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RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

Research in applied mathematics at Nottingham takes place in two of the four Divisions within the School of Mathematical Sciences, namely Theoretical Mechanics (TM) and Mathematical Physics (MP), the other Divisions being Statistics and Pure Mathematics. Following the merger in August 1998 of the former Departments of Mathematics and Theoretical Mechanics into the School, the Divisions have benefitted from economies of scale and rationalisation of administrative and teaching responsibilities, leading to an increase of research time for the majority of our staff. The quality of our infrastructure is first rate: a refurbishment programme of all our offices is almost finished and an upgrade of all computing facilities is complete, including the development of new computing laboratories for our postgraduates and improved office accommodation for our postdoctoral workers. Our very recent success in securing a major JREI award for Compaq ES40 servers will further significantly enhance our research computing environment. Moreover, library provision and facilities are excellent, providing good coverage of all our research interests and being reactive to changes of emphasis.

With 27 permanent staff, we form one of the larger applied mathematics groups in the UK, with a wide spectrum of research of internationally acknowledged excellence. The two Divisions encompass a broad range of research, with the extensive involvement of TM in engineering, industrial and biomedical projects being complemented by the equally innovative research in areas relating to theoretical physics being mainly pursued in MP; both Divisions also have extensive programmes of fundamental research. Our achievements over the review period show that not only have our 1996 research prospects been realised, but also that the research profile of the Unit has been strengthened significantly, with much additional progress having been made and with some very exciting developments in place. We have been able to replace the staff who have left (N J Balmforth, R V Craster, J T Holden and R L Hudson) in a strategic fashion by outstanding young researchers, enabling important new research directions to be opened up and allowing critical mass to be attained across the board. The review period has seen the appointments to Chairs of E Jakeman FRS (part-time as he also serves as Secretary of the IoP) and of O  E Jensen, together with the promotions of E  A  G Armour and V P Belavkin to Chairs and of J  W  Barrett, S  M Cox, G  A Jaroszkiewicz, K  I  Hopcraft, P C Matthews and R H Tew to Readerships or Senior Lectureships. The appointment of eight very strong researchers to permanent (H M Byrne, S  C Creagh, P  D  Howell, L  J  Cummings, J  M  T  Louko, G  Tanner and S L Waters) or temporary (P M McCabe) Lectureships has provided renewed vigour to our research activity and bodes extremely well for its future vitality. These appointments illustrate the University’s continued strong commitment to, and investment in, applied mathematics. We have, moreover, been extremely pleased to attract a large number of researchers at early stages of their careers, namely G J B van den Berg, C  Y  Chen, L  J Cummings, M  A  Mackaay, G  W  Richardson, J  P  Ward and S  J  Wills, each of whom holds his or her own Research Fellowship and is pursuing innovative programmes of independent research. Cummings will take up a permanent Lectureship at the conclusion of her Research Fellowships and extensions to the appointments of Chen, Jakeman (to his retirement, his current contract being bridging) and Richardson have been agreed. The academic appointments have been complemented by an increase in our support staffing. For example, at the last RAE the School had a single fixed-term Computer Officer largely concerned with maintaining one of our servers and our undergraduate teaching laboratory. We are now on the point of increasing the number of COs from two to three, with the third permanent post having already been approved in principle. Similarly, we now have full professional administrative support from our permanent School Administrator.

The Head of School holds a devolved budget, much of which is assigned to individual Divisions (being the responsibility of Heads of Divisions), and submits annual research plans to the University. Within the School, research strategy is monitored by the School Research Committee, comprising the Head of School, Heads of Division, the Postgraduate Admissions Officer (who handles new PhD applications in consultation with Divisional Heads and prospective supervisors), the Postgraduate Student Adviser (who is responsible for the general support of PhD students within the School), the Research Secretary and contract research staff and postgraduate representatives. The Heads of Division are responsible for the overall management and monitoring of research and for promoting activities to enhance the research environment, for example by identifying new sources of funding and by organising topical advanced courses for research students and staff. RTSG, conference and seminar budgets are devolved to Divisions to ensure that researchers have direct access to these important means of support. The Heads of Division also have strategic funds to support larger-scale initiatives and visitor programmes. This fund is replenished from the overheads on research awards of members of the Division, thus providing staff with a direct incentive to obtain such external funding. While guidance and funding is therefore provided to help sustain and develop the Divisions' international and national standing in all areas of their research, it is recognised that success in research relies on the initiative and dedication of individuals. The School acknowledges that, in appropriate circumstances, a full contribution may be made by staff who focus on teaching and administration rather than research; this is reflected by differential workloads set by the Heads and guided by biennial appraisals. New appointees who are required to serve a standard probationary period and undertake a staff development programme are allocated below-average teaching loads, are protected (as far as is possible) from administrative burdens and are assigned a personal mentor to guide their induction and initial development. The initiation of new research is encouraged wherever appropriate, with support being provided by more experienced staff or by sabbatical leave, for example. In particular, staff inexperienced in directing the work of research students work jointly with staff who have previously supervised successfully.

The University also pays particular attention to developing new researchers. The University's Research Committee has a New Lecturers' Strategy Group to provide a voice for this important group of staff within our research community and a New Lecturers' Fund to help establish their research careers. This support and commitment extends to contract research staff: a new handbook has been produced to help implement best practice from the National Research Careers Initiative. Within the School all these staff are appraised annually to review progress and to identify where further support and encouragement are needed. The School seeks to assist the career development of contract researchers and offers opportunities to gain teaching experience when initiated by them in the appraisal interview. The University Research Committee also funds, in partnership with Schools, Research Scholarships to support PhD students; the Unit receives a regular supply of awards through this scheme - these are targetted at supporting new staff (almost all of whom are now involved in postgraduate supervision) and in instigating new areas of multidisciplinary research.

Postgraduate students, who have grown in number by almost 50% over the review period, are also vital and valued members of the Divisions and the School. All PhD programmes take place within a quality assurance framework set out in the University's Quality Manual, to ensure that research students are provided with training in a stimulating and supportive environment. Research students have regular documented formal supervisions and undergo progress assessments, based on a written report and a substantial viva, by two independent assessors at the end of their first and second years. Almost all students admitted have a First Class Honours degree (or equivalent) in Mathematics. They build on this base during their PhD studies by taking advanced modules from our 4th year undergraduate programmes, attending the advanced courses alluded to earlier, attending regular seminars (both formal and informal series) and participating in special interest group meetings, summer schools, and national and international meetings and workshops. Indeed, Nottingham students often represent the largest such cohort presenting papers at the BAMC. The University Graduate School provides generic training and general support. Research students are encouraged to publish in leading journals as they progress in their PhD studies. Our record in ensuring that students submit their theses by the beginning of their fourth year, or at the latest within their fourth year, is outstanding.

Interdisciplinary and collaborative research are actively encouraged and many staff and postgraduate students are engaged in such research. The University Research Committee holds Research Soirées to initiate and encourage interdisciplinary research, and many of its funding schemes give high priority to interdisciplinary projects. Applied mathematics has benefitted, with projects in mathematical medicine and materials, in particular, growing from this stimulation. Research funding is buoyant, annual income having almost doubled within the review period, and the spend within the Unit is in fact higher than that indicated in RA4 due to the large number of collaborative and multidisciplinary projects in which we are involved for which credit is shared with other Schools.

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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