosters future collaboration.
  • Launch the first National Tourism Business Academy (NTBA) in collaboration with Bournemouth and Poole Tourism Management Boards, the New Forest Tourism Association, and relevant local authorities. The NTBA will accelerate tourism business growth by focusing on visitor experience, ‘state of the art’ research & development, and the creation of a knowledge exchange for all stakeholders. Why? Tourism is a key sub-region industry. Bournemouth, Poole and the New Forest collectively attract 2.32 million staying and 12.9 million day visitors per annum, generating £1035 million for their local economies and employing 20,400 people. How? The NTBA will be driven by successful private businesses, informed and guided by leading international tourism academics at BU, and supported by experienced destination management professionals and private-public partnerships in an outstanding coastal resort (Bournemouth) serving as a ‘learning laboratory’. This will be achieved, first regionally and then nationally, via blended learning to support tourism businesses, professional mentoring networks, workshops to improve local business performance and building the foundations for a national tourism business resource by 2014.
  • Create a Science & Technology Hub (STH) with a focus on Environmental Biotechnology, built on BU’s research excellence in Environmental Science (RAE-2008 45% >3* GPA 2.35), collaborative partnerships with businesses in the SW and by targeting EU development funds. Why? The UK’s Department of Trade and Industry estimated that 15-20% of the global environmental market in 2001 was biotech-based amounting to $250-300 billion US per year with projected ten-fold growth over the next five years. In the SW the environmental industry already contributes £220 million but growth is limited by the availability of skills and facilitates. How? Our aim is to first build a SW Science & Technology network focused on an Environmental Science & Technology Festival, providing a showcase for the SW, building capacity and networks to allow us to lever EU funding to develop a regional laboratory network for business and enhance the regional skills base to use it. For example, the SW is the only English region to qualify for convergence, competitiveness and employment funding (Operational Programme 2007-13) and the Competitiveness Programme is Priority 1, focused on knowledge transfer, with £3 million still uncommitted for projects.
  • BU appointed a Chair in Entrepreneurship in 2011 with support from the entrepreneur Dominic Marrocco as part of its commitment to create a Centre for Entrepreneurship (CfE) which aims to provide business development support and create an entrepreneurial ecosystem within the region. Why? Business creation and acceleration is a key objective of the Dorset LEP (See: Question Two). How? It will target sectors associated with creative and environmental industries and focus on the incubation of new ventures, the business acceleration of established firms and the creation of a community of practice, around these sectors, that fosters innovation. The Dominic Marrocco CfE will have a positive effect upon the regional eco-system, promote University/industry interaction, enhance curricular and create opportunities for applied research.

The above themes are identified as core to delivering a step change in BU’s KE performance, are identified for front loaded investment and will deliver maximum return as measured by income, regional/national economic growth, and value to our core business of research and education. We will continue to invest concurrently using BU Funds in our ‘business as usual’ activities in health, media, environmental science, market research, and business management.

Future information and news regarding the HEIF strategy will be published via the Blog.

You can access the BU Vision & Values website here: http://2018.bournemouth.ac.uk/

 

Development for Doctoral Supervision at BU

It is essential that new supervisors are provided with the necessary development opportunities to supervise at doctoral level and that established supervisors regularly maintain these skills and have continuing awareness of BU’s Codes of Practice.

To date supervisor development opportunities for new staff have been provided via the PG Cert in Postgraduate Research Supervision and all new staff, who have not supervised to completion, must attend this programme before they are able to join a supervisory team.  There has been no provision for refreshing the skills of existing supervisors which was an omission identified by the Research & Enterprise Committee last year.

