Thursday, 18 December 2008

RAE 2009

Analysis done by the Times Higher Education suggests that the results of the 2008 RAE show no major changes to the overall research landscape, 'the biggest research-intensive-intensive universities are still clustered at the top of the table of excellence, followed by the smaller -research-intensive institutions'.

However, there were some significant ranking changes for individual institutions. Cardiff University dropped out of the top ten to 22nd place. THES reports that it may have sacrificed its quality rating my submitting a high volume of staff which may help when it comes to research funding allocation. Southampton fell from 11th to a tie at 14th while Hertfordshire rose from 93rd to 58th.

Research top 20: (Average research score on numbers - source The Guardian)

1. Cambridge 2,975
2. Oxford 2,959
3. London School of Economics 2,957
4. Imperial College 2,943
5. University College London 2,844
6. Manchester 2,823
7. Warwick 2,799
8. York 2,780
9. Essex 2,772
10. Edinburgh 2,747
11. Queen Mary and Westfield 2,726
12. St Andrews 2,724
13. Bristol 2,723
14. Durham 2,721
15. Southampton 2,715
16. Leeds 2,715
17. Sheffield 2,715
18. Bath 2,711
19. Lancaster 2,711
20. King's College London 2,693

The Guardian reports that 'some of the best universities have large numbers of low-performing researchers... About a third of research by the top six universities was rated two-star or one-star. Some 28% of Cambridge's researchers scored one and two stars, as did 34% of UCL's.' However, Cambridge has the highest proportion of outstanding research in the UK. Of the 2,040 staff whose work was submitted, 71% was deemed to be world-leading or internationally excellent.

Information about subsequent funding allocation will be released on 4 March 2009.

Read The Guardian article in full.

Read the THES article in full

Visit the official RAE site.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Birmingham is the chosen one

HEFCE has selected the University of Birmingham to host the national higher education programme for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The programme aims to increase the number of graduates with skills in these disciplines in order to fulfil employer needs and boost the UK economy.

The bid was coordinated by one of the largest integrated STEM teams in the UK, the University's College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. The College comprises the Schools of Chemical Engineering, Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Metallurgy and Materials Engineering, Mathematics, Physics and Astronomy and Chemistry and Computer Science .

Read more information on the University of Birmingham website.

The results are in...

A survey by Laboratory News and Science World have found that 'life as a scientist in the UK is a mixed bag'. Some key results include:

  • Nearly 70% said that life in their lab was good

  • Only 5.7% said that salary attributed to job satisfaction

  • 40% said it is harder to get funding for work compared to five years ago

Read the survey results in full at the Laboratory News website.

Science from inside

Scientists at the University of Dundee have been collaborating with artist Gordon Dawson, 'to convey to the widest possible audience through the art-form of film, and web video accessible from anywhere in the world, films about research, research technologies, collaboration and inspiration that enable advances in medical science and human health.'

The six short films are aimed at providing a non-scientific audience a real sense of what scientists do and how they do it. The subjects of the six films are:

  • Research

  • Microscopy

  • Proteomics

  • Computing

  • Communication

  • Inspiration

All films can be watched online, free of charge at the GRE - Sharing Science website.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Lab coat off, dancing shoes on.

The winners of the 2009 AAAS/Science "Dance your PhD" contest have been announced. The contest encourages science PhD students to think about their research from an entirely different perspective, the medium of dance. There are four categories:

  • Graduate student
  • Post-Doc
  • Professor
  • Popular Choice
The winners are paired with a professional choreographer and a dance piece is created, interpreting one of the winners peer-reviewed research articles. The piece is performed at the 2009 AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago in February 2009.

2009 Graduate Student Winner - Sue Lynn Lau (University of Sydney, Australia)
PhD Title: "The role of vitamin D in beta cell function"

See all the 2009 AAAS/Science winners.

Friday, 5 December 2008

EPSRC funds new wave of scientists

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has today announced plans to fund 44 new centres for doctoral training which will train over 2000 PhD students over the next five years.

The centre for doctoral training will 'bring together many areas of expertise, building relationships between teams in universities and with industry. Students receive taught coursework to develop their technical knowledge and broaden their skills as well as carrying out challenging PhD-level research projects'.

