Bristol Research: taking stock and looking ahead

Joining the University of Bristol as Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise would have been an exciting prospect in any given year, but doing so in 2020 has really brought to life the depth of expertise that exists across the institution.

Thanks to the support of colleagues across our community, I’ve been able to fully immerse myself in Bristol’s vibrant research environment. I’ve also witnessed the University’s hugely impressive and inspiring research response to COVID-19.

Six months into the role, my respect and appreciation for the dedication, skill, and agility with which staff and students contribute to Bristol’s scholarly, educational, and civic endeavour has only grown.

Strategic ambitions

As PVC-R&E, one of my key responsibilities is to shape Bristol’s research and knowledge exchange activity in line with the University’s strategic ambitions. In doing so, I want to ensure that our strategic direction expresses the intellectual curiosity and desire to make a positive impact that drives so many colleagues.

It was clear in my first few days just how strongly Bristol’s culture is rooted in an ethos of community, co-production, and social responsibility. It’s important that our institution-level thinking reflects these qualities, and our motivations for doing research.

The Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus, for instance, is a fantastic example of how the University can both serve our local and global communities and deliver on our civic, business and research ambitions. It will set the stage for us to develop future relationships and collaborations and represents an exciting new chapter for our University. I aim to ensure that it remains very much rooted in a shared academic vision that helps us foster innovation and positive civic impact across the board.

Striking the right balance

As a world-class research institution, I see our university as an exceptionally skilled tight-rope walker; one able to successfully bridge daunting rifts due to our ability to retain and recalibrate a delicate balance. This is the balance between discovery-led research that helps define the challenges of the future, and challenge-led research, which helps to address and solve existing ones. It is also the balance between interdisciplinary excellence and its roots in strong core disciplines.

What it’s not, however, is the status quo. Rather, this ability to recognise the need for adjustment and responsiveness helps us find ways to reach an equilibrium that is inclusive, diverse, and all the stronger for it.

What’s next?

A key priority for the coming weeks and months is to focus on what further immediate support can be provided to help mitigate against COVID-related research and enterprise disruption.

I will also work with colleagues to ensure that the quality of Bristol’s research base receives the recognition it deserves, for instance via the Research Excellence Framework, and that we are ready to respond to whatever new research landscape is shaped by Brexit.

Longer-term, I’m looking forward to working closely with colleagues and students across the University to determine a strategic institutional approach for how our fantastic research portfolio can help address key structural issues linked with, or caused by, challenges such as Brexit, climate change, or persistent social inequalities.

I want to celebrate our unique strengths by raising the profile of the University’s research and enterprise activities, both within the institution and beyond. To do so, I’ll engage with a wide range of partners, develop strategies to further enhance these strengths and explore how they can be translated into positive societal impact at the regional, national, and international level.

My own research area, in which I have worked for over 25 years, is energy systems. Pursuing ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions and becoming carbon neutral by 2050 happens to be a great example of where further defining and supporting existing focus areas of Bristol’s research base can help address global challenges in a sustainable and fair way.

Our region is already a hub for climate expertise and Bristol was the first university in the UK to declare a climate emergency. We are also fortunate to have strong partnerships with excellent external organisations such as the Met Office. This all means we are very well placed to be at the forefront of helping to develop real world solutions to meeting ‘net zero’.

I want to identify other research areas where this type of targeted curation of established focal areas of excellence, in combination with nurturing emerging distinguished fields, can help raise our institutional profile and scale up our ambitions.

There’s no doubt this has been a uniquely challenging time for the University, but in looking ahead to the next six months and beyond, I want to ensure that we make the most of what we’ve learned during these most difficult months. The interdisciplinary, challenge-led approach personified by Bristol UNCOVER and ReCOVer are obvious examples. I want us to retain as much of the positive learning and agility we’ve gained over the last year and apply best practice to how we work together going forward.

I look forward to meeting many more of you over the coming months and to continue learning more about the incredible research happening at Bristol.

 

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