Tagged / research matters

BU Research Matters: What support is on offer internally and growing capacity at BU- part 3

Following on from yesterday’s blog post on the support on offer for research applications for external funding, this post will focus on what’s available from internal funding, and how all the support on offer grows research capacity at BU.

Research Funding Panels: To help us further develop our research capacity in line with BU2025, the Research Performance and Management Committee (RPMC) oversees research investment and performance. Under the auspices of the RPMC, Funding Panels have been established to have oversight of funding allocations, in order to further build the research environment, our external engagement and the quality and impact of research endeavours. There are seven funding panels and future calls will be released on the BU intranet. You can find out more information about each panel here, including previous funded projects. The panels include the extensive Research Impact Programme.

Strategic Investment Areas: As articulated within BU2025, our Strategic Investment Areas (SIAs) build on our existing academic strengths and future opportunities aligned to external priorities, including policy direction and funding. The four Strategic Investment Areas are:

  • Assistive Technology
  • Animation, Simulation & Visualisation
  • Medical Science
  • Sustainability, Low Carbon Technology & Materials Science.

Each SIA has an academic steering group and are supported by External Advisory Boards, made up of experts from industry and the not-for-profit sector, to ensure our research activities are informed by wider society. The purpose of these groups is to ensure that we align internal and external resources appropriately to secure the growth of BU’s research profile. All of our SIAs are inherently interdisciplinary and build on existing excellence within the University. You can find out more here, including the opportunities available to get involved and who to contact.

Stop Press: An open call for expressions of interest will go out on the BU intranet this week. The University are seeking to identify game changing research ideas and enable these to become a reality. Keep your eyes out for the launch of the call!

STEAMLabs: These offer the opportunity to meet new people from all disciplines and sectors, and to spend dedicated time developing novel ideas for research projects. We will select topics for STEAMLabs and advertise these for participants. For example, each year we run a STEAMLab for each of the four SIAs. These seek to come up with highly innovative and urgently required research which is ambitious in scope and will require a high level of expertise, commitment and funding. The research must address challenges in the topics advertised. As a result of each STEAMLab, we anticipate the development of innovative, ground-breaking and ambitious projects which have the capacity to attract significant, high value funding from the public and private sectors.

STEAMLabs used to be an all day event, in person, but we’ve amended them to online and for two hours duration. You can see here the details of the last event held in February on the SIA for Animation, Simulation & Visualisation. Check the blog for the next events coming up shortly. These will be for the remaining SIAs, Global Challenges and Industrial Challenges and will take place in April – July 2021.

Open Access Publication Fund: BU operates a dedicated central Open Access Publication Fund (OAPF). The BU Open Access Publication Fund policy and procedure has recently been reviewed and revised to reflect changes to this year’s budget. The newly revised policy and checklist can be found here.  BU now also benefit from various Open Access agreements through JISC deals including with publishers like Wiley, Sage and Springer. Please see the recent blog post, including the relevant links to publishers.

RDS: I mentioned in the two previous posts the support on offer from Research Facilitators for bid development. In addition, RDS have several faculty-facing staff (an overview and contacts are here) and areas of expertise that can support you in your research activities. The latter include:

  • Research Commercialisation Manager – Lesley Hutchins, whose overarching role is the exploitation of BU’s research IP for commercialisation and societal benefit
  • Engagement and Impact Facilitator – Genna Del Rosa and Engagement Officer – Adam Morris – support academics to develop research impact with external stakeholders. This includes supporting public engagement events, and working with academic colleagues to develop engagement strategies to enhance funding bids, and supporting colleagues to deliver and evidence impact.
  • Knowledge Exchange Adviser – Rachel Clarke has a focus on Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) and the HEIF.
  • Research Outputs Adviser – Pengpeng Hatch, who works with academic colleagues to increase output volume, quality and impact, and for championing open access publishing across the institution.
  • Research Governance Adviser – Sarah Bell and Clinical Governance Adviser – Suzy Wignall – are all things ethics and governance.

Growing research capacity at BU: Research is a key component of Fusion and plays a critical role in the achievement of our BU2025 outcomes to help us achieve our vision of inspiring learning, advancing knowledge and enriching society. In this context, BU2025 set out ambitious plans and targets for research at BU.

