EPSRC Chairman on National Importance and Research Plans

feedback speech bubble by RSC-WM CC BY-NC-SA 2.0Recently appointed EPSRC Chairman, Dr Paul Golby, has announced two independent reviews into strategic advice used by EPSRC and the peer review process. This follows time spent last summer consulting with the research community on some of their key concerns.

On National Importance, Golby has said that “clearer guidance has been introduced to remove the wording ‘over a 10-50 year timeframe’. The guidance also explains that EPSRC does not expect applicants to predict the future”. However, checking the EPSRC webpages on National Importance shows that the 10-50 year timeframe is still explicitly included, though it’s not mentioned in their Funding Guide:

What is the significance of the 10 – 50 year timescale?

  • EPSRC supports fundamental, long-term research which delivers outcomes typically over a 10 – 50 year timescale.
  • Our reference to this timescale is to ensure that the introduction of National Importance does not drive a move towards shorter-term application-focussed research.
  • As an applicant, you are asked to identify potential benefits – what could reasonably be expected should the proposed project deliver all its objectives?
  • You are also asked to consider how these potential benefits align to currently identified national priorities.

It’s not clear to me whether or not applicants should explicitly reference the 10-50 year timescale, although I have sought clarification from EPSRC on this point.

On accusations of micromanagement following the recent portfolio review, Shaping Capability, Golby has sought to reassure the community that the budget will still be managed primarily through 10 higher level themes, rather than 113 individual research areas. In the Times Higher piece, however, he cautions: “With less funding available it is important that we give clear signals about priority areas based on the best evidence and advice.”

The first review, on how EPSRC obtains and utilises this strategic advice, will be carried out in Spring 2013 reporting to the July 2013 Council meeting. The second review, on the peer review process, will follow later this year.

**UPDATE 06/03/2013** EPSRC has today published the membership of the panel for the first independent review of strategic advice: http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/newsevents/news/2013/Pages/independentreviews.aspx

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Northumbria receives HR Excellence in Research Award

Northumbria University has received a major European award recognising its support for the career development of research staff.

To gain the European Commission HR Excellence in Research Award employers of researchers must demonstrate plans to improve how they attract, manage and develop research staff.

Northumbria University has developed a plan to implement the Concordat agreement between Universities UK and Research Councils UK which is designed to support the career development of researchers. This sets out the responsibilities and expectations  of researchers, managers, employers and funders. It aims to increase the attractiveness and sustainability of research careers, leading to improvements in the quantity, quality and impact of research.

Professor Peter Golding, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) said: “We have been working significantly to improve our research profile and capacity over the last five years.

“We are therefore delighted to receive this international recognition for our efforts to provide our high-quality research-active staff with outstanding opportunities to develop their careers with us.

“This award also recognises our commitment to invest in the recruitment, retention and talent development of high-performing staff to ensure we have the right skills for the future.

“As we approach the final stages of our preparation for REF2014, this award will help to strengthen our submission, sending a clear signal of the quality of the support and development opportunities we provide to our researchers.”

David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science said: “It is vital that the working conditions of researchers continue to improve because world-class science and research are the key to future economic growth.

“The total number of UK institutions with this award is higher than in the whole of the rest of Europe put together, which is a great testament to the strength of our research base.”

For more information on the careers support available to researchers, click here.

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What is a reviewer looking for when assessing track record?

Tseen Khoo at The Research Whisperer has posted an excellent summary of what reviewers look for when assessing track records of research grant applications. It’s written from the perspective of the Australian Research Council, but most of the insights are relevant in the UK research context, too. Here’s a snippet, but check out the original post for the full story:

What do I look for when assessing the track-records of researchers on grant applicants?

It’s naff to say this but I do look for that mythical ‘excellence’, which means different things to different people. It’s a factor that also differs from discipline to discipline. To me, excellence means a fabulous publication record (good quality productivity); strong and real networks of collaborators and community/industry links (if relevant); and research that demonstrates this person or team is doing good stuff (whether it’s creating momentum for a field, showing initiative, whatever – basically, making things happen).

The competitiveness of many funding rounds means that excellent track-records become an expectation. As Mark Bisby, former VP Research for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, has said: “It’s not a test, it’s a contest.”

Part 2 will focus on assessing an application’s overall feasibility. I’d recommend taking a look at the Research Whisperer blog – it’s full of interesting and relevant posts.

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