November 6, 2020, by Michael Slade
Our commitment to research as we enter new national restrictions
Update from Professor Dame Jessica Corner
England has entered a further period of national restrictions until Wednesday 2 December. I am sure I am not alone in experiencing a range of emotions as we grapple with the huge impact the pandemic continues to have on every aspect of our lives.
I am very pleased that universities are remaining open for both teaching and research. We have made tremendous progress in the past weeks and months and by working together and following the rules, our campuses will remain Covid-secure environments.
I am also confident that our research will continue to recover and grow as together we navigate this latest challenge.
Our guidance for researchers is in line with the UK Government’s guidance for higher education, highlighted in bold below.
Researchers and research students will be able to continue in-person research activities if the research work cannot reasonably be conducted from home.
However, where it is possible, research should be carried out at home, or without gathering with others, and where it can reasonably be done, in-person research activity requiring gathering with others should be paused for the period of national restrictions. If the research participants are not being paid, and the participant’s involvement is not crucial within this period, we recommend that work with research participants is rescheduled until after the period of national restrictions.
Researchers and research students will be able to continue in-person research activities if the research work cannot reasonably be conducted from home. Laboratory and field-based research can continue, subject to the appropriate risk assessments being in place, and Covid-19 measures being observed at all times.
Research activity involving participants can continue in exceptional circumstances, and if authorised (details of authorisation process to follow), and following a review of risk assessment by the lead investigator, if:
- It is necessary to fulfil the requirements of a research grant, industry and NHS contracts, and completion is time-sensitive and therefore is impossible to pause
- If the research is ongoing and related to Covid-19 or associated public health projects
- The activity involving participants is necessary for completion of students’ learning outcomes for their programme of study and is time-sensitive and therefore is impossible to pause
I encourage research leaders and supervisors to contact colleagues to discuss how the national restrictions may affect their research activity and, if necessary, how we can adapt to minimise disruption during this period and keep everyone safe. As always, your wellbeing remains our absolute priority. We are continually monitoring the situation and our safety protocols and will update you accordingly.
Our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andy Long, has also discussed the national restrictions in his latest blog.
The current crisis has brought into even sharper focus the demands on your time: balancing teaching and supervisory responsibilities with delivering research, all while coping with increased personal pressures and a shifting local and national picture.
Your continuing support of our mission to deliver transformative research in such difficult circumstances is truly humbling and once again I extend my heartfelt thanks.
Access to our libraries
Our libraries will remain open for use by students and staff during the new national restrictions, including access to bookable study space, print resources and printing services. The Manuscripts and Special Collections Reading Room will also continue to be open for staff and students but will no longer provide access to external visitors. When visiting any of our libraries, please follow the essential safety measures in place including wearing a face covering at all times when inside the library, unless you are exempt. Visit the Libraries website for the latest updates.
Virtual town halls
The pandemic has also brought into focus the need to prepare for a post-Covid world, and the University is developing our research strategy to meet this challenge.
A new series of online town halls is taking place to help inform our thinking on the future of research at Nottingham, together with how we can better support each other in delivering world-class discoveries.
The first of these sessions, hosted yesterday by the Faculty of Social Sciences, was stimulating and thought-provoking – and, at a time when we are apart from colleagues, I thoroughly enjoyed the sense of community and shared purpose.
Please do book on one of the town halls below – I look forward to ‘seeing’ you.
|9 November||11am – 12:30pm||Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences Professor Richard Emes, Faculty AVPC for RKE
|11 November||1.30-3pm||Faculty of Science
Professor Zoe Wilson, Faculty AVPC for RKE
|18 November||11am-12.30pm||Faculty of Arts
Professor Lynda Pratt, Faculty AVPC for RKE
|23 November||2-3.30pm||Faculty of Engineering
Professor Chris Tuck, Faculty AVPC for RKE
|2 December||10 -11.30am||The future of knowledge exchange
Professor Chris Gerada, Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Industrial Strategy, Business Engagement and Impact
|15 December||12-1.30pm||Research staff (technicians, postdoctoral researchers, early career research fellows on internal and external fellowships and colleagues on research contracts)
Professor Dame Jessica Corner
Virtual town halls are also being held for postgraduate research students and our Nottingham and Anne McLaren Fellows, who have been contacted directly. Our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Shearer West, is also inviting colleagues from all levels of our research community to explore how we can seize opportunities to do research differently and better.
All these events will help develop our thinking on our future research strategy and we will take stock and report back on your input.
