Posts By / Matthew Bennett

Footprints & Fieldwork!

Next week I get a chance to get out in to the field when I am due to visit the Roccamonfina footprint site in central Italy about 60 Km from Naples.  It is quite a well known footprint site and certainly the oldest in Europe.  Roccamonfina is a stratovolcano located north of the Campanian plain and the Devil’s footsteps are preserved in one of the ash layers on its flank and where first publicised by a group of Italian colleagues in 2003 (Mietto et al., 2003; Nature 422).  There are around 56 prints forming three trackways recording the movement of one or more individuals adopting a ziz-zag path as they negotiated a soft and potentially unstable slope formed of volcanic ash.  In terms of anatomical detail the prints are not perfect due to the slope and consistence of the ash, but at 350,000 years old they fill an important gap in our understanding of the evolution of gait which is the main thrust of my current NERC grant held jointly with Liverpool University.  We hope with Italian colleagues to document the prints using photogrammetry to preserve their digital signature for comparison with other footprint sites such as those we found in northern Kenya back in 2009.  Above all else for me it is nice to be let out of the office to enjoy a brief spell of fieldwork!

My last spell in the field was back in December when I was working in Namibia on a much younger footprint site (<2000 years old) which has some fantastic prints and provides a perfect laboratory with which to explore the control of substrate on print formation.  The research team made a short video clip during this trip which much to my embarrassment has just made it to the website in Applied Sciences, but despite my shyness it does give you an idea of what sort of tasks I get involved with when in the field.  You can watch the video if you are interested here: httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZ8Qxsoxh68

I am keen to hear about your fieldwork or research experiences so why not post on the blog about these as well?

Professor Matthew Bennett

PVC (Research, Enterprise & Internationalisation)

Find an Expert: Further Comments

A while back I posted looking for comments on which research ontology to use in order to drive our ‘find an expert’ search engine both for external and crucially for internal users.  How can we increase collaboration in BU if we can’t find each other and seek out the expertise we need?  The find an expert function will help with this.  To help the search engine we need to classify our expertise against some form of research taxonomy or ontology; basically a list of subjects and expertise.  In the original post I favoured the Science Metrix subject list as a simple solution.  The alternative is the Library of Congress list which is much more exhaustive and Holger Schutkowski (Applied Sciences) has made a strong plea via his blog posts for this with the idea that we could edit this list down to something more managable, essentially removing those subject areas that we simply do not have at BU.  I am keen to take a decision on this soon so any further views would be very much appreciated.  May be there is an alternative ontology that we should consider for example.

Research Themes: A Gentle Reminder

A little while back I put out a call for ‘champions’ to help define the emerging BU Research Themes.  The call was heard by some and posts against some of the themes followed, and in a few cases alternative takes on the same theme have been posted which is excellent.  The idea was/is to get different academics to define the themes using a simple template which you can find on the original post [http://blogs.bournemouth.ac.uk/research/2011/05/24/champions-answer-the-call/].  Debate is essential if we are to understand the scope of these themes and help define them further and I am keen for there to be as many different views as possible.  Don’t just leave it to the usual suspects but have your say and help define the theme most relevant to you.  If someone else has posted then post your own views and perspective; be brave and enter the debtate!  We will be closing the debate soon in order to take stock of where we are with each theme.  I still hanker after reducing the number of themes further and one way to do this is by culling those that haven’t attracted much interest.  Towards the end of next week I will try to pull together the different views and provide a briefing document on all the themes.  So please engage and have your say before its to late!

Research Ontology or Find an Expert!

The new publication management system will be introduced over the summer and become the single user interface for academics with their web profiles and such things as BURO.  This project is in syncs with the introduction of the new content management system within BU which will transform our web presence.  As part of both these projects we plan to introduce a ‘find an expert’ function both for internal and external use.  We need to liberate academics to collaborate openly and freely within BU.  One of the inhibitors at the moment is actually finding someone to collaborate with!  So the find an expert function will have real power to help staff find potential expertise within BU with which to work.