The PG Cert in Postgraduate Research Supervision was well received by the majority of those who were involved with it and was highly commended externally in the last Institutional Audits, and by other HEI’s several of whom have followed the model in developing their own accredited programmes.  It is important to note however that not all staff undertook the assessment or completed the PG Cert and there is a feeling amongst some (although not all) staff that they would prefer the option of a more flexible non-credit rated alternative.  The Graduate School review concluded that the role of supervisor development was more appropriately located within Staff Development than in the Graduate School and that a more flexible approach should be adopted.  Unit 1 of the PG Cert which under the current model must be completed by new supervisors before they are able to join a supervisory team has in previous years run bi-annually, but did not do so in 2010/11 due to staffing changes.  Unit 2 of the PG Cert was optional and allowed those completing it successfully to become first supervisors in their own right.  There is currently a large waiting list of staff needing/wanting supervisory training which needs to be catered for.  We do, however, need to be clear that this is not necessarily demand for the PG Cert since there is currently no alternative route to become a qualified supervisor.

Following the Graduate School Review in the spring of 2011 entry into the PG Cert in Postgraduate Research Supervision is currently on hold while its future is evaluated.  The waiting list and demand for supervisor training is considerable and we need urgently therefore an alternative development strategy for supervisors pending any future changes.  We also need a basic framework in which supervisor development can be viewed.  This framework needs to: (1) cater for demand for supervisor development of new staff in a flexible and timely fashion; and (2) maintain the credibility of existing supervisors and ensure they are well versed in the current Codes of Practice and also have an opportunity to share good practice.

In light of this it is proposed that we introduce a ‘Certificate of Doctoral Supervision’ which must first be acquired before staff can join a supervisory team and then be maintained via regular refresher courses every three years thereafter.  While this may seem very formal to many it will ensure that our supervisors are well versed in current issues, are encouraged to share best practice and are well versed in the continual changes and enhancements made to BU’s Codes of Practice for Doctoral Studies.

Supervisors who have previously undertaken the PG Cert in Postgraduate Supervision in the last three years will be issued with a Certificate of Doctoral Supervision automatically back dated to their graduation date.  The Graduate School will issue these certificates in due course and maintain a database of staff eligible to supervise.

This scheme will be introduced in 2011/12 and current supervisors will need to acquire a Certificate of Doctoral Supervision before the end of July 2012 or they will be removed from supervisory teams by the Graduate School.  To comply existing supervisors will need to book-on and complete the half-day course entitled ‘Research Supervisor Development: Established Supervisors during the current academic year which will run at least four times during the year.

New supervisors will have two opportunities to attend the more intensive two-day course entitled Research Supervisor Development: New Supervisors during 2011/12.  This course will not be credit bearing although in future years subject to deliberations around the future of the PG Cert in Postgraduate Supervision it may be possible to achieve a Certificate of Doctoral Supervision via this route.

 

Details of the courses are provided below and bookings can be made via the Staff Development website http://www.bournemouth.ac.uk/staff_development/research/supervision/supervision.html

Supervisor Training: New Supervisors

Aim: To provide participants with the necessary knowledge to supervise doctoral Postgraduate Research Students at BU placing this knowledge within both the internal and external regulatory framework.

Durations: The course consists of two one-day sessions a month apart.  With the compulsory completion of a reflective narrative (circa. 1000 words) between the two sessions which will be used within the second session.  The course will run once in the first term and for a second time in the second term please book via the Staff Development website. http://www.bournemouth.ac.uk/staff_development/research/supervision/supervisors_new.html

On completion of the course participants will receive a Certificate of Doctoral Supervision allowing them to supervise doctoral students at BU for three years.  As is currently custom and practice newly qualified suspervisors would need to gain experience as part of strong supervisory teams, but this would not necessarily preclude them from taking on the role of first supervisor.  To maintain this Certificate of Doctoral Supervision staff must undertake the top-up course once every three years entitled: ‘Supervisor Training: Established Supervisors’.  Note that this course no longer contributes credits to the PG Cert Postgraduate Supervision at BU which is currently not running.

Content: The course will cover the following areas:

  1. Nature and scope of doctoral study & role of supervisor
  2. Finding funding: what makes a successful bid?
  3. Codes of Practice at BU purpose & operation
  4. Monitoring, progression, completion& process of research degrees at BU
  5. Importance of diversity, equality & cultural awareness
  6. Student recruitment & selection
  7. Research ethics: considerations and implications
  8. Understanding IP
  9. Keeping students on track: motivation & guidance

10.  Examination process: preparation, roles & responsibilities

11.  Trouble shooting: problems, issues, rules & regulations

 

Supervisor Training: Established Supervisors

Aim: To provide participants with the necessary knowledge to maintain their skills in supervising doctoral Postgraduate Research Students at BU and to share best practice between peers.

