Centre for Ecology and Hydrology visit India

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director RCUK India.

I joined Professor Mark Bailey, the Director of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), and Professor Alan Jenkins, the Deputy Director, on their recent travels around India.  They had taken five days out of their very busy schedules to come to India. CEH is a NERC Centre of Excellence and also a world leading centre for integrated research into ecosystems and biodiversity.  It works in partnership with the research community, policy makers, industry and society to deliver solutions to the most complex environmental challenges facing the world.   The reason why both Mark and Alan came was to raise the profile of CEH in India and to seek to establish institutional partnerships with high quality research institutes in India in the fields of hydrology and water resource management, ecosystem services and landscape ecology.  The RCUK India team was, therefore, very pleased to organise a pretty intensive itinerary for the two Professors which took in policy makers and researchers in Delhi, Bangalore and Roorkee.  It seemed like planes, trains and automobiles all over again.

There was considerable interest shown at the National Institute of Hydrology (NIH) at Roorkee in working in partnership with CEH.  Indeed, it was more of a case of re-establishing a relationship that had been very strong at one time as the Institute had been modelled (when it was founded in 1978) on the UK’s national hydrology centre before it amalgamated with the ecologists to form CEH in the recent past.  Indeed Dr S K Jain from NIH explained some of the fascinating history of the Roorkee site (which is also home to an Indian Institute of Technology or IIT) and the role that the British played in channelling the Ganges through huge engineering projects to provide water for irrigation for the whole region.  An engineering college had been established in the 1850s to provide trained personnel to help build the water management and irrigation systems.

Water resources, or more precisely, water scarcity, remains a big problem in India and has rightly been identified as one of the two absolutely critical issues that have to be addressed in the Twelfth Five Year Plan (the other being energy).  CEH has world leading expertise in the understanding of river flows, the basic science for understanding floods and droughts and the likely impact of climate change on fresh water systems.  As a result, there was much discussion of potential areas of collaboration between the two institutes.  It was agreed that further meetings and exchanges would be very useful to prioritise the areas of potential collaboration.

In Bangalore, there was a series of meetings with researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and at the Ashoka Trust for Research into Ecology and the Environment (ATREE).   An issue identified through discussion was the possibility of developing partnership between the UK and India on an integrated soils research programme to better understand the changes that are happening through intensification of agriculture, deforestation, impact of water scarcity,  increasing salinity of groundwater and, of course, climate change on soil structure, microbiology and quality.   A much better understanding of soils and what is happening to soil quality is needed if India is to deliver on its food security goals in the future as its population and, therefore, demand for foodstuffs increases.   In a discussion with Professor Vinod Gaur, it was proposed that a fruitful next step would be to organise a joint India-UK workshop on the topic with a view to establishing a Joint Indo-UK Centre.   As well as soils, another area of potential collaboration was in developing the hydrological modelling aspect in a system called JULES which is used by the UK’s Met Office in its Earth System climate models to take into account land surface and atmosphere interactions.  India currently uses the Met Office climate models as well as US climate models for its weather and climate predictions.

Both Mark and Alan were keen to stress that theirs was very much an exploratory visit to see whether there was an opportunity for CEH working more closely in partnership with Indian researchers and institutes.  There is no doubt now that this will be the first of many exchanges between CEH scientists and their Indian counterparts.

Professor Alan Jenkins (left), Dr S K Jain (centre) and Professor Mark Bailey (right) at the National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee.

Professor Alan Jenkins (left), Dr S K Jain (centre) and Professor Mark Bailey (right) at the
National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee.


Doctoral graduates from 2003-2006 – please complete our survey!

There are developments to report on the Doctoral Impact and Career Tracking study. The questionnaire has been developed and has been piloted with the aid of some very helpful doctoral graduates. We asked about their current employment and whether they think that doing a PhD seven years ago mattered for the job they have now and has made a difference to what they have been adding to our knowledge, economy and society.

We have today launched the main survey following completion of the pilot, and this is open until 31st May.

Previously we asked Doctoral graduates what they were doing about three years on from completing their studies. This was published by Vitae in the “What Do Researchers Do?” series (www.vitae.ac.uk/wdrd) The publication provides analysis of the Longitudinal survey of the Destinations of Leavers of Higher Education or L DLHE and provides some interesting evidence about the experience of doctoral study, the jobs and impact of doctoral graduates. This is all analysed by job clusters and broad disciplinary grouping.

Of course three years is rarely the whole story in a career and the new study is to ask about careers and impact further on. This presents its own challenges as people move, change jobs and (if they marry) may change names. Reaching enough people for the results of the survey to be robust remains a key challenge. If you, or someone you know finished a doctorate between 2003 and 2006, do please take part in the survey. Please pass this link to anyone else if relevant.

RCUK are not the only ones interested in what doctoral graduates have to say.  The Higher Education Funding Councils for England and Wales are partners in this study and we have jointly commissioned the research consultancy CFE to undertake it. CFE and their associates from The University of Sheffield and Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) bring not only the technical know-how and resources for managing and conducting the survey, but also expertise in developing questions that will show the impact that doctoral graduates have.

