Engineering Strategic Advisory Team meeting September 2016

The 18th meeting of the Engineering Strategic Advisory Team.

Lydiard Conference Centre, Swindon

For the 18th meeting of Engineering Strategic Advisory Team (SAT).
Held on Thursday, 15th September 2016 at Lydiard Conference Centre, Swindon.

Thursday, 15th September 2016


Arrival and coffee (30 min)

10:00 – 10:45

Introduction – Theme Update (45 min)

Kedar Pandya, Elaine Massung, Jakob Sprickerhof

10:45 – 11:20

International Strategy (35 min)

Neil Bateman

11:20 – 11:30

Break (10 min)

11:30 – 13:00

Balancing Capability (1.5 h)

Daniel Smith

13:00 – 13:45

Lunch (45 min)

13:45 – 15:15

Building Leadership (1.5 h)

Kate Reading

15:15 – 15:30

Afternoon Tea (15 min)

15:30 – 15:45

Q&A with Andrew Lawrence (15 min)

Andrew Lawrence

15:45 – 16:00

Closing comments

Ruth Mallors-Ray



Theme Update

Ruth Mallors-Ray opened the meeting by welcoming the attendees. Kedar Pandya presented an update on activities within the Engineering theme, and from across the EPSRC. The Engineering update included staff changes within the team (introducing the new theme lead of Engineering, Andrew Lawrence), updates on strategic activities (Balancing Capability, Building Leadership, the Early Career Forum, current calls, Grand Challenges), the results of the Frontier Engineering mid-term reviews and the Engineering Capital Roadmap. Kedar also provided an executive update in his new position as a member of the Executive Leadership Team (ELT) and a brief summary of the agenda for the upcoming Council meeting.

The EPSRC update emphasised the focus on the 60:40 “bottom-up” approach to funding, the new Grants System (April 2018 launch), UKRI, Brexit and briefly bids for the autumn statement and International strategy (Global Challenge Research Fund, GCRF).

Actions from this update:

  • Circulate information about new Grants System and update as needed to enable SAT to act as advocates, including details of upcoming workshops (Sinead Balgobin to circulate, and liaise with Susan Soulsby)
  • Circulate central RCUK Q&A about Brexit to SAT, as well as a link to the EPSRC and InnovateUK evidence (Sinead)
  • Circulate council posters to SAT (Sinead)
  • Invite colleagues from across EPSRC or RCUK to update the SAT about Brexit at a future SAT meeting (Sinead)

Elaine Massung updated the SAT on Robotics and the Engineering Infrastructure strategy, Jakob Sprickerhof updated on Equality and Diversity (slides are available for these updates) and Alicia Kim on the Engineering Early Career Forum.

Actions from these updates:

  • Robotics update at next SAT meeting (Elaine Massung)
  • Raise awareness of (Sinead to circulate link to SAT, Vicki Marshall to include in Engineering Theme corporate slides)
  • Include Infrastructure strategy at future SAT meeting (Carol McAnally)
  • Clarify University Partnership Framework Development in E&D (Jakob Sprickerhof)
  • Include SAT in E&D Case Study collation- gather case studies from SAT (Jakob to work with SAT members)

International Strategy

Neil Bateman (Energy Theme) updated the SAT on the International Strategy that Engineering will be adopting (aligned across Energy, Engineering, Manufacturing the Future and RIDE (Research and Innovation for our Dynamic Environment)),  as well as the NSF-EPSRC Lead Agency Agreement, upcoming calls and information about the GCRF. The SAT were asked to comment on the appropriateness of the strategy and to advise whether the Engineering community was ready to respond to the GCRF opportunities. The main comments given by the SAT were:

  1. The SAT had a positive response to the proposed strategy; it is appropriate for the theme, and the executive should keep the strategy broad and inclusive
  2. Better dissemination of information around international activities; the community needs time to mobilise. Are there case studies of best practice to help the community to understand how they can engage?
  3. More advice on how to approach international activities; how can the Engineering community can engage with overseas contacts (UKTI/Embassies/SIN)?
  4. Consider intended and unintended consequences of international activities
  5. Some research areas have research already in ODA remit; for others this is less obvious

Actions from this session

  • SAT to input advice to help produce a “Guide to International Research Opportunities for the Engineering Community” (Katie)
  • Look at opportunities to engage with RAEng regarding their international strategy (Katie, Sinead to investigate possibility of inviting an RAEng representative to a future SAT meeting)
  • Share success of NSF-EPSRC Lead Agency Agreement more broadly (Katie to look at International communication strategy)
  • The Engineering team to put together some case studies on International activities
  • Katie to consider the broader impacts of international activities (potentially using a subset of the SAT)

Balancing Capability

Daniel Smith led the session on Balancing Capability. The SAT noted the remaining corporate timeline with respect to publishing the new rationales for each research area. This included an overview of the forward communication plans and activities. Based on this the SAT advised on how to maximise communication of the balancing capability project outcomes to business.

