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Section III: Panelsí Criteria and Working Methods

3.10 Biological Sciences, UoA 14

UoA Descriptor

3.10.1 The Unit of Assessment encompasses the molecular, cellular, organismal and population biology of micro-organisms, plants and animals, including biochemistry and biotechnology.

UoA Boundaries

3.10.2 Where submissions cross the boundaries between this Unit of Assessment and others, the Panel will refer parts of submissions to other panels where this is requested by the institution, or where in the opinion of the Panel this is necessary. The Panel will identify any research areas on which it requires advice and will take decisions on referrals to other panels as early as possible in the assessment phase.

Sub-Panels and Specialist Advice

3.10.3 In view of the interdisciplinary nature of the field, the Panel will not use sub-panels. The detailed assessment of wide-ranging submissions will be allocated to several panel members, as far as possible with appropriate expertise.

3.10.4 The Panel will normally take external advice from an appropriate specialist adviser if a submission includes work that falls outside the expertise of the Panel and cannot be cross-referred to another panel.

Interdisciplinary Research

3.10.5 The Panel welcomes submissions containing inter-disciplinary research, and will ensure such submissions are not disadvantaged. Where parts of a submission fall outside the boundaries of the Unit of Assessment, the Panel will normally cross-refer work to another Panel (as described above).

3.10.6 Where possible, pedagogic research will be considered by the Panel. Where such research falls outside the expertise of the Panel, it will be referred to the Education Panel (UoA 68) or to specialist advisers.

3.10.7 Where a department's activity is split between UoA 14 and another UoA, the Panel requests that the textual commentary in RA5/6 provides background on the research strategy and environment of the whole department, rather than solely that of the element submitted to this Panel. This will enable the Panel to take account of the context in which the research takes place.

Joint Submissions

3.10.8 The Panel will assess any joint submission as if it were a single submission.

Treatment of Evidence

3.10.9 The quality of submissions will be judged from the following evidence:

  1. The quality of publications and other research outputs (RA2).
  2. Evidence of the vitality of the unit of assessment, the quality of its research, the distinction of its individual members and the prospects for its future development (RA5, RA6).
  3. Evidence of esteem by external funders (RA4).
  4. Evidence of research activity as indicated by the numbers of research students (RA3a), research studentships (RA3b), research fellows and research assistants (RA1).

3.10.10 The quality of publications and other forms of research output will carry most weight in the assessment process, but all indicators will be scrutinised and all will contribute to the overall assessment of a submission.

Research Output (RA2)

3.10.11 The Panel expects that most of the cited outputs will be papers in scientific journals, whether published on paper or electronically. However, there are no restrictions on types of research output, and all types of research output, as described in the RAE Guidance on Submissions, will be treated on their merits.

3.10.12 Research outputs will be assessed according to their scientific and/or technical excellence, their originality and the substantive contribution they make to ideas, methods, policy and practice. The Panel's assessment will be based primarily on its professionally informed judgement of the quality of the work. The quality of the research is the prime factor, whether the research is basic/strategic, applied, or of direct relevance to the needs of industry, commerce, government or other end users.

3.10.13 The Panel will review all submissions, and collectively will examine in detail a minimum of 25% of the research outputs cited in the submissions. The items selected will be representative of all work across submissions and of all individuals submitted. Where a submission has been identified in its initial assessment as being near the boundary between two grades, the Panel will examine more of the work.

3.10.14 The medium of publication will be scrutinised for all works. For journal articles the Panel will attach weight to primary articles published in journals with rigorous editorial and refereeing policies. However, the absence of such policies will not, in itself, be taken to imply lower quality.

3.10.15 The Panel will not collectively rank journals but individual members of the Panel will be guided by their informed views about the refereeing and editorial standards of journals in their fields.

