Inside track - 14 February 2018 - Professor Nick Plant

Professor Nick Plant, Dean for Research Quality and Impact, discusses making an impact in Research and Innovation.

Nick Plant Inside Track February 2018

In your opinion, what makes the University of Leeds special?

Our staff are the heart of the University, and I have been impressed by the passion and drive shared by everyone at Leeds. This makes possible the great research and education being undertaken at the University. This also led to Leeds achieving a top ten rating for research power and impact in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, TEF Gold, The Times and Sunday Times University of the Year 2017 and a strong position in the World University Rankings

How does this link in with your role?

As part of Professor Lisa Roberts’ Research and Innovation (R&I) team, it is my job to help deliver the University’s R&I strategy, which builds on these great foundations. I firmly believe this can only be achieved by supporting and developing our staff, ensuring they have the time and resources to fulfil their research potential.

Since joining the University in May last year, I have been meeting as many people as possible and learning about how we support and deliver the great research taking place at Leeds. This has been a wonderful introduction to both the people and the University, and has allowed me to see some examples of best practice, which I can share across the campus.

The research we undertake at Leeds is world-leading in many areas, and has an impact beyond just academia, including commercial, social and policy impact. My role is about supporting and developing these existing strengths, generating a consistent stream of excellent, world-leading research. While there is an understandable focus on benchmarking exercises, such as the REF, I firmly believe we must look wider than this, working to support staff to develop throughout their careers. League tables allows us to check we are going in the right direction, but it is not the reason for the journey in the first place.

Can you explain a bit more about the Annual Output Review (AOR)?

The AOR process I’ve developed will deliver robust assessment of output quality across the University, and is an increasingly common feature throughout the university sector. It builds on the best practice in several Schools. Not only will it help with preparation for specific assessment exercises, such as the REF, but it will provide important, robust information on how we can best support our research activities to meet the University’s strategic plan. By extending this practice across the entire University, we will gain a more complete overview of our current position and best practice, which will help us develop the correct support mechanisms to develop colleagues.

Why is it so important to focus on the impact of research; is it all about the REF?

The REF is clearly important to us, but it’s not just about that.

Delivering impact is a rewarding goal in itself, and for many of us, the reason we work in academia is to make a difference to society as a whole. By supporting staff to deliver excellent, impactful research, we will not only meet an important part of our mission, but also prepare ourselves to meet the requirements of REF as well. It is also important we communicate these successes. From what I’ve seen, the University is far too reserved about telling the world about all the wonderful things we achieve! I aim to help deliver more consistent and widespread communication of our successes, showing the world just what we can do.

The environment where we work, and the people we work with, underpin the University’s strategic plan, as evidenced by our £520 million campus investment programme delivering initiatives such as Nexus and Bragg. This is coupled with the ongoing investment in our staff, such as the 250 Great Minds early career researcher programme, and the University’s signing of the Technicians Commitment, supported by the Science Council and Gatsby Charitable Foundation. We have also been awarded Employer Champion status by the Science Council in recognition of our commitment to support staff.

How does the University progress from here?

The passion and quality of staff across a wide range of disciplines makes the University a great place to work and puts us in a strong position for the challenges to come. By helping share best practice and developing effective support and communication, I’m convinced we can allow colleagues to follow their ambitions and achieve their full potential here at Leeds.

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