Since I started my monthly series of events to mark the highest levels of academic achievement across the University, we have had no shortage of people and awards to celebrate – and November was no exception. For our latest Provost Celebration of Academic Achievement held on the 21 November, we celebrated the fantastic news of the £8.2 million renewal award received for the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) over the next five years from Wellcome and the Medical Research Council (MRC). This funding, along with University support, will enable ALSPAC to continue its vitally important international research into health, wellbeing and social science using data and samples collected from thousands of families at a key time in the lives, marking a whole series of life events which have often been understudied.
For the next in the series of Provost Celebration of Academic Achievements on the 24 October 2019, we moved from celebrating research grant successes to celebrating significant successes in teaching and learning and student satisfaction.
Lucy, described by her students as ‘a fantastic lecturer’, ‘really enthusiastic and engaging’ and ‘motivated and motivating’, received a National Teaching Fellowship(?) in recognition of her outstanding impact on student outcomes and the teaching profession. Ki and the CfIE team received a Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE). The Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is educating the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs, helping them to develop the adaptability, transdisciplinary and innovative thinking to make positive differences in an ever-changing world. This is achieved through an innovative, collaborative, interdisciplinary team of academics and industry professionals, who passionately engage with students as co-creators.
Colleagues also gathered together to celebrate the University’s success in the 2019 National Student Survey (NSS) where the University of Bristol achieved a score of 85% overall satisfaction, which meant our overall student satisfaction score had risen by 3% compared to 2018 and was 1% above the national average.
The results show that the University has recovered ground compared to last year. 26 programmes at Bristol scored above 90% for satisfaction, with Veterinary Sciences scoring 99% and Biochemistry, Chemistry and Engineering Design achieving 100%. Subjects at the University featured in the top quartile of universities in every question set: for example, 10 subjects were in the top quartile for Organisation and management and six for Overall satisfaction. Areas that remained consistently strong were teaching on a student’s course (at 86%); students being able to contact staff when needed (at 89%); and the value placed on the University’s learning resources (87%).
More specifically, across the Teaching section, 23 programmes scored 100% with students commenting, ‘Staff are good at explaining things’ (Anthropology, Cellular & Molecular Medicine, Chemistry with Industrial Experience/Study Abroad, Childhood Studies, Engineering Design, Film and Television, French and Italian, French, Music, Pharmacology, Philosophy, Religion and Theology, Social Policy with Criminology, Theatre and Performance Studies, Zoology), or ‘Staff have made the subject interesting’ (Biology, Classical Studies, Engineering Design, French and German, French and Italian, French, Music, Politics and Sociology). Other remarks from students were; ‘The course is intellectually stimulating’ (Anthropology, Archaeology and Anthropology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Engineering Design, Pharmacology, Politics and Sociology) and ‘My course has challenged me to achieve my best work’ (Chemistry with study abroad, Engineering Design). A further 33 programmes received a score 90% or above in at least one of the four Teaching questions.
In terms of Academic Support, an area where we had asked schools to focus, 15 programmes scored 100% in response to a question, ‘I have been able to contact staff when I needed to’ and a further 21 programmes scored 90-99% for the same question. Assessment and feedback scores continue to be a challenge; the University performed less well in comparison to the sector but we are continuing to focus on this key area in order to bring about positive changes.
So thank you to everyone involved, from our National Teaching Fellows, CATE team winners, 2019 Best of Bristol lecturers and Bristol Teaching Award winners, to School and Faculty Education Directors and Education Services staff, for investing in our students’ learning and satisfaction to achieve these excellent results.
I was really proud that the University marked this year’s Black History Month with such an exciting and varied programme of activities. Together, we celebrated the University’s connection to Bristol as a city and brought our students and staff into contact with the history and contribution of Black people to Britain.
The month’s events included:
a weekly heritage trail which took students and staff through the St Pauls community to see and learn about the painted murals of the Seven Saints;
the launch of the CARGO project, an immersive arts installation looking at Bristol and the African Diaspora’s histories and shared legacies;
a high-profile lecture from historian Professor David Olusoga on Windrush and its place within the context of Black British history.
These events were led by the Bristol SU BME Network in collaboration with the BME Success Programme;thanks and congratulations to both teams, and to all who took part.
Our commitment to exploring our Black history mustn’t – and doesn’t – stop with the end of Black History Month. We need to continue to work with staff, students and communities in our city to help the University better understand its past and use that knowledge to shape our future. That’s why I am particularly pleased to announce that the University of Bristol has appointed its first Professor ofthe History of Slavery.
