Research Aspirations

We held another Faculty Executive Board away-day on Wednesday, to discuss our research aspirations. We discussed the research vision for the faculty and each of the constituent schools, with a particular emphasis on REF 2020. As everyone will know, we are in the middle of our ‘IQA3’ internal quality exercise. As an open blog, this is not the place to discuss the outcome of this exercise (which in any case is not complete), but while we must focus on our REF2014 submission, it is also very important to begin preparation for the next exercise – from my experience with other institutions there is a tendency to take one’s foot off the pedal once the submission is complete. We must resist the temptation to do this.

One outcome of the away-day was a view on where we hope each school will aim to position itself in 2020. This is summarised in the table below. This table shows the GPA score for each unit at RAE2008, the percentage 4* research activity for that unit, the position (in terms of raw GPA), the number of submissions to that unit, the top-scoring GPA in that unit, and the ambition for 2020. You can see that we are aiming very high.

Sage Research StrategyOf course, declaring one’s ambition is the easy part – working out how to get there is a very different matter. We shared some thoughts about this – again, these are not for an open blog, but your school management team will discuss these with you in due course.

We also discussed the research landscape at Faculty level, focussing on inter-disciplinary research activity between schools, and indeed between faculties. The purpose was to identify cross-cutting themes or ‘nodes’, where a significant critical mass currently exists or is growing. The result (which is a little complex!) is shown in the diagram below. Here, the red text shows areas which we believe already have critical mass, and the orange text shows areas that are emerging. The solid arrows indicate the input from schools and their research groups, whereas the dotted arrows indicate contributions that are either being developed or ought to exist. Apart from providing a  convenient map of research interactions across the Faculty (bearing in mind that we can’t possibly capture them all – only the major ones), this diagram helps us figure out where the next strategic appointments need to be made. It is from these inter-disciplinary research areas that we are likely to see growth in our research activity. Once again, we have asked Heads of School to discuss this more fully within parent schools.


Themes marked ‘*’ are those that will be involved in the first phase of the Science Central development.


About stevehomans

Professor Steve Homans is a structural biologist with an international reputation in the study of biomolecular interactions. He obtained his first degree and DPhil in Biochemistry at Oxford University, and secured his first academic position as Lecturer at the University of Dundee. In 1998 he received the Zeneca award from the Biochemical Society and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Prior to his current appointment he was Dean of the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds. Professor Homans brings extensive expertise of academic leadership and management, with a particular emphasis on organisational change.
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3 Responses to Research Aspirations

  1. I was obviously wrong in thinking that there was more awareness of Digital Interaction group’s (bottom right of Computing Science) links to FMS — we’ve had 20 externally funded projects in the last two years with CIs and PIs from FMS (about 35 different academics) — so linking Digital Interaction just to HASS (maybe just because we are based in Culture Lab) doesn’t capture it for me. There is a more general point to be made here about the different ways in which multi-disciplinary or interdisciplinary research works.

    In our case, much of what we do is human-centred “design” research (in a digital context) and this is inherently a research activity that bridges (across disciplines) so our interactions with other fields will always be “many armed” (i.e. depends on the design challenge for which we are innovating methods or social or ubicomp technologies). “Big data” is similarly agnostic about collaborating fields (though for different reasons). But you would distinguish both of these from “medicinal chemistry” or “synthetic biology” which are emerging fields in themselves with a clear (and more fixed) understanding of the contributing disciplines.

    • Ooops — my mistake in that I mis-parsed the blue arrow between Digital Interaction and FMS; I see now that it goes under COMP and out the other side (sorry all) 🙂

      But anyway, the more important point is that it is worth thinking about the difference between classes of multi- (where it is multi-) and interdisciplinary research activity and how these engage with different fields — this has very real consequences for how we recruit, how existing staff align themselves with these activities, and the research structures that we put in place to support them. In my opinion getting this right is not a detail but has a range of implications, ranging from how we pitch this to people we are looking to recruit, funders and industry, to making sure Schools (in SAgE and other faculties) buy into a single vision and align their strategies accordingly (a typical risk is that there is no sense of genuinely shared ownership of an interdisciplinary activity).

  2. Pingback: Building on our success | Steve's Blog

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