Talking hay while the sun shines

Dr Geeta Ludhra, exploring the smell of hay.

Dr Geeta Ludhra, Dadima’s CIC.

“Ah, Mitti Matters!” Dr Geeta Ludhra was responding enthusiastically to my clumsy attempts to explain the value of floodplain meadows.

‘Mitti’ (मिट्टी), Geeta explained, is the Panjabi word for soil. The word ‘mitti’ evokes ancestral land memories for many first and second-generation British South Asians like Geeta, through family histories and nostalgic stories that the elders carried with them from the Motherland. It can hold a deep spiritual and inter-generational dimension of Panjabi folk traditions and celebrations of festivals like Lohri and Vaisakhi.

And Mitti really does matter to Geeta, her identity, her family history and her connections to landscapes. Once Geeta had explained this to me ‘Mitti Matters’ had to be the name of our latest project.

In late May 2024 colleagues from the Floodplain Meadows Partnership and the Open University had the pleasure and privilege of walking with members of the Dadima’s Community Walking Group and other walkers as a contribution to Mitti Matters.

Alongside Geeta, Open University ecologists (David Gowing, Vicky Bowskill and Emma Rothero) helped me to plan our walk together. Emma, David and Vicky led the walk on the day, sharing scientific and cultural information, and answering questions.

A group of walkers and scientists in a hay meadow.

Walkers from Dadima’s CIC, and scientists from the Open University, in a hay meadow. Credit: Sivi Sivanesan.

Continue reading

Riff-ing again on the REF Consultation

Professor Richard Holliman, The Open University.

Professor Richard Holliman, The Open University.

The Research Excellence Framework is an exercise in identifying and rewarding excellence in research. It is, of course, also about resource allocation and therefore longer-term planning for research.

Hence, whether we like it or not, REF 2021 (like research assessments before it) will result in cultural and organisational changes in UK universities. For those who do well, REF 2021 will lead to changes, effects and (we hope) benefits to the ways these UK universities, Units of Assessment (UoAs) and the researchers working for them conduct research, and how they engage with non-academic beneficiaries and derive social and/or economic impacts from it. For those who do badly, research will have to be funded from sources other than QR; either that or this work could be de-prioritised.

Research Excellence Framework - REF 2021.

Research Excellence Framework – REF 2021.

Given the power of the REF to shape research priorities, it is important that the assessment system is equitable, and that the guidance promotes rigour, fairness, transparency and consistency. Although it doesn’t specifically say so in the documentation, it seems reasonable to assume that the current REF 2021 Consultation is an attempt to promote these principles.

It’s fair to note up front, therefore, that this post is prompted by some significant concerns about the current guidance and what it could mean, in particular, for the research impact agenda.

My principle concern in what follows is that the REF should not be about ‘boundary work’; setting up de facto restrictive practices prior to the assessment process that unfairly favours one set of impact-generating practices over another.

Continue reading

Women and STEM – a close encounter of the political kind

Photo of Clem Herman

Clem Herman is a Senior Lecturer in the Dept. of Computing and Communications, Open University

A couple of months ago I was asked to give evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee as part of their enquiry into Women and STEM. What they wanted to know was why there was still a problem for women in achieving senior levels in STEM academic careers. Having recently led the OU’s successful submission for an Athena SWAN Bronze Award and having researched and written about gender and STEM for many years, I was asked to represent the OU and discuss what universities can do to help alleviate this situation.

Continue reading

Engaged Futures consultation and NCCPE blog

NCCPE Blog post: An Engaging thesis

NCCPE Blog post: An Engaging thesis

The National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) is running an Engaged Futures consultation.  Alongside, and partly in coordination with this consultation, the NCCPE have launched a blog (NCCPE’s blog).  

The NCCPE team invited various stakeholders to contribute a post to the new blog as part of the Engaged Futures consultation.  Authors were asked to imagine a future for some aspect of engaged research.

My contribution was based on an imagined future for postgraduate research and it titled ‘An engaging thesis‘.  The NCCPE team are keen to start a discussion around these articles, which will grow in number in the coming weeks, so feel free to comment, circulate, etc.