Covid-19 - Staff Update - research, interdisciplinarity and REF2021

Staff update - 14 April 2020

Dear all,

I hope and trust that you are keeping safe and well and slowly adapting to this very different way of working. 

As you are aware the need to rapidly migrate to home working has, for some, had a significant impact on our day-to-day research activities, and I would like to thank you all for your forbearance in dealing with the upheaval to your research over these last few weeks.

As we now try and adapt to a new ‘normal’, I thought it would be helpful to update you on a number of research matters, and share some new developments with you, that I am hoping we can all contribute to going forward.

Research support

All the Research & Innovation (R&I) functions including Business Development Officer (BDO) support and Research Financial Services continue to be fully active and available to support us in the development of any new grant applications.

Many of you have existing grants and research programmes and have had to adapt or pause on elements of your projects. Research & Innovation is working with you to make the required requests to funders about extensions and/or re-profiling of work within projects.

Updates continue to be issued by funders of research and the Research & Innovation team is communicating these changes to schools and researchers. We are also working with finance to assess the applicability of the Government’s Jobs Retention (Furlough) Scheme for research grants. 

We regularly update the suite of frequently asked questions for research on the Covid-19 website which you may find useful.

Nurturing your research

I would strongly encourage you to continue to develop and nurture your research in these challenging times.  Our research can, and will, continue to provide insights and new knowledge to help shape our future society. 

Do write up those impactful manuscripts. Do keep developing new ideas.  As a University community we have a long track record of generating innovative research insights and we should continue to build our contribution to that endeavour. 

On a practical level, the vast majority of funders remain fully operational and continue to invite submissions for funding. Please do connect with Research & Innovation for any help and support you might need.  All new grant calls, including any changes to deadlines, continue to be circulated to schools.

Covid-19 research

As you are no doubt aware, the entire UK community is also being encouraged to develop and undertake research to help respond to the current Covid-19 pandemic. 

This includes the development of new diagnostic tests and treatments but there is, in addition, an urgent need for research into the wider impacts of Covid-19 including on society, culture, the economy, the environment and more.

As such, there are many opportunities for researchers from across all schools to consider how their research might help with the Covid-19 pandemic endeavour. Calls for Covid-19 research tend to be short-notice, short-deadline calls but our R&I team are well set-up to help coordinate any bids in this space.

I was absolutely delighted at the response to the recent call from the Scottish Government into Covid-19 research. We received over 25 expressions of interest from across multiple schools for potential inclusion in the University of Aberdeen portfolio submission. 

We could only submit eight of the proposals in the final Scottish Government bid - due to the constraints on the funding call - but the quality of all bids was very high and most of the bids have been directed to other funding calls.

So, if you have more research ideas in this arena, please do continue to flag them with your BDO so that an appropriate funding call might be identified.

To help create an on-line forum to exchange ideas and foster cross-school collaboration, a new open MS Teams site has been set up aroundCovid-19 and researchers from across the university have volunteered information around their own expertise to help in coordinating responses.To join the group, please click on the “Join or Create a Team” button in Teams and select the “Covid-19 Research Opportunities” group.

Interdisciplinarity

Despite our immediate rather strange circumstances, it is important that we continue, when we can, to look forward to a time when we will be back together working towards the exciting research future we outlined in Aberdeen 2040. 

Together, we had outlined a research culture where we would work creatively across disciplinary boundaries.  We have already seen wonderful examples of this togetherness and interdisciplinarity as we respond to the Covid-19 crisis, and I feel strongly that this deep sense of common purpose will take us forward with strength in the coming months.

On a practical level, we realise that creative conversations and connections are more difficult to facilitate at present, so we have now set up five new MS Teams sites – to facilitate the sharing of research ideas and conversations around our five interdisciplinary challenge areas. 

I am very grateful to the Heads of Schools for volunteering to champion these sites over the short term to prompt discussion and connect individual researchers.  Tavis Potts, the new interim Director of the Centre for Energy Transition will also lead discussions in that area.   In addition, each group has been allocated a lead Dean to support it and a lead BDO. 

As outlined above, to join the Teams sites, please click on the ‘Join or Create a Team’ button in Teams and select appropriate interdisciplinary group – ‘energy transitions’; ‘health, nutrition and wellbeing’; ‘environment and biodiversity’, ‘data and artificial intelligence’ and ‘social inclusion and cultural diversity’.

REF2021

You will have seen my earlier communication that the REF2021 exercise has been put on hold.

The national REF team have started work on adapting the REF2021 framework to accommodate for this delay and have committed to providing the sector with at least 8 months’ notice of any new deadline for submission. 

So far, we have been notified that the census date is likely to remain the same - 31 July 2020 - but that there may be extensions made to the impact window and possibly to the available window for outputs to be published.  However, until we hear otherwise, we have to assume the current windows still apply.  We will update you as soon as we receive any further details.

In any event, we have set up our systems to ensure that REF delivery can continue to happen remotely if required. 

In the meantime, it would be helpful for all of us to continue to complete any outstanding manuscripts.  The central REF team will also continue to work in the background with individual impact case-study authors, so that when the REF2021 clock is finally restarted, we will be on track.  We will also be amending our institutional REF timetable once we have a better idea of what the national timetable will be, thus elements such as the environment statement will not now be considered till the end of June at the earliest.

Finally, a huge thank you from me for your excellent research contributions so far under very challenging circumstances – keep up the good work – and I look forward to stimulating interdisciplinary conversations with you on the various Teams sites soon!

With very best wishes and keep safe

Marion

Professor Marion Campbell
Vice-Principal Research