The problem is that any such system is only as good as the keywords used to describe each individual’s research; we all refer to ourselves and our work via a plethora of different terms.  A basic ontology of subjects and research fields provides on solution.  Staff pick the words within the ontology which best fits their expertise.  There are lots of research ontology’s we could use as the starting point.  For example the Library of Congress Subject Headings is one of the best with good coverage of all subjects but is very granular for BU.  There are 150 different types of sociology for example!  Another option is the Science-Metrix which has three levels and 176 sub-fields.  This is much more manageable and could be modified to incorporate our own terms such as the ten BU Research Themes.

I would be interested to have your thoughts on this matter.  A list of the 176 sub-fields from the Science-Metrix ontology is shown below.  How would you describe your own research via such a system?  Are there alternative ontology’s we could use?  Your comments and ideas would be very welcome, but soon please since we have to take a decision on this shortly!

Research Informed Teaching

I spoke at the Education Enhancement Conference about a month ago on the subject of research informed teaching and have been asked to share my slides on this subject by several individuals since.  Not very happy to do this not least because of the picture of a young Bennett, so instead I am posting the gist of the talk here in this post.

For me research informed teaching goes to the heart of what it is to be an academic.  I love the phrase that a ‘university’s mission is to educate but its reputation is defined by its research’.  For me this speaks to the central duality of our profession – education in combination with research.  Because who would want to be at a university where knowledge is not being created?  At BU over the last few years we have had the ‘four pillars’ of research, enterprise, education and professional practice and these have done much to clarify the metrics for pay progression and promotion, but on the downside they are often seen as separate and competing activities rather than one collective whole.  For me research is everything from the creation of new knowledge, via its application in applied or contract research, through its dissemination via CPD to professional practice.  If one takes this broad definition then there are just two spheres – education and research – and the synergy in the overlap between the two is the place to be.  In fact one can see professional practice and knowledge exchange with society as the surrounding mix which helps bind these two elements.  This is the heart of research informed teaching, or if your prefer teaching informed research! It is this duality which has excited me throughout my career.

I have taught (and hope to continue to do so) for just under twenty years a range of earth science units from basic geomorphology, through glacial geology to a range of environmental and professional practice units.  Throughout research has been central to my teaching.  In the presentation referred to above I gave a series of examples from my own experience to illustrate just a small selection of what can be done.  I looked at five broad areas: (1) research and scholarly output for learning and research; (2) the power of field projects and courses; (3) placements and project students; (4) students and enterprise; and (5) unit design.

Throughout the 1990s I wrote a series of student focused textbooks produced as a result of my own teaching and the wish to produce a text tailored directly to the needs of my students.  Books on earth history, stratigraphy and my main passion of glacial geology.  These books were produced as a by product of my teaching but also shaped my teaching, allowing it to reach a much wider audience.  They may not have had any relevance in the turns of RAE/REF but they served an important function, not least of which was to improve my own knowledge.  I wrote a series of review papers at this time as well, directly driven by a pedagogic need to help my students with difficult subjects, but helping also to shape the academic agenda in these areas.  These papers are very well cited and two where the cornerstone of my contribution to RAE-2008.  They were driven by pedagogy but contributed directly to my research profile and plans.  I re-wrote a first year units last year only to see the unit axed during a curriculum re-write – I can’t complain too much since I initiated the curriculum re-write!  I put a huge amount of effort into this re-write reading widely and synthesising material in new way.  I don’t think of this as lost effort because one I really enjoyed doing it and two I intend to write the unit up as reader in environmental change given a couple of months spare.  Perhaps this will have to wait for a while but I will get to it soon I hope!

I ran field courses as a young lecture and used to turn students loose on Dartmoor each year to work independently on a range of field problems.  For over a decade they collected research data using simple techniques building an archive which I have yet to completely mine.  When people talk about student data you often here people say ‘but student data is poor, you can’t use it!’  But in truth student data is never poor and if it is, it is because you failed to teach them well enough.  It is about treating students as research equals as you would any other potential collaborator.  My greatest success of recent years – the Science publication in 2009 – was only possible because of an international field school (Koobi Fora Field School) where students provide the vast majority of the labour and contributed widely to the field debates.  While working as a contaminated land consultant in Dorset I used a succession of student placements and project students to help deliver these contracts.  Directly involving students in live consultancy is great experience for them and a source of reliable labour – you know the quality because you trained them!  There are lots of ways of involving students, but the key is to treat them as equal partners in all that you do.  There are also some fantastic examples in the School of Tourism and Media School of enterprise education in which students gain directly from being involved in live projects often taking the lead in solving business problems.

