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.

UK- India research and innovation collaboration gets big fillip from PM summit

(Photo courtesy: www.ukinindia.fco.gov.uk) UK Prime Minister David Cameron and India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director RCUK India.

This has been a truly tremendous week for the Indo-UK research partnership.  UK Prime Minister David Cameron came to India on 18th February with the largest business and academic delegation ever to accompany a British Prime Minister.  That’s not counting four Ministers and a cross-party group of British Parliamentarians who also accompanied him.

Eleven UK University Vice Chancellors came not only to talk about the UK offer in Higher Education but also to launch a whole series of institution-to-institution partnerships cementing further the research links between the UK and India.  Universities of Edinburgh, Cambridge, Warwick and Cardiff all had major announcements to make on new partnerships.

The icing on the cake for the RCUK India team, however, was the extensive reference to the joint research programmes that we have set up with our Indian partners over the last four years, in the Summit Communiqué.   This states that [PMs Cameron and Singh] welcomed the rapid expansion of India-UK research and development cooperation which is helping to generate and develop high quality and high impact research partnerships leading to new knowledge creation.   Since RCUK India opened in 2008, the value of the co-funded research partnership has gone from less than £1 million to over £100 million and is still rising.  This is a reflection of both the strength of the UK and Indian research bases but also that crucial, global issues are being addressed through ground breaking research – renewable and other forms of energy, food security, climate change, water management, advanced engineering  – are key to the future prosperity of both countries.  Research collaboration is seen by both countries as a lynchpin, bringing us closer together.

It’s not only in the areas of physical sciences that we have established a very successful partnership, but also in the area of social sciences, arts and the humanities. India with its population of 1.2 billion undergoing rapid transition from a rural to a more urbanized society is going to be a fascinating place to study to learn about how and why these transitions happen and the cultural dimension of this rapid change.

We highlighted a series of new and ongoing programmes and initiatives; more information is available in our press note here.

There was an excellent meeting between our Science Minister, David Willets, and his Indian counterpart, Shri S Jaipal Reddy at which both said how much they welcomed the intensification of the relationship on research between the two countries.  David Willets highlighted eight technology areas of interest to the UK for international collaboration.  These were: the big data revolution and energy efficient computing; satellite technology; robotics and autonomous vehicles; synthetic biology; regenerative medicine; agri-science; advanced materials and nanotechnology; and energy storage.

It looks like we are going to be very busy…

India’s new 12th Five Year Plan – Faster, More Inclusive and Sustainable Growth

By Dr Nafees Meah, Director RCUK India.

The Planning Commission in India has been producing Five Year Plans since 1951.  These Plans set the strategic direction for the Government of India for the following five years.  In December 2012, the Planning Commission published the near final draft 12th Five Year Plan – Faster, More Inclusive and Sustainable Growth  Simultaneous achievement of these elements is seen as crucial for the success of the Plan.  The 12th Plan says that ‘[it] must be guided by a vision of India moving forward in a way that would ensure a broad-based improvement in living standards of all sections of the people through a growth process which is faster than in the past, more inclusive and also more environmentally sustainable’

Thus the 12th Plan calls for more attention to be given to problem of sustainability. It states that ‘No development process can afford to neglect the environmental consequences of economic activity, or allow unsustainable depletion and deterioration of natural resources’ and several chapters are devoted to the issues of water, land use, environment, forestry and wildlife.   

There is wide ranging discussion of how India should deal with the effects of climate change whilst an international agreement to tackle this issue remains to be reached.  The National Action Plan for climate change has evolved with eight component missions and implementation of these missions is seen as an integral part of the 12th Plan.  

The Plan is a substantial document in three volumes.  The first volume is an overarching document (the second and third volumes look in more detail at the economic and social sectors respectively).  Of particular interest to UK scientists is the extensive discussion and description of the scientific and technical challenges facing India.  Thus Chapter Four on Sustainable Development summarises the findings of the Expert Group on Low Carbon Strategies.  One of the interesting things in the Plan is the renewed interest in wind power.  Chapter Five on Water sets out the daunting challenges faced by Indian society and economy.  Water tables are falling and this comes at a time of rapid industrialising economy and urbanising society.  Climate change, of course, poses new challenges with its effects on the hydrological cycle.  It asserts that there is a need for a paradigm shift in the management of water resources in India.  Chapter Five on Environment, Forestry and Wildlife posits a new set of targets to be monitored covering, inter alia, environment and climate change, forests and livelihoods and ecosystem and biodiversity. 

