Ivory Tower: Another REF return of a celebrity academic
A study in Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. A Research Excellence Framework officer is waiting at the table; Professor X enters.
Officer: Thank you for making time to see me.
Prof X: Anything to help the university.
Officer: I know it’s early in the cycle, but I’d just like to touch base about your plans.
Prof X: For the school?
Officer: For the REF.
Prof X: Is that a supervillain?
Officer: Some think so. We prefer to think of it as an essential tool in the management of performance.
Prof X: Well, I think you’ll find my team is ready to go.
Officer: Can I just check for my records, what is the name of your team?
Prof X: The X-Men.
Prof X: The X-Men, yes.
Officer: I’m not sure you can say that these days.
Prof X: Sorry?
Officer: The university has an Athena Swan bronze, so I’m not sure you can call yourself that.
Prof X: It’s just a name.
Officer: You can’t just employ men. Did you not get the memo on diversity and opportunity?
Prof X: We are a very diverse group.
Officer: Are you?
Prof X: Yes, my team are all mutants.
Officer: Dear oh dear, professor, have you completed the unconscious bias training?
Prof X: I’m telepathic, if that’s what you mean?
Officer: That’s too much information, professor. I would have thought a simply descriptive name for your team would be more appropriate.
Prof X: Such as?
Officer: Well, it would usually be something like, The Centre for Research into bla, bla, bla…
Prof X: We don’t do bla, bla, bla.
Officer: That’s what I’m here to find out. Perhaps you could describe your research.
Prof X: Research?
Officer: Yes, you are a professor with a significant responsibility to conduct research.
Prof X: How long have you got?
Officer: It would be a good idea if you could explain your research to a layman.
Prof X: “Man?”
Prof X: Well, the question of “man” is very important here. You could say I am a specialist in the next stage of human evolution.
Officer: Is that Panel A or Panel B?
Prof X: Some of us have special powers.
Officer: Like a vice-chancellor?
Prof X: Is that a supervillain?
Officer: I couldn’t possibly comment.
Prof X: Some of us will always earn the suspicion and envy of others.
Officer: You mean you have research grants?
Prof X: Many, and we have used them to protect humanity.
Officer: Sounds as if this could be an impact case study.
Prof X: To support those special individuals I founded a school for the gifted.
Officer: Is that like one of those Maths schools?
Prof X: It doesn’t have very many students, if that’s what you mean.
Officer: Teaching quality isn’t really my thing. I’ll leave that one to the OfS.
Prof X: Is that a supervillain?
Officer: Yeah, totally. Can I ask you, professor…. sorry, my records are incomplete, it just says here Professor X.
Prof X: Xavier.
Officer: Are you Spanish?
Prof X: No.
Officer: That’s good.
Prof X: Don’t you like Spaniards?
Officer: Not at all, I was just thinking about the whole EU thing.
Prof X: Don’t you like the EU?
Officer: I just meant, who knows where we will be by the time the next REF comes around.
Prof X: Still not associated with Horizon Europe, probably.
Officer: Can I ask how you came to be a professor?
Prof X: I have PhDs in genetics, biophysics, psychology and anthropology, with a two-year residence at Pembroke College, University of Oxford. I also received an MD in psychiatry while spending several years in London. I was later appointed adjunct professor at Columbia University in New York.
Officer: OK, but that makes you, overqualified, part-time, precarious Contract X, rather than Professor X.
Prof X: It’s all a bit hazy after that.
Officer: OK, tell me, what is it that you and your team do here?
Prof X: We save humanity.
Officer: You mean vaccine research?
Prof X: No, we fly about in a supersonic plane and use our special powers to fight supervillains.
Officer: Unpack that for me. Plane?
Prof X: I designed it myself.
Officer: Right, that’s the aeronautical engineering unit of assessment.
Prof X: The team are interdisciplinary. You should meet them.
Officer: That would be helpful. Are any of them independent researchers?
Prof X: There’s Wolverine, he’s pretty independent.
Officer: Good, and what is Dr Wolverine’s role?
Prof X: He’s an animal.
Officer: If you can refrain from the personal comments, professor. Have they made any kind of scientific breakthrough?
Prof X: Adamantium.
Prof X: He has adamantium claws.
Prof X: Yes, a unique skill.
Officer: It’s certainly unusual for a postdoc. But did I hear you right, “adamantium”?
Prof X: Yes, it’s a special alloy.
Officer: Surely it’s a made-up word that sounds a bit like Adam Ant?
Prof X: It’s closer to Captain America’s vibramium.
Officer: I’m beginning to wonder if you should be in the UoA for chemistry or creative writing. Who else is in your team?
Prof X: Storm.
Officer: Dr Storm?
Prof X: No, but she’s a great teacher, the students love her. Wherever she goes she brings the weather with her.
Officer: Yes, I have an aunt and uncle who are like that. Anyone else in your team who does research?
Prof X: Jean Grey.
Officer: At last, a normal name. What does she do?
Prof X: She has the ability to destroy worlds.
Officer: Is she a peer reviewer?
Prof X: No, she is married to the one we call ‘Cyclops’.
Officer: Look, you really need to do that training. Perhaps, you could just tell me what it is you do?
Prof X: I plug myself into Cerebro.
Officer: I’m sorry I asked.
Prof X: It is a machine of my own creation, which allows me to read the minds of everyone on the planet.
Officer: That’s interesting, have you thought about commercialisation?
Prof X: With great power comes great responsibility.
Officer: Yes, but you must have registered the IP. Surely, you could sell a service to businesses.
Prof X: Like what?
Officer: Advertising? How many people are thinking about having sausages for dinner, or something?
Prof X: I think you really misunderstand our work here. Cerebro has been used by the US government.
Officer: Influencing policymakers, now we’re talking. What did you use it for?
Prof X: To hunt down rogue mutants.
Officer: And you were doing so well.
Prof X: However, my old foe Magneto uses an anti-psychic helmet to prevent me from reading his mind.
Officer: I’m beginning to wonder whether you have ethical clearance for all this.
Prof X: We once worked together but now he is my nemesis.
Officer: You mean you used to co-author papers but now he is the third reviewer?
Prof X: Something like that. Look, I’m rather busy today, is there anything else?
Officer: Yes, finally, can I ask, do you use Researchfish?
Prof X: That is a supervillain, right?
Officer: I think we are done here, professor. Can we expect to see you at the Research Leaders’ Forum?
Prof X: The university will stop my grant if I don’t come, yes?
Prof X: OK, see you on Wednesday.