Durations: The course consists of a half-day session. The course will run on several occasions throughout the year please book via the Staff Development website http://www.bournemouth.ac.uk/staff_development/research/supervision/supervisors_established.html

On completion of the course existing supervisors will receive a Certificate of Doctoral Supervision allowing them to supervise doctoral students at BU for a further three years.

Content: The course will focus primarily around the sharing of experience and good practice between established supervisors but will also cover the following areas:

  1. Review of the Codes of Practice at BU purpose & operation
  2. Focus on funding for doctoral students & building research teams
  3. Trouble shooting: problems, issues, rules & regulations
  4. Sharing of good practice

 

 

 

 

A Boring Train Ride or Research Success & E-Journals

Last week I was sitting on the train, on route to a rather dull meeting in London, and wading through a brief case full of glossy reports and papers that had been accumulating in the in tray for several weeks. Not the sort of reading that usually has the pulse racing or the pages turning. I could at this point make reference to the latest Charles Cumming spy thriller but I will refrain and finish this piece so I can catch a few pages later. Any way in the stack of reading was a report published earlier in the year by the Research Information Network on the use, value and impact of e-journals (www.rin.ac.uk). Apart from a very colourful cover the report did not look that great but in fact was really fantastic, and I mean really fantastic, making an excellent link between investment in e-journals, usage and research bidding success.

As I think I have reported before I have fond memories of the basement stacks of Queen Mary where as an undergraduate I used to spend my days lost in the shelves of geology journals. A few years later I can still remember how as a new academic one would wait for the post every day and the return from review of a cherished manuscripts and the all-important editor’s letter with the verdict; all now things of the past with electronic submission and on-line publishing. The journal names remain the same but I can’t remember the last time I actually set foot in the library in search of a paper yet my weekly reading list grows longer constantly as electronic alerts draw my attention to the productivity of my colleagues. However nostalgic I may feel about paper copy it is a thing of the past as almost all journals these days are provided as e-journals.

As a University we invest substantially each year in maintaining access rights to a huge portfolio of journals and our collective reading habits have changedas access has increased and the sheer volume of material to be read has grown. These changes are all elegantly document in the report by the Research Information Network, but the bit that piqued my interest most was a statistical model which explored the link between investment in e-journals, journal usage (reading) and research success as measured by the number of research bids won. The model clearly demonstrated a link between expenditure, e-journal use and research success and also a positive feedback loop between research success and e-journal usage. Basically the more a university invests in the provision of academic literature for its staff and students the more they read. The more they read the more successful they are which in turn leads to more reading. This is really elegant if rather self-evident but is something that we need to think hard about as a university especially as we bring forward our new research strategy this autumn. E-journals are alreadya priority area for expenditure,but is there value in further investment?  The Research Information Network report suggests that there might be.

Now let’s get serious here, I am not as naive as to believe that we can enhance our research success by simply pouring more money into the library, but BU’s researchers – staff and students – have a right to state of the art tools to do their jobs and we are committed as part our new Vision and Values to providing world class facilities. So further investment in our e-journals portfolio may be very much in order! I would welcome your views? You can find a copy of the report on the Research Information Network here.

Launch of the BU Fusion Fund

This week BU is proud to launch the Fusion Fund to support staff innovation.  Details and the application process for the fund are set out in the attached documents and the fund forms part of BU’s Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) Strategy.  The idea is to support innovative ideas which lead to employer, business or industry engagement enhancing core BU activity of research and education.  Availability of funds are modest in the first year (although build in subsequent years) but the key is to provide an opportunity for staff to explore innovative ideas around Fusion.  Ideas for new courses, enterprise ventures, industry secondments, or employer engagements can all be explored by this fund.  It is designed to allow staff to develop new ideas and innovations! 

