This is the last blog from me for 2015 but I think we have finished the year on some real highs both for BBSRC and for all Research Councils. For example last Friday we got the official notification from BIS that work can commence on the new Centre for Food and Health at Norwich. The new centre will focus on the role of the microbiome and the importance of diet and nutrition in health and wellness. A conference in the UK is planned in the second quarter of next year with the New York Academy of Sciences on the microbiome and the programme is already shaping up to be very exciting.

For BBSRC specifically our delivery plans are in good shape ready for our Spending Review discussions with BIS in the New Year. We have a number of people working with colleagues across the Research Councils to implement the efficiency savings that we have committed to as RCUK. I would like to take the opportunity here to thank all those individuals involved – they are doing an incredible amount as well as keeping their day job activities going – hopefully they can have a rest over the holidays!

I am proud that RCUK has developed an ambitious equality and diversity action plan which has been sent to the Minister, Jo Johnson MP, for approval this month. The team involved in pulling this together from the Research Councils have done an excellent job and I think this will have positive effects both within the Councils and the institutions we fund.

Of course equality and diversity is more than about gender and I am pleased that BBSRC supported the Change 100 programme for talented disabled students and graduates by taking an intern in 2015. It was a great success and I am sure we will be participating further in the coming years. The programme is run by the Leonard Cheshire Disability Trust together with Vanilla Ventures and it aims to change the employment landscape for disabled students and graduates. A pilot scheme in 2014 placed 17 students in paid internships and in 2015 over 60 employers are participating in the programme. The programme offers the student/graduate a three month paid internship, mentoring for 12 months, and a professional development programme. The feedback we had from the intern we had was very positive and I would definitely recommend it both to potential interns and employers. The website has an employment guide for disabled students written by disabled students who took part in the pilot scheme and there are lots of other useful links as well on the site.

In terms of our science I was pleased to see the announcement of three sLoLa grants which totalled in all £13.9M. The topics were varied from managing the nitrogen economy in bacteria (Prof Martin Buck, Imperial College), releasing natural variation in bread wheat by modulating meiotic crossovers (Prof Keith Edwards, Bristol) and glycoengineering of veterinary vaccines (Prof Brendan Wren, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine). In fact veterinary vaccinology was something that we discussed at the inaugural meeting of the UK Vaccine Network in London two weeks ago – much of the meeting focussed on issues for human vaccines but it was recognised that there are many overlaps between human and animals especially in terms of technologies and it was agreed to explore this further.

The last few weeks have also seen the awards to young entrepreneurs in the YES final which was impressively hosted by Maggie Philbin. She and Chris Dobson founded TeenTech in 2008 which aims to inspire young people to see the wide range of possibilities for careers in Science, Engineering and Technology. We definitely need to encourage this and also to emulate the positive view of scientists that other countries have. This was commented on by the new President of the Royal Society, Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, in a recent interview in the Times where he said he thought scientists should be treated like rock stars – he was certainly treated so in China and India.

On that positive note I would like to wish everyone a very peaceful Christmas break and a happy New Year.

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