My final example was from a few years ago when a member of staff resigned a couple of weeks before the start of term and as all managers do I had to pick their third year unit up myself.  There was no way I was going to write 20 weeks worth of lectures, one week ahead of the students.  Done that and as they say bought the t-shirt and as we all know it is not a great experience for the students or for one self.  A more creative solution was needed, so I decided to run the whole unit around four projects with student’s gaining the required knowledge and meeting the learning outcomes through their delivery.  The four project were based on research that I wanted to have explored; I was the client, they were the consultants.  Of the four projects three led to clear research output at the end of the unit.  One focused on seeing whether Ground Penetrating Radar would work on Chesil Beach.  It did and led to me re-doing the work that summer with some of my colleagues leading to a great little paper in Geomorphology one of the leading Elsevier journals in the earth sciences.  Without the proof of concept the students provided this would never have been written.  A second project provided the proof of concept for a PhD studentship which looked at the geochemistry of Poole Harbour, while the third project compared a series of methods for producing photomontages of complex geological sections.  I use these methods now routinely within my own research.  The fourth project was a great student project but just didn’t lead to any thing more, but three out of four is a very good strike rate!  The units also got excellent reviews that year and two of the students went on to get firsts.  There is a huge amount of potential to create units of this sort the key is to be creative.

These are just some of the examples I have used to combine research and teaching over the years but I can think of many more.  I can anticipate the objections as illustrated in the picture, but in truth these are often not real and as the examples above show can easily be overcome.  So in conclusion research is at the heart of a good student experience with students learning from those that are learning themselves.  We need to find creative way of engaging our students in research, enterprise & professional practice.  The transferability of research skills is in my view one of the fundamental assets of a university education.  A balanced portfolio of research is vital to career progression and external profile.  It is not just about REF and there is lots of scope to do research which supports, is informed by and in turn informs ones teaching.  The secret is to go for it!

Matthew Bennett

PVC (Research, Enterprise & Internationalisation)

Research Centres at BU: What is the way forward?

Research organisation is a vexed question.  How should we organise ourselves to maximise our research potential and foster innovation and collaboration while boosting our collective output?  Over the course of my career I have seen and participated in many different forms of research centre or grouping, from informal clusters of academics sharing ideas over coffee, to formally defined research centres.  The key to the success of all these different centres is meaningful intellectual interaction leading to a sense of purpose and output; not just talking shops, but ones focused on talk and action!  Some of the most successful centres I have seen consist of little more than a couple of established academics – say a Professor and a lecturer – and around them they have built through their own funding bids a fluid team of talented post-docs and research assistants who create the energy and drive as they push to develop their own career and often land that first lecturing job.  The role of the Professor is simply to guide and channel this energy, writing the applications to retain or employ new ‘bright things’.  This is the model I understand best with Professors leading from the front and generating their own research teams.  There are a few examples of this within BU, but not many, and I would like to see many more in the next few years.  It is a model that drives research growth and develops critical mass without a dependence on established posts.  It is also common in most research active Universities across the World.

At BU we have in recent years ‘forced’ research centres into existence, insisting that every academic belongs to a centre.  They have become establishment structures often at odds with academic groups and departments, which have a broader focus, often led by frustrated field marshals unable to inspire or direct the troops within them.  This was all elegantly brought out in the review undertaken by Professor Adrian Newton a few years ago.  A key point here was that structures for research were often at conflict with structure for education, yet at the heart of BU’s future is the duality of education and research feeding from one another in a creative fashion.  It is one of the reasons why one of the out comes of this review was a focus on academic groups or departments which combine both research and teaching.  The question needs to be asked therefore about what to do with our structure of research centres?