Professor Olivette Otele, the UK’s first female black history professor, will take up her new role from 1 January 2020 and will be based at the University’s School of Humanities and Centre for Black Humanities. This new role provides us with a unique and important opportunity to critically interrogate the University’s historical links to the transatlantic slave tradeand to consider with communities in the University and the city how best to address its legacy.
Professor Otele’s research examines the various legacies of colonial pasts, understanding trauma, recovery and social cohesion, but also amnesia and reluctance to address various aspects of colonial legacies. She has been working on these complex and sensitive questions for nearly two decades. She aims to produce a rigorous and extensive piece of research that will be relevant to the University andto the city, and something that will be a landmark in the way Britain examines, acknowledges and teaches the history of enslavement. One of her first tasks in her role as Professor of the History of Slavery will be to undertake a two-year research project on the University of Bristol’s and the wider city’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade.
The role complements the work of our BME Success Programme, which seeks to ensure that our teaching and learning are more inclusive, and our Race Equality Charter work, which seeks to foster a more inclusive workplace for our staff. Together, these initiatives promise to bring about real and lasting change and to create a truly inclusive university community.
On the 26 September 2019 we had our first Provost Celebration of Academic Achievement of the new academic year, where we celebrated the hugely successful Horizon 2020 Awards.
If you aren’t already aware, Horizon 2020 is the European Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. It’s worth €80 billion and has been running since 2014 (ends 2020). The programme is unique in its size and scope and gives us the opportunity to not only engage in blue sky research across all research disciplines, but also to bring the brightest early career researchers to Bristol and to collaborate with the best researchers around Europe and the world.
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of leading a University delegation to Brussels were we hosted two very differing but complementary events.
Not to negotiate a withdrawal agreement, I hasten to add – quite the opposite – but of course the ‘B’ word was mentioned on a regular basis!
In the morning we welcomed guests from a variety of EU, European Commission, UK and other member state bodies with interests in research and innovation policy to an interactive event to highlight the University’s strengths in research and underline our commitment to ongoing collaborations in Europe.
Headlined ‘Combining R&I capabilities in Europe to meet the world’s challenges’ it was a chance for our seven Specialist Research Institutes (SRIs) to showcase their world-leading specialised research programmes. I was delighted that we had representatives from each to lead a speed-networking session with guests to explain more about their cross-disciplinary work – aligning research fields with regional, national, and international priorities and ambitions to meet the demands of government, business and society.
The morning also included a fascinating panel debate on the EU Research and Innovation landscape with guests from the European University Association, Swedish R&D sponsors Vinnova, the European Commission and Brussels-based Science|Business all joining me on stage.
The event ended with an update by Inga Benner, Deputy Director of the UK Research Office (UKRI’s agency in Brussels), on the current arrangements to facilitate continued UK engagement in EU Research and Innovation in the context of Brexit.
Despite the continuing twists and turns of Brexit, the workshop felt timely, and it reassured all present that, irrespective of the current political turmoil, we at Bristol are totally committed to building on our research relationships in Europe and continuing to work with the very best researchers from across the continent and beyond.
I made the point to a number of Brussels audiences that we have a key role in Bristol at this time to enable and grow partnerships and cohesion, both locally and internationally. We must seize the opportunity to be bold and embrace new ways of working together. And of course, as well as continuing to develop our collaborative research endeavours such as our SRIs, we are building a new University campus in the very heart of Bristol in partnership with our city, its communities and businesses.
This was the theme for our evening event for Brussels-based alumni which was kindly hosted by Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP for the South West, at the European Parliament.
It was great to meet a wide range of alumni of all ages to talk about our exciting future plans as well as reminiscing about the past.
It reinforced to me how lucky we are to be located in a city as progressive, outward-facing and independent as Bristol.
It also reinforced that whatever the outcome of Brexit, we must, and will, continue to be internationalist, civic and collaborative in our approach to research and teaching.
I was delighted to co-host an event last month alongside the Vice-Chancellor to celebrate the recent promotion of new Professors within the University. A full list of those promoted to Professor and Associate Professor, formerly known as Reader, appear at the end of this post: congratulations to all who have achieved these much-deserved promotions.
On Friday 7 June I attended the Bristol Mentors end-of-year thank-you event at Colston Hall to celebrate the achievements and work of our mentors and mentees on the scheme. It seems like no time at all since the programme launched in the Richmond Building back in October 2018, but between now and then a significant amount of time and energy has been invested in the scheme.
Some headline stats for the work that has been undertaken are:
Over 100 applications were submitted for the pilot scheme, and 56 student mentees accepted onto the cohort.
Over 300 hours of time have been given up by mentors this year.
The majority of the cohort has been able to arrange invaluable shadowing, work experience and networking opportunities, helping to equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the future.
