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What makes a successful research department?

What makes a successful research department?

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What makes a successful research department?

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  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 • MetOffice@Reading • 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 don’t 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 email list: how’s my abstract? • Why don’t 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 – don’t 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