Read the story in full on the EPSRC website.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Welcome to the Blogosphere!

Doug Kell, Chief Executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, has started a blog. In his first post, he outlines the purpose of the blog, "I shall almost certainly use this space to discuss issues of general interest to our community, and to complement my discussions with colleagues at institutes and universities."

The blog is fully moderated and comments can be made, after first completing a quick registration form.

Visit Doug Kell's blog.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

HEFCE appoints new Chief Executive

Sir Alan Langlands, currently the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Dundee has been appointed as the new Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England. He will take up post on 1 April 2009.

The current Chief Executive, Professor David Eastwood, is to become Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham.

Read more on the HEFCE website.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Teaching to the test

The Independent reports on research undertaken by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), in which 1,600 of the country's brightest 16 year olds took "The Five Decade Challenge" - a two-hour exam which included questions from past science papers spread over the past 43 years.

The overall average score was 25 per cent, but the RSC reports that some pupils scored no marks at all. In highlighting what the RSC calls a "catastrophic slippage" in exam standards, the average score for the 2005 paper questions was 35 per cent, compared to 15 per cent for the 1965 questions. Dr Richard Pike, chief executive of the RSC is quoted as saying, "The fact that highly intelligent youngsters were unfamiliar with these types of questions, obtaining on average 35 per cent from recent papers and just 15 percent from the 1960s, points to a systematic failure and misplaced priorities in the education system."

Read The Independent article in full.

Do boys put girls off science?

The new Schools minister is advocating a return to single-sex education in an attempt to get more girls interested in science and engineering reports The Independent. Sarah McCarthy-Fry is quoted as saying, "Girls do much better in science in single-sex classes. They sometimes feel intimidated in mixes-sex classes, with the boys hogging the limelight and putting their hands up to answer all the questions."

Sarah McCarthy-Fry goes on to say that she feels science needs to be presented in a manner which is more "girl-friendly" in order to make careers in science more attractive. At present more boys choose to study chemistry, biology and physics at both GCSE and A-Level.

Read the Independent article in full.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Science not seen as helpful

A new Eurobarometer report shows that the UK has some of the lowest figures for making a positive choice to study science and some of the highest figures (71%) for not being interested in a science profession. Of those respondents that said they were considering studying natural sciences and/or mathematics, the preferred professions in science were engineers and health professionals. Only slightly more than one in 10 wanted to become a researcher in the private or public sector.

In a similar piece of research undertaken by the Science Council, just one third of the 16-18 year olds surveyed believe that science qualifications will help them later on in life. The publication of both results is timely as the Science Council launches a new careers website, Future Morph which aims to demonstrate how a career as a scientist or engineer can help the world tackle major global issues such as health and the environment.

Read the Eurobarometer report in full.

Find out more about Future Morph.

Success for British scientist

Athene Donald from Cambridge University has become the second British scientist to be made a laureate of the For Women in Science awards (which are sponsored by L'Oreal-Unesco) in their 11-year history, reports The Observer. Professor Donald is quoted as saying, "It's hugely prestigious and a great honour, but the role model aspect is probably the most important thing. Having very visible, successful women who have not become complete anoraks is really important to keep girls doing science."

These awards were established in 1998 as the first international awards dedicated to women scientists around the world and celebrate their achievements in science as well as their committment to inspire young female scientists.

Read the Observer article in full.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Beddington questions homeopathy funding

John Beddington, Government's chief scientific adviser, is to look into the funding of homeopathy as a treatment on the NHS, saying that he sees "no scientific evidence" that it works, reports THES.

This commitment, made at a hearing of the Commons Universities Select Committee, will go some way to placate the MPs who believe that the continued NHS funding of homeopathy calls into doubt the Government's commitment to "evidence-based" policy. MPs have questioned why this issue was not a concern during a recent review of the Department of Health by Professor Beddington's office.

Read the THES article in full.

Focus on nanomaterials

The Commission for Environmental Pollution has called for more safety testing and tighter regulation on nanomaterials reports the Financial Times. Although there is no evidence of harm to either health or the environment it warns, "The pace at which new nanomaterials are being developed and marketed is beyond the capacity of existing testing regulatory arrangements to control the potential environmental impacts adequately." These sentiments are echoed by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering who have both called for more research into the harmful effects of nanomaterials.