I have almost finished visiting all twenty five of BU’s current Research Centres and the picture is very mixed.  While some are clearly vibrant units where academics are working together to create exciting output both in education and research, others are dysfunctional neither meaningful academic networks, nor effective leadership vehicles.  Added to this mix we have the term Centres of Research Excellence, prevalent in the Strategic Plan of a few years a go.  But we never actually defined what these where and none where officially recognised, although several aspire to the crown.

To my mind there are two alternative ways of approaching the issue of research centres.  The first is based on silo-free, organic academic networks in which academic staff are free to choose where, and with whom, they work and collaborate both on education and research.  Research clusters or centres will form where there is real synergy and research output.  In this model the key is to create an environment where this can happen – where staff can mix freely and find collaborators easily both within and beyond BU and we are actively tackling this at the moment through the Collaborative Tools for Academics Project.  In this approach research would be manifest simply through output produced via the big BU Research Themes we are currently defining and not through static structures of centres or clusters.  Academic Groups and Departments would off course remain and may or may not map on to these organic, output driven clusters of academic talent.

The alternative model is to maintain and/or re-fresh our current structure of centres.  Effectively to reinforce the imposed structures which currently for some prescribe and limit academic freedom and collaborative potential.  Despite these issues it is perhaps a more inclusive model since everybody belongs somewhere, but our recent history suggests that this model limits collaboration and innovation.  There is also a hybrid model in which we recognise a few – literally one or two – Centres of Research Excellence defined clearly by a performance threshold based on output, income, reputation and research impact.  Such status would have to be won and could also be lost if performance declined.  The rest of our research would be defined via a fluid series of clusters and centres which could form and re-form as academic interaction changes over time as with the first model.

Which ever of these models we favour, and for what its worth I am inclined to either the former or the hybrid model, it is essential that we see centres of activity in the broadest sense combining both research and education.  That conflicts with academic groups based on line-management are minimized, but that we create an environment where silo-free collaboration across BU is a reality not just a dream.  So as part of the re-think around the Research Strategy at BU I am interested in hearing from you on this broad topic and look forward to your comments.

Matthew Bennett

PVC (Research, Enterprise & Internationalisation)

Search for a Champion? Or BU Research Themes

Thank you to all those people who responded to the online questionnaire about the BU Research Themes.  There were 273 responses!  On this basis we can reduce the short list of twelve societal themes down to ten as set out in the briefing paper (available from  – I:\CRKT\Public\RDU\Research themes\Paper.docx).  The ten are:

  • Health and wellbeing
  • Recreation and leisure
  • Culture and society or Society & Social Change
  • Environmental change and biodiversity
  • Green economy and sustainability
  • Creative and digital economies
  • Aging
  • Learning and public engagement
  • Entrepreneurship and economic growth
  • Technology and design

We urgently need some champions to ‘flesh-out’ these themes to help scope them and allow us to ‘road test’ them further.  I am looking for as many views as possible for each theme; just fill out the template (available from  – I:\CRKT\Public\Research themes\Form.doc) and e-mail it back to me.  The idea is to then distill these views and produce a scope for each; if there are no champions forthcoming then we may be able to reduce the list further.  I need the templates back by the 27 May if possible; thank you!

Matthew Bennett

PVC (Research, Enterprise & Internationalisation)

(The documents are saved to the I-drive. If you are on-campus then you need to copy and paste the file pathway into an internet browser. If you are unable to access them please contact Julie Northam who will email you the documents).

BU Studentship Competition 2011

We are delighted to announce that up to 20 match-funded studentships are available for October 2011, or January 2012 starts.  These will be allocated to project teams on the basis of a competitive process across the whole of BU led by Professor Matthew Bennett (PVC Research, Enterprise & Internationalisation) and the Graduate School.  Only the best projects will be funded and proceed to advert as set out in the criteria below.  Preference will be given to those projects demonstrating match-funding, however exceptionally innovative or timely projects on a non-applied theme will be considered for full funding.  Applications should be submitted to Fiona Knight (Graduate School Manager) no later than the 13 June 2011.  Staff are asked to check the eligibility criteria carefully before applying.  Good luck!

