Professor Dame Jessica Corner

December 18, 2020, by Michael Slade

Season’s greetings as we look forward to a better 2021

Research update from Professor Dame Jessica Corner

As 2020 draws to a close, I wonder if any year has prompted so much time for reflection on what we truly value, and whether a new year has carried so many hopes.

I am also sure that our festive break has seldom been as welcome or richly deserved.

My heartfelt thanks to all of you.

On Tuesday, in the last online town hall for researchers in 2020, Professor Zoe Wilson summed up your contribution perfectly: thanks to your enthusiasm, dedication and resilience we have stayed the course, continuing to deliver research in the most challenging of circumstances and remaining focused on the road ahead.

Please take a few moments to watch this video, as Zoe and fellow Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellors for Research and Knowledge Exchange from each of our faculties reflect on 2020 and look ahead to 2021.


Listening to you

One of the key themes of the past months has been the importance of communication.

We have worked hard to stay in touch, increasing the frequency of updates such as this, and better targeting communications to such groups as postgraduate research students (PGRs), who have faced a particularly anxious time due to interruption of their studies.

Last week, we announced additional extension support for our PGRs. This £3.68 million commitment demonstrates recognition of the enormous challenges we know our doctoral researchers have been experiencing. More information will follow in the new year.


Town halls and looking ahead

Since May, our online research town halls and Vice-Chancellor in Conversation events have been attended by more than 1,300 researchers, and research support colleagues. Your insights have been invaluable, raising concerns and offering solutions as we navigate restrictions on research, and look to the opportunities of recovery.

Themes arising at Tuesday’s town hall are an interesting primer for 2021 and beyond, in how we:

  • harness an appetite to do things differently
  • further incorporate sustainability in all we do
  • better support early career researchers
  • seize opportunities to respond to grand challenges by embedding truly transdisciplinary ways of working
  • strengthen our partnerships with industry, and internationally
  • improve the support infrastructure for researchers
  • exploit digital advances to improve how we carry out research and increase our impact


Research strategy steering group

Engagement with you is vital in the development of our research strategy. To this end, we invited nominations to join the Research Strategy Steering Group to represent our broad and diverse University community.

Thank you for such an excellent response. Our successful nominees are:

  • PGR rep – Louise Wilson (Pharmacy)
  • ECR rep – Philippa Tomczak (Sociology)
  • Beacon/Institute Director – David Salt (Biosciences)
  • Academic Rep – Aoife Nolan (Law)
  • Technician Rep – Katarzyna Lis-Slimak (Medicine)
  • BAME reps – Tanvir Hussain (Engineering), Roshan Nair (Medicine), Raheela Khan (Medicine)

Rest assured that everyone who expressed an interest in joining the group will have opportunities to take part in wider consultations or sub groups. The first meeting took place on Wednesday and focused on our external environment and the challenges we are facing.


Digital research

While many of us have been pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of Microsoft Teams, our own Digital Research team is exploring how such online platforms can become more immersive and engaging. In 2021, we look forward to the return of, and opportunity to, travel, but ensuring we do this sustainably will ensure an ongoing demand for creative and virtual approaches to building networks and research partnerships. However, I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to spend less time on screen, and I very much look forward to meeting more of you in person in 2021!

A reminder that you are invited by the Digital Research team to join me at the launch of the University’s Automated Transcription Service on Wednesday, 13 January. The service is fast, secure and cost-effective (£0.75 per hour).To find out more, please register.


Celebrating your successes

New Horizons

No less than seven teams led by Nottingham academics have been awarded prestigious New Horizons grants by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

New Horizons is a highly competitive national scheme supporting exciting, transformative research ideas, and this a stunning result for all the research teams involved.

I would like to congratulate teams led by the Faculty of Engineering’s Professor Melissa Mather and Dr Gabriele Gradoni, Professor Philip Moriarty of the School of Physics and Astronomy, Anne McLaren Fellow Dr Rian Griffiths of the School of Pharmacy, the School of Chemistry’s Professor Simon Woodward and Professor Hon Lam, and Professor Stephen Coombes of the School of Mathematical Sciences.

We have performed exceptionally well in securing new funding during the pandemic, and colleagues in Research and Innovation (R&I) have been instrumental in this success. In the case of the New Horizons awards, I am delighted to thank and congratulate Research Development Manager Maria Arruda and her R&I colleagues including Joe Shearring for coordinating this outstanding achievement.

European Research Council funding for brain mapping team

Dr Stam Sotiropoulos, Associate Professor of Computational Neuroimaging in the School of Medicine, and colleagues have received a €2m, five-year European Research Council Consolidator Grant to develop new MRI technologies for mapping the human brain. This could open new possibilities for how mental health disorders are characterised, diagnosed and treated.

Finding new ways to deliver

Research Fellow Dr Jo-Anna Russon is working on a project led by School of Education colleague Professor Simon McGrath that aims to help make vocational education and training more inclusive in Uganda and South Africa. Here she shares insights into how a collaborative, creative approach with their international partners is overcoming the challenges of the pandemic.

Future Food’s Science publication

Researchers from the Future Food Beacon have had a high-profile paper accepted by Science. It involves colleagues from Rothamsted, China, Europe and USA and explores how Nottingham’s knowledge of underlying molecular mechanisms will help create new crop varieties capable of punching through very hard soils. It’s wonderful to also hear that the authors include Bipin Pandey and Rahul Bhosle, who were supported by the beacon’s PhD+ and Nottingham Research Fellow schemes.

Nottingham representatives on REF panels

The following colleagues have appointed to the expert panels that will assess submissions to REF 2021. This is recognition of outstanding reputation in their respective fields and I am delighted to see our University so well represented.

Main panel A and sub-panels Main panel B and sub-panels Main panel C and sub-panels Main panel D and sub-panels
Professor Peter Morris Professor Tom Rodden Stephen Meek Professor Sarah Dauncey
Professor Ian Hall Professor Jonathan Hirst Professor Jonathan Hale Dr Par Kumaraswami
Professor Tony Avery Professor Mark Fromhold Cheryl Brand Professor Judith Still
Professor Dame Jessica Corner Professor John King Professor Simon Gaechter Dr Henry Parkes
Professor Michael Akeroyd Professor Trevor Benson Professor David Fraser
Professor Helen Cassaday Professor Katharine Adeney
Professor Alan Johnston Professor Christopher Day



Covid testing for staff

A reminder that Covid-19 testing for staff, including postgraduate researchers, will continue from the start of term on 4 January. Find out how to access an asymptomatic (saliva) test. There are no limits on the number of asymptomatic tests you take. Staff who are on campus regularly should consider taking a test twice a week. Staff working from home can also access the testing service, but we ask you not to take any unnecessary risks in travelling to our testing stations.


My heartfelt thanks

If there is something I would like to bottle up and carry into 2021 (apart from a vaccine!) it would be the goodwill and compassion shown during such a difficult year.

I look forward to further building with you all a research culture that is vibrant, supportive and inclusive. While your amazing resilience is not taken for granted, it fills me with optimism that together we can face the challenges ahead.

My heartfelt thanks and very best seasonal wishes

Jessica Corner's signature

Professor Dame Jessica Corner

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange

Posted in research