Finally, science and technology is recognised as playing a critical role in the delivery of the 12th Plan.  There is an ambition to increase investment in in R&D from 1% to 2% of GDP.  Chapter Eight sets out the plans for the six major science Ministries and all see a substantial increase in funding.  Specific focus areas for the 12th Plan are: a) Enrichment of Knowledge Base – the aim is to position some of its R&D institutions in the top 50 in the world; b) Human Resource Development and University Interaction – a radical transformation of the science education system to improve the quality of S&T education and research at university level; c) Aligning S&T to Development Needs – to develop solutions to issues that are important for the country’s development goals, particularly in areas of energy, water, sanitation, farm production, health care, waste disposal, computing and communications, and e-infrastructure.

If the ambition of investing 2% of GDP on R&D is achieved and the quality of its research base is improved, then India, by virtue of its size is likely to be one of the most important scientific nations in the world.  What is certain is that India faces a host of challenges where capacity and capability in S&T and an innovation system that translates knowledge into solutions is going to be crucial.  All in all, an interesting read.

Introducing the beta Gateway to Research

Today (12 December 2012), Research Councils UK (RCUK) release the first phase of the Gateway to Research (GtR) portal and dataset –  a beta release. http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk

In January, we agreed with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to to deliver a “proof of concept” by the end of the year.

We hope we have delivered more than a proof of concept. The portal is live, the data is real. This is the first time that it has been possible to use one location to explore the entire breadth of the RCUK portfolio that results from the investment of around £3 Billion of public money annually in research and innovation.

The beta is an early release which will enable users to try out the system under real conditions. It has gone through robust testing in-house and is close in look, feel and function to how we envisage the final product. We want to engage with users to ensure that the functionality and data we are delivering meets their needs.

A few points about the system and data:

  • The dataset is currently a static dataset (i.e. at this stage it will not be routinely updated);
  • A public interface is available (API) that will enable external users to use the data. This will initially be a simple CERIF (XML) API, based on an international research information standard but others will follow (REST, OAI and SPARQL) to maximise potential users. Data that is visible on all the detailed screens will be viewable in XML;
  • We have used Open Source, Open Standards and adopted an Open Government Licence.

We intend to make user engagement a central part of the project’s development. Complementing this, there are a number of activities that we have identified which will enhance the user experience, enrich the information available, and help the Research Councils meet their obligations to make research information more open and better aligned with users’ needs. Some highlights of the next 12 months include: 

  • Expansion of the GtR dataset to include further Research Council information for example, studentships, all intra Council grants and linking to research datasets and publication repositories.
  • Making the GtR dataset dynamic, reflecting changes in source systems rapidly;
  • Further iterations of the User Interface based on feedback on the beta-system and changes prompted by the expanding dataset;
  • Working with JISC to enhance the experience of HEIs and other data users in depositing and harvesting data from the Research Councils;

The next year should provide exciting opportunities to demonstrate the value of RCUK research information in diverse settings. Hack days are being planned for the spring, with at least two different providers to ensure a range of approaches. This project has involved the Research Councils working cooperatively on a complex project, and rapid agreement has been reached on the key decision points to date. The final phase of the project will build on this.

RCUK celebrated five years of UK-China research success

By Dr Alicia Greated, Director RCUK China.

This week over 100 UK and Chinese delegates attended the event ‘RCUK China – Five Years and Beyond’ in Beijing, to celebrate the fifth anniversary of RCUK China. Delegates heard about current successful RCUK-China collaborations and contributed to discussions to scope future areas for collaborative RCUK-China activity. A UK delegation of 23 key research figures, including representatives from all seven UK Research Councils and leading academics, travelled to China to take part in the event.  Representatives from a range Chinese funding organisations, leading Chinese research institutions, and UK organisations based in China also actively contributed to the day’s discussions.

Major new investments were announced which will build on RCUK China’s success and ensure that the UK and China remain at the cutting edge of science and innovation.

 The British Ambassador to China, Sebastian Wood, announced that leading UK energy scientists have received £4million in funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) with matched resources from the NSFC, to work in partnership with researchers in China to develop better smart grid technology and to help both countries reduce their carbon footprint. In addition a new multi-million pound joint collaboration between RCUK and the NSFC in smart grids and the integration of electric vehicles was announced by Professor Rick Rylance (Chair of RCUK) and Professor Ding (NSFC).

 This brings the RCUK commitment to UK-China energy research alone to over £24million, with matched funding from Chinese partners.

David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, said: “The UK’s relationship with China is extremely valuable in driving research and innovation. By co-operating in this way, both countries can enjoy more of the benefits that high-quality scientific research brings, including economic growth and a better quality of life. The new investments announced today will help to ensure that the partnership between our two countries goes from strength to strength.”