The importance of the project also means that we have a steering group including economics, labour market and survey expertise from government and academe as well as several of my colleagues from the Research Councils. This dedicated group have helped to design the questionnaire and are keenly awaiting the results.

Gateway to Research Hack Day event outputs

Over thirty technically minded people gathered together on the 14th &15th March 2013 at The Lakeside Centre at Aston University for the Hack Day hosted jointly by the Gateway to Research (GtR) project & United Kingdom Office for Library and Information Networking (UKOLN).

The event was helped along by the Developer Community Supporting Innovation (DevCSI) project. Their considerable expertise in running Hack events and engaging developers was a huge help in guiding the GtR team and developers over the two days.

The Hack opened by GtR Project Manager, Dr Darren Hunter, who gave a summary of the GtR project as a joint initiative between Research Councils UK to deliver a web based Portal to provide a single public point of access for searching and analysing information for Research Council funded research projects including their outcomes and outputs.

A key aim of the project was, as he explained, to facilitate improving the links between the research base within institutions and small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

The Hack itself had been set up to give the group chance to test the two APIs (CERIF and bespoke) that the GtR team had developed and also build prototype applications to show how they might be used in practice.

Darren, Paul Chitson (GtR Technical Co-ordinator), Rhys David (GtR Technical Architect) and Scott Paisey (GtR Developer) all got actively involved throughout the event.

The GtR team were keen to get feedback from all those involved with the Hack so they could find out how the APIs performed. At the end of the two days they were really encouraged by the amount that was achieved in such a short time and took away a number of actions that reinforced GtR user stories and added focus to some areas of the project.

This first hack event was primarily to provide early feedback and was kept necessarily small.  The team learnt a lot from all who were present and the organisers.  The excitement and interest have reinforced our commitment to run further hack events and challenges involving a wider audience.

In closing the event the GtR team stressed that they didn’t want to lose the momentum built up throughout the intensive two days and established a Google Group (https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/gtrHackday) to keep developers informed about future build and to foster a community around the APIs. Watch this space for further details about the upcoming autumn Hack Day….

Check out this link for more detail about the day including videos.

What has changed in the guidance for the RCUK Policy on Open Access?

Yesterday afternoon we published the latest version of the guidance for the revised RCUK policy on Open Access.  This version incorporates all of the comments that we received from the short call for input that we ran during March, asking for comments on where the guidance needed to be further clarified.  For all but the eagle eyed, it might be difficult to see where the changes have been made so this blog post is to provide a very brief overview of what the changes are.

Probably the biggest addition is the creation of a separate Frequently Asked Questions document.  As I was analysing the comments that we received, it quickly became obvious that a lot of the points people were making were questions of detail that would be difficult to weave in to the guidance.  The FAQ allows these questions to be clearly asked in a way that we hope will be helpful to others.  It is our intention to continue to update this as other questions are raised. We will make clear in the document what these additions (or changes) are..

One of the most high profile additions to the guidance that we were asked for was, through Stephen Curry’s blog and subsequent letter, clarification that journal impact factors are not taken in to account when the Research Councils make funding decisions.  A statement to this effect has been added to the “Key Points to Note” section.

Throughout all of our communications around the revised RCUK policy we have tried to be clear that the policy supports a mixed approach to Open Access and it really is down to the author and their research organisation where they publish.  This message is one that does not seem to have been clearly communicated and, once again, we have tried to clarify this in both the guidance document and the FAQ.

We have tried to describe more about the shape of the review in 2014, and confirm that there will be subsequent reviews as needed, but likely to be 2016 and 2018.  As we are early in the thinking around the review, it is difficult for us to put down concrete details; indeed we may have suggestions from stakeholders we are continuing to work with, as the policy is implemented. However, we have added some of the issues suggested to the list we already had for areas for the review to focus on, including those highlighted by the House of Lords S&T Committee.  We also agree that the review should be as independent as possible and include representation from the various stakeholder groups.  We will take this forward as the review is planned.

Another section that we have tried to strengthen and expand is section 3.14.  Previously this had focussed purely on monitoring but it has now been renamed to reflect the fact that, in the initial stages at least, it is more likely to be focussed on collecting evidence for the 2014 review.  We have tried to give as much detail as possible in this section around the sort of information we envisage we will need to collect; however, as the project we are conducting with RIN around best practice will also look at the best ways that we can collect these data, we don’t want to pre-empt the suggestions that come from that.

Many of the other changes have been to tighten up the language and phraseology used within the document for clarity.  We have also, hopefully, ironed out some of the inconsistencies in the document that had crept in during drafting.  We really are very grateful to those who spent time going through the document and for the constructive comments that were submitted.  They were very helpful and we have tried to incorporate as many as possible.  There were some comments that referred to fundamental aspects of the policy itself which we will continue to discuss with the various stakeholder groups and will be reflected on during next year’s review.  The FAQ will continue to develop as further questions are asked and, if there are things that are still unclear, then I would encourage you to get in contact so that we can help.