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Arts supervisors ‘failing’ those in their care

Doctoral and early-career researchers in the arts and humanities feel poorly supervised and are given little advice on career pathways, according to a survey.

The survey was carried out by Vitae, a charity supporting early career researchers, and the Consortium for the Humanities and the Arts South-East England. The results were published on 20 July in a report called One Size Doesn't Fit All.

Part-time or distance-learning students, mature learners, individuals with disabilities, those experiencing mental ill-health, and those with caring responsibilities find it particularly difficult to access appropriate training and support, survey respondents said.

They added that most professional development is "self-directed" and unsupported by supervisors. Close to a third of respondents said their supervisor plays little or no role in their development.

The report lists six recommendations to improve institutions’ role in career development.

It says institutions could formally integrate professional development planning and career planning into their doctoral programmes and calls for mandatory training for supervisors to support doctoral researchers.

Similarly, it urges more dedicated careers advice for arts and humanities doctoral researchers and better links between doctoral alumni so they can offer guidance to newer cohorts. Such initiatives should be built into a doctoral programme, and not seen as an optional extra.

Half the respondents reported that they struggle to balance professional development and the timely completion of their thesis. Career development activities are seen as a "distraction" from the "real work" of a PhD.

The data were collected from an online survey comprising 46 questions. Respondents included 465 doctoral researchers and 68 early-career researchers in the arts and humanities.

A follow-up questionnaire was sent to early-career researchers to explore the post-PhD transition. Of these, there were 12 respondents.

The survey report did not indicate how many of the respondents are part of formal doctoral training programmes and partnerships.


UK > Politics > Parliament


Lords to debate Euratom exit

Members of the House of Lords are to debate the government’s intention of leaving Euratom and any subsequent impact on cross-border supply of nuclear materials.

Liberal Democrat peer Robin Teverson, a former managing director of a supply chain consultancy, proposed the debate, which will take place later today (20 July).

Topics up for discussion include the impact on nuclear materials used for medical purposes.

Other peers who will take part include the LibDem's Sharon Bowles, an advisory board member of the Financial Services Negotiation Forum, and Labour's Dianne Hayter, a former member of the National Patient Safety Agency.

Martin O’Neill, a former Labour minister, and LibDem William Wallace, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, are also expected to participate.

David Prior, parliamentary under-secretary of state in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, will respond on behalf of the government. 


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UK > Research Councils


MRC and NIHR launch nutrition funding consortium

The Medical Research Council and National Institute for Health Research have set up a consortium of funders to support academia and industry research in nutrition.

The move, announced on 20 July, follows a report published on the same day, Review of Nutrition and Human Health Research. The report was commissioned by the Office of Strategic Coordination for Health Research.

In a news release, the MRC said it is launching funding opportunities, via the Global Challenges Research Fund, in partnership with the research councils, the Department for International Development and the Department of Health.

The grants will fund partnerships between health researchers in developing nations and the UK, as well as supporting small projects. Full details of the grants are on the Research Councils UK website.

The MRC said it is also building a framework to facilitate collaboration between industry and researchers. This aims to deepen the collective knowledge of the nutrition ecosystem in areas such as agriculture, retail, food production and packaging. 

The NRC-NIHR report raises concerns that research capacity, capability, training and clinical delivery in nutrition appear to be stagnating. For example, experienced researchers are approaching retirement while fewer younger scientists are entering the field.

In addition, it highlights the absence of a single national strategy for nutrition and human health research. Instead there are disparate initiatives from individual funders, government departments and agencies.

The report argues that while there have been some cross-funder initiatives in recent years, a more top-down coordinated approach to funding could ensure that UK investment in research and infrastructure is better organised.

Furthermore, health nutrition research has a poor profile, the report says. For example, some academics regard it as lacking in quality and rigour, while some members of the public report being confused or  cynical about nutrition and dietary advice.  

Another concern raised in the report is that clinical nutrition is not represented by a single professional group with specific responsibility to promote the discipline and set standards for capability, practice and service delivery.

Chris Day, vice-chancellor and president of Newcastle University, who chaired the report, said: “A new nutrition research partnership will identify challenges in the area and then direct resources to meet those challenges. Most importantly, it will inform policy.

'“Working more closely with industry partners will provide opportunities to build capacity in the field, enhance the sharing of expertise and resources, and ensure that excellent nutrition science is available to all.”