The commission chairman has said that the widely used nanomaterials, nanosilver, carbon-60 and carbon nanofibres are of particular concern.

Read the Financial Time article in full.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Mandelson speaks on science

Research Fortnight reports that whilst addressing the House of Commons Business and Enterprise Select Committee on 21 October, Peter Mandelson said that he would have made a strong argument against the decision to shift science to the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. Referring to his time in the DTI (when it had responsibility for science and business) he is quoted as saying, "What I promoted at the time was a bridge between the research that took place in universities, the excellent science base that we have in this country and the commercial sector."

Adam Afriyie, shadow minister for science and innovation has interpreted Mandelson's views as a clear criticism of Gordon Brown and his reorganisation of Whitehall. However, Phil Willis, chairman of the House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee is quoted in Research Fortnight as saying, "I find it quite amazing that someone who has been out of the loop for the last three years can come in making such statements about another department."

Research Fortnight (registration required)

Friday, 7 November 2008

European Commission proposal on animal testing

After eight years in the making, the European Commission has announced plans to strengthen the protection of animals across the EU, including a ban on experiments using great apes. The proposal would extend the ethical evaluations required before experiments with animals were authorised and set minimum requirements on housing and care, reports the Financial Times.

Opinion on the proposals are, as expected, divided. While animal rights activists feel the Commission should have gone further, researchers are worried about unnecessary regulatory burdens, and warned that testing could migrate to countries with lower standards.

Read the Financial Times article in full.

DIUS faces shortfall

THES recently reported that DIUS is facing a £100m cash shortfall in funding for student grants. "Whitehall has blamed a "legacy problem" for the deficit, but some commentators have pointed to a failure to properly cost last year's expansion in the number of students entitled to maintenance grants."

However, in an update to this story, John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, admitted the department was facing a funding shortfall of £200m after DIUS underestimated the numbers of students eligible for a full maintenance grant. As a result, the threshold of family income below which a student is eligible for a grant will drop from £60,000 to £52,020.

Read the THES article in full.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

MPs criticise DIUS

Research Fortnight reports that the House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee summoned DIUS permanent secretary Ian Watmore to discuss the department's first year of existence. "The permanent secretary admitted that he felt it was more important for the general public to be familiar with the individual services on offer than with the department itself, despite working to develop a DIUS '"story'" to clarify its goals".

Liberal Democrat chairman of the committee, said "the group were disappointed with Watmore's defence of his brand." The committee also feels strongly about the department's use of jargon and Willis warns that this approach to communication needs to change. Research Fortnight quotes Willis as saying, "They have to stop the flimflam and concentrate on what really matters", moving science and research up the agenda.

Research Fortnight

Changes afoot at the BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has announced changes to the way its peer review committees are organised, the way new research and policy priorities are highlighted and a reorganisation of funding structures for its five sponsored Institutes.

The changes are:

  • The creation of four new research committees from the existing seven

  • The setting up of a mixed economy of peer review membership, including core committee members and a pool of reviewers able to be called on flexibly for their specific expertise

  • New research and policy priorities that will overarch all of BBSRC’s activities. The policy priorities will help BBSRC researchers to consider the strategic relevance of their proposals when they make applications

  • A system of highlight notices that BBSRC will use to generate demand when it identifies the need for more applications in certain areas

  • Institute Strategic Programme Grants to replace Core Strategic Grants to the BBSRC-sponsored Institutes

BBSRC Chief Executive Doug Kell has said, "These changes are not about abandoning responsive mode or about forcing researchers to work in industry. It is a fallacy that responsive mode research is only for blue skies or fundamental science. The criteria for peer review will not change. BBSRC will always fund excellent science. What we want the new system to do is to encourage our research community to think about the strategic focus of their applications and then ensure that when we fund excellent science we are able to capture the impact of the outcomes."

Read the BBSRC News Release in full.

