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RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

The CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY ENGINEERING DEPARTMENT is a general engineering department pursuing research in civil, mechanical, electrical, aeronautical and manufacturing engineering as well as information technology and communications engineering. It makes up nearly 10% of Cambridge University. Excluding staff entered under UOA 43, in category A there are 32 professors, 16 readers, 15 senior lecturers, 42 lecturers, 1 assistant lecturer, 1 assistant director of research, and 18 senior research workers. Only 4 members of the full-time teaching staff are not included in category A (see below). In addition there are 11 computer officers, 4 design engineers, 5 technical officers and 4 senior administrative staff on the establishment. They are supported by about 100 other research workers on contract funding. There are about 360 postgraduate students mostly researching for their PhDs.

The Department operates on four main sites: our 3-acre Trumpington Street site where the main buildings are, the Manufacturing Institute at Mill Lane, the Whittle Laboratory at West Cambridge, and the Schofield Centrifuge Centre, also at West Cambridge. To manage these facilities we have a unified administrative structure with strategic planning and resource allocation made at departmental level and research coordinated by 6 academic divisions. The Head of Department (Professor David Newland FREng) is supported by three Deputy Heads (for research, graduate studies and undergraduate teaching respectively), by the six Heads of the academic divisions and by the Director of Research. The divisions are organised into research groups which form the 15 research sub-areas whose current activities and future plans are described below. The allocation of resources between research sub-areas is a topic of regular review within the Department. Our departmental Council, consisting of the Head of Department, the Deputy Heads, the six Heads of Divisions, the Director of Research and our principal managers, determines the research priorities and the allocation of resources. In 2000, the Department’s annual budget was about £20M, of which £10M came from HEFCE and related central sources and £10M from research grants and industry. General HEFCE research funding maintains most of the central computing and workshop facilities and provides base-level support for each Division. However it is well below what is needed and we rely on external and contract funding in all the research sub-areas. Total external research income over the 5-year assessment period was approximately £40 million, of which about £20 million came from EPSRC, £3 million from the EU and £17 million from industry and other sources. This is approximately twice the level of research funding at the 1992-96 assessment and we anticipate further increases.

Laboratory provision
During the assessment period, the Department's extensive laboratories were further extended and improved at a cost of about £6M. The majority of this money had to be raised by the Department from its own resources and from industry. A completely new Communications Engineering Laboratory was built on the roof of our main Baker Building, the Structures Laboratory was extensively refurbished and new purpose-built research accommodation added, a new Engineering Design Centre was built, the Departmental Library was doubled in size and computerised, a total refurbishment of the Thermodynamics Laboratory has recently been finished, and a new JIF-funded laboratory building at the Schofield Centrifuge Centre begun (this will be completed in 2001). Also numerous smaller schemes to refurbish research and teaching accommodation were carried out and plans have been drawn up for a major reconstruction of part of the Inglis Building to provide new networked seminar rooms. The Department is benefiting from two substantial capital donations to the University. In 2000, the Marconi company promised £40M which includes £10M for a new building of which two-thirds will be used to house the Department’s Communications and Information Engineering research. Also BP-Amoco gave £25M to establish a BP Institute which, among other things, supports the work of our Petroleum Engineering section, provides additional laboratory facilities and has paid for a new lecturer in geotechnical fluid mechanics in the Department.

Research student admission and facilities
The admission of graduate students is a departmental function which is coordinated by the Deputy Head (Graduate Studies), Professor R. S. Langley. We attach great importance to recruiting good students and currently accept about 120 new ones each year from about 500 applicants. Typically about 30% are UK students, two-thirds of them from Cambridge. About half our graduate students are from EU countries. About 70% start as PhD students, the remainder enrolling for an MPhil, from which they may later transfer to PhD research. We are fortunate in being able to attract excellent graduate applicants from overseas who find support through the Cambridge Overseas and Commonwealth Trusts. From 2001, Gates’ scholarships will provide further financial opportunities. The large number of well-qualified PhD students play an essential role in carrying forward our research programme. The Department’s policy is to provide all students with shared office accommodation and with connection to the departmental computer network; in addition many have access to high-performance computing equipment in their laboratories. They are supported by a team of 15 computer officers (4 on research grant overhead funding) and by a small group of professional mechanical and electrical design engineers who work with a well-equipped central workshop. In addition, the Department has 108 technicians in established posts and a further 17 on short-term research funding. Some 28 technicians are employed in the Department's workshops which are equipped with good state-of-the-art computer-controlled equipment. In addition to their work for the Engineering Department, our technicians provide specialist support for other departments in Cambridge and occasionally for other universities.