As Julie Northam said in her blog post on why BU research matters, research is a priority for BU. It is central to our institutional strategy and ethos and it is fundamental to Fusion. Our research capacity has grown considerably over the past few years. More staff are now engaging actively in research, as demonstrated through the proportion of staff submitted to the Research Excellence Framework (REF). This has increased from less than a third of staff (REF 2014) to over three quarters of staff (REF 2021). We have invested in the Strategic Investment Areas and new institutes (such as the Institute for the Modelling of Socio-Environmental Transitions, IMSET and the Institute for Medical Imaging and Visualisation, IMIV) to bring research to life through programmes of research and collaborative, multidisciplinary research teams. We are applying for and winning longer and larger research projects with more being sent to the prestigious funders.

This weeks posts have outlined the support on offer to BU staff to develop their research activities, regardless of career stage, showing the commitment of the university to grow capacity and build on the excellent work of our ECRs through to the excellent Leadership of our Professors, ensuring research is inclusive to all. The posts have also highlighted the extent to which support is on offer for interdisciplinary work, especially through the opportunities shown above in today’s post.

This weeks three part posts have been a snapshot of what’s available to support you in your research as a BU staff member. Do contact RDS to find out more about how we can support you in your research career. Working together, we can continue to grow research at BU.

BU Research Matters: What support is on offer for bid/publication writing and how to access it- part 2

Following on from yesterday’s blog post on the support on offer for research training and development at different career stages, this post will focus on writing and developing research applications for external funding and publications.

Horizon Scanning and finding funder opportunities: The Research Facilitators within RDS will horizon scan research funders’ strategic agendas and potential funding opportunities to ensure that BU are ready to respond to these opportunities, maximising BU’s chance of success. We provide information on the latest news from funders’ and government through blog posts, workshops and direct contact with you.

The Research Facilitators regularly send targeted funding opportunities to each Head of Department for dissemination. All Academics will have a Research Professional account, which enables personalised searches for new funding opportunities. You can also find the latest funding opportunities, targeted by RDS, on the left-hand side of the BU Research Blog homepage, together with a red button ‘view current funding opportunities’, which will take you to the latest opportunities from major funders (please note that whilst off campus you will need to follow the link shown to Research Professional in order to access the page).

Funder Briefing events: The Research Facilitators also run weekly funder briefing sessions which anyone can join. Please email RKEDF@bournemouth.ac.uk to receive the MSTeams invite for these sessions. Sessions are recorded and so for those who can’t make the interactive session, you can view them here when convenient to you. The next one is being held on 10th March at 12 noon and is a spotlight on NIHR funding.

Bid writing support: In addition to the training and development on offer, we also have one-to-one support available connected to bid writing. The Research Facilitators within RDS offer one-to-one support to ECRs and those applying for high values to major funders. In addition, we have External Application Reviewers (EARs) who can help support the development of research applications that meet the following criteria:

  • The application is to a prestigious funder (UK research councilsWellcome TrustLeverhulme TrustBritish AcademyRoyal SocietyNIHR and EU Horizon 2020/Europe)
  • The application is to a strategically important funding call, including those in the BU2025 Strategic Investment Areas
  • NERC Standard Grants
  • One-off calls for multi-million pound bids (such as AHRC’s Creative Clusters Programme)
  • The applicant is a past member of the BU Research Council Development Scheme and is applying to a UK Research Council call
  • The applicant is an ECR and is applying to a prestigious funder

Your Research Facilitator will be able to discuss your needs and approval for an EAR will be considered and awarded by RDS.

Writing academy: The Writing Academy will enable you to develop the skills required to improve the quantity and quality of your publications and to develop a publication strategy which best represents you as an academic. The academy is a great opportunity for academics who are new to publishing or would benefit from some additional direction and coaching. You’ll have access to an external consultant who will advise you on techniques and style. You will also have the opportunity to discuss your ideas and issues with your peers. You will also have the opportunity to discuss your publishing goals and prepare a plan to accommodate writing within your day to day routines.

The next dates for the WA are 13th – 16th April 2021. You can book on here (apologies, but the page isn’t live just yet but will be shortly). In the meantime, contact OD@bournemouth.ac.uk if you are interested in attending.

Tomorrow’s post will focus on the internal funding support available to you, as well as how all the support on offer grows capacity and inclusivity at BU.

BU Research Matters: What support is on offer for your career stage and how to access it- part 1

Following on from the excellent articles detailing why BU research matters, and the experiences of our academics (big thank you to those who posted articles last week), this week will see a series of posts  outlining the support on offer to BU academics to progress their research activities and how to access that support.

