Category: Features Page 1 of 5

Let us tell your story: Edinburgh Impact

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Over the past year, teams in Communications and Marketing have been working on a new project to celebrate and share stories from across the University. In this issue, Barbara Morgan, Head of Content in Communications and Marketing, introduces a new website, designed to highlight our amazing community and everything they have been achieving.

The many changes we’ve all encountered to our ways of working this past year, have undoubtedly been challenging and downright difficult. For teams within Communications and Marketing (CAM), alongside those challenges, we’ve found slivers of silver lining, where some things have somehow become a little easier to do.

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Professional Registration for our technicians

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In 2020, more than 30 of our University technicians completed their professional registration, in order to support their career development and gain widespread recognition in their fields. 

Part of the University’s commitment to its technicians is to provide them with support during this process, including the fees needed for the first year. With the upcoming deadline for 2021 applications on 30 April, Bulletin shares a bit more about what’s involved.

Jane Banks is External Relationships Manager at the Science Council – the body responsible for regulating professional registration across all science disciplines. She works closely with the University team that manages the technician commitment.

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Are we sitting (too) comfortably when working at home?*

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Through circumstances beyond our control, the past year has seen a lot of us spend more time sitting than we might have liked. But what does this mean for our health, both mental and physical? In this issue, the team at the Physical Activity for Health Research Centre (PAHRC), based at Moray House School of Education and Sport, share a bit more about their latest research project.

Covid-19 has transformed our working lives. Working from home has become part of the new normal, and for many of us it is unlikely that we will return to the office on a full-time basis.

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Meet our new Chancellor’s Fellows

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In this miniseries, we celebrate the recent appointment of 40 of the University’s most promising early career researchers as Chancellor’s Fellows. This issue, we’re taking the opportunity to meet a few of the Fellows from the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Dr Faye Wade, Dr Kathryn Nash and Dr Lucy Weir talk about the paths they followed into research and what the Chancellor’s Fellowship means for their work.

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Meet our new Chancellor’s Fellows

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In this new miniseries, we celebrate the recent appointment of 40 of the University’s most promising early career researchers as Chancellor’s Fellows. This issue, we’re taking the opportunity to meet a few of the Fellows from the College of Science & Engineering.

Dr Andrew Schurer, Dr Joanna Sadler and Dr Lucia Bandiera talk about what inspired their work, the research community at Edinburgh and what the Chancellor’s Fellowship means to them.

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Getting a little respite

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There’s a long weekend ahead for all staff thanks to the University’s respite days on Good Friday and Easter Monday. This is expected to coincide with the transition from the current Stay at Home order to Stay Local on 2 April, giving everyone a little more freedom to move around while remaining within their own local authority area.

If you’re hoping to go for a change of scenery and somewhere a little different to relax, exercise, or just get a breath of fresh air, bulletin has you covered. We asked a handful of contributors to suggest their favourite, perhaps lesser known but no less highly recommended, outdoor spots and greenspaces.

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It can be paralysing at times: living with depression

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Our health and wellbeing should always a priority – and this has been made even more important due to the impact of Covid-19. It’s important for you to feel confident to talk about your mental health and wellbeing and know what support is available.

In this issue, Melanie Peak, People and Money Systems Trainer in the Service Excellence Programme, shares her experience with depression, and the ways she’s found to keep it at bay in difficult times.

I have suffered with depression since the age of eight. To be honest, I can’t remember what it was like to not have it. To not have to analyse each bad day and wonder if it is the start of another downhill cycle. To not have it always lurking in the shadows behind me. To not fear whether I will have the strength to cope with it this time.

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Our hedgehog friendly campus

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Improving biodiversity is a key part of the University’s commitment to social responsibility and sustainability in the Strategy 2030. The Social Responsibility and Sustainability (SRS) and Estates Landscaping teams team are leading on a host of projects to protect and improve the biodiversity around Edinburgh.

One such project is the Hedgehog Friendly campus which has attracted staff and students alike. This February, the University was awarded a silver accreditation as a Hedgehog Friendly Campus. The project also helped to secure the Campus of the Future Award at the annual Green Gown Awards in recognition of its innovative work to improve biodiversity and climate adaptation, both on its campuses and in partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council. Here the SRS team share a bit more about the project.

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Introducing our research themes

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Given the University’s diverse research excellence, Senior Vice Principal Professor Jonathan Seckl explores how the use of broad themes can help shape the narrative around the impact of our work. 

The University of Edinburgh is renowned globally for the exceptional quality of our research. We were ranked fourth in the UK for research power in the last REF, behind Oxford, Cambridge and UCL, but ahead of Imperial and Kings College London, splitting the so-called ‘golden triangle’ (“golden quadrangle” with Edinburgh at the apex to my mind). We are in the top 20 universities in the world according to the 2021 QS rankings, which gives considerable weight to research reputation.

