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What makes a successful research department? Robin Hogan Head of Department for Research, Meteorology.

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Presentation on theme: "What makes a successful research department? Robin Hogan Head of Department for Research, Meteorology."— Presentation transcript:

1 What makes a successful research department? Robin Hogan Head of Department for Research, Meteorology

2 Bland et al (2005) – worth a read

3 Department of Meteorology History – Set up in 1965 largely to train Met Office scientists – Small until ~1990 followed by rapid and continuing growth Present – 37 Academics (35 research active, 3 joint with Maths/Stats) – 11 Additional grade 8/9 research staff – 10 new academic staff yet to join in Academic Investment Project – Around 60 postdocs & 50 PhD students Research profile – > £10M per year in grants awarded – RAE: highest in country in weather and climate research – Host NCAS-Climate (NCAS = National Centre for Atmospheric Science) – Host 25 Met Office research staff This talk is about what worked & continues to work for us…

4 Is our success due to great leaders? Sir Brian Hoskins – Head of Dept early 90s – Now Director of Grantham Institute for Climate Change Alan Thorpe – Head of Dept late 90s – Head of Met Office Hadley Centre – Director of NERC – Now Director of ECMWF

5 Ethos Success of Meteorology is grounded in an ethos of friendly collaboration with very little friction between staff – Door should always be open for a chat about a new idea Since 1970s this has been facilitated by daily contact with colleagues in the coffee room open to students and staff – Large central coffee room was a key design requirement when new building was built in 1997 Main scientific discourse occurs in ~12 group meetings – Centred around groups of one or several academics but open to all Get on with it ethos due to even teaching/admin load – Collegiate qualities of applicants considered in recruitment Ongoing challenge is to maintain friendly atmosphere of a small department now that we are in no way small – Exacerbated by University failure to provide us an adequate single building – we are now spread over four buildings (and the School 6)!

6 Nurturing of academic staff Low teaching load: 2 modules per year for research-active staff – Aided by Dept funding of 1-2 teaching fellows from overheads – Two modules are currently taught by teams of 3 or 4 postdocs – New lecturers have ~1-2 year ramp-up in duties – Try to facilitate teaching-free autumn or spring term Communist allocation of teaching for research-active staff – Same load for lecturers and professors – has pros & cons… – But flexibility to buy-out teaching if income can be channelled to Dept Strategic use of sabbaticals (e.g. to build CV for promotion) – Often first one is sooner than average time between sabbaticals Promotion case built with support of line manager and Dept Prize committee: prizes can boost early-career academics If possible, guarantee lectureship to Fellowship holders

7 Hosted research centres – start small! NCAS-Climate – Grew out of NERC standard grant in mid-1980s UGAMP to provide global atmospheric modelling capability for UK university community – Led to Centre for Global Atmospheric Modelling (CGAM) Reading 1992 – Then became Climate part of National Centre for Atmospheric Science – Now 12 core staff at Reading and ~30 postdocs – Grew out of four Met Office staff based at Reading in mid-1980s working on storm/frontal-scale (mesoscale) meteorology – Led to Joint Centre for Mesoscale Meteorology – Climate scientists joined when Met Office moved to Exeter – Formal academic partnership with Met Office since 2010 – Now 25 Met Office scientists at Reading (~10% of MO research) Seize any opportunities for lasting partnerships and centres!

8 Leadership Try to lead by example in terms of research activity Crisis of leadership when no-one wants to be Head of Dept… Met now has four Heads of Dept – Academic staff, Teaching, Research, Support staff & infrastructure – Can focus on role as well as maintaining ones own research group Head of Dept for Research supported by three Theme Leaders – Facilitate internal collaboration – Contact for internal/external enquiries – Awareness of national funding scene Hold twice yearly Strategy Meetings – HoDs, HoS, SDoR, theme leaders, centre heads – Influencing new funding opportunities – Enhancing external links – Good people to attract & how to get them – Not top-down!

9 Supporting proposals and collaboration Departmentally funded full-time research administrator – Sorts out finances for proposals and funded grants Mentoring of proposals – All proposals have a mentor: a successful grant-winner who is willing to talk through the concept with the PI at an early stage, as well as to give detailed comments on the proposal at a late stage Building Departmental consortia – One of the jobs of a Theme Leader is to convene brainstorming sessions with interested parties when a NERC Research Programme call (or similar) is announced Intradepartmental workshops – Focussed science workshops on a theme of interest to several groups that dont currently collaborate as well as they might – Typically proposed by HoD-Research or a theme leader but organised by any member of staff Use joint MSc/PhD projects to start a collaboration

10 Remaining challenges and ideas to solve them Why do we write so few textbooks? – Provide preferential sabbatical leave? – Those who have written textbooks have been generally unsuccessful in winning grants so have plenty of time – discuss. How can we get more papers in Science and Nature? – Department 1-hr workshop on how to write high impact papers – Department to pay cost of publishing in high-impact journals – Met-abs list: hows my abstract? Why dont we have a media/policy profile nationally that is commensurate with our scientific profile? – Walker Institute media training – Engage with social media: blogging, tweeting, facebook page... – Hire a Brian Cox of Meteorology? Why is it so difficult to hire new Chairs/Readers? – Answers on a postcard please…

11 Final nuggets A collaborative culture that nurtures its staff is essential – Seek ways to lower teaching load, e.g. by using postdocs – Provide teaching-free term and 2-year ramp-up for new staff – Be flexible with sabbaticals, particularly the timing of the first – Get behind staff going for promotion Pursue different ways to encourage a strong research culture – Encourage group meetings that are open to all – Hold intradepartmental workshops on strategic themes – Provide mentoring for proposals, particularly those of new staff – Seize any opportunities to grow a project into a quasi-permanent research centre or partnership (these opportunities are rare!) – Physical proximity is important: one building with prominent coffee area! Leadership is important – Spend a lot of time on recruitment – dont be afraid not to hire – Cope with crises of leadership: consider dividing role of Head of Dept and expect senior staff to provide additional leadership

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