Our research successes
Our researchers continue to make a significant contribution to meeting the challenges of the pandemic and in building a more resilient society.
Experts from Nottingham, including Philip Quinlan, Head of the Digital Research Service and Associate Director of the UK Health Data Research Alliance, have joined colleagues from the universities of Dundee and Edinburgh, along with Public Health England, to build the infrastructure for CO-CONNECT, a £4m UK-wide initiative to support research into the Covid-19 antibody response.
Colleagues at the University of Birmingham have meanwhile launched an international open-access database for ongoing Covid-19 research. The portal (www.covidcorpus.org) includes all research disciplines and aims to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and reduce duplication.
Dr Yana Vinogradova, a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Medicine, is Nottingham’s lead investigator on a study with the University of Oxford of the risk of breast cancer when using different HRT treatments. The results of the study, published in the British Medical Journal, confirm that HRT use is associated with increased risks of breast cancer, particularly for older women. However, it also suggests that for longer term HRT use, the increased risks are lower than those reported in a recent meta-analysis, which combined the results of 24 varied studies.
PhD candidate Emily Shaw, of Nottingham’s Human Factors Research Group in the Faculty of Engineering, is the lead author on a study with the RAC Foundation that suggests that behavioural training for drivers is paramount for the transition into the next stage of automated vehicles.
Dr Katie Severn, an Assistant Professor in Statistics in the School of Mathematical Sciences, has been shortlisted to be recognised as one of the top 100 women working in tech by WeAreTechWomen. Katie is currently researching risk prediction to improve the health of women in Tanzania. You can vote for her here.
Hat-trick for Nottingham physicists
Three physicists from the School of Physics and Astronomy have been awarded prestigious prizes by the Institute of Physics.
Professor Penny Gowland has been awarded the Peter Mansfield Prize, Professor Richard Bowtell has been awarded the James Joule Prize, and Professor Laurence Eaves has been awarded the Nevill Mott Prize.
This hat-trick of awards reflects the inspiring dedication of Penny, Richard and Laurence as well as their school’s world-class research environment.
Wellcome has launched a new $50 million Leap Fund, aiming to build bold, unconventional research programmes around health and funding them at scale. Further information, guidelines for submission and details on how to apply.
The Leap Fund is supported by Wellcome’s new approach to science funding and a shift in focus to include goal-oriented, as well as basic research. This will see increases in funding for research on infectious diseases, the health effects of global warming, and mental health.
UKRI has also launched a new website, which includes a funding finder, which has all funding opportunities from UKRI and its councils in one place.
Brexit – whatever happens, stay alert and prepared
The outcome of negotiations between the UK and the EU remain uncertain – but it is important that we prepare for potential opportunities.
Regardless of the outcome of the Brexit talks, the UK Government is expected in January to launch an ambitious Discovery Fund offering sizeable, long-term grants to researchers to pursue ground-breaking research.
It will replace the European Research Council and Marie Sklodowska-Curie funding from the EU, and as such it is likely to be based on excellence rather than impact.
The scale of the Discovery Fund will depend on whether the UK associates with Horizon Europe. If we do, we will have continued access to the European Research Council, including a Starting Grant call with a deadline in March 2021.
Whatever these outcomes, we encourage individuals and those at school and faculty-level to remain alert to forthcoming opportunities and continue the development of large-scale, curiosity-driven research ideas.
The University is also working closely with Universities UK and the Russell Group to contribute to discussions around the Discovery Fund, association to Horizon Europe and the Government’s commitment to increase funding as a percentage of GDP.
We are also pressing the case for international collaboration. Suggested routes for this include opening up domestic schemes to include international co-investigators and ‘system to system’ reciprocal arrangements with overseas funding bodies to facilitate bi-lateral collaboration. These potential outcomes underline the importance of maintaining links with partners from Europe and beyond.
Nottingham Digitally Engaged, 16-27 November
The Institute for Policy and Engagement’s annual conference has gone digital. It is hosting a series of events and webinars, including exploring the impact of Covid on policy-making, grant writing, a tri-campus roundtable with the Vice-Chancellor, collaborating with the third sector, and citizen science. Find out more and register.
Your amazing contribution
As we enter new national restrictions, my thoughts and best wishes go out to you and your loved ones. Your resilience, goodwill and kindness to each other is making an immeasurable contribution to our community. Once again, thank you.
Professor Dame Jessica Corner
Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange
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