In recent decades our discoveries and insights in such diverse fields as particle physics, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, genetics/genomics, artificial intelligence, sustainability, linguistics, sociology and political science have all made a major impact on the world. We have educated or employed colleagues who have won seven Nobel prizes since 2013.

We are excellent at many things, but, given our broad research base, how do we capture and distil this excellence into a coherent narrative? Put simply, in the coming decades, what do we want the University’s research to be known for?

Themes

This is the challenge that I and other colleagues have been working on and has led to the creation of five overarching research and innovation themes. All are underpinned by our excellence and core capability in data-driven innovation. They are designed to celebrate our existing strengths, promote inter-disciplinarity and collaboration and articulate our future ambitions.

The themes are:

  • Future health and care
  • One health and food security
  • Societal and planetary sustainability
  • Culture and creative economies
  • Living and working digitally

In many ways, the themes coalesced naturally around our research strategy from 2019 and our current activity. They are facilitated by our five data-driven innovation DDI hubs, funded though the City Region Deal, and are flexible enough to operate across our Colleges and disciplines. They also capture how the UN Sustainable Development Goals play out in a Scottish context.

Let me briefly expand upon each of these themes.

The future of health and care

What are the next treatments, medical breakthroughs or approaches to care that will transform how we maximise wellbeing and look after the ill and vulnerable? This theme captures our pioneering work in areas such as MND, dementia, nursing, reproductive health, regenerative medicine, medical informatics and many others, including the crucial interfaces between medicine, the sciences, social sciences and the arts. A key project is the Advanced Care Research Centre (ACRC), launched with Legal & General, which aims to transform the way care in later life is conceived, designed and delivered.

 

One Health and Food Security

One Health articulates and examines the interrelated nature of human, animal and ecosystem health. The inception of SARS-Cov-2, its leap from animals to humans, the regularity with which this has occurred and will occur in the future, has made this even more pressing. This theme encompasses issues such as animal and human health surveillance, emerging infections, food security, over-grazing, pollution, market economies, waste management, policy and politics. The Easter Bush Agritech Hub, which was announced earlier this month, our burgeoning capabilities in space and satellite data, and the new UK supercomputer (ARCHER2) will play a major role in this theme.

 

Social and Planetary Sustainability

 How can societies be more peaceful, just and equitable? How can we ensure life on our planet is thriving several generations from now? This theme captures our work in answering those questions. It includes areas such as sustainable urban planning and engineering projects, research into renewables, and insights into what makes strong, accessible systems of justice and governance. The Edinburgh Earth Initiative and Energy@Ed are fine examples of how we are already beginning to coordinate our approaches.

 

Culture and Creative Economies

We are building on fantastic work being done in gaming, music, the visual arts, film, and graphic design. This theme also includes areas such as tourism, festivals, the exploration of the cultural heritage of Scotland and other countries. A fine example is Creative Informatics, leveraged through a major AHRC grant. Traveltech for Scotland is another great example, which is using data to boost the beleaguered sector. Both will soon be housed in the exceptional environment of our Edinburgh Futures Institute.

 

Living and Working Digitally

Data and digital technologies are changing every part of life. From how we do everyday things such as the weekly shop or listening to music to large scale applications in manufacturing, office work, AI and robotics. This theme captures the research that is shaping this future and is helping us to understand its implications, whilst building public trust enabled by the Baillie Gifford award to the Centre for Technomoral Futures. The recent UKRI-funded Global Open Finance Centre of Excellence (GOFCoE),is another example. It is employing financial data to deliver social and economic benefit to all corners of the globe.

 

Showcase

What do these themes mean for you as a researcher in the University? I hope you’ll see your own work and expertise within them. I also think that these areas showcase the biggest opportunities for attracting research grant funding and partnerships with industry.

A new part of the University website will be launched soon that will showcase research based on these themes. This will give greater visibility to and build a coherent narrative for our collective strengths.

Of course, not all our research will fit neatly into these themes. That is fine. Research is the quintessential ‘bottom-up’ activity. It depends on you and your brilliant ideas. But increasingly we are asked how applications for funding fit the institutional strategy. I hope that with these exciting, relevant and broadly drawn aims, most of us can say that our creative ideas are aligned to such a strategy.

The past year has shown that we live in exceptionally challenging times. But it has also reinforced, more than ever, the value and the power of our research. And we have shown, often working together, that we contribute to solutions to the most challenging issues of our times.

These research themes, underpinned by DDI, will help us tell that story more clearly, attract more partnerships and funding and, ultimately, make more of a difference in the world.

10 ways the University became more socially responsible and sustainable in 2019/20

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From installing a solar farm to investing in 41 community projects, the University took some great strides toward becoming more socially responsible and sustainable in 2019/20.