Interaction with industry
The Department places great emphasis on collaboration with industry for all its research and is already prominent in research areas emphasised by the OST's Foresight exercise. Examples include our work on sensors, novel materials, communications, design, and manufacturing. Rolls-Royce plc has provided continued funding of its Chair of Aerothermal Technology and our Whittle Laboratory and has undertaken to support several other new academic posts shortly following the formation of a University Gas Turbine Partnership. Funds from the AT&T Foundation have provided strong support for communications engineering, and a new fully-endowed chair of optoelectronics has been announced recently. Important new benefactions have secured future funding for the Jafar Professorship of Petroleum Engineering, provided new funds from DERA for our Research Professorship of Photonics, and enabled a new GKN Chair of Manufacturing Engineering to be established. In addition to funding for research contracts, we have also received significant resources in kind from industry. Our Manufacturing Division’s Industry Links Unit provides an important bridge with industry and many members of staff have close personal contacts as advisers, consultants or directors. Category A staff hold directorships in 40 different companies, 15 of which were set up during the assessment period. We are well supported by CUTS (Cambridge University Technical Services Ltd) and by the University’s Challenge Fund. Two members of staff were directors of the speech software company Entropic Ltd which was bought by Microsoft in 1999.

Inter-disciplinary and collaborative research
A feature of our Department is the strong cross-linking between research groups and there is regular collaboration between them. Many staff contribute to more than one research group, but each person is counted below only in his/her main group. There is also close collaboration with staff in our sister departments, particularly with Physics (in Superconductivity and Nanotechnology research), Materials Science (in our Cambridge Centre for Micromechanics), Earth Sciences (as a partner in the inter-departmental BP Institute), Biochemistry (on the mechanics of biological structures), Biotechnology (in shared research on biosensors), Medicine (brain injury modelling, ultrasonics), Chemical Engineering (on combustion) and Applied Maths (fluid modelling, including the research of an inter-Departmental reader in fluid mechanics).

Development and support of research staff and students
The Director of Research (Dr Malcolm Macleod) coordinates research management in the Department and works with the Head of Department, the Deputy Head (Research), Professor Keith Glover FRS, FREng, and Division Heads in carrying out the agreed research strategy and contract management. The Director is assisted by two financial officers who assist in project proposal and monitoring work.
The Department operates a mentoring system by which experienced members of staff meet regularly with and guide the development of younger colleagues. Generally staff are appraised every two years by a senior colleague, and new and junior staff are appraised annually during their first years in the Department. The University has preserved the right of all academic staff to paid sabbatical leave, so that one term in seven is devoted entirely to research. This provides the opportunity for uninterrupted research as well as the time to visit other centres and we believe that the sabbatical system is very important for maintaining the vitality and direction of all our research programmes. The support and career-planning for contract research staff is important for all research groups and generally the Department’s research staff can move into industrial or academic posts without difficulty. However we recognise the pressures that all contract research staff are under and strongly support the principles of the Research Councils’ Concordat.

No research student is accepted by the Department unless a member of the teaching staff wishes to supervise an appropriate project for that student. Once in Cambridge, this decision is reviewed in consultation between the incoming student and all staff in his/her subject area, and the student may change supervisors or projects provided that good alternatives exist. This process may take up to a term to resolve and the Faculty Board then formally appoints the agreed supervisor. In addition an Adviser is appointed for each graduate student, whose task is to review from time to time the progress of that student and, if necessary, and this is only very occasionally, arbitrate differences between supervisor and student. Also, every research student is a member of a Cambridge College and comes under the wing of that College’s tutor for postgraduate students, who has tutorial oversight and can help identify difficulties if there are any that have gone unnoticed by supervisor and adviser.
In their first year, research students are required to take an agreed set of taught postgraduate courses, attend study groups and develop their research plans in consultation with staff; at the end of the first year all students submit a report on their progress to date and their plans for the following two years. Normally a further, final review takes place at the end of the second year. Regular research colloquia are held in 9 different subject areas, usually weekly, and research students, staff and cooperating colleagues and visitors from industry are encouraged to attend these.

Users of this website should note that the information is not intended to be a complete record of all research centres in the UK

Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL

Last updated 17 October 2003

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