UK > Universities


Menon's team pessimistic on Brexit ‘no deal’

The team behind the ESRC's 'UK in a Changing Europe' project has reiterated the risks of failing to reach a trade deal with the EU.

In the project's report, Cost of No Deal, published on 20 July, principal investigator Anand Menon of King's College London and colleagues argue that pharmaceutical research in the UK would suffer immediate impact with large companies potentially moving some or all of their research and development activities abroad.

According to the report, international clinical trials currently in progress would also be “adversely impacted”.  

It says that if the planned 2019 update of the EU Clinical Trials Regulation takes place before Brexit the UK would need to be part of a major EU computer database on which clinical trials are entered. A chaotic Brexit could disrupt this, the report says.

The authors also investigate the impact on devolved nations as well as industries including energy, fisheries, aviation and agriculture. They forecast a scenario in which aircraft could remain grounded, and with UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK stuck in limbo.

Menon said in a statement: “Our findings show a chaotic Brexit would, at least in the short term, spawn a political mess, a legal morass and an economic disaster. This report makes it clear ‘no deal’ is an outcome the British government must strive to avoid.”

In terms of energy and environment, EU environmental regulations will be integrated into UK law and the UK will be bound by its international commitments. However, the monitoring, reporting and reciprocal recognition associated with EU membership would not exist, the report says.

For example, chemicals product regulations are covered by EU rules and unless equivalent domestic approvals were put in place UK exporters would find themselves unable to trade with the EU.

UK traders may also struggle to deal internationally if the UK doesn’t have registration and authorisation to do so, it says. In terms of the energy market, a 'no deal' scenario could leave the UK without established safety procedures and systems for the operation of nuclear power plants. At present, these fall under Euratom–which the UK intends to leave.

“The UK’s nuclear power stations would be unable to operate, which could raise the risk of a move back to coal to stem the shortfall in energy production, with impacts on air quality and climate change goals, a huge expansion of fracking or simply a shortfall in energy production,” says the report.

It says that ‘no deal’ would not bring the country to a stop but, even with time to prepare, the impact of Brexit would probably create ‘worst case scenarios’ for some industries. 


Europe > Other Nations > Russia


Putin given powers to hire and fire science academy chief

Russia's parliament has voted for a law giving the president powers to appoint and dismiss the president of the country's Academy of Sciences.

The Russian Federation's state assembly, the Duma, adopted a bill on 19 July to change the procedure for the election of the RAS leader, reported the Russian news agency Tass. 

The legislation requires a candidate to be agreed by a simple majority in the RAS election rather than two-thirds as before. The academy's choice, however, then needs the Russian president's approval.

"Secondary elections of the president of the Russian Academy of Sciences will be held, if the president of the Russian Federation does not approve the elected president for the post," reads the legislation.

The law removes the necessity for at least three candidates to be present for an election to take place, which has been the case upto now.

Furthermore, if no candidate is approved by more than 50 per cent of academy board members, elections will not be held and the Russian president will appoint an academician to head the academy.

In March the academy’s board postponed the election, after all three candidates, including the academy’s then leader, Vladimir Fortov (pictured right), withdrew unexpectedly the night before. Fortov resigned two days later, citing health issues. 

An interim leader, Valery Kozlov, was appointed by Russian president Vladimir Putin. He announced on 11 April that an academy leadership election would take place this autumn, with the president to be named by 26 September.

Putin said that the academy should select candidates who would adhere to the government’s principles.



USA > Universities


Top US public universities are not an engine for social mobility

Only 20 percent of selective public universities in the United States are doing high-quality research while giving low-income students a chance to raise their position in society, a study has found.

A report from the centrist Brookings Institution examined universities in terms of two functions for public education: “laboratories”, meaning that they generate research and knowledge useful to society, and “ladders”, meaning that they provide low-income students with the tools to improve their situation.

The authors of the report, published on 11 July, found that one-fifth of the 340 universities they looked at performed well in both categories. The top three scores went to the University of Texas at El Paso, New Mexico State University and the University of New Orleans.

However, a quarter of universities did badly in both categories. James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia and several public schools in Pennsylvania were among the worst performers.

Some universities did well in one dimension but not the other. A number of City University of New York campuses scored highly as ladders but not labs, while the University of Memphis and the schools of the University of Maine system were good labs, but not ladders.