Lord Drayson takes on role of Science Minister

The replacement in the October reshuffle of Ian Pearson as Science Minister by Dr Paul Drayson suggests a significant change in Government thinking on science policy. Unlike Pearson, Drayson is a scientist, graduating from Aston University with a degree in Production Engineering before completing a PhD in robotics. Drayson believes the upgrading of the position to a cabinet post demonstrates Brown’s commitment to the subject and, on confirming his appointment, he said: “To have the opportunity to have responsibility for UK science is an honour and I’m very excited about it.” Pearson moves to the Treasury as Economic Secretary and also Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

The appointment of Drayson has been largely received with enthusiasm. “He’s a carbon copy of David Sainsbury” says Ian Gibson MP, as quoted in Research Fortnight, “He’s a scientist, he’s had the experience of running a business – and he drives fast cars.” Drayon’s passion for racing looks set to compliment his new role as he promises to ‘put pedal to metal’, moving away from a culture of reviews and reports instead focusing on implementing change.

Monday, 6 October 2008

A new organisation for the biosciences

The Councils of the Biosciences Federation (BSF) and Institute of Biology (IoB) have proposed that a New Organisation for the biosciences (NO) should be created. This Organisation will embrace the activities and strengths of both BSF and IoB, and add new activities that will benefit UK biosciences and provide value to the membership.

A prospectus for a New Organisation (NO) to represent the biosciences has been written by Dr Richard Dyer for the BSF. The prospectus outlines the background to the discussions between the BSF and IoB, and includes information on the finance and structures, and immediate goals for NO.

Read the prospectus for a New Organisation

Thursday, 2 October 2008

New Athena SWAN winners

In the latest round of Athena SWAN awards, the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Bristol, the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham and the School of Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering at the University of Nottingham, all receive silver awards. Bronze awards are given to the University of Bedfordshire, King’s College London, Lancaster University, the University of Leicester, the University of Manchester and the University of Reading.

The Athena SWAN Charter is a scheme which recognises excellence in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) employment in higher education. The Charter was launched in June 2005. Any university or research institution which is committed to the advancement and promotion of the careers of women in SET in higher education and research can apply for membership.

Find out more about the Athena SWAN awards.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Patent wars stifle progress

The Financial Times reports on a Canadian-led international study which reports that the drive to accumulate and defend patents is 'stifling innovation, particularly in biotechnology and health care. The study's findings were presented in London by the chairs of the International Expert Group on Biotechnology, Innovation and Intellectual Property, Professor Robert Gold. Professor Gold is quoted as saying, "The old [intellectual property] approach of the biotechnology community has failed to deliver on its potential to address disease and hunger in both developing and industrialised nations. We need to do better, and the [information technology world] has shown us part of the solution."

Read the Financial Times article in full

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Testing primary school science

Two new reports published today by the Wellcome Trust highlight widespread concern about the "negative impact of national testing on young people's enjoyment and understanding of science".

The author of one report Professor Wynne Harlen (University of Bristol) stresses the importance of starting science learning at primary school. "There is a considerable body of research evidence that shows that, since children's own ideas are often in conflict with scientific ones, if taken into the secondary school, they can inhibit effective learning. The conflict leads many to find science too hard, too confusing and too remote from their real experience."

Although believing science should be a core subject, Professor Harlen considers the associated national testing has had "a detrimental effect on learning and teaching" and acknowledges that although it is necessary to know a child's level of achievement, the negative impact is derived from the "policy of using results to set targets and judge teachers and schools solely on the basis of test results."

The two reports form the first in a series called "Perspectives on Education" which aim to stimulate debate about the best way to teach science in schools.

Read the Wellcome Trust report in full

Monday, 22 September 2008

GM foods back on the menu?

The Guardian is reporting that GM crops are being given a second chance, with the strongest ministerial backing to date. Ian Pearson, science minister, predicts that "the public would accept GM crops if they could be convinced that the technology would benefit consumers". Pearson is quoted as saying, "I don't think the GM debate in 2000 was handled very well, I think that the public want to see benefits for GM technology for the consumer, not just for the fertiliser company or the farmer. If GM can demonstrably provide benefits for people living in sub-Saharan Africa... then I think the public will want to support those as products and want to see them commercialised".