Studentship Competition: Details & Criteria

  • Preference will be given to matched funded projects
  • Matched-funding (50%; £21k over three years) may come from: industry/business partners, government and non-government organisations, Academic Schools, NHS, Research Councils or other external bodies.  In seeking match-funding and developing the associated projects applicants are encouraged to avoid a local or regional focus.
  • Exceptionally 100% funding may be granted for highly original, timely and non-applied or “blue-sky” research projects especially where they are strategic importance to a research group/centre.
  • All projects should be linked to a REF Unit of Assessment and map on to its strategic goals.  They must be endorsed by the applicants Line Manager and Head of Academic Group or Deputy Dean (Research & Enterprise).
  • All projects should be innovative, novel and applicants are encouraged to appeal to the imagination of the assessment panel.
  • The first supervisor should take responsibility for the applications and ensure that they meet the eligibility criteria set out below.
  • Studentships are offered on a stipend basis for 36 months only, with fees waived for the same period.  Fees will be charged after 36 months.  Schools (or match funder) are responsible for providing each studentship with a guaranteed grant of between £3k and £5k over 36 months for use by the student to support fieldwork, consumables and conference travel. 
  • Normal studentship terms and conditions will apply.
  • Applications will be assessed and awards made by a panel chaired by: Vice Chancellor – Professor John Vinney and consisting of: Deputy Vice Chancellor – Professor Tim McIntyre-Bhatty, Pro-Vice Chancellor – Professor Matthew Bennett, and three Senior Grade 2 Professors.  None of the panel members are eligible to apply for support.
  • Feedback on all applications will be provided to encourage proposal development.
  • Once awarded all Studentships will be advertised and subject to a recruitment process managed by the Graduate School.  Note that these funds cannot be used to support BU staff to complete doctoral programmes.

 

Eligibility Criteria

  • The first supervisor should be the person completing the application and must be a permanent member of academic BU staff.
  • The first supervisor should be an experienced supervisor defined as having successfully supervised an entire cycle of a research degree or successfully completed the full PG CERT Research Degree Supervision.
  • The first supervisor should be research active, and be in consideration for the REF submission.
  • The applicant should be supervising no more than 6 PGR students including this project.
  • All proposals should have a balanced supervisory team.

 

Indicative Timetable

It is envisaged that projects will start in October 2011 or January 2012, as such

  • It is envisaged that projects will commence either in October 2011 or January 2012.
  • The call for proposals will go live on the 16 May 2011 via the BU Research Blog.
  • In late May 2011, a generic “teaser” advertisement campaign (e.g., banner in THES or Guardian) will run announcing forthcoming studentships at BU encouraging potential applicants to watch the website.
  • The call for proposals will close 11.30 AM on the 13 June 2011.  Submission to the Graduate School Manager who will circulate to the judging panel for consideration.  The panel will score each proposal and meet formally to select the successful projects.  
  • Successful applicants will be informed on the 27 June 2011.  Unsuccessful applicants will be provided with formative feedback in the following two weeks. 
  • Full marketing campaign to be launched on the 27 June and projects advertised externally.
  • Closing date for all student applications will be 31 July 2011 using the standard application form and submitted to the Graduate School.  The Graduate School will manage the recruitment process.
  • Interview days for all October project starts will take place in August.  If an October start is proposed the first supervisor must ensure their availability during August to conduct the interviews.  All interview panels will be consist of a member of the selection panel, first supervisor and a Professor from the host School and will be arranged and managed by the Graduate School.  UEG approval of candidates is required and formal offer letters will be issued by the Graduate School.
  • Interview days for all January project starts will take place in September.  All interview panels will be consist of a member of the selection panel, first supervisor and a Professor from the host School and will be arranged and managed by the Graduate School.  UEG approval of candidates is required and formal offer letters will be issued by the Graduate School.
  • Project Start Date 1; 3 October 2011
  • Project Start Date 2; 9 January 2012

 

Proposal forms can be downloaded from here or email the Graduate School Manager.