This overview of 10 positive actions taken by the University and its community looks at key improvements made to improve social and civic responsibility on campus, across the city, and in collaboration with other organisations. It is based on a longer round-up from Social Responsibility and Sustainability and you can also read the University’s full Social and Civic Responsibility Report 2019-20 to find out more.

Easter Bush solar farm. Neil Hanna Photography.

1. We met our 2025 carbon emissions targets and are on track to become carbon neutral by 2040

The University has met both its 2025 carbon emission targets five years early. To date, we have reduced our carbon emissions by 15 per cent since 2007/08. We have also completed 44 carbon and energy efficiency projects generating £333,000 in cost savings and a reduction of 1,091 tonnes CO₂e.

2. We created a solar farm

Almost 5,000 ground-mounted solar panels have been installed at the Easter Bush campus. They will provide 15 per cent of electricity consumed at the campus and save an estimated £200,000 a year. The development includes a living laboratory for solar PV research.

3. 50 per cent of meal options in our outlets continue to be veggie or plant-based

The University’s Good Food Policy was published, setting out commitments to increase the vegetarian and plant-based options we offer and ensure that no edible food is wasted. We also joined the Peas Please initiative which aims to make it easier for everyone to eat more veg.

4. We were named the best University in the UK for student cyclists

Student accommodation site Mystudenthalls.com ranked UK universities using a range of measures. We’ve added more than 1,000 cycle parking spaces across our campuses and are a partner in Just Eat Cycles – the City of Edinburgh’s bike hire scheme. We support and encourage cycling by offering training, maintenance courses, a cycle to work scheme, Doctor Bike sessions and discounts in local bike shops.

5. We invested in 41 local Community Projects

The Community Grants Scheme supported 41 community projects with small grants ranging from a few hundred pounds to £5,000, targeting those most severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in Edinburgh and the surrounding area. Since 2017, the University has provided more than £300,000 of grant support to 79 projects.

6. We donated more than 500 PCs and iPads to the local community

The University’s PC Reuse Project aims to extend the useful life of our old IT equipment rather than recycling it. A total of 529 items were donated to community partners, providing computers and laptops to people in need. Working with the City of Edinburgh Council, computers were donated to help students across the city whose learning had been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and who did not previously have access to a computer at home.

7. More than 500 staff and students became Sustainability Champions

Interest from the staff and student community in sustainability continues to grow with more than 500 people signing up to the Sustainability Champions Network. Across the University, 40 offices and 19 laboratories were accredited through the Sustainability Awards.

8. We widened access to the University and improved Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

We met our Commission for Widening Access targets three years ahead of schedule. The University recruits 10 per cent of student intake from the 20 per cent most deprived areas in Scotland. We also won £600,000 of funding to enable 35 students from low income countries to study for a part-time online masters.

The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Committee was established and EDI principles are at the heart of our values and strategic priorities. The recommendations of the Thematic Review of Support for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Students are being taken forward with the new Race Equality & Anti-Racist subcommittee and its associated action plan.

9. We made positive investments for the climate and society

We became a founding member of a Responsible Investment Network within higher education that will explore how universities can invest ethically. We also committed to invest up to £8million in social investments for the benefit of society – thematic priorities address issues related to poverty, homelessness, access to education and youth employment.

10. We worked in partnership for sustainable development locally and globally

The University is committed to engaging critically with and contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We conduct world-leading research addressing climate change and sustainability issues, responding with multidisciplinary and high-impact research across a range of disciplines. This was recognised with fourth place, out of 806 institutions globally, in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings for our significant contributions towards partnership for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Bench to Bedside aims to keep commercialisation climbing

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Building on recent growth in commercialisation activity in the therapeutics field, Edinburgh Innovations and the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine have launched their Bench to Bedside campaign.

When you have notched up a record year and the graphs are continuing to curl steeper, what next? The answer for Edinburgh Innovations (EI) and the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine is to launch a campaign to build on that momentum.

Commercialisation of the College’s therapeutics expertise has reached new heights amid a series of successful company launches, supported by substantial investors, and an impressive roster of industry collaborations.

This month’s launch of the Bench to Bedside campaign will further boost industry engagement and inspire more research staff and students to commercialise their work.

The campaign is the first in EI’s Discovery Series, which will span 2021 and reach out to business by highlighting the University’s track record, facilities and expertise. It will also help more staff and students discover the benefits of maximising the impact of their work through commercialisation.

Track record

“We have a strong track record of engaging with industry to find solutions to unmet clinical needs,” says Professor Stuart Forbes, Dean of Research at the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine.

Professor Stuart Forbes

“This new campaign will highlight that, from bench to bedside, the University of Edinburgh has the expertise, track record and facilities to help our partners deliver impact.”