Read the Guardian article in full

Australia plans for open access

THES reports that Kim Carr, the Australian Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research is planning reforms which will allow open access to all of the nation's publicly funded research. Australia currently produces 3 per cent the world's research papers and it is therefore in the Country's interest to "promote the freest possible flow of information domestically and globally". In a speech on the report he is quoted as saying, "The arguments for stepping out first on open access are the same as the arguments for stepping out first on emissions trading - the more willing we are to show leadership on this, the more chance we have of persuading other countries to reciprocate.

Read the THES article in full

Friday, 19 September 2008

Misconduct policy comes under fire

A new standard procedure outlining how universities should investigate allegations of research misconduct issued by the UK research Integrity Office (UKRIO) has come under fire. The new procedure dictates that universities should use at least one external investigator, but only after a complaint has been "screened" by senior staff to decide if it is sufficiently serious. The procedure has faced criticism from those who believe a mandatory system is needed. Aubrey Blumsohn, a campaigner for greater openness in the investigation of misconduct is quoted in THES as saying, "It remains the case that one or more powerful individuals are doing the investigating and the balance of power remains heavily tilted towards those who wish to maintain institutional decorum at all costs. It seems to be an attempt to put something in place to placate critics but is more like a Band-Aid on a cancer."

Read the THES article in full

Number of science A-level students decreases

A report by the Royal Society shows that the proportion of 17-year-olds taking maths, physics and chemistry at A level has decreased over the last 12 years in spite of efforts to reverse this trend. Michael Reiss is quoted in THES as saying, “Recently there have been encouraging signs that more young people are choosing to study the science and mathematics after the age of 16, but the longer-term trend exposes the failure of many changes to make enough of a difference.” The results do not include the new science GCSEs.

Read the THES article in full

RCUK Statement of Expertise finds supporters and critics

Following the announcement of the RCUK Statement of Expertise many have come forward, both in criticism and defence of its proposals. The Guardian quotes Philip Esler (chief executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Council) as saying that the RCUK is “moving from a narrowly defined grant condition relating to ‘commercialisation’ to a much more wide-ranging and universal expectation of ‘impact’”. However, Terence Kealey, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, argues that the government should focus on fundamental research. As quoted in Research Fortnight, “The research councils spend £3 billion annually of British taxpayers’ money. The empirical evidence for privately-funded research having much more positive economic benefits than government-funded research is strong. Until RCUK includes the ‘Expectation’ of showing that it is spending its money better than the taxpayer, its statement is but the PR of a vested interest.”

Read Philip Esler’s statement in full

Forthcoming Projects Peer Review Panel (PPRP) meeting

The next PPRP meeting of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) will take place on 23rd, 24th and 25th September at The Oxford Centre. The Panel will be reviewing 5 PRD applications on 23rd September, 2 major project proposals on 24th September and 2 major project proposals on 25th June. There will be open presentations on each of these bids and all members of the STFC community are welcome to attend.

Visit the STFC website to find out more

Particle Physics: Brain and money drain?

In a presidential address at the British Association for the Advancement of Science, David King called into question the extent of Britain's future investment in the Swiss particle physics laboratory. King suggested that the government's investment in research needs to be more strongly focused on global challenges such as climate change. King also suggested to Research Fortnight that 'the high level and consistent funding for projects such as Cern has resulted in many of the most talented scientists working in particle physics and cosmology - possibly at the expense of other fields.' King asks '"Can we as a global population continue to afford seeing those brilliant people working on those problems, or should we try and attract them into finding the renewable energy sources of the future?'"

Source: Research Fortnight.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

A Scientific Balance

An article in the THES addresses the challenge faced by scientists in trying to balance accurate reporting with a commitment to drive governments to action.

Mark Maslin, director of the Environment Institute at University College London is quoted as saying, 'researchers are "walking a tightrope between doing excellent science, which is clearly defensible and has the support of peers, and communicating with the public. If you go too far towards communication (or stray out of your true specialist areas), you lose the credibility that makes you worth listening to in the first place."'.

Read the THES article in full

Increased Competition For Grants

THES reports that research councils are showing large increases in the numbers of applications for grants, while the amount of awards available increases in much smaller amounts. Over the six research councils a 13% rise in the number of applications in the year 2007-08 can be seen. The chance of converting an application into a grant through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council dropped from 30% to 29%.

The Medical Research Council was the exception, where the success rate rose from 24% in 2006-07 to 27% in 2007-08.

