Sunday, 21 November 2010

Gaining a Chair, Finding a Seat, and the Impact of Edinburgh

I had a great week! Monday was a 6 – 6 back to back meetings day. However, for much of Tuesday I was able to get off the meeting merry-go-around and spend some quality time with great colleagues interviewing some powerful candidates for our Professor in Midwifery post. It was an extraordinary and privileged day to part of. Each of the candidates had prepared well and the quality of the interviews and presentations was high. We were able to make an appointment, and if everything goes as planned, we should have a new Chair in Midwifery early in the New Year!

Wednesday was the School Executive Planning Day. This time was an opportunity to think about what we had achieved during the last 12 months and what needed to be considered for the next 12 months. It was clear that our world had changed dramatically. As a group we explored how to build upon the progress made to date. It was good to recognize the contributions made by colleagues across the School, and it was reassuring to know that in such a turbulent time for the University and public sector we had access to some wonderfully skilled and knowledgeable colleagues. Early Wednesday evening I got on a train and headed for Edinburgh.

This is a journey I have long hankered after doing. Up to now I have only flown to Edinburgh. I was an External Examiner at Dundee University for a number of years, and would regularly fly up to Edinburgh and then be picked up in a chauffeur driven limousine and taken to Dundee. It was very swish but slightly embarrassing. Doing the same journey by train was something I had long looked forward to. The countryside between Manchester and Edinburgh is some of the best in the country. Unfortunately, on Wednesday evening it was dark, the train was overcrowded and very cold.

Thankfully for me, I have a very effective PA’s. I never have to worry about getting a seat as she always makes sure I have a reserved seat, sitting at a table facing the way to train is travelling. She works out my travel arrangements with a degree of precision that I think is fantastic – and for me such arrangements have been totally reliable. And so it was on this occasion. While many people struggled to get on the train and find a seat, I was able to get to mine and sit down and start working before the train had left the station. It is Jennie’s birthday this week, so many happy returns – 21 again!

I was in Edinburgh on behalf of our Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation. I was there to attend a working group meeting looking at the results of the recent pilot projects aimed at capturing and presenting case studies of the impact of research undertaken by Universities. Impact will form a new and major part of the next REF exercise in 2014, and much preparation is in hand collating research outputs (publications) and developing the kind of high quality case studies required to demonstrate the reach of research.

 David Sweeney (the irrepressible Scot who heads up the Research, Innovation and Skills Directorate of the Higher Education Funding Council (England)) was quick to point out the importance in the recent Governmental Comprehensive Spending Review of being able to demonstrate the return on the investment made for research for the wider British society. Although research funding was to be cut, the extent of the cut was reduced by being able to show this impact.

I ate my lunch with a colleague from the Scottish Agriculture College, Edinburgh. Interestingly, his College and ours had much in common. For example, both Colleges undertake research into gait analysis, we do this with people, he was doing his with cows – but we both do it in exactly the same way. Likewise we work in geographically diverse locations, yet we both have to deal with many similar socio-economic and demographic issues.

 I came away from the day realising that we had a great deal of work to do. Simply getting four papers published was not going to be enough. Demonstrating Impact was going to be a very different challenge. However, papers that might form the foundation of the evidence base might more often from practice based publications NOT high impact journals. Finally, the day taught me it was possible to provide the evidence of the impact of our research – it won’t be easy, but it is possible, and going forward, this will be the most important thing we have to achieve.