Jackie Hunter, BBSRC: “Breakthroughs will happen where disciplines coalesce”

Categories: funding, synthetic biology
Comments: No Comments
Published on: November 12, 2014

Jackie Hunter, Chief Executive of BBSRC, delivered a lunchtime presentation at the University of Warwick’s School of Life Sciences on Monday this week. She gave an overview of BBSRC investments and strategy, and spent the final twenty minutes in discussion with the gathered researchers, who posed questions from the floor.

Supporting bioscience in the UK

BBSRC is the biggest source of plant science funding in the UK. Its charter is to fund research and training in world-class bioscience, deliver social and economic impact, and to promote public dialogue.

Hunter explained that BBSRC responsive mode funding (around £150m per year) aims “to ensure excellence in science, wherever it comes from.” It must be functioning well as the UK is top of citation impact index, and the UKPSF found that UK plant science, mainly funded by BBSRC, is second only to the US in terms of publication impact. Strategic funding, capital and campus capital funding to institutes (£6m, £73m and £30m respectively) is used to maintain skills and output in economically important areas of research at the institutes; though Hunter made it clear that ‘blue sky’ research, funded via responsive mode, is important for impact as it generates both top REF scores and top impact metrics. BBSRC also invests £29M per year in specific initiatives.

When asked for advice about increasing BBSRC funding to the department, Hunter emphasised that funding allocation is based on excellence, so departments should provide an environment where excellence can flourish. She also said, “Interdisciplinarity is important: breakthroughs will happen where disciplines coalesce.”

Training and skills

There are around 2000 PhD students at any one time in the Doctoral Training Partnerships that make up part of the £71M BBSRC investment in Knowledge Exchange, Training and Skills. During the discussion session, someone asked about support later in a researcher’s career and Hunter pointed out that investment in early career fellowships must come at the expense of something else. She suggested that BBSRC may consider the value of studentships versus early career fellowships carefully, and in consultation with the community, over the next few years.

Plant science and Agriculture

Jackie Hunter is on the Agri-tech Leadership Council, which aims to increase UK agricultural exports and the value of the UK agri-tech industry by aligning public and industry funding and building skills and research output in agriculture and agri-technology. She also spoke about future directions in BBSRC’s Agriculture and Food theme: improving the nutritional qualities of plants and biopesticides regulation are both likely to become priority areas of research.

Hunter trailed two documents intended to help make two arguments, both of value to the UK plant research community. The first is an upcoming review on animal and plant health, lead by Defra and with input from BBSRC. To be launched later this month, it will be a starting point for BBSRC and Defra to develop joint strategies in tackling current animal and plant health issues, and to work together to call for more funding in this area. The second is a discussion document about synthetic biology and other new ways of working; Hunter hopes this will help make the case for trait-based, rather than methods-based, regulation of new crops.

On-going activities

Hunter also highlighted a few current initiatives our readers might be interested in.

BBSRC has invested £18m in 13 Networks in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (NIBBs). Here at GARNet, we’re in touch with the High Value Chemicals from Plants Network about a synthetic biology event next year and I recommend you join (it’s free) if you’re interested in high-value plant products or synthetic biology. The other plant science network is the Lignocellulosic Biorefinery Network.

One of Hunter’s objectives as CEO is to promote dialogue between scientists and a broad audience, and the first step towards engaging with the general public is the Great British Bioscience Festival. It is taking place this Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Bethnal Green, London, and there will be some amazing plant science among the exhibits. Lisa will be visiting the Festival to cover it for the next issue of the GARNish newsletter so stay tuned for her report!

All-expenses-paid networking in Thailand, Mexico, Brazil or Turkey …

Categories: funding, plant pathogens
Comments: No Comments
Published on: October 28, 2014
Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 13.28.28
Plaza de Guanajuato, Mexico. By Jose Carlos Soto.

Do you fancy an all-expenses-paid trip to a meeting where you can present your work, network with senior researchers in your field, get inspired and eat good food in the sun? If you’re a UK-based early career researcher (of any nationality), it might be closer than you think.

And if the days of your ‘early career’ are past, applications are still being accepted for funding to run similar events.

There are four Researcher Links workshops open for applications at the moment:

(more…)

Investment in plant science training

Categories: funding
Comments: No Comments
Published on: October 7, 2014

The planet needs more plant scientists.

