Professor Jackie Hunter's blog

News from our Chief Executive

  • Practical school science is vital

    Jackie Hunter

    Last week I was very disappointed to learn that Ofqual had recommended the downgrading of practicals in the new A and AS level syllabus.

    The reasons given for this were primarily that:

    • Predictable assessments have led to narrow teaching, students getting similar results and assessments that don’t give exam boards evidence
    • Marks that don’t reflect students’ overall ability

    I don’t feel that the reforms are the way to address these problems. Predictable assessments, a lack of differentiation of students and the marking of tests should be better addressed by redesigning the practicals rather than removing their contribution to the final grade. [...]

  • York for plant science, London for badgers and BBSRC’s birthday

    Jackie Hunter

    Last week I went to York and had a very interesting time at the UK PlantSci 2014 conference. As well as some excellent talks by students and post-docs (for example the potential of the Bambara groundnut), the discussion on plant science in the late afternoon on Monday was particularly enlightening. The panel discussion followed a brief presentation summarising the recommendations of the report on UK plant science (PDF) published by the UK Plant Sciences Federation. [...]

  • Basic research investment produces impact

    Jackie Hunter

    It is always pleasing to see our investments in the research base bearing fruit whether it be in excellent publications or social and economic impact. So the announcement by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the European Bioinformatics Institute of the creation of a new Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation (CTTV) at Hinxton was very welcome. The new CTTV will aim to address a wide range of human diseases and will share its data openly in the interests of accelerating drug discovery. This new centre will employ up to 50 people from the partner organisations but longer term will involve other organisations and companies who are interested in this area. It was particularly good to receive confirmation from Patrick Vallance, President of R&D at GSK, that their decision to base the CTTV in the UK was influenced by their recognition of the UK’s world class capabilities and skills in the areas of genomic, data mining and translational research. Much of this capability has been built using BBSRC funding for basic research in bioinformatics and genomics, along with other funders such as the Wellcome Trust and MRC. The CTTV will itself be based in the EBI South Building, home of the ELIXIR Hub and built with Research Council funding led by BBSRC. [...]

  • Innovation, lively discussions and healthy trees

    Jackie Hunter

    One of my highlights last week was our Fostering Innovation event which was excellently organised by the BBSRC team. At the event we celebrated the finalists for the BBSRC Innovator of the Year 2014 and the Activating Impact competitions. Luke Alphey, from the Pirbright Institute, won the Social Innovator category and was named as overall winner of Innovator of the Year for his work at Oxitec on the genetic control of mosquitos to prevent disease, with Queen Mary University of London and King’s College London jointly winning the Activating Impact award. Curtis Dobson from Manchester won Commercial Innovator award and Cathie Martin and Eugenio Butelli, both from The John Innes Centre, won the Most Promising Innovator category. It was of course particularly pleasing to see two of our strategically funded institutes amongst the winners! I would like to thank our judging panel for taking the time to participate and select the winners – it was apparently a very difficult decision. I did manage to talk to nearly all the finalists who had all brought along their iconic, representative object for display and was impressed by the variety of innovations present and the culture of seeking to translate research into social and economic impact that is present in our research community. [...]

  • Threats and opportunities

    Jackie Hunter

    This year marks the 350th anniversary of the publication of John Evelyn’s treatise on forestry called Sylva. It was the outcome of a committee set up by the Royal Society to respond to the Royal Navy’s timber shortage arising from the poor state of England’s forests (G. Hemery Nature 507:166-167). It encouraged landowners to plant more trees and care for their forests as an important contribution to the nation’s strategic defence. Oak was the most important tree followed by ash, elm and pine reflecting their importance in construction and everyday life. I see strong parallels in some activities that are on-going now. For instance, last week I attended the second meeting of a committee on animal and plant health sponsored by the Government Office for Science and Defra. The aim of this committee is to review the current status of our ability to respond to new threats such as bovine TB and ash die-back and to make recommendations for a more coordinated approach across government and research councils. [...]