Economic Growth, Business & Higher Education

I am just back from a day in London at a posh briefing event which can be summarised as ‘the lunch not much cop, but the talks were surprisingly good and gave me lots to think about’.  So I thought it was worth sharing some of this while it was fresh in my mind.  David Sweeny (Director of Research, Innovation & Skills, HEFCE) started the day talking about REF and impact amongst other things.  One of the things that interested me was the return on investment from business interaction: £4-7 for every £1 spent which is quite good!  But impact is seen as a way of adding to the value of this investment further and the return on the RAE/REF which has consistently placed the UK ahead of the game.  For example, internationally we produce 5% of all the PhD’s globally, 7.9% of all research publications from just 1% of the World’s population!  Staff at BU play an important part in this.

It was the next talk that really made me sit up.  It was from a guy at Oxford Brookes (Kevin Maynard) talking about their approach to enterprise or to use his jargon ‘Knowledge Exchange’.  He was making the point that what is really crucial is that Knowledge Exchange – enterprise by another name – was not about wealth creation for an institution but about the ‘inflow’ of knowledge to inform it core businesses of research and education.  This is an important concept since he argued that it was central to: (1) employability, (2) course development, (3) ensuring research relevance to business/industry/society, and (4) increasing the breadth and capacity of the academic team and its professional development.  What he didn’t say, but is crucial here, is that it is central to a good student experience and staff motivation around enterprise.  I was really impressed by this since it is about the wider benefits to us as academics in engaging with industry/business rather than about simply generating income.  It is worth saying that they are also ahead of the game on that front too, but it is not the driver or what motivates academics to engage and engage they do.  One other point which also struck a cord was the idea of using CPD provision as a market tester for degree programmes; a dam sight cheaper to run up a couple of CPD courses than a whole degree and see it fail for lack of recruitment!

Paul Mason (Head of Development, Technology Strategy Board) was up next and talked about the re-vamp of their strategy due out later this month, but the bit I liked here was that he was talking about being ‘challenge led’ not ‘product driven’.  You start by finding out what the challenges are and then broker a solution based on the range of products or interventions you have available or can source.  This is basically what I have been talking about around BU  in the context of knowledge brokering as a way forward for us.  It is an important point; instead of working out what products we have to sell – CPD, different flavours of consultancy etc. – we need to first find out what challenges business face and want solving.  This fits with the need to be outward rather than inward facing in our approach in developing our new Research & Enterprise Strategy.  If we are to live the idea of providing a student experience in which employability is written large then links to business, industry and the professions are vital and we will need to up our game in these areas and being seen to provid real business/industry solutions is one way to do this.

There were several other speakers who talked about the importance of innovation and generating economic growth within future allocations of HEIF funding and the importance of promoting our success in applying and exploiting our research.  The importance of engaging with Local Economic Partnerships following the demise of the Regional Development Agency was also a common theme and something for us to reflect on as we develop our regional strategy.

The next speaker to make me sit up after my lunch time disappointment was Neil Bowering (Knowledge Transfer Account Manager, at Glasgow) he was talking about the Easy Access IP scheme which Glasgow have pioneered and received large amounts of fame and glory for.  His job is to exploit the IP in the large EPSRC portfolio at Glasgow.  Basically they give the majority of their IP, over 90%, away for free to any third party who can exploit it, keeping just a very small proportion to develop them selves.  It is a highly streamlined process on the basis that getting IP out and out fast is the key and that there is very rarely much money to be made given the cost of exploiting and developing products/ideas for market.  The real key is to make knowledge useful and work for economic growth and society by freely giving it up rather than developing it slowly/poorly, or trying to negotiate at length a stake in its exploitation.   It is the reputational gain that is the key factor and the ongoing dialogue with companies who take on that IP that counts.  Very streamlined, straight forward with four simple conditions on which the IP is given away. University resources directed were they need to be direct.  A fantastic scheme and model for us to look at; certainly one realistic to the nature and quantity of the IP we generate at BU.

