The digital economy program encompasses five universities (Nottingham, Cambridge, Reading, Exeter and Brunel) with numerous Doctoral Training Centres (DTC) training ‘the next generation of researchers’. I’m quite fortunate to be at the Nottingham Digital Economy DTC, which is rare in that it has a combined research hub and DTC. From time to time the hubs and DTCs get together in conference, where the collective research efforts and outputs is demonstrated. However every so often the research council – i.e. the people that write the checks – wish to see the results of their labours.
Due to the nature of the PhD programs – in a cohort, as opposed to individual working – they wished to understand value for money, more specifically the research impact that the programmes have had. The format for this was a poster/live demonstration of gadgets, followed by an interview session with some direct, searching questions. It quickly became apparent the role of the DTC staff was multifaceted, focusing not just on research and supervision but deftly dealing with the work associated with the DTC. Having a window into this world offered a very different perspective on the process of research councils, from the council’s expectations to the reality of research output and the seemingly intangible process of ascertaining ‘impact’ – Impact seemingly being if you’ve done something useful and interesting.
Meeting the other DTCs with the twist of funders and assessors was a good break from the usual, made special that it only happens every few years. The only downside of the process was the EPRSC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) was based in tragic town of Swindon. However the bods have pulled a bit of a wheeze by placing the building next to the train station, adding a dedicated footbridge. This means, if day tripping, you don’t physically have to enter the town. Instead you walk in the footbridge (from the set of Threads) direct to the centre, unfortunately without seeing the famous Swindon vistas! All in all a good day all around!