Uni Melbourne’s big push to appoint innovators

plus UWA academic asks, if management wants specialist teachers where’s the specialist suppport?

why medical research grants go to the old and ordinary

and case studies are the story on measuring research

Taking the pulse of pasta

It’s the international year of … (go on, guess)* and Charles Sturt U researcher Neeta Karve and graduate Saira Hussain have celebrated by creating a pasta made from germinated yellow peas. CSU explains at some length how healthy it is, but not a word on what it tastes like. * pulses – the legume that is, not the throbbing of arteries.

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Uni Melb’s innovative investment

Nothing innovates like investment, as the University of Melbourne demonstrates with a cask of cash for new appointments. UoM has promoted former head of Commercialisation Australia, now with the university, Doron Ben-Meir to the new role of vice principal for enterprise. And it has created 12 new enterprise professorships, as part of its plan to double industry-related research. The 12 include two former Victorian premiers, John Brumby and Ted Baillieu, the recently resigned head of the federal Department of Education, Lisa Paul, IBM Australia’s chief technology officer Joanna Batstone, David Morgan, sometime Westpac CEO and John Pollaers former head of Pacific Brands. The university adds more appointments will follow; “as faculties as faculties identify suitable candidates.” Ye gods Uni Melbourne is rich.

Robo goals

The UNSW robot soccer squad is Europe bound to defend its 2015 world cup title (CMM July 23 2015) against teams from 18 countries in Leipzig. But what’s with the orange and black livery? VC Ian Jacobs backs Arsenal in the English competition but CMM suspects home-team colours, the Sydney Swans on one side and Sydney rugby league Roosters on the other are more appropriate.

Tuesday June 28

UWA intensive teachers on their own

The University of Western Australia restructure is now at the sharp end with people starting to go, some more quietly than others. One very senior scholar in the Faculty of Science has told colleagues that he did not object to being moved to a teaching intensive post but he will not wear the university not committing significant funds to support “proper teaching and learning infrastructure and initiatives.”

“There is no opportunity for significant support for any of my innovative activities expected of me assuming a ‘teaching intensive’ appointment.  This is extremely worrying in a new environment where emphasis on scholarship of teaching and learning will be introduced to meet new additional metrics that will be used in the foreseeable future to rank universities.”

Perhaps this is not the best of times for university management to indicate it is ready to begin enterprise bargaining negotiations, already underway at the other three public universities in Western Australia,

App of the day

Swinburne student and soccer player Simon Murphy has created RefLive, an app to digitise game-day administration and match stats for referees. Sadly it does not include ways to stop parents’ disputing decisions.

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To the barricades, again

Research Australia warns “without a multi-party commitment, the ground-breaking Medical Research Future Fund risks being dead on arrival.” RA is cross that Labor, and The Greens have not specified how much they will commit to the MRFF in detail enough for the lobby’s liking. As for the Liberals, while the MRFF was in the 2016 budget, “there are projected slight slippages and funding shortfalls.”

“When medical researchers, albeit half-jokingly, talk of leaving their labs and taking to the streets, you know something has gone awry with public policy,” RA CEO, Nadia Levin says.

This is standing operating procedure for medical research advocates. In 2014 (now Monash U chancellor) Simon McKeon, who chaired the Strategic Review of Health and Medical Research (2013), warned “there will be lab coats in the streets” if government did not deliver on the MRFF (CMM June 12). There actually were in 2011 when rumours of a budget cut to their funding led to regiments of researchers protesting in the streets. Funnily enough, the cuts never came – warnings of a lost cure for cancer will do that to a government.

VET can’t compete

Like medical researchers, TAFE Directors Australia is calling for Labor and the coalition to pledge funding for VET before the election on Saturday. Both sides have made commitments to hospitals and schools but neither side has announced, “clear funding” for the training system, TDA says. Sadly “cure for cancer” always beats “shortage of tradespeople” when it comes to scaring politicians.

New park manager

Federation U has appointed local government official Jeff Pulford as head of its technology park. Some 1500 people work at the park’s two Mount Helen and one central Ballarat sites.

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Research grants go to dull (and ghosted) proposals

ANU geneticist and National Health and Medical Research Council external reviewer Gaetan Burgio has crunched council grant data and says funds go to older researchers presenting unimaginative proposals at the expense of younger innovators, especially women. “There is little reward for innovative biomedical science in Australia,” he warns. And he adds proposal “ghost writing” is “endemic” in the funding system.

According to Dr Burgio, the problem is in the process, which allocates 50 per cent of assessments on an application’s scientific quality, with 25 per cent on its significance and innovations and the remaining quarter on applicants’ track records.

It’s the quality category that is the killer. Large laboratories use post docs to pile on data in support of applications, which means; senior investigators can write “flawless proposals with every single aim and sub-aim backed from preliminary data.” In contrast, Dr Burgio warns, “junior investigators are less experienced in grant writing and don’t have this ability to produce huge preliminary data. They are also taking a more risky approach. Therefore it is easy for a reviewer to point out all the flaws and to lower the scoring of the scientific quality of the proposal.” The track record also assists established researchers, making it even harder for young researchers, especially women who have taken time away from research.

So what’s to prevent young researchers, especially women, giving up the funding struggle and leaving the lab? Dr Burgio proposes reducing the science component from 50 per cent to 40 per cent with innovation increased to 40 per cent and the balance of assessment allocated to researchers track records’. He also suggests a cap of four NHMRC projects per grant holder, more consideration for women whose careers are interrupted and setting a maximum of four pages for proposals.

Without change, “many junior investigators and females academics won’t get any funding and will leave academia … we are loosing a generation of scientist and we must avoid this.” he warns.

Get moving VET heads

Submissions are due on Thursday for responses to Turnbull Government training minister Scott Ryan’s discussion paper on VET FEE HELP.

ATN’s story on research impct

The Australian Technology Network’s submission to the government inquiry into how the Australian Research Council should measure research impact and engagement is in and very helpful it is too, explaining how complex the issues are. However the ATN is slighter on solutions, warning; “there appears to be no definitive ‘silver bullet’ regarding the assessment of engagement and/or impact. Each of the proposed models of assessment flagged in the discussion paper and elsewhere have their strengths and limitations. As such, the ATN encourages the steering committee to maintain a clear focus on the policy intent of the assessment in building a robust assessment framework.” Gosh, thanks.

But the ATN does share the Group of Eight’s enthusiasm, if muted, for case studies, called “vignettes” by the network, as “the best approach to capture a broad range of multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary differences, and their related impacts.”

The ATN is only thinking about next year’s trial, which will presumably be the decider in setting the model for engagement and impact models that are used as part of an expanded Excellence for Research in Australia in 2018 (CMM March 11 2016). Thus it suggests; “settling on the ideal mix between metrics and vignettes could be a worthwhile aim for the trial using an iterative approach to weigh up the direct and indirect benefits of assessing impact via vignettes and the administrative costs associated with them and testing for disciplinary differences.”

Good-oh, but neither the ARC nor universities that will need to know how to present their research will have a bunch of time between review of the pilot and work on ERA ’18. In the absence of a complete catastrophe what is piloted will be rolled out. With the ATN agreeing with the Go8 on a major role for case studies, sorry “vignettes,” are starting to look like the course the pilot will take.

Know something the world needs to know? Anonymity guaranteed but lots of questions asked, stephen4@hotkey.net.au