Professor Dame Jessica Corner

September 25, 2020, by Rob Ounsworth

Research remains our priority as the academic year begins

Update from Professor Dame Jessica Corner

The start of the academic year is always a special time in the life of a university, and this week feels particularly significant. Thanks to the remarkable efforts of many hundreds of people we have welcomed staff and students back to our campuses.

I’m sure I am not alone in feeling a buzz as our stunning campuses come back to life after an extended summer break and we can take a great deal of satisfaction in the tremendous team effort that has ensured that our final research-related areas and facilities are reopening.

Phase two of reopening our libraries is under way, including the reopening of the Manuscripts and Special Collections Reading Room and the introduction of expanded services at Hallward and James Cameron-Gifford. Further services will be available at our other libraries from Monday 28 September (subject to health and safety checks). Check the re-opening schedule for the latest updates and Library Matters blog for guidance.

While colleagues with teaching responsibilities are joining the growing numbers of researchers being invited to return to campus, we absolutely recognise that the pandemic continues to have a severe impact on our personal and professional lives. Please continue to support each other and adapt project plans where possible.

Research remains our priority

Research remains an absolute priority and this message is at the core of our conversations with you as we work together to return to pre-pandemic levels and look to grow our research in a post-COVID world.

We are planning further town halls for researchers to discuss this challenge, and our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Shearer West, will invite colleagues from across our research community to join her in a series of conversations to further explore how we can seize opportunities to do research differently, and better. These conversations will help inform our response to the challenges and opportunities of the Government’s UK Research and Development Roadmap, while also developing our thinking on the University’s future research strategy.

Ahead of the new academic session, all staff who support our postgraduate research students (PGRs) received  guidance  on supporting new and returning PGRs, including the process for returning to research facilities or study spaces and plans for prioritising increased research activity. It is a supplement to the ‘Return to Campus’  information for all staff, I encourage you to be familiar with both documents.

We are also celebrating our postdoctoral researcher community as part of the UK postdoc appreciation week. It is a reminder that our postdocs are highly valued members of staff, making wonderful contributions to innovation and knowledge exchange while also inspiring the next generation of researchers. Read more about some of our inspiring postdocs and follow #LovePostdocs and #NPAW2020 on social media.

Celebrating 50 years of medicine and 30 years of nursing

This week also marks the start of a year of celebrations to mark 50 years of medicine and 30 years of nursing at the University.

The Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences has been at the forefront of incredible innovations in teaching, research and clinical practice and I look forward to hearing more of its transformative impact in a programme of events running to next spring.

Our research successes

My overriding message is that research matters, and our commitment to delivering world-class innovation is fundamental to both the University’s recovery and in supporting a more resilient economy and society.

To illustrate this, I am delighted to share once again a snapshot of our research successes, and sincerely thank colleagues who are working in these exceptional circumstances to forge new partnerships, land significant grants and have real impact.

Asymptomatic testing service

Particularly welcome at the beginning of term is news that the University of Nottingham is developing an in-house COVID-19 testing service, designed to tackle asymptomatic transmission among students and staff.

Professor Chris Denning, Director of the University’s Biodiscovery Institute, and world-leading virologist Professor Jonathan Ball are part of a University team working with local public health partners, the NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre and NHS Test and Trace to control outbreaks among university communities.

It complements the national testing strategy and should reduce the strain on community testing, and we hope to extend the service to cover the students and staff of our local university partners.

University of Nottingham Ningbo China award for COVID-19 response

Our University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) campus has been recognised for its response to the pandemic with an award from the European Chamber of Commerce in China.

UNNC was presented with the COVID-19 Crisis Response award at the 2020 Sustainable Business Awards ceremony in Shanghai, where judges praised its determination to safely continue both research and teaching in the face of the pandemic.

International recognition for ‘hidden half’ scientists

A team of plant and soil scientists have won an international award for their research that uses the Hounsfield Facility’s pioneering imaging technologies to reveal how date palms manage to thrive in deserts.

Professor Malcolm Bennett, Dr Craig Sturrock and Dr Brian Atkinson from the School of Biosciences, together with research partner Saudi University KAUST, were awarded the Khalifa International Award For Date Palm And Agricultural Innovation.

The dedication of Malcolm, Brian and Craig is matched by their generosity – they are donating their share of the £250,000 prize to fund equipment at the Hounsfield, which captures images of the ‘hidden half’ of drought-resistant crops such as the date palm to build a clearer picture of how farming can adapt to the challenges of climate change.

Exit, pursued by a bear

Box Office Bears: animal baiting in early modern England’ is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and is an intriguing example of cross-disciplinary research. Dr Hannah O’Regan of the School of Humanities, working with colleagues from the Universities of Roehampton and Oxford, is using archaeological evidence, archival studies and performance workshops to place bears at the front and centre of the investigation through the examination of their skeletons using zooarchaeology, palaeopathology, ancient DNA and isotope analyses.

The project is timed to finish in 2023, the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio, and the first record of the stage direction ‘exit, pursued by a bear’. Follow @archaeobears and @b4shakes on Twitter.

Will you vote for our Three Minute Thesis winner?

Yoong Xin Pang, a second-year doctoral researcher based at our Ningbo China Campus, has been selected to represent the University of Nottingham in the global online U21 3MT® Competition.

The Three Minute Thesis competition challenges research students to communicate the significance of their projects to a non-specialist audience in just three minutes.

Please do watch Yoong Xin Pang’s video for a wonderful example of how to capture an audience and cast your vote in the People’s Choice online competition. Voting closes on  Monday 5 October.

Leverhulme Research Centre summits

Researchers at all career stages are invited to book a place at a Leverhulme Research Centre Proposal Development summits on 28 October or 9 December. These virtual events will be the first informal steps in choosing our proposed candidates for Leverhulme Research Centres, which will receive up to £1m a year for five to ten years. The Leverhulme Trust sets a high value on interdisciplinary research, so we hope to have broad representation from across the University. The summit will include a briefing on the call, short presentations from teams considering proposals and looking for collaborators, and the opportunity to participate in virtual breakout sessions with potential applicants.

Back in the field: greetings from Greenland

A key message to researchers is to adapt their plans wherever possible. Doctoral student Laura Turner was devastated when her fieldwork in Siberia was cancelled due to the pandemic. But thanks to the support and contacts of supervisors and colleagues in the School of Geography, Laura was able to switch her studies of Arctic vegetation to Greenland. Laura’s account of her trip includes some stunning photographs.

I would like to highlight further inspiring examples of the resumption of our research, and encourage researchers to record such trips, here in the UK and abroad to share with colleagues, partners and funders. Please contact Research Communications Manager Rob Ounsworth for support and advice, and also take a look at this guidance on capturing video of your research on your phone.

Thank you once again for your goodwill and dedication. I hope you have chance to reflect and relax after a week that marks another chapter in our progress to recovery.

My very best wishes

Jessica Corner's signature

Professor Dame Jessica Corner
Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange



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