Nice excellence, shame about the impact!

Once again I find a reason not to start the week properly – this time is was another trip to Lake Windermere as part of the Research Assessment Exercise Chemistry Panel, which is nearing the end of its deliberations and coming up with radically surprising results – only kidding!!

The scoring protocol has been fairly widely trailed in the community, so I am not breaching protocol by going through it.  There is 60% for “outputs”.  Each university chooses who it puts forward but then every academic has to submit 4 papers for evaluation.  This is the bit that had me reading over 450 papers earlier in the year.  The panel members assess these papers in pairs and so it is subjective.  Then there is 20% for “esteem”.  This takes account of the academics achievements relative to their stage of career – and seems to be largely subjective.  Finally, there is 20% for “environment”.  This is further broken down into a version of outputs, a piece about the actual environment and 4% on interactions with industry, government, the public and so on.  What has been interesting for me is the debate between the other panel members, all of whom come from major chemistry centres and have been heads of departments, about the portfolio of chemistry departments needed.  I can buy the argument that the UK needs to husband its capability in the area and seek to build and extend this capability – we use a similar argument for “technology inspired”.  What I have difficulty swallowing is the case that chemistry departments who have combined with other departments in smaller universities to extend their reach have somehow sold out by abandoning pure chemistry.  The number of “reasons” given why small, possibly sub-critical departments, should be given the benefit of the doubt and given better scores to ensure they didn’t go under was another source of (my) discontent. The best bit was, when they started to compose the summary, the response to my question “who are we writing this for?” It turns out that they (after some thinking) came up with a list that started with the individual academics, went through heads of chemistry departments, pro-vice chancellors, chancellors, OSI, DIUS , the Treasure and even the Prime Minister worried me a little and caused me to ponder the potential value of sending these guys on our basic “communications skills” workshop.  It also rained most of the time!!

Back to Swindon for Thursday with a small side trip on possibly the most shambolic meeting I have taken part in for the Technology Strategy Board.  It appeared in my diary before I went on holiday with a promise of more details, but they never really arrived.  I only found out that Tony and Peter were also going that morning (which caused a ride with Peter that should be the model for a new driving game – GTA - Fear on the M4) and although we turned up the polite amount of time early, we sat around for 30 minutes in the Café Electron kicking our heels before going up for a quick lunch and then a monologue from our host. It became clear that what they thought was going to happen wasn’t, that the CDE guys had a warped view of what a KTN was based on the Mathematics one, and that their plan for change involved major co-ordinated change across an enormously broad front.  In the car on the way back we agreed that we had probably wasted our time.  Luckily, an evening in the Swindon Hilton (not to be confused with the Hanoi Hilton or Bangkok Hilton which have been in the news this week) gave me some catch-up time.

Next morning saw a quick chat with Tim to plan his talk at Innovate, another with Fil to discover that we are trying to make an input to the Renewable Energies Consultation by BERR without starting the response “are you serious?” before Adrian Atkinson from Human Factors International arrived to give his lunch and learn.  Adrian focused on his work on “wealth creators” and probably depressed everyone with the statistic that only 8% of those in business are actually wealth creators and that most are, essentially, along for the ride.  He then broke down that section into 4 categories – entrepreneurs, enterprisers, corporates and experts.  HFI have a more exhaustive instrument to test people, but his 4 question survey showed that we mainly have “experts” the obvious exception being Ian McConaghy who came up as an “entrepreneur”.  This lead to an interesting conversation later about how people implement their chosen ways of living – which had echoes of the dictum about how many people live extraordinary lives outside work but never fully engage within it – the fault of leadership?

The rest of the afternoon was spent catching up with e-mails and trying desperately to meet fairly short deadlines for return of information.


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