Ivory Tower: another research return from a celebrity academic
In a university in central London, a research support officer has a meeting.
Officer: Do come in, I’m afraid we’ll need to sit two metres apart, thanks. Take a seat, can I call you Jim?
Jim: You can call me professor.
Officer: If you prefer, it’s an unusual name.
Jim: Professor, or, James?
Officer: Moriarty, is it Irish? I used to know a Fr Moriarty…
Jim: No, don’t ever suggest that.
Officer: OK, that’s fine Jim…er, professor, just thought the whole Irish passport thing might be a positive right now. But this is your meeting and I want you to feel as comfortable as possible.
Jim: Can you close those curtains, you never know who is looking in.
Officer: From the street?
Officer: As you prefer, as I say this is your meeting.
Jim: Is it? You called it.
Officer: Quite, but in many ways it’s your meeting. I want you to take ownership of it, after all it’s not every day you get to talk about your research, especially after such a long absence.
Officer: No, my name’s Robinson, Cretin works on grants. So, first things first, I just wanted to let you know that your special circumstances request to reduce the number of outputs you submit to the REF has been declined by the equality and diversity panel.
Officer: It’s a little surprising, they did seem to accept most cases. You say you have had your research interrupted for five years. Just remind me, what have you been doing?
Jim: Five years.
Officer: Yes, for the last five years, what have been your circumstances?
Jim: I’ve been incarcerated.
Officer: Stuck at home?
Jim: Inconvenienced and for the last time.
Officer: I’m sorry professor, I don’t follow, perhaps you could explain from the beginning. The last record we have for you is that you were going on a research field trip to Switzerland.
Jim: The Reichenbach Falls
Officer: Sounds lovely, I’ve never been myself, but carry on. What did you do there?
Jim: I struggled on the edge with my arch nemesis.
Officer: We all feel like that at work sometimes.
Jim: And I fell into the abyss.
Officer: I understand that this might be painful for you, but it’s good to talk about these things.
Jim: I was drowning.
Officer: Was it the workload?
Jim: I couldn’t breathe under the weight of the torrent falling on top of me.
Officer: The demands of the job can be difficult sometimes.
Jim: I was left for dead but I somehow managed to survive. I took flight.
Officer: Stress can be a real problem, I understand.
Jim: I hid behind a mask. I was in disguise most of the time.
Officer: It’s a more common problem than you think professor.
Jim: However, eventually I was recognised.
Officer: That’s good, and were you able to get help then?
Jim: I was imprisoned for five years.
Officer: It must have felt like that, yes.
Jim: But I eventually escaped and now I’m back.
Officer: That’s the spirit, professor. We are pleased that you are back, and how would you say you were feeling now?
Officer: Interesting way of putting it, but let’s see if we can channel that energy professor. Since your extenuating circumstances have been declined, I wanted to see if there is a way, we can still include you in the REF. You are in the Maths department is that right?
Jim: In a sense.
Officer: And your research is on the binomial theorem. You wrote a book called, The Dynamics of an Asteroid. A while back now, but you haven’t published anything since.
Jim: Professor Moriarty’s book “ascends to such rarefied heights of pure mathematics that it is said that there was no man in the scientific press capable of criticising it.”
Officer: Nice review, who said that?
Officer: Eamonn Holmes, from GMTV? Exciting, I’m wondering if we don’t have a possible case study here.
Jim: It was certainly a case. Dr Watson wrote about it.
Officer: Corroborating peer review, this is excellent news. So tell me more about your work outside the university, you seem to run some sort of spin-out company.
Jim: It’s more of a network.
Officer: Would you say, it’s been impactful?
Jim: I have been the brains behind every successful scheme in this country for years.
Officer: Now, professor, it’s important just to stick to what we can demonstrate. Is there any evidence that you influenced these schemes?
Jim: Of course not, there is never any proof that it was me.
Officer: I know you’ve been away professor, so I’m not sure if you are familiar with how an impact case study works.
Jim: Dr Watson called it “The Case of the Red-Headed League”.
Officer: Ah yes, this Watson, where did he publish his piece?
Jim: In The Strand magazine.
Officer: Is that peer reviewed? Never mind, I’ll check it later. Tell me a little more about the work, who was involved?
Jim: I had a team. They were the best young minds in London.
Officer: Early-career staff box ticked, this is great stuff professor. Did you have any underlying research?
Jim: We dug a tunnel to achieve our goal.
Officer: Yes, that’s how the translation of research into impactful innovation can feel sometimes. Can you describe your process for me?
Jim: We had a man with red hair sit in an office all day copying out the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Officer: Bit of an odd set up, were you working with the psychology department?
Jim: Every day when he went to an office to write, my team used his shop as a base to dig a tunnel into the bank vault across the street.
Officer: Interesting, would you say that the research was interdisciplinary then?
Jim: On the night we were due to achieve our goal our plans were interrupted, and the scheme abandoned.
Officer: That’s a shame. What would you say your goal was?
Officer: Let’s leave that for the panel to decide, we need to stick to the facts. Who would you say were your users?
Jim: Users? I usually use others.
Officer: No, I mean who benefitted for all this?
Jim: Mostly me, I have to say.
Officer: So, was there an output from this work?
Jim: It was in all the papers.
Officer: If you have published papers professor, you really need to place them in the open access repository. That way the research management system picks them up and we get an alert about it. Never mind, tell me what your team are doing now?
Jim: Looking for Holmes.
Officer: Yes, it can be difficult for early-career staff to get on the housing ladder, especially in London. Anyway, I think this could make an excellent case study. A few more details if I may. Over the period, how much money would you say you’ve brought in?
Jim: Billions of pounds.
Officer: No need to exaggerate professor, we just need an accurate figure for the REF. I’m wondering if we could also use your work for the KEF.
Officer: The Knowledge Exchange Framework, it’s like the REF but only for Knowledge Exchange.
Jim: And they say I have no shame.
Officer: I don’t make the rules professor. Would you say your work has implications for the community?
Jim: Of course.
Officer: How so?
Jim: I am respected in every corner of London, every group and syndicate knows my name.
Officer: And if we were to ask them to describe your work, what would they say?
Jim: That I am the Napoleon of crime.
Jim: The police fear me but can never catch me. Only that meddling fool Holmes has…
Jim: You’re not recording this are you?
Officer: There may have been a misunderstanding, I’m beginning to think that you are not an ordinary professor of Mathematics.
Jim: I am a criminal mastermind.
Officer: I see, yes that all makes sense now. Look, I’ll be honest, this is slightly more than I was expecting and it’s going to result in an awful lot of paperwork. So, I was wondering if we could find another way for the university to make best use of your skills.
Jim: I won’t do online teaching.
Officer: Have you ever thought about enrolling on the Tomorrow’s Vice-Chancellors scheme?
Jim: How demanding is it?
Officer: It’s elementary professor, elementary.