Jessica Corner

December 4, 2020, by Michael Slade

Looking ahead after a difficult year and support for postgraduate research students

Update from Professor Dame Jessica Corner

Research remains classified as an essential activity under the Tier 3 restrictions that came into force on Wednesday for Nottinghamshire. The steps we took in summer to make our buildings Covid-secure continue to protect our community and give us confidence in the safety of our on-campus research and teaching.

Please see our updated staff FAQs for more guidance on Covid-19.


Support for postgraduate research students

It is also important to stress our commitment to supporting postgraduate research students as an extraordinarily difficult year draws to a close.

While UKRI has provided an additional £63m funding to doctoral PGRs since April, we are acutely aware that this will not apply to everyone who is experiencing funding pressures at the moment. However, within a challenging financial situation, I have been leading work to identify how the University can extend financial support to more PGRs, and we will provide you with full details on this shortly.


Covid-19 testing and plans for next term

The University has meanwhile announced plans for next term. While undergraduate and postgraduate taught students will have a staggered arrivals programme in January, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Andy Long has written to PGRs, recognising that, as members of our research community, you are also likely to carry on with your research to the end of the term on 18 December and into the vacation, while many will remain in Nottingham over the winter break.

Covid-19 testing continues to the end of term and is available to all staff, including postgraduate researchers, who are regularly teaching, supporting or working directly with students on campus or on placement. Testing is, of course, voluntary but we hope that the testing service for staff will offer reassurance at this time and keep our community safe.

There is no need to book. Staff can access an asymptomatic test (saliva) test until 17 December at campus testing stations or the government’s lateral flow (swab) test at the David Ross Sports Village between 3 and 9 December. Find out how to get a test.

As a reminder: those PGRs staying on and around our campuses will be able to access study space and libraries, Covid-secure research facilities and University catering after the end of term, and before the University shuts for the winter break between 19 December and 3 January inclusive.

Graduate Centres at The Barn, Sutton Bonington Campus; Xu Yafen Building, Jubilee Campus; and University Park’s Engineering and Science Learning Centre, Highfield House and the Monica Partridge Building will have bookable study spaces for exclusive use by PGRs, before closing at 5pm on 18 December and reopening on 4 January. Our Libraries will be closed from 21 December to 3 January inclusive but you will still be able to access online collections and help via the Libraries website over the vacation.


An open letter from early career researchers

Early career researchers recently sent an open letter the Beady Eye, the Biodiscovery Institute’s newsletter, asking colleagues to reflect on what has been particularly challenging time for ECRs.

It will strike a chord with many of us, and it is worth sharing a reminder to reset expectations and talk to and check-in with colleagues. Not least:

Above all, we need to remember that everyone is trying their best to make the most of a terrible situation and you never know what other burdens people are carrying on their shoulders. So please, be kind to those around you.

We are also mindful of PGR students and postdoctoral researchers making up lost time due to the pandemic, and balancing this with the demands of supervising postgraduate taught students. Please do discuss these concerns with supervisors, which will help us find solutions and support you. Support is also available to you through welfare officers, the Students’ Union, the Researcher Academy and the counselling service.

An online town hall for Faculty of Science PGRs  takes place 3-4pm Monday, 7 December. A Microsoft Teams link to the meeting is here.

Town halls for researchers

The last online town hall in the current series is aimed at research staff, such as technicians, postdoctoral researchers, early career research fellows on internal and external fellowships and colleagues on research contracts, and takes place 12-1.30pm, Tuesday 15 December.

I do hope you can join me – please register here.

I have thoroughly enjoyed ‘meeting’ so many of you at these forums. The initial town halls in May focused on the shock of lockdown and its impact on research, with our later conversations shifting towards recovery and what our research and knowledge exchange strategies should look like in the future.

Your input has, at times, been a jab to the ribs – sharpening our responses to your concerns and giving very welcome personal perspectives to the challenges we face. I look forward to further town halls in 2021 to inform the development of our research strategy.


Membership nominations for research strategy consultation/steering group

I am inviting colleagues to join the steering group helping to shape and develop our research strategy and define our priorities for research for the next few years. We want to give everybody the opportunity to be part of this exciting process and are looking for representatives in the following areas: technicians, research staff, early career researcher, academic, beacon or institute director, BAME and PGR representatives.

This group will represent our broad and diverse University community, and we will be asking you to advise on strategic direction, provide interfaces with your own stakeholder groups and facilitate consultation with sub-groups as necessary.

If you are interested, please fill in this form to let us know by 9 December. If successful, you will be invited to  monthly meetings, with the first planned for 16 December. We will aim to involve everybody expressing an interest in the steering group to take part in wider consultations.


Celebrating our influential researchers

Seven of our academics are among the world’s most highly cited researchers. It is the second year running that the University has boasted seven academics in the prestigious Highly Cited Researcher list, which is collated by Web of Science to celebrate scientists and social scientists who demonstrate significant influence through publication of multiple papers.

I am delighted to once again celebrate the influence of our researchers. It is also an opportunity to put this success in the context of our commitment to changing culture around publication metrics and supporting diversity. As signatories of DORA – the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment – the University is committed to avoiding journal-based metrics as a surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles, and considering the value and impact of all research outputs and a broad range of impact measures.

Professor John Gathergood is leading a working group – drawn from all faculties, Libraries, Research and Innovation and HR – that is building on foundations laid by his predecessor Professor Andy Noyes and further embedding these principles across the University.

Find out more about our highly-cited researchers.

More about DORA and the use of responsible publication.


More successes

Nottingham Research Fellow Gabriel Castrillo is lead author on a paper published in Science that sheds new light on the role of microbes in the uptake of nutrients by plant roots. Gabriel’s work with Future Beacon colleagues is increasing understanding of how to develop more resilient crops.

A Nottingham team led by Professor of Flavour Chemistry Ian Fisk is working with aquatic scientists at Dalian Polytechnic University in China to study the flavour of abalone, one of China’s most highly valued marine shellfish. The study, funded by the National Natural Science Foundation, will help with the development of new products that appeal to consumers.

Professor of Modern European History Maiken Umbach’s research challenges the use of Nazi photographs in commemorating and teaching about the Holocaust. A new short film on BBC iPlayer is inspired by her work, which will also be explored in an exhibition at Nottingham Lakeside Arts in January.  This immersive, multimedia experience was developed with Dr Paul Tennent, of the School of Computer Science and the University’s Mixed Realities Lab.


Launch of automated transcription service

Digital Research and Information Services are launching the University of Nottingham Automated Transcription Service, which is supported with funding from the University’s Research Strategy and Digital Futures Programme.

This is a powerful addition to the growing digital armoury available to our researchers. It is another wonderful example of our colleagues in Digital Research Team and Information Services providing researchers across the University with highly effective and accessible tools, which not only transform how we carry out research and process data, but also make the best possible use of our time and resources.

The service is fast, secure and cost-effective (£0.75 per hour).To find out more, do join me at the launch of the online launch of the service, on Wednesday, 13 January. Please register.


SafePod in Hallward Library

A new on-campus facility for researchers, a SafePod, has been delivered to the Hallward Library, University Park.

The University’s SafePod is part of the wider SafePod Network (SPN) funded by the Economic and Social Research Council to provide accredited researchers with access to secure datasets from participating Data Centres across the UK.

The SafePod Network is expected to go live in early 2021, when bookings will be available. Find out more .


Thank you once again for your support and my very best wishes

Jessica Corner's signature

Professor Dame Jessica Corner

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange

Posted in research