Read the THES article in full

ERC Starting Grants

The European Research Council was set up as part of the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for research. It has two main funding streams, aimed at invigorating the European landscape by funding the best blue-skies research in any EU member state.

This year's call for starting grants is initially worth EUR296 million but expected to increase in value. Research in all academic fields is eligible and the council again intends to award about 300 grants of up to EUR2 million each over five years.

Read the THES article in full

Visit the ERC website to find out more

RCUK Statement of Expectation

Research Councils UK (RCUK) have published two new documents, one which outlines RCUK's Mission for Social and Economic Impact and an accompanying Statement of Expertise. It covers the activities and disciplines of all seven Research Councils.

'Speaking on behalf of Research Councils UK, Professor Philip Esler said "Our commitment to excellent research that extends the boundaries of human knowledge remains as strong as ever. These documents signal a progression in the Research Councils' policy on knowledge transfer, begun in 2006 with the publication of the Warry Report, which recognises that publicly funded research should benefit us culturally, socially and financially. The publication of our Mission and Statement of Expectation represents a significant milestone that will be reflected in the Research Councils' peer review processes and in their grant terms and conditions."'

Read the documentation on the RCUK website

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Public Power

In a novel case, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has made decisions on which areas of nanotechnology to fund based in part, on public opinion. A consultancy firm hired by EPSRC, through a series of public workshops found public opinion supported proposals which focused on devices to detect diseases in their early stages and to improve targeted drug delivery to hard-to-reach tissue. A thumbs down was given for so-called theranostics, the insertion of small devices into patients to read chemical levels and provide automatic adjustments as required.

Read the THES article in full

China increases output

A DIUS published report shows that China is on the verge of 'overtaking Britain in the world table of the most prolific nations for academic research' reports THES. The report also shows that currently, Britain produces the largest number of research papers after the US. Where as the gap in publication rate is very slight, a difference of only 110 papers between Britain and China, Britain was ranked as the top country for value for money (producing more papers and citations than any other per unit of investment in R&D). China and the US are ranked 17th and 16th respectively.

Read the THES article in full

Read the DIUS report in full

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

ESOF 2008

Scientists, policymakers, journalists and other professionals from around the world gathered at the third Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) in Barcelona, Spain, last week for an open discussion on science. kept a concise blog of proceedings.

Visit the blog

Monday, 28 July 2008

EPSRC removes ring-fence

THE EPSRC has removed ring-fencing for strategically important "national services", they will now have to compete for "responsive mode" funding rather than competing with each other for "directed mode" funding. One casualty is the National Service for Computational Chemistry Software (NSCCS) at Imperial College London, which is to close March 2009. An online petition has been set up condemning the decision. A spokeswoman for the EPSRC is quoted as saying, '"The decision not to fund the NSCCS was taken on the advice of independent scientists through the peer review system."'

Read the THES article in full

The Macho Culture

A forthcoming report produced by the Royal Society of Chemistry, Biochemical Society and the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science shows that the high level of attrition seen in female chemistry PhD students is in large part due to 'isolation in the research group, discomfort in a competitive environment and poor attitudes among supervisors'. The high level of attrition of female students seen after chemistry PhD completion is not seen to the same degree in the biosciences. The full report will be published later in the summer.

Read the THES article in full

Friday, 25 July 2008

Hopping Scientists

The Medical Research Council offers grants aimed at allowing scientists to "hop across" disciplines. THES reports that the grants are 'aimed at provoking new collaborations between the physical and life sciences'. The programme, which is worth up to £2 million this year, 'funds established researchers in the physical sciences to try their hands in the biological and medical science field.

The Discipline Hopping Grant is an annual competition. The deadline for this year’s competition is 4pm on 12th November 2008.'

Read more about the MRC grant

Scientific Migration

A recent Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) postnote addresses the topic of 'International Migration of Scientists and Engineers'. Various 'push' and 'pull' factors are identified such as low wages, lack of career choices, lack of funding (push) and prestige, job satisfaction and 'selective' immigration policies (pull).

As well as discussion on the concept of 'brain drain', the report recognises that there is increasing awareness that migration can benefit both the 'sending' and 'receiving' country - 'brain circulation' rather than 'brain drain'.