The deadline for the first call is the 1 November 2011 – good luck!

Available documents:

Eating Cats & Top Journals

I have a big paper out today on the Laetoli footprints in Tanzania.  I am not first author, but still very proud of the paper.  Laetoli is the oldest footprint site known at over 3.75 million years and was first discovered in the late 1970s by the Leakey’s.  It consists of a couple of trails each of a dozen prints or so preserved in volcanic ash and is a site that has been argued over ever since its discovery with different teams interpreting the prints in different ways often basisng their arguements on specific prints.  The likely print maker is Australopithecus afarensis which is perhaps better known by the famous skelton called Lucy.  Some say the prints represent a primitive foot anatomy, function and gait, while other claim a more modern form and foot function.  One of the challenges here has been the lack of an objective methodology to allow different hypothesis to be explored.  At the heart of my current NERC grant with Liverpool University is a new objective approach based on calculating a mean footprint from a trail, which can then be statistically compared to others.  This provides the first objective method with which to interpret ancient footprint trails.  The paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface today applies this method to the Laetoli prints to good effect resolving, in our view at least, over 30 years of argument!

The paper is based on data that I collected back in 2008 during a rapid visit to Nairobi to scan casts of the prints during the height the post election troubles that year.  I remember the visit quite well not just for the 16 hours of plane flights in two days there and back stolen out of a busy term, but for the political tension still evident on the streets.  The paper it self stems from 2009 when Robin Crompton (Liverpool) and I first started to collaborate and has taken a while to gestate and find a home.  I suppose it’s the latter aspect that is worth mentioning because this paper was first tried in the top three science journals – Nature, Science and PNAS – without success or review.  In each case there was something of a jaundiced view from the editor ‘not yet another paper on Lateoli!’  Yet in our view the paper is top-notch and the science within it ground-breaking and we were very disappointed not to get the paper even reviewed.  There are several things here worth drawing out.  One is keeping faith with a paper as it is rejected by different journals and keeping your nerve, as you try and aspire to each top journal in turn.  Because it will find a home eventually if it is good and in truth the Journal of the Royal Society Interface is a great journal since not only does it have a high impact factor but there is much more space to describe the science!  The paper will be part of my REF submission that is for sure.  It has also attracted a fair amount of publicity today and my colleagues in Liverpool have been stars of local TV this evening.  The other aspect that is worth drawing out is around the sheer luck in getting things published in a top journal.  When I got my Science paper in 2009 not only was it based on a new discovery but there had not been many recent footprint papers so it had additional novelty.  When our current paper was doing the rounds this autumn we discovered subsequently that another team had submitted a Laetoli paper, and in our view an inferior paper, unsuccessfully a few months earlier making our research seem just that bit less noteworthy.  Journals such as Nature and Science have their pick of the best stories so want something to excite interest as well as be good science.  I suppose a headline of ‘Cat eats boy’ stands out when it is a rare event, but when there has been a run of stories about domestic cats eating boys it does not!  (And if you are wondering where this came from, the connection is that my cat is currently licking my abandoned desert bowl.)

This idea that success is not just about the sheer merits of something but is about the circumstances and timing is an interesting concept and goes to the heart of a book I have been reading recently entitled Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  He dissects a range of successful individuals – sports players, business men, billionaire etc – and shows how in most cases talent is not the sole reason for their success but the context and timing of their contribution is critical.  As is years of practice!  So in the context of trying to hit the top journals one could argue that it is all about timing and the current scientific context in vogue or considered to be novel.  If you talk to Ralph Clarke in ApSci who hit Science the same year I did he will tell you the same thing – you need a great a bit of research, but timing is also everything.  This cuts both ways in our case we did not know that other papers were hitting the editor’s desks at the same time, but if we had not tried then we would have been left always wondering if it could have made it.  But if you turn this around you also need to have an eye to what will hit the right buttons at any one moment and capitalise on it if you can.  Any way enough of this; time to do the washing up!

You can read the abstract here: 10.1098/rsif.2011.0258

And a review of the article here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110719194356.htm