3.10.16 The works cited should allow the Panel to assess the quality of the individual researcher's contribution and standing in the field. In some cases the inclusion of one or more secondary publications, for example a review in a high-profile journal or a comprehensive chapter in an authoritative monograph, might be an appropriate way of indicating a researcher's standing in the field.

3.10.17 High quality work published in internationally recognised specialist journals will be accorded similar weight to work of the same quality published in journals of high standing but of broader scope.

3.10.18 Other forms of output, such as patents and technical reports, will be judged on their scientific merit. Evidence that research outputs have been reviewed or refereed by peers will be used as one measure of quality. However, the absence of such review will not, in itself, be taken to imply lower quality.

3.10.19 The Panel will take full note of research relevant to users. All research will be judged on its merits whether as basic or applied science.

3.10.20 The Panel would normally anticipate seeing four outputs per person submitted. Where fewer outputs are presented, an explanation may be offered in the textual commentary.

3.10.21. Where there is multiple citation of an output within a submission, this will considered in the context of the evidence of breadth and depth of research activity in the submission.

Textual Commentary


3.10.22 The Panel regards the material presented in sections RA5 and RA6 as a very important indicator of the vitality of a department, the quality of its research, the distinction of its individual members and of its strategic planning and prospects for continuing development.

3.10.23 The final grade given will be based on an overall assessment of the entire submission. To facilitate its work, however, the Panel would prefer to see submissions organised into research areas. Any such sub-division should, whenever possible, be used consistently throughout an entire submission. Sub-division may be inappropriate for submissions that include only a few research-active staff.

3.10.24 If the UoA does not match departmental boundaries, the Panel would welcome a brief explanation of how the submission relates to departments or other institutional structures.

3.10.25 The contribution to the activity of the department of those staff submitted as Category C should be identified.

Highlights of Research

3.10.26 Institutions should describe the most important scientific discoveries that were made in the work submitted during the assessment period and identify the relevant publications or outputs.

Research Structure and Strategy

3.10.27 The Panel will look for evidence of a clear research strategy which sets out reasonable objectives. Institutions should provide a statement about the main objectives for research over the next five years. They should describe past or future changes in organisation, staffing or funding which have occurred or are planned in order to enhance future research and fulfil the aims of the strategy. They should also describe the nature and quality of the research infrastructure, including facilities for research students.

3.10.28 Institutions should describe, where relevant, the ways in which the strategy and objectives outlined in RA5 from 1996 have been realised. If there have been significant changes explain why.

3.10.29 Institutions should give evidence of collaborative research between disciplines, between institutions, and between countries which augment the local research environment.

3.10.30 Institutions should provide information on relationships with industry and commerce or other research users and where appropriate on the account taken of Government policy initiatives and objectives.

Staffing Policy

3.10.31 Institutions should describe how staff careers are supported. They should provide information on academic and research staff recruited to the department, and in particular on recently appointed staff and how their work will be developed. Institutions may wish to provide evidence concerning the movement of talented researchers from the department to senior posts elsewhere.


Evidence of Esteem

3.10.32 Institutions should identify indicators of peer esteem, as far as possible in the order in which individuals appear in the submission. These indicators might include: invitations to give plenary or symposium talks at major national or international conferences; membership of major national or international committees; editorship of major national or international journals; consultancies, industrial appointments or advisory positions for government or other bodies; or the receipt of medals, honours, awards or Fellowships of prestigious organisations. They should also indicate which individuals have held and/or hold externally funded competitive research fellowships.

Individual Staff Circumstances

3.10.33 Institutions should note any circumstances (e.g. periods of sick leave, maternity leave or career breaks) that have significantly affected the contributions of individual staff to the submission.

Contributions by Non Research-active Staff

3.10.34 Institutions may also wish to discuss the relative contribution made to research by staff who have not been returned as research active.

Additional Information

3.10.35 The Panel would also like to see included any additional information, for instance on major research infrastructure grants, which will enable the Panel to assess the prestige and standing of the department.