It’s been a challenging year, with many opportunities for development being postponed or delivered online, with the latter losing that ability to make a real connection and interact with peers to form relationships that can lead to collaborative and long-term research opportunities. However, there is still much on offer to support research careers, at all levels, and we’re learning (from some slightly torturous experiences) how to ensure that online delivery is just as engaging as face-to-face. One of the things we’re changing is the delivery of the RDS induction for new academics and researchers. You can sign up here to attend the next induction being held on 19th May 2021.

RKEDF: The Research Development and Support (RDS) team have a range of development and support options available to BU academics. The majority of these are badged under the Research and Knowledge Exchange Development Framework (RKEDF). You can click on the link above to see the range of opportunities available. These cover all research interests and various career stage events. The range of support includes applying to major funders (pathways for Research Councils, International funders (includes EU), charities, academies, and NIHR), how to apply, how to manage your award, how to build a team, impact, publishing, REF, and various options for research career based training.

For a quick overview of what’s coming up, you can click on OD’s calendar of events for the latest development opportunities. The RKEDF events currently run until the end of June 2021 but we are planning a new programme to start from September 2021. Each event listed in the above links will have an online booking process (if a date is given for an event). There are currently events for public engagement, impact, publications, search strategies, and the monthly events run as part of the Early Career Researcher Network (ECRN). Where no dates are given, these may be past events, but we’ll be looking at options for the academic year 21/22 and advertise these from August.

Presentations and support documentation from past events can be found on Brightspace. Just click on ‘content’ and ‘pathways’ and navigate to the pathway that is of interest to you. The right-hand page will show you what’s on offer. As an example, clicking on the ‘research council’ pathway will show presentations from funders who have visited BU, such as AHRC and MRC, an overview of the research councils, how to approach your case for support, confronting your unsuccessful bid, and videos of funder briefings, such as the UKRI’s Future Leader Fellowships scheme. Do have a browse to see what might be of interest to you and help support you in your research activities. If you have trouble accessing the content then please contact RKEDF@bournemouth.ac.uk.

Career stage development: As part of the RKEDF, the Academic Career Pathway to Research Funding identifies what type of external funding you should be aiming for depending on your level of career.  This covers Student, Research Fellow, Senior Research Fellow, Associate Professor, and Professor.  Each of the funding types identified link up to the training and development on offer through the RKEDF. You can view what’s been provided in the past and expectations to what will be on offer for 2021/22. When developing your research plans for the year, three years and even five years, do consider what type of grant will be suitable for you at your career stage and work with your faculty mentor to realise your plans. You can also consult an RDS Research Facilitator who can discuss plans with you and direct you to the right support including the funder briefings that are on offer weekly (see part two tomorrow for further details).

Early Career Researchers Network: As mentioned above, the ECRN, run by academics for academics, offers monthly sessions for ECRs on a range of topics. Chaired by Professor Ann Hemingway (FHSS) and Dr Sam Goodman (FMC), sessions are held for general discussions, networking, and specific topics to support early career researchers. Still to come in 20/21 is:

  • 24/03/2021 General discussion and ECR surgery (15.00 – 16.00)
  • 21/04/2021 Building your Research Profile / Networking, Partnership & Collaboration (15.00 – 16.00)
  • 26/05/2021 Writing Day / Networking Lunch (09:30 – 16:30)
  • 26/05/2021 Networking Lunch only (12:30 – 13:30)
  • 23/06/2021 General discussion and ECR surgery (15.00 – 16.00)

If you’d like to join the network, please contact RKEDF@bournemouth.ac.uk. You can read an article by Dr Rachel Arnold on the benefits of attending the ECRN.

I hope the above has provided a useful outline of the general support that is on offer to you as a BU academic and signposted you to how to get involved. Tomorrow’s post will focus on support for writing and developing research applications for external funding and publications.

BU research matters: “The best of times, the worst of times….”

In the final blog post of the week in this series, Dr Ashok Patnaik, shares his insights into overcoming the challenges associated with undertaking social science research during a global pandemic including how he has challenged boundaries in research ethics to ensure research critical for the future of our children can progress. Ashok also openly reflects on the personal challenges the past year has brought and how he drew on the support around him to grow personally and intellectually:

Ashok PatnaikThe lockdown period has been difficult in some respects but also wonderful in some others. It has offered plenty of opportunities for reflection and growth, as a researcher and as a human being. Strange though it may be to say it, it has been very timely and fortuitous in some ways because these extraordinary circumstances have enabled me, and the team I am part of, to achieve things which, during normal times, may have proved much more difficult. Thus, to paraphrase Dickens, it has been the worst of times, and it has been the best of times.