Read the postnote in full

Monday, 14 July 2008

Looking ahead

Nancy Rothwell, Raymond Dwek, Alan Malcolm and Richard Dyer address some of the concerns raised about the proposed integration of the Biosciences Federation (BSF) and the Institute of Biology (IoB). Stating that 'many in government and other seats of power are telling us that biology, like chemistry and physics, should have a single voice' and 'there is much to be gained in efficiency and effectiveness from the IoB and BSF working closely together, but that does not mean that the process is yet agreed or will be easy'.

Read the THES article in full

The Chosen Few

HEFCE has chosen 21 universities to test-drive the Research Excellence Framework. The institutions chosen are: Bath, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Cambridge, Durham, East Anglia, Glasgow, Leeds, Nottingham, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Southampton, Stirling, Sussex, as well as, Imperial College London, Institute of Cancer Research, London School of Tropical Medicine, Queen's University Belfast, The Robert Gordon University, the Royal Veterinary College and University College London.

These pilot institutions will provide Hefce with citations data for all staff eligible for inclusion in the 2008 RAE, regardless of whether the staff member was actually submitted. There are however, concerns that the institutions will treat the pilot as an opportunity to boost their standing.

Read the THES story in full

Extra Points For Effort

Academics from Durham University have analysed data from nearly 1 million school pupils and found that it was much more difficult to earn top grades in some subjects than in others, THES reports. The researchers concluded that subjects such as physics, chemistry and biology at A level are a whole grade harder than drama, sociology and media studies.

Read the THES story in full

Survey Sparks Concern

After polling more than 2,200 US federally funded scientists, a report has found that the rate at which research fraud among scientists is reported is alarmingly low. The results (published in Nature) gave an estimate of 2,325 possible cases of research fraud each year. THES reports that the survey, 'said to be the most systematic to date, found that only 58% of all the cases were reported to university officials'.

Read the THES article in full

New Research Concordat Launched

A new "Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers" has been launched by Ian Pearson, Science Minister. The document aims to set out the responsibilities of research managers, funders and universities in supporting researchers' careers. However, their are concerns that the document does not fully address the problem of fixed-term contracts. The University and College Union have said 'when nearly 80 per cent of researchers remain on fixed-term contracts and were still "routinely under threat of dismissal" when individual research projects ended, the concordat should go beyond the letter of the law'.

Read the THES articles in full

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

A brief hiatus

The Sciblorg will be on a brief hiatus from Tuesday 24th June to Tuesday 1st July.

A flurry of activity will follow.

Friday, 20 June 2008

STFC to be reviewed

Research fortnight reports that the STFC (Science and Technologies Facilities Council) will commission a comprehensive review of its operation by September. This move comes as a response to criticism from MPs who believe the council has been mismanaged.

However, the Government also told MPs that the criticisms of the peer review system were '"unhelpful and damaging"'. Phil Wilis, Liberal MP for Harrogate is quoted as saying, '"When you read this response, it is very clear from the underlying language that the department is not happy and that it feels it should not have been put in this position"'.

Read more from the BBC

Can ethics be independent?

In the latest edition of Science in Parliament, The Baroness Warnock and Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool present conflicting views on the formation of a National Human Bioethics Commission. While Warnock argues that ‘such a body is unnecessary, and would be both expensive and possibly damaging in its effects’ and could conflict with existing bodies, HFEA and the Nuffield Council for Bioethics. She recognises that those in favour of establishing a commission, ‘suggest that the Nuffield Council, being funded by the Nuffield Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, is necessarily biased toward science. They advocate the new body in the belief that religion and a morality deprived from religion would be better represented on it.’

These views are echoed by Lord Alton who states that the new Commission should be separate and independent from particular government departments, ‘.. it would be a way of redressing a debate too frequently dominated by vested interests or by small elites who for two decades have enjoyed free reign in shaping the bioethics agenda.’

Monday, 16 June 2008

Lab Swap

THES reports on the launch of the Newton International Fellowships which will 'fund the most promising early-stage researchers to undertake postdoctoral research at UK universities with the aim of helping UK research groups establish long-term international collaborations. There are separate postdoctoral fellowships for UK nationals.'