As a headline in The Scientist last week, this statement was unambiguously qualified by its ‘Opinion’ prefix. But for the UK plant sciences community it is a dangerous fact: the skills gaps in plant and agricultural sciences expertise and very limited plant science content on undergraduate courses were highlighted in the UKPSF report on the status of UK plant science.

The news that some 375 students will receive PhD training in agriculture and food security over the next five years is therefore very welcome. On Friday, Vince Cable announced the locations of 12 new Doctoral Training Partnerships, funded by a £125 million investment from BBSRC. 1250 PhD students will be trained, of which 30% (375) will be trained specifically in agricultural and food security science, 20% (250) will focus on industrial biotechnology and bioenergy, and 40% (500) on world-class ‘frontier’ bioscience – all areas in which plant science plays a key role. The remaining 10% (125) of students will work within BBSRC’s ‘Bioscience for Health’ theme.

We at GARNet are looking forward to seeing the impacts on plant science, from food security and bioenergy to the as yet unknown, that will come from the hundreds of plant scientists starting their training and careers in the next few years. As every student in the centres will have to do a funded three-month internship working in a different area from their PhD project, it will also be interesting to see how this impact spreads into areas like policy, funding and government over time.

Congratulations to all the organisations involved in the new Centres, lead by Imperial College London, the John Innes Centre, Newcastle University, University College London (not plant science), the University of Bristol, the University of Cambridge, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Leeds, the University of Manchester, the University of Nottingham, the University of Oxford and the University of Warwick.

Funding round-up: Summer 2014

Categories: funding
Comments: No Comments
Published on: July 16, 2014

Here’s your irregular round-up of funding opportunities. Some of these deadlines will already be burned into your brains, but hopefully there a few useful new ones for you to think about!

Many of the options below are only available if you are a member of a society. Funding is one of many benefits to joining a learned society (blog post on this from Sarah Blackford), and if you’re a student your institution might even pay for the membership fee for you.

 

Travel – conferences

British Mycological Society Small Grants: Deadlines 20 July, 20 September, 20 December, 20 March every year. Not pure plant science, but worth a look if you work on plant-fungi interactions or soil. Grants available for fieldwork, travel to meetings, to buy books or scientific equipment.

The Genetics Society Conference Grants: Deadlines 1 August, 1 November, 1 February, 1 May. Two types of grants are available depending on whether the event is linked to the Genetics Society or not.

(more…)

GARNet 2014 Early Career Researcher Bursaries

Categories: Arabidopsis, funding, GARNet
Tags: No Tags
Comments: No Comments
Published on: April 29, 2014

GARNet2014 logo 200

The Easter conference season is over and some of our readers will be planning flights, talks and posters for ICAR, ASPB, MPMI or another summer conference abroad. But if that isn’t you this year, don’t worry – GARNet 2014 is much closer to home! And if you’re a student or post-doc, you might be able to win a bursary to cover all your expenses.

Arabidopsis: The Ongoing Green Revolution is in Bristol, so it doesn’t have the glamour of ICAR 2014 in Vancouver, but Bristol does have a Banksy on nearly every corner and lots of good places to eat and drink (like this bar with in-house magicians!). For two days only the city will also be able to boast our great plenary speakers Rob Martienssen, Maarten Koornneef, Andrew Millar and Paul Schulze-Lefert. Our fifth plenary speaker is Bristolian Alistair Hetherington.

Registration is only £120 for students and post-docs, but we’re offering 10 bursaries for GARNet 2014 to early career researchers. These bursaries will cover the registration fee, reasonable UK travel expenses and one night’s accommodation in Bristol. They will be awarded to 5 students or early career researchers invited to give talks, and 5 students who submit excellent abstracts but are not selected for presentations. To register and/or to apply for a bursary, go to: http://garnet2014.org/call-for-abstracts/

banksy for bursaries

Image: ghostly Banksy graffiti on the Thekla by Libby

Recently in the GARNet community…

Comments: No Comments
Published on: January 24, 2014

GARNet news

Lisa and I went to the Brassica Growers Association Conference on Tuesday. I wrote two posts on it over on the UK-BRC website, and Lisa put together a very informative Storify of tweets on the #BGAconference stream.

The UK Plant Sciences Federation has been collecting opinions, facts and data for the past year or so and is now ready to launch a report entitled UK Plant Science: Current Status and Future Challenges. Lisa and I helped out with this report so keep an eye out for it on Tuesday and let us know what you think!