 Since its launch in 2007, RCUK China has supported a range of activities to promote UK-China research collaborations and the team has also helped developed a significant multi-million pound programme of joint funding activities with key research funders in China in areas including healthcare, social sciences, food security and energy. Professor Paul Boyle, RCUK’s International Champion, said: “International cooperation is a fundamental part of enhancing and stimulating the research we support in the UK, and China is a highly valued and important partner for us. RCUK China was the first overseas RCUK office and we are very excited about the great opportunities for building partnerships with our Chinese colleagues over the next five years.”

The benefits of Open Access

Astrid Wissenburg, Deputy Chair of RCUK Impact Group and RCUK representative on the Finch Group, and Mark Thorley, Chair of the RCUK Research Outputs Network, explain why open access is so high up the agenda for Research Councils.

Just over a month ago Research Councils UK launched a new Open Access policy. One of the key drivers for making published journal articles freely available through open access mechanisms is the potential it offers to the research community (and beyond) to mash, mine and mix information and knowledge..  This provides real opportunities to substantially further the progress of research and innovation. 

Professor Douglas Kell, RCUK Champion for Research and Information Management and CEO of the BBSRC, is well known for arguing the importance of open access to undertake exiting and ground breaking research through text and data mining. His blog gives many examples such as genome-based metabolic network reconstruction, text mining for systems biology, and pulling together disparate literatures and synthesising inductive knowledge in pharmacokinetics, medicine and toxicology. 

Beyond the Research Councils, Professor Peter Murray Rust, in his manifesto on Open Mining of Scholarship, notes that the lack of support for text mining stifles the imagination of the wider community and can lead to bad policy decisions through the lack of full use of scientific literature. The Value and Benefits of Text Mining report, commissioned by JISC , highlights that one of the barriers to overcome is providing unrestricted access to information sources.

It is this need for unrestricted access, allowing full use and re-use, which is one of the reasons why the Research Councils, along with the Wellcome Trust, are advocating the use of a Creative Commons ‘Attribution’ license (CC-BY). The CC-BY licence allows others to modify, build upon and/or distribute the licensed work, including for commercial purposes, as long as the original author is credited.  Crucially, CC-BY licensed works can be deposited in repositories with no further restrictions on access or re-use. Combine this with requiring immediate access where this is possible, if necessary through paying an open access fee, and we have some of the critical building blocks to fundamentally speed up the scientific and research process.

Murray Rust also notes that text mining is a major tool in data review. and the important role it plays in validating science. A key requirement of the new RCUK policy is that peer reviewed research papers, resulting from Council funded research must include a statement on how the underlying research materials such as data, samples or models can be accessed. This requirement has been included with the specific aim of making the work funded by the Research Councils more open, and so more accountable, both to other scientists and to the wider public.  This supports recommendations made in the recent Royal Society report on Science as an Open Enterprise to improve the conduct of science, respond to changing public expectations and political culture and to enable researchers to maximise the impact of their research. 

Whilst the requirement for a statement does not imply that the supporting data etc must always be Open Access, researchers must be clear about what supporting information can be made available, and how this can be accessed.  Researchers will also need to be equally clear about what it is not possible to make available including the reasons why.  For example, it is often not possible to make data relating to human subjects openly available because of issues relating to consent and confidentiality.

Implementing this requirement will be the responsibility of both researchers and their host institutions.  Researchers will need to think about openness as they plan and undertake research.  Institutions will need to develop an open data culture, and the necessary infrastructure and skills to support this. 

Institutional and subject repositories are expected to form a key element of that infrastructure by providing a secure, and accessible, home for the data, models and other information underlying a research paper.  They will not be suitable for all material, for example physical samples, however, they can provide a primary repository for a lot of the material, and by holding copies of the associated papers, provide the linkages between the paper and the underlying materials. This is also one of the recommendations of the Finch report Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications.  By doing so, institutional and subject repositories, containing ‘green’ and ‘gold’ materials can be an essential facilitator of text and data mining.  By supporting both gold and green open access, the Research Councils ensure further opportunities for repositories to develop this role.

Launching the new policy is not an end to the work that the Research Councils have been engaged in since launching their first joint statement on open access in 2005.  We are, in conversation with researchers and institutions, in the process of developing the operational details of the policy and will share the details as quickly as they become available. This is a fast moving area of research policy which, as major funders of research in the UK, we have a duty to ensure provides the best possible opportunity to the UK research base.