Research Students, Research Studentships, Research Fellows and Research Assistants (RA3a, RA3b and RA1)

3.10.36 The Panel will consider all quantitative data normalised against the total number of Category A, A* and C research active staff.

3.10.37 The number of FTE students registered for higher research degrees, the number of research degrees awarded and the number of externally funded research studentships will be regarded as indicators of research activity. Most weight will be given to doctorates. Institutions are encouraged to make reference to studentships and postgraduate training on RA6.

3.10.38 The number of research fellows (as defined on RA1) will be regarded as an indicator of the quality of the research environment.

3.10.39 The number of post-doctoral and graduate research assistants (as defined on RA1) will supplement the information on external research income

External Research Income (RA4)

3.10.40 External research income will be used as an indicator of peer esteem of the standing or the research promise of the department.

3.10.41 The Panel is aware of the differing research costs and levels of funding between fields in biological science. For this reason the Panel will consider both the number of grants awarded and their aggregate financial value. To assist the Panel the total number of grants awarded during the assessment period (based on the award date of the grant) in the UoA should be reported on RA6 in the following categories:

  1. With a total value between £5,000 and £50,000;
  2. With a total value between £50,000 and £250,000;
  3. With a total value over £250,000.

Institutions may wish to comment on the distribution of other grants.

3.10.42 The greatest weight will be given to grants that are known to be the result of rigorous review. Particular note will be taken of long term support from major funders known to require the highest standards (these should be mentioned on RA6).

Working Methods

3.10.43 All members of the Panel will read all submissions. At the first assessment meeting, the Panel will sub-divide submissions, based as far as possible on the expertise of the panel members, and will allocate each element of the submission to two panel members for detailed review. The Panel will also decide on work to be referred to other panels and specialist advisers at this meeting.

3.10.44 The lead reviewers for each sub-division will score each researcher according to whether they consider the researcher's work to be of international, national or sub-national quality. These suggested scores will be collated and circulated to the Panel in advance of the second assessment meeting. This will give other panel members the opportunity to discuss any individual's score in the meeting. The individual scores will be used by the Panel to determine a preliminary grading based on the proportion of researchers scored as international and national, using the rating scale. This will then be compared with the Panel's overall assessment of the submission, to produce a provisional rating for each submission. This provisional rating will be used as an aid to the Panel's subsequent deliberations; the final rating will take account of all the evidence submitted and all advice received from other panels and specialist advisers.

3.10.45 Provisional ratings and, where appropriate, assessments of individuals' work will be further examined and refined in the light of the standard analyses, any necessary further review of submitted research outputs, and the advice subsequently received from other panels and specialist advisers on work referred to them.

3.10.46 The standard analyses will be plotted against the provisional ratings. Outliers on such plots will be examined individually and the information taken into account during the refinement of the provisional rating of submissions.

3.10.47 The revised ratings will be carefully scrutinised to ensure that they match the published descriptions of the rating scale. Departments near the boundaries will be given particular attention to ensure that they are fairly rated.

3.10.48 The Panel will make decisions by consensus. In the event that a consensus cannot be achieved, the Panel will vote openly and decisions will be taken by a simple majority, with the Chairman having the casting vote.

3.10.49 The Panel will apply the following definitions of international and national work:

  1. International: Highly innovative work, which provides significant new information or ideas resulting in the modification of existing theories, or understanding of mechanisms, or enabling significant new applications or policies.
  2. National: Generates new information or ideas. Provides some understanding of mechanisms or includes some innovative developments of methods, techniques, deductions, policies or practical applications.

3.10.50 The Panel will identify appropriate non-UK based experts and submit to them the research outputs (from RA2) of a sample of departments and/or research areas that have been provisionally identified as having a majority of internationally excellent researchers. The non-UK based experts will be asked to give their view on whether these assessments are accurate. The final decision on ratings will rest with the Panel.

Last updated 30 March 2000

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