I have the great fortune of being part of a brilliant academic team based in the BUBS which is working on the evaluation of an exciting movement-based mental health intervention for primary school-aged children called ‘Stormbreak‘. As part of the evaluation of Stormbreak, we use a range of data collection methods but the centrepiece of the evaluation is the child well-being survey. We use a pre-post study design for the survey, and had completed the pre-intervention survey in January, 2020.

The immediate impact of school closure in March last year due to the lockdown was the inability to complete the planned second leg of the survey (the post-intervention survey). This was scheduled for the end of the school term (late March). As a result, we had an incomplete dataset and could not calculate the change scores needed to evaluate the impact of the intervention. This meant that we could not add new data to the impact report. This affected our partner organisation’s ability to demonstrate the effectiveness of the intervention and slowed down the expansion of the programme which had begun gathering pace before the lockdown.

While this was, undoubtedly, regrettable, the lockdown proved to be a blessing in disguise in many ways. Doing research with children in schools involves many challenges, but the biggest bottleneck for us was obtaining parental consent. The majority of parents did not respond to schools’ invitations to take part in the study. Our participation rates ranged from 10% to 40% (at best). We were losing a lot of participants. The necessity of contacting parents repeatedly through multiple communication channels was adding extra work for schools and making them re-consider their engagement with the evaluation. The new pressures on schools that arose in the aftermath of the pandemic were fast making the consent process untenable. The viability of the whole project was at risk. We knew that we had to do something.

The principal obstacle was the strong and near universal consensus on active parental consent in research with young school children. The new requirements brought in by the GDPR had reinforced this consensus and made it a kind of orthodoxy. However, there were also several examples of eminent research institutions such as UCL, LSE, and other organisations conducting research on behalf of the UK Government and the Department of Education such as Ipsos-MORI and NatCen bucking the trend and relying on a passive parental consent approach. We knew that we had to move to the latter approach, but given the widespread and strongly entrenched belief in the necessity of active parental consent, we knew that we would have to prepare a compelling case to persuade the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Ethics Panel (SSH REP) to consider our request. It was a daunting task.

Thankfully, the lockdown period gave us the time and the space to work, without distraction, to amend the ethics process. It was a period free from the short-term pressures of data collection. During the peaceful, quiet months of the lockdown, we were able to marshal a wide-ranging body of evidence and a number of strong arguments to support our case for passive parental consent for the child well-being survey. Professor Michael Silk, Dr. Daniel Lock, and I collaborated on this work, which eventually turned into a Master’s Dissertation-length essay, perhaps the longest application considered by the SSH REP.

Our work bore fruit, and our application was reviewed favourably by the SSH REP. We are very grateful to our excellent SSH REP, especially the Chair Professor Jonathan Parker and the Deputy Chair Professor Richard Berger, and Ms. Sarah Bell, for their sympathetic consideration of our application. Their supportive decision removed the biggest constraint on the growth of the study and restored its viability.

With the end of the lockdown in September, we resumed data collection. However, schools’ new risk assessment policies made access to schools difficult. Professor Silk foresaw the need to adapt our ways of conducting the study. He recognised that the previous approach, which involved my visiting schools in person to administer the survey, would not be feasible in view of the restricted access policy of most schools post-pandemic. Further, as the Stormbreak programme scaled up and expanded nationally, personal visits would not be practical. Professor Silk saw the need to fully digitise the conduct of the survey.

Thus began our second major endeavour – to fully digitise the administration of the survey. We worked with the fantastic Red Balloon Media Production Team, headed by the highly creative Stephanie Farmer, and with the brilliant graphics designer and computer programmer Vitor Vilela. With their support, and that of the exceptionally helpful Stormbreak team (especially Dr. Martin Yelling, who kindly and patiently recorded, and re-recorded, and re-re-recorded parts of the script with his children), we have worked through the winter months to create an engaging, child-friendly digital solution, consisting of fun videos and a snazzy questionnaire. This was uncharted territory for us. Thanks to Steph’s and Vitor’s understanding and patient approach, we learnt about this new field and have together produced a digital version of the study that we feel genuinely excited about, and which, we feel, will assist materially in conducting the study remotely. It was also pleasing to note that, in digitising the study processes, we were able to make them more efficient and streamlined.

Personally, the lockdown has been, by and large, a happy period. Relatively free from the administrative work involved in data collection, I have been able to focus on what I love best – quiet periods of reading, thinking, and writing (what the author Cal Newport calls ‘deep work‘). I have been able to live a quiet, productive, monastic life, largely free of disturbance. With the end of the lockdown approaching, that blissful period is ending fast. Over the last two years, balancing the short-term work of data collection (along with the administrative work involved in running a project) with long-term work (skill development, working on journal articles, applying for research funding) has been a constant challenge for me. During the last few months, I have experimented a lot with my routines and have become a little better at organising my work so that I am addressing both short-term and long-term work needs. The flexibility of working at home, and the time and energy saved from not having to go to the office have helped a lot in this regard.