For those of you who are not aware, the Bristol Mentors programme emerged partly from the desire of alumni to give back, and partly because students wanted to learn from graduates who had been there before them. The programme is funded via the University’s Access Agreement and works alongside the Widening Participation and Student Inclusion Team to ensure that students who need support hear about Bristol Mentors. All of our student mentees are from under-represented groups and many have already overcome a level of disadvantage to earn a place to study here.
Bristol Mentors has quickly become a crucial new addition to the range of activities that we at the University of Bristol offer to help all students become more employable, with mentors also enabling students to broaden their professional networks. A testament to this is Tien Tonnu, pictured here with her mentor, Sam Rose (Mentor of the Year winner), who gained a spot on a very competitive vacation scheme at a Magic Circle law firm. Tien credits her success in winning a place to the support she received from Sam over the year.
The scheme is a great example of us working as a community – bringing our students and alumni together for mutual benefit. It is also a good example of cross-department collaboration between the Careers team and Development and Alumni Relations. The support of alumni and their voice is hugely important to the University, and this project demonstrates the value of alumni to current students, who describe the scheme in very positive terms:
“A fantastic practical insight”;
“The provision has been second to none”;
“I’m feeling excited and a lot less scared about my future”;
“Taking part [in Bristol Mentors] has been key to my success”;
“I’ve been truly inspired”.
We sincerely hope that some of these students, too, will become Bristol Mentors in the future. After this year’s successful pilot with 56 mentees, we are currently recruiting mentors for the 100 students enrolled in the programme for next year. If you know of any alumni who would like to become mentors, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or click on the Bristol Mentors link for further information.
Finally, none of this would have been possible without the hard work of the students taking part in this programme or the involvement of the alumni, so thank you to everyone involved, with a special thanks to the evening’s organisers: Doug Middling, Alumni Engagement Officer (Widening Participation) and Robbie Fox, Alumni Mentoring Coordinator (Careers).
I have written before about how the extraordinary research taking place at our University seeks creative, unexpected solutions to global challenges that affect us all in our ordinary lives. This is a testament to the rich, interdisciplinary research culture we foster here at Bristol, and our drive to push the boundaries of knowledge through mutual discovery, collaboration and connections.
The University’s Research without Borders festival celebrates those members of the community who are the engines behind these collaborations and innovations: our postgraduate researchers. Often positioned out of sight from the public, they are the ones turning up each day to drive experiments, conversations and studies forward.
Research without Borders 2019 brings together postgraduate researchers from across disciplines to showcase some of the latest research that is taking place here at Bristol, and to celebrate the vital role our research students play in developing our renowned research profile.
And, perhaps more significantly, the festival aims to put this research into conversation with the wider community around us, and to create a space for connecting with our emerging generation of future researchers.
I warmly encourage anyone with an interest in asking questions, embracing surprises, and thinking creatively to attend this year’s Research without Borders events. The line-up is a fantastic multidisciplinary exploration of some of our key areas of research:
9th May:Measurable humans: how good does our digital health look? held in collaboration with the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute and our newly-funded EPSRC Digital Health and Care Centre for Doctoral Training, will be an interdisciplinary exploration of innovations and challenges in the digital health sector.
15th May:Showcase Exhibition at Colston Hall, where over 50 interactive, hands-on displays featuring the work of our postgraduate researchers will take over this iconic Bristol building. The showcase event is always a highlight of the University’s calendar, with something of interest for everyone. This year, we are exploring new ways of communicating research, and have commissioned an artwork with acclaimed artist Zoe Cameron produced in collaboration with some of our students to feature as a centrepiece to reflect on what ‘research without borders’ means.
It is important to remember that the problems our academics, students and peers work on in all universities are issues that are not confined by borders – geographical, disciplinary or otherwise. Today’s complex issues affect us all in one way or another. Research without Borders is a festival which celebrates what happens when we work across borders: whether it is our researchers working across disciplines, or our academic community reaching out across to our city’s community.
I look forward to seeing many of you in attendance at this year’s events, and to hearing your own contributions and insights to the research on offer.
The excellent news for us here at Bristol is that we have been awarded funding to lead a record nine of these Centres.
This is the largest number for any University in the UK and makes up 12 per cent of the nation’s total EPSRC CDT investment – providing around £50m of support to train our future researchers.
Our CDTs span robotics, data science, quantum engineering, digital health, composite materials, chemical synthesis, cyber security, aerosol science and statistics.
This is an enormous achievement and I am delighted with the confidence and support we have received from key industrial partners to equip our researchers with the skills they need to meet the industry needs.
This sector-leading success speaks to the excellence of our research of course, but also to the expertise and quality of our postgraduate research environment, built up over many years and many funding sources, to create and support these cohort-led centres.