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Another UoA

Section III: Panelsí Criteria and Working Methods

3.14 Earth Sciences and Environmental Sciences, UoA 20, 21

UoA Descriptor

3.14.1 The UoA encompasses Earth and planetary sciences; including, geophysics, mineralogy, petrology, geochemistry and cosmochemistry, structural and tectonic geology, stratigraphy, sedimentology, earth resources and hazards, applied geoscience, geotechnics, palaeontology. Ancient and modern earth surface processes. Physics, chemistry and biology of the environment; including atmospheric, marine, terrestrial and freshwater sciences, together with global change, pollution and environmental management.

UoA Boundaries

3.14.2 It is expected that submissions will contain work focussed predominantly within the Earth and Environmental Sciences. Institutions are encouraged not to split whole departmental submissions artificially across Units of Assessment. Equally, the Panel expects that where a submission's main research emphasis lies elsewhere, it will be submitted to an alternative, more appropriate Unit of Assessment. Institutions should read carefully the Panel's description of the subjects within its remit.

3.14.3 The Panel is structured to judge coherently the quality of submissions under the umbrella of Earth and Environmental Sciences. The Panel will refer work to adjacent Panels where appropriate but also expects institutions to indicate their own preferences.

Sub-Panels and Specialist Advisers

3.14.4 The Panel will not use sub-panels in the assessment process.

3.14.5 The Panel will augment its own expertise by consulting at least two specialist advisers in each of the following areas: environmental biology and pollution; applied geoscience; geophysics; environmental management. In addition, the Panel may consult a number of other specialist advisers if the subject profile of institutional submissions requires such consultation. The Panel will appoint individuals of appropriate expertise who will provide advisory judgements on selected work. The advisers' judgements will form part of the Panel's overall assessment of the work of each individual as outlined in the Working Methods section, and they will use the same numerical scale employed by the Panel.

Interdisciplinary Research

3.14.6 The Panel affirms that multi- and interdisciplinary submissions will be given the same weight as single discipline submissions. By its nature as a joint Panel covering a broad range of subjects both within and between the Earth and Environmental Sciences, the Panel is structured to optimise the assessment of multi- and interdisciplinary research. The Panel expects to use the expertise of, other Panels as appropriate.

Joint Submissions

3.14.7 Joint submissions will be treated in the same way as submissions from single institutions.

Treatment of Evidence

3.14.8 Quality of submissions will be judged, in the main, on the basis of the following measures of which the first will be primary:

  1. Publications or other forms of research output. Here, quality will be characterised typically by indicators such as originality, contribution to the advancement of knowledge and understanding, impact on the discipline and its application through policy and practice, scope of work, methodological strength and scholarly rigour.
  2. Extent of research activity as indicated by the number of research studentships, completed research degrees and research assistants.
  3. Evidence of esteem by external funders, as indicated by the overall profile (e.g. the nature and volume) of research income.
  4. Evidence of vitality, a strong research culture, the prospects for continuing development and, in appropriate cases, the novelty or uniqueness of the department.

Research Outputs (RA2)

3.14.9 The Panel will consider any form of output, including those resulting from pedagogic research.

3.14.10 The Panel will review all research outputs cited in submissions. The Panel collectively will examine in detail a minimum of 10% of the items of research output cited in submissions. The Panel will select outputs for close examination where submissions appear to lie near the borders between the Panel's initial grades, or where a submitted individual's grade is unclear.

3.14.11 Although the form and type of output will have some influence on its assessment, the Panel will seek, above all, to consider the intrinsic research quality of items submitted. Although refereeing and editorial standards may indicate high quality, the Panel will not use a ranked list of journals in its assessment process. Four items of research output are the expected norm, although the Panel recognises that there may be valid reasons for individuals submitting less than this. More than one research active member of staff may cite the same work if they wish to do so.

3.14.12 The Panel will give full recognition to work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce and industry. While much of this work will eventually be published in academic journals, the Panel accepts that there may be a time delay, and a significant proportion of such work may be initially disseminated through other media (for example, patents and government reports). Research which is neither innovative nor original will not receive special consideration simply because it is relevant to some practical problem.

Research Students, Research Studentships and Research Assistants (RA3)

3.14.13 The Panel will base its judgements on the following measures:

  1. The number of research degrees awarded and the number of research studentships held. The number of completed research degrees will rate more highly than the number of studentships awarded.
  2. The average number of research students per FTE Category A/A* staff.
  3. The number of postdoctoral and postgraduate research assistants as defined on RA1, per FTE Category A/A* staff.

3.14.14 Sources of funding for research studentships will be regarded equally.

External Research Income (RA4)

3.14.15 The Panel will base its judgements on the following measures:

  1. The volume of research income with regard to the relative cost of undertaking research in a particular subject area.
  2. The average level of research income per FTE Category A/A* staff.

3.14.16 The Panel will take account of the origin, nature and balance of funding but will not apply a rigid scale of merit. Funding from initiatives such as JIF and JREI will be included in the Panel's judgements.