I went to the SEB Synthetic Biology conference last week and have written a short report for the SEB Bulletin about it – I’ll share it when it is published. There was some excellent plant science there. Antonio Scialdone presented the plant-arithmatic work from Martin Howard’s lab – you can read his open access 2013 paper modelling starch degredation over night here (Scialdone et al., eLife 2013;2:e00669). Oliver Ebenhoeh discussed how mathematical models for photosynthesis and plant metabolism can help synthetic biology be done in plants and other photosynthetic organisms.

 

On the GARNet website

If you missed some January funding deadlines, there are plenty more opportunities to submit your proposal – take a look at the funding round-up on our website for ideas for fellowships, travel, collaborations or straightforward research grants.

Lisa is continuing to write her weekly Arabidopsis research round-up, which you can find on the GARNet news pages. It’s the best way to keep informed of what fellow UK Arabidopsis researchers are up to. This week, papers from GARNet committee members Heather Knight and Cyril Zipfel feature.

 

Your chance to present your work

PlantSci 2014 is in York on 31 March/1 April, and abstract submission is open until the end of February. There are two £200 cash prizes to be won by early career researchers giving short talks, so make sure you submit an abstract! There won’t be a traditional poster session, but delegates are invited to bring mini-posters to discuss during the networking sessions. Abstracts for the mini-posters will be included in the abstract book.

Further away in September, GARNet 2014 is your second chance to present your work at either a poster session or as a short talk. Registration and abstract submission are both open, and news about special opportunities for students will be coming very soon.

Finally, I’ve been reliably informed that the FSPB/EPSO Plant Biology Conference organisers are looking for proposals for short talks for the Big Data in Plant Science session, so if you’re planning on going and do ‘big data,’ think about submitting an abstract!

Research funding: What strategy is best?

Categories: funding
Tags:
Comments: No Comments
Published on: November 14, 2013

I was invited to the EPIC Planning Committee meeting after October’s Epigenomes of Plants and Animals conference at the John Innes Centre, and during the meeting we discussed what I think is the biggest issue in research strategy. That inspired this post, and a probably series of posts on the EPIC website – I’ll share them when they’re up. 

Is it best to spread resources and support/fund/promote as wide a breadth of research as possible, or focus on a few areas in more depth?

The problem with the ‘catch-all’ approach to research funding is that it inevitably does not catch all. In the UK plant science is funded via the BBSRC, and a large part of that funding is allocated through a committee-determined responsive mode structure. As the committees, made up of jobbing scientists, are only gently guided by broad strategic priorities, this is essentially catch-all. However, some plant science areas now occupy very small niches and are in danger of extinction. Plant and pathogen taxonomy, physiology, soil science and some plant species, even those of economic value like ornamental flowers, soft fruits and many vegetables, have all been neglected.

The alternative is to try and deliver an effective strategy for a few areas, ensuring that these areas have a healthy, broad basic research base from which any innovations that arise can efficiently be turned into commercial product. The difficulty is, of course, deciding which areas to focus on. The decision cannot be driven by fashions or trends, nor unduly influenced by current strengths and expertise, which are all reasons for gaps in the catch-all approach. Modelling and predicting global and local challenges, other countries’ research strategies, risk of failure and impact of success, existing expertise and facilities – these and many more factors should all be considered.

It would be a cop-out to write this post and not say what my opinion is. This issue is of course far more complex than this article allows, and there has to be flexibility in any system. There are big, bad consequences of choosing the wrong areas to invest in, but there are similar, unpredictable, ramifications to accidental skills gaps in both basic and translational science caused by thinly spread funding. So my inclination is to think that within a hypothetical altruistic and infinitely flexible innovation ecosystem, the world would be better served by a focused, in-depth strategy.

What do you think? Leave a comment or get in touch on Twitter.

Collaborations and training in integrative biology

The prevalence of first systems and then synthetic biology in BBSRC and wider UK research funding calls, the establishment of The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), the fact that the term ‘big data’ is mentioned in nearly every meeting of any type about the biological sciences … all these point to the irreversible integration of mathematics into biology.

This blog post is for two groups of people: plant scientists who feel they lack the expertise to confidently maneuver in the world of integrative biology; and theoreticians either interested in plant science, or who would rather not have to spend quite as much time dealing with the mathematical problems of the plant scientists in their professional or non-professional circles. (more…)

«page 2 of 5»

Follow Me
TwitterRSS
GARNetweets
November 2018
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

Welcome , today is Wednesday, November 21, 2018