Heriot-Watt Crucible V Session 1

My invitation to participate in the Heriot-Watt Crucible V came only a couple of days before the event, so I had to put together a poster advertising my career and interests in an evening and find someone who would print it the next day. Newcastle University Print Services came through with a really smart canvas print in spite of it taking a few attempts to get a file to them that they could open. Powerpoint is really quick and makes putting a poster together simple, but it is not ideal for high-resolution prints; next time it is Illustrator all the way.

Heriot-Watt Crucible Poster

Poster for Heriot-Watt Crucible V

Day one of the event was held in the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s fantastic building off George Street and we were facilitated by the excellent Vivienne Parry, famous in my mind as one of the hosts of Tomorrow’s World when I was a child.  The first day was focused on introducing the participants to each other through the medium of the scientific poster. I saw some great examples of design, and some amusing scribbles drawn by participants who hadn’t had time to prepare anything. I was particularly impressed by the presentation by one of the architects. His poster consisted of a blank sheet of paper, on which he stuck pamphlets and promotional materials from the projects he had worked on as he described them. It was a really effective example of an interactive presentation.

The afternoon sessions were focused on tips for interacting with the various branches of the media we may encounter as academics. Social media, traditional print media, and television were all covered, with a nice anecdote laced talk from Vivienne Parry.  The talk from the print journalist reminded me of one I attended during my D. Phil, given by Tim Radford, who was then the science editor at the Guardian. The message hasn’t changed in ten years, ‘Journalists and editors want stories that sell papers, so they can sell advertising space to make money. Sex, celebrity, misery, pestilence and disaster sell.’ Although the economics and media environment have changed drastically since then, papers still have the same mission. One of the attendees had a date with Scottish Newsnight this week and we were warned not to appear on Newsnight in terms that reminded me of the Ben Swain interview from The Thick of It.

Child care intervened and meant I had to get the last train home before the networking dinner.

Day two was at the beautiful Scottish Parliament Building and focused on interactions between academia and policy, and the funding environment in Scotland. The policy stuff wasn’t particularly encouraging, with the reinforcement of my belief that politicians want scientific evidence that suits their views and are not massively interested in evidence based policy. Civil servants and the treasury seem to be most open to EBP, but that is understandable given their interest in saving money and effort.  The introduction to SPICe, the Scottish Parliament Information Centre, their research arm, was interesting primarily because of the revelation that of the 38 researchers working there, not one is a scientist. It wasn’t clear whether this is because scientists are happy to consult directly, or was due to a fundamental issue with staffing. The SP has no equivalent of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, which is concerning, when you consider that Scotland punches well above its weight in research grant receipts from the UKRC and the ERC.

There was an interesting discussion of how the research funding environment would look in the event of a vote in favour of full independence. The options put forward all looked like they would fail based on opposition from the Tories in Westminster, but this is clearly an area of some concern among the Scottish Universities. Although I work in Edinburgh, I’m English and I live in England; I have an interest in the debate, but I don’t have a valid platform to discuss devolution, so I won’t weigh in on whether I think it’ll happen or not.

It is difficult to pin down what I took away from the first days of this Crucible. As the event is sponsored and arranged by Heriot-Watt, there is an obvious bias towards topics of interest to participants from the host organisation, but the organisers did a good job of making the content of those sessions given by H-W staff fairly general and accessible. The demographic of participants showed a clear bias towards academics from the school of built environment and humanities. There were a good number of scientists present, especially from Edinburgh University and the research institutes. Everyone was really engaging and interested in the other participants, and I think we have a strong cohort. The Crucibles are sold as an excellent networking opportunity for future research leaders, and I would say that’s true from these sessions.

I’m looking forward to session two at the School of Textiles in Galashiels and the Moredun Institute in Edinburgh; more opportunities to interact with my fellow Cruciblists and to find some common ground for collaboration.

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