December 15, 2021, by Rob Ounsworth
My thanks and a look ahead to 2022
Season’s greetings from Professor Dame Jessica Corner
Welcome to my final research update of 2021.
It feels particularly tough to be writing this as we face new challenges in getting through the pandemic and as we return to scenario planning for different eventualities. But there is also room for optimism. We continue to help drive recovery and deliver innovations that will secure a fairer and more resilient society. Our research facilities remain open and we look forward to further growing our research capacity in 2022. Please refer to Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Andy Long’s update on the new UK restrictions.
I would like to draw on some experiences of 2021 that I hope will resonate with many of you, while sharing thoughts on what we can look forward to in 2022 as together we face the challenges ahead.
I wish you, your family and loved ones a restful winter break.
2021: highlights and reflections
Your amazing resilience
The resilience, dedication and kindness of our research community during the pandemic has been a real feature and so inspiring. We worked hard to reach out to you during successive lockdowns knowing that this has been a very stressful time, not least for our postgraduate research students. Over 900 research projects were adapted and delivered in challenging circumstances with 80 projects benefitting from further funding from UKRI to ensure we could complete them and deliver outcomes by September. We re-established our research and facilities back to full capacity for the beginning of term and we supported our 3,000 PGR students with extensions and other assistance during a very difficult period for them. My heartfelt thanks to all who contributed to this turnaround, in particular the research and innovation, communications, estates and health and safety teams.
Our researchers have made an incalculable contribution to the UK’s response to the virus. Trials, led by Dr David Turner, supported the rapid development and roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine. I was privileged to take part in the world’s first alternating doses study and our researchers subsequently showed how autumn ‘booster’ doses would be an effective way to protect people from variants. Our research also examined the long-term effects of Covid, and its impact on every aspect of our lives, from gender inequalities and stress, to risks for SMEs and healthcare procurement solutions. While Omicron and potential new variants remain a threat, our experts are providing the evidence-based data the UK and the world needs to secure recovery.
Our REF submission
In March, the university made its submission to the Research Excellence Framework. This was monumental effort, featuring 4,249 research outputs and enormous amounts of data, bringing together the work of 1,804 academics (in turn supported by teams of researchers), and included 135 case studies further evidencing the impact of our research on communities in the UK and across the world. My heartfelt thanks to every one of the many colleagues involved and to colleagues who are panel members currently working to assess all of the material submitted to Research England from all HEIs.
Launch of the Biodiscovery Institute
It was wonderful to join our Vice-Chancellor Professor Shearer West and Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council, in September as they launched the Biodiscovery Institute. Together with the official opening of the Cobot Maker Space, it was a welcome opportunity to come together and celebrate the people who are the lifeblood of such world-class facilities.
Research strategy consultation
Our consultation on the university’s new research strategy and series of virtual town halls had a wonderful response and was instrumental in drawing up a strategic delivery plan for research over the next five years. Almost 1700 colleagues offered thoughts and suggests and 900 responded to the draft strategy, with more than 80% endorsing it.
To further emphasis our commitment to research of the highest integrity, rigour and excellence, we this week published an updated Code of Research Conduct and Research Ethics. The code and further resources are available on our ethics and integrity pages.
I was proud to lead a small university delegation in Glasgow. The United Nations climate change conference failed to deliver as we hoped, but I was nevertheless struck by the extraordinary range of people gathered in a single place to witness and shape our future actions to tackle the climate crisis. And it is significant that the conference’s draft agreement “recognizes the importance of the best available science for effective climate action and policymaking”. This will become a major focus for our research and the contribution we can make as an institutions to the enormous and pressing challenge of climate change.
Our exceptional people
Throughout the year I have been delighted to share with you the recognition received by our researchers. There are too many to list here, but I was privileged in November to attend the Oscars of the university world – the Times Higher Education Awards 2021. Professor Heike Bartel’s Hungry for Words, which used creative arts to raise awareness of eating disorders in men and boys, won Research Project of the Year (Arts) and Professor Louise Mullany picked up the Outstanding Contribution to Local Community award for her work on gender hate crime and the harassment, violence and abuse of women and girls.