The authors concluded that their results seemed to confirm an economic axiom stating that government programs do more to help the middle class than the poor.

The study discounted military academies, liberal arts universities, private institutions and historically black universities. 


World > Americas


Brazilian budget cuts risk ‘irrecoverable damage’ to S&T

Further funding cuts to Brazilian science and technology institutions have “strangled” essential research into natural disasters and international projects, says a group of scientists.

Nineteen leaders of ministry of science, technology, innovation and communications research centres issued a joint warning on 11 July that huge cuts to S&T could “threaten [the] existence” of research bodies.

Cumulative cuts since 2014 have seen a 44 per cent cut in federal S&T research programme budgets, which now stand at 2.8 billion reais (€772 million).

Cuts "will cause irrecoverable damage to strategic institutions, costing the Brazilian state essential tools for economic recovery or advance", says the manifesto.

Osvaldo de Moraes, director of the national Centre for Natural Disaster Monitoring and Alerts, said: "This year we will still be able to pay the bills, but if the 2018 budget is the same as this year, do not know how we will survive." The centre’s 6,000 sensors aim to give advance warning of national disasters.

The director of the National Astrophysics Laboratory, Bruno Castilho, said: "The situation is really serious. Not only is research being affected, but the basic operation of the institution."

S&T cuts are part of the government’s current spending overhaul, which will see a 28 per cent cross-the-board reduction for government departments.

Brazilian prime minister Michel Temer has said tough measures are necessary in order to deal with the country’s financial deficit.


World > Asia


Modi challenges researchers to help 'the common man'

India's prime minister Narendra Modi has asked government officials to draw up a list of challenges for the country’s researchers to tackle.

Modi met his top science officials, including Rajagopala Chidambaram, long-serving principal scientific adviser to the government, on 18 July, the prime minister’s office said in a statement.

He asked them to provide him with a list of clear targets for research to “provide solutions to improve the lives of the common man in India”, the statement said.

Modi wants the targets to be achievable by 2022—the 75th year of the partition of India.

According to the statement, Modi told the meeting that science, technology and innovation would be crucial to India’s future prosperity, and that the government’s priority for these fields was to apply them to solving the country’s problems.

Modi highlighted solar energy and food nutrient fortification as priority areas, the statement said. He reportedly told the assembled officials that progress in solar energy should be “pursued to the maximum” to reduce India’s dependence on energy imports.

Other officials at the meeting included Vijay Kumar Saraswat, who was representing NITI Aayog, the National Institution for Transforming India, and the secretaries (top civil servants) from several government science departments, the prime minister’s office said.

The statement said Modi had “strongly emphasised” to the officials that the government needed a means of documenting and replicating successful "grassroots level" innovations. This included innovations stemming from defence personnel, he said.


Japan lags in researcher gender equality

The proportion of female researchers in Japan remains much lower than in other developed countries, according to a report.

Government data show that just 15.3 per cent of researchers working in public institutions and businesses in Japan in March 2016 were women, the Japan Times reported on 19 July.

This is way below international comparators, the report said. The Japanese government’s own data put the equivalent statistics for Russia, the UK and the United States at 40.3 per cent, 37.4 per cent and 34.3 per cent respectively, it said.

However, the Japanese figure was up by 0.6 percentage points on the previous year, the paper reported. It said there were 138,420 female researchers in Japan last year—2,214 more than in 2015.

Most of them, about 85,000, were working in educational institutions, the report said. About 46,000 were in businesses, and 7,500 in non-profit organisations and public institutions.


China to share X-ray satellite data

The Chinese government has decided to open up data from its first X-ray satellite to researchers all over the world.

An article in China Daily revealed plans to share data sets from the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope, brought into orbit in June. The data gathered by the satellite is expected to improve understanding of black holes and magnetic fields in space.

However, before the data-gathering procedure starts, the satellite will have to be calibrated, said Song Liming, a scientist at China’s Institute of High Energy Physics, who designed the satellite.

Song said that all data would be published freely with one year delay to give the project participants a head start on their research. Once the grace period is over, “even middle-school students will be able to download our data, if they are interested”, he was quoted as saying in the article.

The first annual observation plan for the satellite is already filled with research projects based at institutes related to the Chinese Academy of Sciences and local universities. But Song said that further proposals, including from international researchers, were being sought.

The first data sets from the satellite are expected to arrive in November.


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