Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)




  40. Is that the same with you, Robert and Liz? Could you manage it better?
  (Dr Rugg) I think it is very difficult on short-term contracts to attract funding for research as an independent PI. That is one of the issues. You do not really get the opportunity to manage it because there are very few places that you can apply to.

  41. You must spend a bit of time trying to get more grants or suck up to the right people.
  (Dr Rugg) Absolutely.

  42. Who can get grants for you. Can you estimate that in any way?
  (Dr Rugg) In terms of the amount of time?

  43. Yes?
  (Dr Rugg) Most of my time.
  (Dr Goodess) Yes.

  44. It is not all upfront, it is at the top of the agenda.
  (Dr Rugg) Yes.

  45. Is that the same with Robert and Clare?
  (Dr Goodess) Yes.
  (Mr Patton) I would say it takes at least three months probably to put a good funding proposal together and to be sure it is going to be accepted and three months out of a one year contract is a long time not to be doing what you are employed to be doing.

  46. Do you put it in your own names or do you have to have some more permanent academic fronting it?
  (Mr Patton) It helps to have somebody more senior than yourself but if you do not get your name on it then it is not necessarily going to be you that is working on the project. In my department we have had an issue recently where somebody did not have their name put on a funding proposal that they helped to prepare and they had to apply through the usual procedures to try and get that job.

  47. They had to apply to get the job they had written the job description for?
  (Mr Patton) Yes.
  (Dr Goodess) Can I just add that does depend on the funding body. For example, I have a European Union grant which is a 2 million euro project which I am co-ordinating. They are quite happy for me to do that but the UK research councils will not even allow me to be named on a £30,000 small grant.

Dr Turner

  48. What effect do you think this has had on the quality of research which you have been able to do during your careers or now even, given the sort of effect on morale, the time you will have to take out constantly preparing new proposals to exist? Do you think if you had a more secure background you would have been able to do more work or better work?
  (Dr Goodess) Yes, and it would have affected you differently at different stages of the career. I think earlier on it would have taken off some of the stress and worry. What I would really like now is some funding for the time I spend writing proposals. At the moment I am working 70 hour weeks just to try and keep bringing the money in. Even then I feel it is affecting the work I am contracted to do because in theory 100 per cent of my time belongs to the funding body and I am trying to do an academic's job on top of that, writing proposals. I am the editor of an academic journal and supervise PhD students.

  49. In theory, according to Gareth Roberts and so on, research fellowships to short-term research workers are in training posts. Do you ever get any training throughout your careers as short-term researchers or have you been left to swim on your own?
  (Mr Patton) I have trained other researchers to give them a better chance than I have had. The training that is available tends to be part of the university standard personnel training packages, nothing too specific.
  (Dr Rugg) I have received a little bit of training in teaching which I have taken up in my current position but as the researcher I do not think I have ever received any formal training.

Dr Iddon

  50. Over a period of years can I ask whether your salaries have gone like the FTSE index, up to the top and down to the bottom? It does seem a rather erratic existence, particularly if you are paying a mortgage or have commitments similar to mortgages.
  (Dr Goodess) No. I guess I have been lucky in some ways in that I have been promoted but that does come at a cost because my salary is going up I am pricing myself out. Now I tend to find that I can only put my salary a few months on a particular project because otherwise it would be too expensive. At the moment, for example, I am working on three different research projects and the rest of the work on those projects is being done by more junior staff. It is promotion at personal cost in some ways.
  (Mr Patton) For a period of about five years I was stuck at the same grade due to jumping from one short term contract to another and not being part of an incremental process. I was also stuck at a bar and a salary grade which I was unable to progress beyond.
  (Dr Rugg) I have been quite fortunate in that my salary scale has progressed throughout my career. I was promoted past the bar to senior lecturer in my current post.

  51. Can I just ask you specifically Dr Rugg a question. We had a debate last Thursday in the House on the Research Assessment Exercise and I quoted a number of departments which were in danger of closing or being severely reduced in numbers. I think I quoted the London School of Medicine and Dentistry at Queen Mary's.
  (Dr Rugg) That is right.

  52. Is your department closing?
  (Dr Rugg) We are undergoing currently an assessment for compulsory redundancies.

  53. The whole department?
  (Dr Rugg) The whole of the medical school. They are going to need to lose a number of staff which is one of the reasons why my position is probably not going to continue.

  54. That was the point I was coming to. There must be a fair number of short-term contracts in that department for that reason and that must be replicated across the country.
  (Dr Rugg) I presume so.

  55. There are a similar number of departments now at risk.
  (Dr Rugg) Yes.

Dr Turner

  56. That is an interesting point that your school should be looking to redundancies and potential closures at a time when we have a shortage of medical graduates.
  (Dr Rugg) Yes.

  57. I find this very difficult to reconcile.
  (Dr Rugg) We all do.

  58. Just who do you think is responsible? Do you think it is the university management or does it lie elsewhere? It does sound very strange indeed.
  (Dr Rugg) I think it is not only our institution that is experiencing this. It is partly due to the expectation that funding would continue at least at a similar level of funding to previous RAEs. Clearly the formula that has been applied means there is a huge shortfall. If the levels of funding had been applied at the same levels as they have in the past I believe our institution would have expected another two and a half million pounds a year in its research income. I am not sure of the exact figures but it will receive approximately two and a half million less.

  59. It is a cut.
  (Dr Rugg) It is a cut. It is an absolute cut.

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