The income generated for the University from the College’s translational and industrial funding awards more than doubled in 2019/20 and has already set a new record in the first seven months of the current year.

And over the past 18 months, Edinburgh Innovations has helped launch five therapeutic discovery companies that have raised substantial investment.

Successes

Recent spinout successes include Resolution Therapeutics, launched with an investment of £26.6 million from Syncona, to develop macrophage cell therapies to repair organ damage – including end-stage chronic liver disease.

Professor Forbes is a joint founder of the company, having worked with his research team at the Centre for Regenerative Medicine for a decade on the role of macrophages in organ repair, with funding from the Medical Research Council.

Syncona has been collaborating with Professor Forbes’ team since 2018, developing processes to engineer macrophage cell therapy.

Fellow founder John Campbell is Director of Tissues, Cells and Advanced Therapeutics at the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS) and Honorary Professor at the University of Edinburgh. The SNBTS is part of the collaborative effort, working to optimise the manufacturing process and produce engineered macrophages for clinical use.

Dr George Baxter, Edinburgh Innovations CEO, says: “The way the parties have worked together to pursue their mutual aim is an excellent example of academic research translating into the chance to transform lives.”

Dr George Baxter

Meanwhile, researchers at the University’s Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences are working with New York-based Neurogene to develop next-generation gene therapies.

Supported by EI, the team led by Dr Stuart Cobb has signed a multi-year agreement to advance development of multiple platform approaches to improve on existing gene therapy technologies.

Neurogene will provide funding to Dr Cobb’s laboratory in exchange for the right to license intellectual property. Neurogene will be responsible for late stage preclinical and all clinical development of any products generated under the collaboration.

Dr Cobb, Simons Fellow and Reader in Neuroscience at the Patrick Wild Centre and Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences, has been working with Neurogene since 2018 and serves as the company’s Chief Scientific Officer.

Dr Cobb says: “Gene therapy is a very promising yet complex development area, and we are privileged to help address the unmet needs that exist within rare neurological diseases.”

Momentum

EI has a dedicated Business Development team for the College, led by Dr Andrea Taylor – a driving force behind the current upward trajectory who is determined to build the momentum even further.

Dr Andrea Taylor

She cites the recent receipt of a £2.4 million Wellcome Trust Institutional Translational Partnership Award (iTPA) as typifying the direction of travel. The team’s previous, smaller, iTPA scheme ran for three years and brought an increase of 60 per cent in the College’s early career researchers engaging with commercialisation, including a disproportionate rise among women.

Dr Taylor says: “The iTPA alone has had a major impact on the culture across biomedical sciences, with a new pipeline of 80 projects currently live. We have created a translational hub which has built an engaged translational community of 300 members; we want to reach 1,000 in the next three years.

“There is no better way for researchers to have impact in the real world than to work with business. It’s an exciting time to join our growing community of collaborators and make ideas work for a better world.”

The Bench to Bedside campaign comprises a series of EI-hosted events, outreach activities including presence at external events, and communications and marketing activities. Key academics will act as champions to promote industry engagement and commercialisation, including Professors Neil Carragher, Shareen Forbes and Jonathan Fallowfield.

There will be news stories announcing company launches and collaborative research projects in coming weeks, case studies for use online, in newsletters and in marketing materials, and a takeover of the EI website to highlight the campaign.

Among the planned events is ‘Seeing Value in Novelty’ on 31 March. This one-hour session, delivered by venture capital company Epidarex Capital, will show how it’s possible to use investor expertise and finance while continuing to develop your career as an academic researcher.

Professor Jeffrey Pollard and Dr Luca Cassetta, co-founders of Macomics, will share their story on successfully managing the best of both worlds.

The event will also be an opportunity to learn more about EI and will be of particular interest to PhD students, early career researchers, postdoctoral fellows and principal investigators in the field of life sciences.

Learn more about Bench to Bedside and register for Seeing Value in Novelty.

Music and mental health: Our Virtual Tribe

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Almost a year into the coronavirus pandemic, it’s more important than ever to make sure we’re looking after our mental health.

We can’t necessarily do what we used to, to safeguard our wellbeing. In response we’ve seen people around the world develop new ways to continue to do the things they love despite living with the restrictions of the pandemic.

Raymond MacDonald is a saxophonist, composer, psychologist and Professor of Music Psychology and Improvisation in The Reid School of Music at Edinburgh College of Art. He’s not the only one who has turned to music as a way to safeguard his mental health.

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Divestment from fossil fuels complete

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As part of the University’s journey to become carbon neutral by 2040, last week saw the Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Mathieson, announce that our divestment from fossil fuels is now complete.

In the video below the Principal shares more about what this means and how the University is working towards the aims of our Climate Strategy.

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