Sir Tim Wilson former VC at Hertfordshire and a big wheel in a range of CBI and Business Engagement committees/reviews made a really nice point about a university education.  It is taken for granted by business/employers that graduates will have the key knowledge and the key technical ability, but what they are looking for more than anything are the intellectual skills that will set a graduate apart in the race for jobs.  The ability to critically think is central.   I am sure that our graduates have this but perhaps we should reflect more on how we develop and promote these vital skills?  This links with something that David Frost, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce had to say; graduates need work force training.  He particularly was drawing attention to skills of team work, customer service, communications and self management on top of core competency in numeracy, literacy and IT.

The final bit that is worth drawing attention to is from Staffordshire University and their success in producing a ‘one-stop door’ for all business enquires and importance of creating a business sales force within a university that is grounded both in business speak and the culture of academia.  This sales team act as translators projecting a professional sales orientated pitch outwards (based on relationship marketing), while allowing academics to be innovative and creative in their own way.  Effectively they act as the interface between these very different communities and cultures.  There is a lot to learn from this model especially around business relationship marketing and the long lead times involved.  One aside was reference to placements as part of an extended recruitment selection process for graduates which is self evident but worth reflecting on.

So in summary there is lots of good practice out there to learn from and to develop this summer as we evolve BU’s future Research & Enterprise Strategy.

Learning from someone who is learning themselves

It’s early the day after Easter Monday and I am sitting in the office looking out at the view as the haze clears and another fresh spring day dawns.  Yes all very poetic!  I have in fact spent much of the weekend looking at the view while spending the mornings working hard on a conference paper for later this week – I am a keynote speaker at a primatology conference this week.  I also have a big project meeting attached to the conference since I am now one year into my current NERC project and it’s about time that we started to have something to show for it!  I have been running this really cool computer code in MATLAB to generate some new data which was written by some colleagues in Liverpool.  It takes an individual footprint – in this case some from Namibia – and translates, transforms and superimposes it on others to create a mean footprint.  So for example if you have a trail of ten prints then instead of trying to interpret all ten individually you can focus on the mean.  It is a great way forward since intra-trail variability is a key problem in making inferences from ancient footprint trails.  Took me a while to master MATLAB – well master is a bit of an overstatement, at least get it to work! But once I got it working I could set the code running to process data in batches, time consuming but the results are great.  This whole process has set me thinking about the fact that doing research is really about life long learning – learning new stuff whether it be concepts, software or skills – and that is what is fantastic about being an academic and makes the profession one that I feel privileged to be part.  Sharing this with students and giving them the skills and enthusiasms for a life time of learning is also one which is cool.  A week Wednesday is the BU Education Enhancement Conference; I am down to talk about research informed education something which I feel very strongly about.  I have to write the talk yet, but for me the key is the fundamental idea of ‘learning from someone who is learning themselves’.  I really like this concept and when people ask what research has to do with a good student experience I think the answer is summed up by this phrase and in the simple idea of passing on ones own wonder at new knowledge and learning!

A champion for research?

When I applied for my new job as PVC (Research, Enterprise, Internationalisation) I set out my stall around the need for there to be a strong Academic Champion for Research within BU.  Someone who would fight the corner of ordinary academics engaged in research and enterprise.  As an active researcher I understand many of the challenges and barriers that exist within the system, but to stay an effective champion I need to stay in touch with the rank and file.  I need to know what concerns you, what the obstacles and challenges are.  I have spent a lot of time in the first few months listening to individuals around BU, visiting our Research Centres and talking to anybody who wants to talk about research.  This is an enlightening process not least because of the wonderful work which is taking place and the committed, energetic staff around the organisation that make it such a great place to work; a place that I am fiercely proud off.  There is nothing better than hearing about someone’s research first hand and it makes this job worth doing.  So please keep letting me have your news, ideas and information on the challenges you face to getting things done.  I want to know what concerns you, what needs to be fixed, how we can improve our collective research performance as I begin to think about a new research and enterprise strategy for BU over the next few months.  Just stop me on campus, drop me an e-mail, add a comment to this post, or book an appointment to talk research!

Tea in the Namibian Desert

Matthew Bennett

PS I thought this post needed a picture since I like pictures; so here is one from December of tea in the Namibian Desert!