Looking forward to 2022
This is just a snapshot of some anticipated highlights of 2022.
Delivering our new research strategy
In the coming months, we will continue to engage with our research community and involve you in delivery of our renewed strategy for research.
We are strengthening our commitment to delivering research of the highest quality and better preparing for challenges and opportunities in a rapidly changing policy and funding landscape.
At the heart of this strategy is our commitment to building an inclusive, supportive, and truly transdisciplinary research culture.
Join our research town halls
You are invited to join one of a series of online town halls in January 2022 to find out more and discuss the university’s 2022-27 strategic delivery plan for research.
At each of the five, faculty-based town halls I will provide an update on the plan and invite you to discuss contributing to its implementation.
All are welcome. We encourage everyone who contributes to the delivery of research to join us and shape our vision.
Driving a revolution in electric transport
In April, we will invite industry leaders and policymakers to the opening of the new Power Electronics and Machines Centre and the £40 million UK Electrification of Aerospace Propulsion Facility. Our 20-megawatt capacity gives us a world-leading capability for testing electric components and drive systems for aviation and the emerging electric transport propulsion industry.
Research England will publish the results of REF2021 in May. The Research Excellence Framework is a key indicator of the quality of our research and its impact and is our principal source of research funding from the UK government. It is also a key influence on our international reputation and profile and is an opportunity to highlight the excellence of our research and your remarkable dedication.
A new cohort of Nottingham Research and Anne McLaren Fellows is expected to join us in the spring. We were delighted to relaunch recruitment to these prestigious schemes in July this year and I look forward to welcoming a diverse range of exceptional fellows.
Knowledge Exchange and Impact Awards
Later in the year will see the return of the Knowledge Exchange and Impact Awards. The awards celebrate the impact of research from across the university. Our last event, in 2018, showcased outstanding knowledge exchange projects and drew high praise from guests including David Sweeney, Executive Chair of Research England.
Progress to look out for
Please look out for these activities and opportunities:
Virtual collaboration and new digital platforms will build international networks and open up exciting opportunities in 2022. We are using funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, as well as additional funds from the university, to support a range of demonstrator projects, with some focused on core facilities such as the Nanoscale and Microscale Research Centre and the Hounsfield facility.
Over the next few months, we will further scope and build our capacity to deliver transdisciplinary research and anticipate challenge-led opportunities.
Initiatives such as the Flexible Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration Fund, to support the formation of new teams drawn from across the university, also nurture an inclusive research environment and support career development. Applications will be next reviewed on 14 February and 11 April. Find out more.
Funding is also supporting increased networking activities by our Interdisciplinary Research Clusters.
UNICAS (University of Nottingham Interdisciplinary Centre for Analytical Science), is inviting applications for internal funding of up to £15,000.
Online sandpits invite you to network with fellow researchers, showcase your expertise, discuss challenges and find solutions. Following these events, you will be able to apply for funding for an interdisciplinary research project.
- Wednesday 12 January, 1-4pm
- Thursday 20 January, 1-4pm
In line with our goals of supporting potential and a culture of excellence, we are re-launching the Nottingham Research Leaders programme (NRLP), designed to enhance the professional development of high-performing researchers, and our Early Career Researcher Leadership programme in 2022, which supports researchers in the early stages of their career who have aspirations and potential to lead in their research field. The application process for the NRLP will be advertised soon, and the ECR programme in January 2022.
Our research culture
A dynamic and supportive research culture is key to all we do. We are reviewing how we support all those working in research (across all career stages and job families) to achieve their potential. This will inform the delivery of targeted actions, which will include new opportunities for research leaders at all career levels, interventions to address under-representation in our PGR community and support for our Technicians Commitment.
And finally, my thanks
Once again, I feel that a winter break has seldom been so deserved.
Thank you for your extraordinary dedication and my very best wishes for 2022.
Professor Dame Jessica Corner
Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange.
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