It’s been seven years since the last one, and finally all of the promises that I made to the department to improve the research culture are going to come to fruition. Understandably, I’m shitting myself.
I am hopeful, however, that a number of my departmental structural changes will have a dramatic impact on our results. I’d like to share a few of these with you:
I believe that my most major accomplishment was to encourage staff to work with students to produce world leading research. This includes allowing staff to ‘rebrand’ student essays with their own name and submitting to journals and conferences. This was made much easier by the fact that students now submit their essays electronically, meaning that doing this only requires a very basic understanding of microsoft word (for which we provided training courses).
The second of my initiatives was to allow staff more time to write up the research that they tell me they’ve been doing for the last seven years, even though i have not seen a single sentence worth of work from most of them. In order to facilitate this, we cancelled lectures number of weeks (52 in total in 2006/07) and encouraged students to be self learners.
Thirdly, we completely reworked the way that we use our PhD students as a resource. Not only did they teach well over 99% of our course content from 2003-2008, but we also set them targets for research income and outputs. This meant that our staff had much more time to work on their research areas. Although we only have 6 PhD students in the department (of 22 staff), we successfully increased the research outputs from 1 in the last RAE to 1276 potentials for this one. Unfortunately, however, 5 of these research students suffered from fatal heart attacks, meaning they are no longer with us. Luckily a loophole in the RAE guidelines means we can still submit their work post-humously.
The fourth innovation was to submit all of this world leading work through a single academic for the department (me), declaring all of the others as ‘non-research active’. This will mean that 100% of our staff are likely to receive the prestigious 4* rating.
My final strategy was to pick an area where the research we could produce would stand out from the crowd. We decided to go for research related to the colour of ‘smarties’ (partly inspired by an experiment I did at school once). Our focus enabled the research to not only be original, but world leading in the approach that it brought to ‘sweetie colour theory’, including a number of highly original social and cultural approaches to the topic. This research also had a wider public impact when Nestle announced in 2008 that they were bringing back the controversial ‘blue one’; once again proving the importance of higher education for the general public.
So all in all I’m hopeful that my changes will have a strong impact on the department. Should it fail, I have been offered an interesting sounding job as a ‘Production Operative’ in the Nestle factory in York.