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.