3.14.17 Departments may wish to use forms RA5 and RA6 to provide additional information about the nature of the submitted research income to help the Panel associate high income with research excellence or not associate low research income with a lack of research excellence.

Textual Commentary


Research Structure and Environment

3.14.18 The Panel will look for evidence of research vitality and a research culture when considering forms RA5 and RA6. Institutions are encouraged to draw the Panel's attention to the full range of research activities covered by groups of staff, as evidence of a well planned and focussed research programme. However, there is no penalty for identifying researchers who work alone or in effective collaboration with colleagues in other institutions in the UK or overseas.

3.14.19 There will be no advantage in artificially grouping staff in delineated research areas if there is little or no evidence of a common intellectual basis in that group. Size of submission is not an issue of relevance to the Panel. There is no reason, in principle, why a submission from a small group, or comprising small groups, cannot obtain a high rating.

3.14.20 Departments should provide clear evidence of the status of and contribution to the research programme made by Category C staff.

3.14.21 The Panel will assess the level of continuity in the research plans from those submitted in RAE 1996 and requests information on how the aspirations of RAE 1996 have been achieved, where appropriate. Where a department wishes to do so, a brief statement of self-assessment may be included.

3.14.22 The Panel wishes institutions to indicate how they have encouraged the development of the potential of younger researchers and other new entrants, and to give any evidence of national and, if applicable, international esteem, in order that full account can be taken of their contribution to the research programme and long-term development of the department. Submissions containing younger researchers will not be disadvantaged and their presence should be highlighted. The Panel will be sympathetic to younger researchers as an indication of vitality.


Evidence of Esteem

3.14.23 Departments should bring evidence of peer esteem to the Panel's attention. These may include both national and international activities, but the importance of international quality indicators is especially emphasised. Such evidence may include:

organisation of conferences; key-note speakers at conferences; editorial roles on journals; membership of research bodies; conferment of medals and other honours; major grants including equipment; visiting professorships; patents; industrial collaborations; and senior academic visitors.

Contributions by Non Research-active Staff

3.14.24 The Panel requests departments to bring to its attention specific staff circumstances (for example, sick leave, maternity leave, career breaks/delays, engagement on long-term projects) which have had a significant impact on the research programme.

Working Methods

3.14.25 The Panel's understanding of excellence is as follows:

International Excellence: The Panel's concept of international excellence in research is work which helps set the international research agenda in the field, or which contributes significantly to its development. Such work will normally be disseminated internationally, will most probably be rigorously peer reviewed, and will display a substantive knowledge of developments in theory and/or practice internationally. It may include significant empirical findings, conceptual contributions, innovative methodologies and techniques, theoretical developments, and contributions to innovative policy development. It should be widely regarded as a significant contribution to the field.

National Excellence: National excellence in research is work which is not of such widely recognised significance but is still well researched and substantive. Much of this work will be peer reviewed, but it may be subject to less rigorous review processes and/or published in outlets of less wide circulation. Work in this category will still make a significant contribution to the subject but in quality terms will be closer to the average for the field.

Sub-national research should still make a contribution to the development of knowledge or techniques in the field.

3.14.26 The Panel will examine the proportions of submitted researchers whose research work meets attainable levels of international and national excellence.

3.14.27 The work of each researcher will be individually graded by appropriate Panel members with input, where necessary, from specialist advisers, using a numerical scale based mainly on the quality of the selected publications in RA2, together with information in RA5 and 6. These individual grades will form the principal basis for determination of overall grades for each of a submission's specified research groups. Each group's overall grade will then be weighted according to the number of staff it contains and these scores used to obtain an initial assessment for the submission (where no research groups are specified, grades of individuals will be aggregated in an analogous way).

3.14.28 The initial assessment of the submissions will be used to decide which lie close to a grade border and to determine which are to be sent to international experts.

3.14.29 Ten non-UK based experts of international standing will be appointed to comment on the panels identification of international excellence. They will examine all submissions initially graded at 5*, 5 and a selection graded at 4. Non-UK based experts will receive full submissions on which to base their comments. These comments will be treated as an input to the Panel's final assessment of the top grades. The Panel will make a qualitative judgement on international quality for each submission as a whole, in line with the rating scale and descriptions published in RAE 2/99. Institutions are expected to indicate evidence of international quality and impact on forms RA5 and RA6.

3.14.30 Following the initial assessment each submission will be reviewed by all Panel members. Each submission will also be examined in detail by two Panel members, who will present recommendations on final grading to the Panel. These recommendations will be based on the quality criteria outlined in 3.14.8, together with input from specialist advisers and international experts where appropriate. At this point the initial assessment of departments will be used solely as a guide and may be adjusted up or down following examination of all the evidence and detailed discussion by the Panel.

3.14.31 The Panel will reach a final grade through consensus or, where this is not possible, by majority vote.

Last updated 17 April 2000

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