[Professor Richard Jones – Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research & Innovation, University of Sheffield - RJ]
Many challenges face us as a society, not just us, but global societies too. These challenges are very large, we are talking about big problems. Getting to a state where we’ve got ample energy supplied in a sustainable way, it’s not something that we’re going to do by deploying technology that we have now over the next ten years. We’re going to need entirely new technologies.
One of the biggest issues that we in the West are facing is that our societies are getting older and we know there are lots of very difficult diseases that come with old age. It’s going to be a big challenge for us I think to make sure that the society we have, is still able to make use of the talents of people who have been around a bit and we don’t end up with those people being dependent. If we start to think about what are the technologies that would need to be deployed in 2030 or 2040, we don’t even know what they are.
[Professor Dave Delpy – Chief Executive, EPSRC - DD]
One of the most important elements of EPSRC strategy is making sure that we really do deliver impact.
Something that people used to say about British science was that we were very good at doing basic science and getting the Nobel prizes, but we never translated that into products and services. And I think that’s unfair, I think the record bears out the fact that actually UK science is very well engaged with industry. But there is a bit of scope for researchers to have a bit of help in understanding what the big issues are.
The impact that our research has, knowledge transfer as it used to be called, we originally achieved by having separate programmes. It has now become such a routine element of all of the research that we do, that we are going to embed it all the way through every element of research grant applications, large scale programmes and of the training that we do. It is just a part of routine research that you not only develop your knowledge, but you think about where that knowledge can be applied.
[Professor Julia King – Vice Chancellor, Aston University - JK]
One of the things that I see that is critically important in translating research into industry, and I saw it when I worked at Rolls-Royce, was actually people recognising what the other environment was like. When you worked on some type of quite esoteric academic research that was applicable in industry, it was very easy to continue on down pathways that weren’t actually delivering anything industry could use. They would be continuously coming to us and saying that they developed this really clever bit of software that would do something amazing in computational fluid dynamics or aerodynamics, or whatever it was, and they didn’t understand that we worked with enormously expensive company-wide integrated software systems and however clever some little bit of software they designed was, you couldn’t actually put it into our system without spending an enormous amount of money. To understand the challenges of implementing ideas for real can be enormously helpful in making sure our research actually delivers for moving the country forward.
I don’t really except that there are two classes of scientists, one doing pure work not really thinking about mundane worldly things and the other one focused on profit and products. I don’t think, if we look back at history, it’s a distinction that held up. Many of the people that we think of as being very pure scientists, who are doing very fundamental research, were actually at the time very much interested in real problems that were concerning their societies at that time.
As the financial situation has tightened and the funding that we have available has inevitably reduced, it has been essential to identify those elements of our research base which are really internationally - leading and ensure that we both maintain that excellence, but also get the right people in with the right resources at the right time, to ensure that the research is great, but it also meets national capabilities and national requirements.
[Jack Boyer – Chairman, IIika Plc - JB]
The move to sponsorship that the EPSRC is undertaking is eminently sensible. It is in fact a concept that is already applied in other major institutions, for example theNSF in the US or the Wellcome Trust here in the UK, but to a certain extent you see this in Germany with various institutions over there and in fact it should very much be seen as a way of maximising the effectiveness of the research base.
The world research environment is changing and you can see that in the huge rise in science in China. In my own area of nanotechnology you can see this massive explosion, first of funding into science in China and then the product of that in terms of outputs and papers coming out of Chinese laboratories. So there is no doubt that the balance of power in the world shifted. We don’t have the same weight of resources that countries that are much bigger than us with much bigger economies have to throw at science, but I don’t think that we should underestimate what we can do.
A further theme that is essential to our future is that of developing leaders. Developing leaders is about identifying those individuals in our research community who really can set the research agenda, who can inspire the communities that work with them and who can help us really set that research agenda.
We now need not only the leaders that can keep the team together, but we actually need leaders who can get out and really sell a very exciting message.
We’ll be not only just identifying them, we will be working with them, we will be nurturing them and we’ll be ensuring that they are provided with the skills which will strengthen their ability to do that.
As funding gets harder to get, as research proposals get more challenging to put together, they need more people contributing to them. There’s leadership in the form of making a team work together, there’s leadership in the form of making sure the project management works and there’s leadership in the form on keeping the team or a dispersed team very focused on delivery.
What’s important is that younger scientists flourish, develop their own careers and set out new exciting areas of research that really do make a difference to the problems that we are going to have as a society over the next ten to 15 years. People are actually expecting a lot from science at the moment and so it’s good to be challenged to deliver to that expectation and I think that scientists, the universities and research councils need to work in partnership to meet those expectations.