The week began with a meeting attended by all the Chief Executives and some 800 staff of Research Councils UK at the Swindon STEAM museum (a splendid location celebrating the early days of the Great Western Railway), where we set down some of our collective thinking about a framework for the role of research in a productive economy, in a healthy society and in contributing to a sustainable world. BBSRC then had a senior Executive Away Day where we worked on our strategic thinking in a number of areas, including the delivery of our emerging Strategic Plan that we continue to develop following an extensive consultation phase. After that I attended a dinner discussion with the Board of the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences, where our work in Food Security in particular is likely to contribute significantly. This week also saw the launch of the excellent and most important Royal Society report ‘Reaping the Benefits’, chaired by Sir David Baulcombe and dealing with the role of research in the sustainable intensification of global agriculture.
I attended a very interesting breakfast discussion between Dr Amanda Goodall and Sir Paul Nurse based on Dr Goodall’s new book Socrates in the Boardroom. The chief import of this is the finding, backed by a detailed statistical analysis, that Universities do better in raising their research game when led by scholars of distinction. One can see echoes of the Two Cultures debate that I discussed before.
This job certainly sees me indulging in plenty of train travel, and this week involved a trip to the John Innes Centre for one of our periodic meetings with our Institute Directors, and then to the other side of the country, to IBERS at the University of Aberystwyth. It was good to return to Aber for the first time since my move to BBSRC, and we had some very useful discussions, largely focussed on the contribution of IBERS Science to Food Security but including a significant element of discussion about the production of chemicals by biorefining, where it is seen that Wales has important opportunities. As someone with a background in fermentation technology (and even – more than 20 years ago – a founding director of a company based in this space), I shall be looking into this area a lot more in the future, since it is obvious that one day our chemicals industry will again need to be based more directly on photosynthetically derived biomass. Before leaving Aber, I also took the opportunity to see Eve, the latest incarnation of the Robot Scientist, a concept to which I had originally contributed, and which published a major update earlier this year.
Training remains a core part of both our mission and our outputs, so – from trains to training – I draw attention finally to the BIS Review of Postgraduate provision in the UK, to be led by Prof Adrian Smith, and on which comments are invited.
- King RD, Whelan KE, Jones FM, Reiser PGK, Bryant CH, Muggleton SH, Kell DB, Oliver SG: Functional genomic hypothesis generation and experimentation by a robot scientist. Nature 2004; 427:247-252.
- King RD, Rowland J, Oliver SG, Young M, Aubrey W, Byrne E, Liakata M, Markham M, Pir P, Soldatova LN, Sparkes A, Whelan KE, Clare A: The automation of science. Science 2009; 324:85-89.
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