The programme is funded by the Royal Society, the British Academy and the Royal Academy of Engineering with the support of Research Councils UK.

Read the THES article in full

CRUK announces crack teams

Cancer Research UK (CRUK) has announced a new project aimed at tackling some of cancer's biggest scientific challenges. The charity plans to hand pick crack teams of up to five world class scientists, who will be joined by some of the world's foremost pharmaceutical companies to work on emerging fields to tackle specific questions in cancer research.

Each group of researchers will form a limited company and will receive up to £500,000 over two years. A British-based team has been selected for the first project and further research projects are planned for 2009 and 2010.

Cancer Research UK Press Release

Virtual science engagement

DIUS has launched a virtual centre for public dialogue in science. The Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre for Public Dialogue in Science and Innovation aims to help public bodies understand public concerns on controversial issues. The centre's steering group is led by Kathy Sykes, professor of sciences and society at the University of Bristol whilst the public champion of the centre is Lord Winston.

Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre for Public Dialogue in Science and Innovation

FEBS/EMBO Women in Science Award 2009

The European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) and the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) have announced the second call for nominations for the FEBS/EMBO Women in Science Award. The aim of this award is to highlight the major contributions being made by female life scientists to European research and to present inspiring role models for future generations of women in science.

Nominees should be excellent women scientists working in Europe who have made outstanding contributions to life sciences research in the last 5 years and significantly advanced our understanding of a particular discipline. Their research can be in any area of the life sciences including agricultural and biomedical research.

The winner will be honoured at the annual FEBS Congress, where she will receive an award of 10,000 EUR and present a special plenary lecture. The first winner is Naama Barkai of the Weizman Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, recognized for her outstanding contributions to the field of systems biology and the mathematical modelling of biological systems. The award will be made on 2 July at the 2008 FEBS Congress in Athens, Greece.

For details of the nomination procedure, please visit:

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

The beginning of the end for science A-levels?

Newcastle University has announced plans which will allow students onto science degree courses without A-levels. A-levels will be replaced by degree-level courses with the Open University, allowing students to become used to the university style of modular learning. It is hoped that this option will combat the perception that science subjects are too hard, which results in many talented students dropping science and maths subjects in the sixth-form. At present 60 places at the university are being set aside for students who opt for this approach.

'Heather Finlayson, dean of undergraduate studies at Newcastle, said: "This new route is not an easy option – it's simply a different way of working. Our overall aim is to try to increase the number of high quality science students who would benefit from a university education and we believe this is one way to do that."'

Read the full article from the Independent

Monday, 19 May 2008

New guidelines on animal research

The MRC, BBSRC, NERC and the Wellcome Trust have produced new collaborative guidelines on conduct relating to the use of animals in research. The guidelines outline the legal controls on using animals in research and details how the researchers should apply the 3Rs - replacement, refinement and reduction. Dr Mark Prescott, programme manager at the National Center for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in research (NC3Rs) believes, '"The guidelines have teeth because they are linked to funding... If you put an application in, and the referees and the review panel of the funding body are not confident that you are applying the guidelines - and you can't address their concerns - they won't support the work"'.

Read the full article from THES

The National Center for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in research website

The human side of grant rejection

David Scott, a lecturer in physical biochemistry at the University of Nottingham applied to the BBSRC for £588,000 to work on the Haloferax microbe from the Dead Sea. On learning that his time-consuming grant application had been turned down, Dr Scott recorded a short video. The video shows the human side of grant rejection, in contrast to the usual clinical portrayal. The video comprises part of a wider BBC project called 'Test Tube' which aims to give a behind-the-scenes view of science in the university.

Monday, 28 April 2008

DIY cancer treatment

The government has been warned about the danger of cancer sufferers choosing to self-medicate by using unregulated drugs such as DCA (dichloroacetate). The drug, which has been seen to have some effectiveness in research published last year, is being sold on the internet. Dr Michelakis, one of the authors of the work, is appalled and quoted as saying, '"The concern about this drug is that at this at this stage it is given to people who are very sick. Unsupervised it could kill you"'. Dr Ian Gibson, head of the all-party parliamentary group on cancer has urged the government to 'do all it could to highlight the problem and block sales from websites.'

Read the full article from the Guardian