My experience during the lockdown has kept the subject of mental health at the forefront of my mind. Like others, I have struggled at times with isolation and loneliness (especially when I returned from leave and was in quarantine). The lockdown has also clearly reinforced the incredible importance of physical activity in creating positive feelings. Running or playing basketball or Table Tennis brought a smile to my face on days when there were few other things to feel happy about.

There was a period of about ten days during the summer when my mental health was severely affected. It was a very difficult period. What helped me most during this time was conversations with family members and the support of my line manager, Professor Michael Silk. He very kindly and swiftly sourced support for me from the BU Employee Assistance Programme. He was there for me, and his support taught me an important lesson about leadership, loyalty, and caring. The lockdown has also made me recognise the importance of communities – personal and professional. It has helped me gain perspective and see more clearly what truly matters in life and to make space for it in my calendar. The challenge will be to remember those lessons and keep them uppermost in my mind as we move towards normality and the old, all-too-familiar pressures attempt to sway me from the high road. Already, I can see myself slipping back into old, unproductive routines as the urgent crowds out the important. This battle will continue for a long time.

In summary, I would say that I feel incredibly grateful for the unexpected opportunities resulting from the lockdown. There are things I have accomplished with others during this period which would not have been possible but for the unique circumstances created by the lockdown. There have been ups and downs, but many, many more ups than downs. On the whole, I find myself having grown and matured significantly – as a researcher and as a human being – during the last year, and I would not trade this experience for anything.”

Why research matters at BU – now more than ever

On Monday, I added a post about the role of universities throughout history and how they have played a critical role in the creation and advancement of knowledge. The Government’s R&D Roadmap (June 2020) recognises universities as a crucial part of the UK’s R&D infrastructure, particularly in regard to ensuring the knowledge they create gets into the public domain and has social and economic benefits.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has had a damaging effect on research across all universities. Some research projects have been suspended or cancelled, there has been a delay in awards being made by funders, and the start dates for some new awards were postponed. Research requiring access to labs and/or fieldwork was impacted, particularly last summer. Some research may even have been rendered unfeasible due to COVID. Furthermore, the move to different models of educational delivery and pastoral support for students reduced time and capacity for research. COVID-19 also impacted university finances, creating additional uncertainty and a lack of stability, resulting in a reticence to commit to long-term projects and/or those considered to be risky. However, although the research process was impacted by COVID-19, the outputs of research are crucial to post-pandemic recovery, as discussed in Dr Rebecca Edwards’ post on Wednesday. This creates all sorts of exciting new opportunities for colleagues to get involved in research and change the direction of their research. Although challenging, it is important that time is carved out for research, now more than ever.

Research is a priority for Bournemouth University. It is central to our institutional strategy and ethos and it is fundamental to Fusion. Our research capacity has grown considerably over the past few years. More staff are now engaging actively in research, as demonstrated through the proportion of staff submitted to the Research Excellence Framework (REF). This has increased from less than a third of staff (REF 2014) to over three quarters of staff (REF 2021). We have invested in the Strategic Investment Areas and new institutes (such as the Institute for the Modelling of Socio-Environmental Transitions, IMSET and the Institute for Medical Imaging and Visualisation, IMIV) to bring research to life through programmes of research and collaborative, multidisciplinary research teams. Research undertaken by Bournemouth University makes a real, tangible difference within our region as well as nationally and internationally, as demonstrated through our plethora of impact case studies due to be submitted to the REF next month. The world needs research to recover from the impact of COVID-19 and our research can help.

The capacity and responsibility for research are key things that differentiate a university from a college of further education. Research is critical to Bournemouth University’s purpose and it is our research excellence that sets us apart from other universities, giving us our unique identity. It is our research excellence that underpins and influences our educational offering and attracts students to study with us and staff to work with us. Research is fun, exciting and rewarding. It stretches us, challenges our ways of thinking and introduces us to interesting new people. It gives us the power to make a difference in the world.

Bournemouth University researchers are making a difference through their research. Earlier this month we featured some of our global research projects, including:

We’re keen to share more stories about your excellent research and hear about what makes research exciting to you. Email me (Julie Northam) with your thoughts and ideas so we can work together to create a buzz around research at Bournemouth University.