August 8, 2010
Polish your CV. You could be the next CEO of STFC. If there is anything left to run.
Just before my holidays, I mentioned an STFC web page asking for input to the CSR discussion. This has three interesting updates. The first is a report from Science Board and PPAN. Nothing surprising or scary in this. The second is news from Council. This is normally so dull it makes you want to chew your own foot off, but on this occasion contains news that will surprise some : the STFC CEO has made it known that he will not take up a second term, and so will leave in March 2012. Council have already set up a subgroup to establish the requirements for his successor.
I think we are way past the personal recriminations stage, so no schadenfreude please. I am tempted to open a book, but probably thats not suitable for public discussion either.
So lets look to the future ! The third update is a link to a presentation given by Director of Science Programmes, John Womersley, to the recent Astronomy Forum. The bottom line is that BIS will have an answer by October-ish, but the trickle down to STFC won’t be clear until Nov-Dec-ish; and how STFC implements the new budget will be horribly difficult. The feedback our Head of Institute (JAP) gave us was that input is really genuinely desired by Womersley et al. There are going to be some horrible decisions, even if we successfully make the argument that STFC science is investment, and we have less than the Government average 25% cuts. I am sure individual input will be welcome, but very likely group responses will be more effective, so start lobbying your Head of Department or research group leader.
Even if we were to reduce exploitation grants to zero, we would have a problem. We may be looking at big decisions, like pull out of ESA and do bilaterals, or pull out of CERN. Of course one worry is that negative signals will stop young people committing to the UK; this could be a distinctly non-linear effect, and one that lasts much longer than this spending review. An interesting positive suggestion that apparently emerged from the Forum was that Fellowships should somehow be strengthened into “New Blood” lectureships. But this requires commitment from our Universities, who ain’t exactly feeling rich either …
March 30, 2010
LHC is seeing collisions ! Twitterers have been seeing this stuff all day, and Lord Drayson is awfully excited, but for the rest of you, here is a message from Edinburgh LHCb chum Franz Muheim with the key links :
Today at about 13:06 CEST the LHC has started colliding proton beams at 7 TeV. 🙂
This is the start of a new era in particle physics.
The webcast is ongoing at
See the press release from the CERN Director below.
Events from ATLAS and LHCb can be viewed at
A happy Edinburgh PhD graduate student in the LHCb control room
November 9, 2009
I have been worrying about the Professor Nutt story, for personal reasons. For those who don’t know, this business is about the science adviser fired by the Home Office for criticising the government in public. Of course the gut instinct of most of our scientist colleagues will be to side with the Prof – Science versus the Barbarians ! Man the Barricades ! I am not so sure . Its the Government’s job to govern, and the Adviser’s job to advise. I wouldn’t quite go with the classic Winston Churchill quote – scientists should be on tap, not on top – but a little humility is due. On the other hand, the current government can be a tad brutish, as we know. It all depends what Nutt actually said, which I haven’t found out.
This is on my mind because I am about to take the Kings Shilling. As of next year yours truly is becoming chair of the Astronomy Grants Panel. Early Warning. Do not expect the inside dope. Do not ask. I will still be free to talk of matters Ess-Tee-Eff-ical, but anything connected with my newly privileged position will be off limits. STFC have asked me to help them, and that is what I will do.
Meanwhile, there is a renewed sensitivity to public comment in RCUK-land. Upstairs of STFC they were very concerned about the Sunday Times story a few weeks back, that reported that STFC were seriously considering leaving CERN. The Sunday Times was able to write a somewhat alarmist story because they got a quote. This actually just stated the obvious – well, we will have to consider every option, Brian – but coming from a senior STFC staff member, whose blushes I shall spare, it sounded like a secret policy had been uncovered. Sooo…. I understand that as a result new guidelines are being issued. Staff can freely comment on uncontentious things – like their own exciting science – but should refrain from things that might sound like a policy statement. Unless, presumably, it really is a policy statement. Quite right too. If I was in charge of RCUK I would I do much the same thing.
I just hope the baby isn’t thrown out with the bathwater…