The advice from the last meeting was summarised along with actions and decisions made in the interim period between SAT meetings. The executive presented the response to the questions set by the SAT at its July meeting. The SAT noted this response and advised that the newly proposed action category for Combustion Engineering (Maintain) was appropriate. Further to this, the Executive updated the SAT on the output from a Manufacturing the Future and Engineering SAT sub-group that had considered the strategic focus for Particle Technology as well as agreeing that Reduce was appropriate. The SAT also noted this and highlighted that this was case of good working practice from across advisory streams.

The SAT were asked to revisit advice on six of the largest Engineering research areas prompted by an organisationally wide request arising from the Strategic Advisory Network working group on Balancing Capability. The areas were: Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering; Clinical Technologies; Fluid Dynamics and Aerodynamics; Metals and Alloys; Performance and Inspection of Mechanical Structures and Systems and Process Systems: components and integration.

The SAT reviewed the advice from its July discussion and the evidence received on each of these areas in turn and discussed if the ‘Maintain’ action categories were still appropriate. The SAT reflected on their advice, reaffirmed their positions that Maintain for all six was appropriate and provided clear advice on the strategic focus on four of the areas (Fluid Dynamics and Aerodynamics; Metals and Alloys; Performance and Inspection of Mechanical Structures and Systems and Process Systems: components and integration).

The SAT noted the proposed action categories of all 26 areas from across the Engineering theme and provided advice on ensuring appropriate interactions between interlinked research area strategies. SAT members acknowledged the overall process and that due diligence had been carried out with respect to all of the decisions made by the executive.  The SAT also highlighted the need to ‘monitor as we go’ in the context of preparing the evidence base for next time and asked the team to consider a process to enable this e.g. influencing framing of reports/stimulating new reports ahead of time.

Actions from this session

  • Opportunity for SAT to provide comments on any of the 111 EPSRC research areas before 28th September 2016 (SAT)
  • Executive to consider broadening audience for Balancing communications (e.g. KTNs, trade bodies) (Daniel, opportunity to liaise with SAT for input)
  • Executive to consider a process for monitoring Balancing Capability/preparing of the evidence base in advance over the course of the Delivery Plan (Daniel)

Building Leadership

Kate Reading led a session discussing the balance of people in research. The SAT was asked to offer contextual advice on the roles of PhDs and Post-Doctoral researchers in Engineering. Key comments made by the SAT were:

  1. PhDs and PDRAs are at different levels of experience, so contribute differently to e.g. collaboration and innovation
  2. Added value of PDRA is leadership/experience, can “hit the ground running” with research
  3. A major challenge is recruitment not aligning with grant application timelines (PDRAs), along with career uncertainty / lack of continuity of funding / lack of career stability for postdocs
  4. Cost is a factor- PDRAs are expensive
  5. The current state of the economy and the impact on the number of engineering jobs affects recruitment.  The impact of tuition fees was also mentioned e.g. can’t afford to do a PhD.
  6. Lots of mechanisms to get PhDs, not the same for PDRAs
  7. Need an appropriate mix of PhDs and Post-Docs to maintain a healthy dynamic in a lab
  8. Also important to have mix of group experience (e.g. PhDs getting post-docs in the same lab vs. new recruits)
  9. The role of senior academics is important i.e. appropriate advice given on career paths / choices (can sometimes be a negative influence)
  10. Appropriate ratio of PhD:Post-Doctoral researchers is dependent on both research area/subdiscipline and the supervisor
  11. Some discussion on CDTs – good model but can have unintended consequences for areas without a CDT

Actions from this session

  • Revisit this topic at a future SAT meeting, after SAN and Council discussions (Sinead to include in future SAT agenda)

Michelle Lascelles gave and update about First Grants and Fellowships.

Theme Lead Q&A

Ruth Mallors-Ray began by acknowledging Kedar’s period as Engineering theme lead and the SAT thanked him for his dedication over the past four years. The new Engineering theme lead, Andrew Lawrence, then addressed the SAT as the new Engineering Theme lead in a round-table discussion. He highlighted the key priorities for EPSRC and Engineering over the coming year and explained how the team would like to work with the SAT.

Chair’ Summary

Ruth Mallors-Ray summarised the main actions and discussions from the meeting.

Actions from this session

  • Communicate dates for upcoming SAT meetings for the year ahead (Sinead)
  • Executive to explore options to engage with SAT outside of meetings (Sinead, Engineering Team)