Eastern Arc Annual Report 2019-20

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Annual Report 2019-20

2019-20 was a time of change for Eastern Arc. It was the moment when it pivoted between the first and second phase of its development and, as part of this, I was appointed as its first Director. It was a huge honour to take on this role. The consortium had achieved so much in its first iteration, and it was great to have such a strong foundation to build on. It was the launchpad for 21 research careers, hosted over 60 workshops, seminars, conferences and sandpits, and brought in more than ÂŁ21.4m in research and innovation funding, including the three doctoral training partnerships. However, it was an opportunity to take a step back and think about the identities we share as three separate universities, and what we wanted to achieve by working together. Talking to a wide range of colleagues across the three universities and beyond, it became clear that we had in common a radical, interdisciplinary past, but also shared the challenges and opportunities of being on the Eastern seaboard of England: an area of transition, migration and trade. The second phase of Eastern Arc builds on these identities. Working closely with the EARC Steering Committee and Delivery Group, and consulting widely across the consortium, I am proud of the five year strategy we have developed and the initiatives we have already launched. Talking to both academics and professional services staff, there?s a sense of shared excitement about what the future holds, despite the impact of the pandemic on all areas of our work. Covid-19 has shown how important collaboration and cooperation is, and Eastern Arc is an invaluable way of making this happen. I would like to thank all of those who have engaged with and helped steer Eastern Arc, as well as those who shaped it during its first years. Without them we would not have had such a productive, robust and creative flowering into its second phase. Phil Ward Director of Eastern Arc

Introducti on

Cover image by RenĂŠ DeAnda on Unsplash Images on pages 2-5 were taken from the EARC Conference in February 2020 by Dave Higgleton

The Strategy 2020-25 was launched at our Conference in February 2020. At the heart of it is our vision to deliver real and tangible change through a close collaboration to address pressing issues of sustainable development. We will focus our radical and collaborative principles on four areas of strength and opportunity, creating interdisciplinary networks that will stimulate and galvanise research with social, environmental and economic impact. The four themes were identified following a mapping exercise in the autumn of 2019 that used metrics including REF2014 outcomes, field-weighted citation impact, and grant capture, together with more qualitative data such as the universities?self-identified areas of interdisciplinary strengths. The four themes are: -

Healt h syst em s, social car e an d w ellbein g


Hu m an r igh t s, equ alit y an d con f lict


Su st ain abilit y, n at u r al r esou r ces an d f ood


Cu lt u r e, con n ect ion an d cr eat ivit y.

To achieve this, Eastern Arc will have three objectives: -

to develop a st r on g collabor at ive cor e within our themes


to support exper im en t al, r isk -t ak in g act ivit y, and


to engage with ext er n al policy-m ak er s an d en d-u ser s.

We recognise that fulfilling our Strategy will not be simple. In the past fifty years higher education has become increasingly competitive and combative, and this has been exacerbated by the rise of league tables. We must work to counter the most corrosive effects of this. To do so, we will be guided by four basic principles: trust, understanding, creativity and risk. -

Tr u st : Each university, each individual, must trust each other and see the mutual benefit of collaboration.


Un der st an din g: We must understand our individual strengths, as well as the contexts in which we work, and the needs of our regional, national and global communities.


Cr eat ivit y: we must be creative, flexible and adaptive in the way we work.


"Realising our v can take

Risk : we must be willing to take risks, and we must be willing to fail.

This report groups our achievements in 2019-20 within our three objectives.

together as th skills, we w

The launch of a new Strategy

vision will be difficult, but our shared history has shown that we e a disruptive idea and create a new way of thinking. By coming

he Eastern Arc, by sharing our resources, our knowledge and our will seek to overcome the specific challenges of our time to help create a sustainable, peaceful and equitable future."

Objecti ve


To develop a strong collaborati ve core wi thi n our th Th em at ic Ch am pion s appoin t ed The Thematic Champions are key to our endeavour. They will act as the leads and facilitators, identifying opportunities, making links, developing networks and building a critical mass in our four themes. All of the 17 appointed Champions have a strong research track record, an understanding of the value of collaboration and interdisciplinary working, and a commitment to working with others and crossing departmental, institutional and disciplinary boundaries. It is expected that each individual Champion and theme will develop differently. Initiatives will wax and wane, but through them we believe we will develop a critical mass in our areas of strength. Activities may include developing external grant applications, holding workshops, recording podcasts, or hosting conferences, amongst other areas. Not only will the Champions work within their own universities, but between the three EARC members, sharing good practice and learning from each other about their relative strengths, successes and challenges.

Details of all the Thematic Champions, their thematic and institutional affiliations and their individual research, are available here.


Row 1 (Health Systems, Social Care and Wellbeing): Laurie James-Hawkins (Essex); Tracey Loughran (Essex); Kevin Daniels (UEA); David Watson (UEA); Michelle Garrett (Kent); Julie Anderson (Kent) Row 2: (Culture, Connection and Creativity): Michael Tymkiw (Essex); Neli Demireva (Essex); Faiyaz Doctor (Essex); Melanie Williams (UEA); Murray Smith (Kent) Row 3: (Human Rights, Equality and Conflict): Andrew Fagan (Essex); Wendy McMahon (UEA); Erin Sanders-McDonagh (Kent) Row 4: & 5 (Sustainability, Natural Resources and Food): Brian Reid (UEA); Karen Jones (Kent); Graham Underwood (Essex)

In t er disciplin ar y dir ect or ies pr odu ced To support the Champions in their work, we have started to collate lists of colleagues with shared interests within and across their themes, particularly those whose work aligns with government and funding priorities. Three have been produced so far. They are: -


Health Systems, Social Care and Wellbeing


Research around ageing;


Research around mental health;

Human Rights, Equality and Conflict -

Research around migration (in production)

Working closely with the Thematic Champions, we will continue to produce these lists, which it is hoped will act as both internal and external directories for those wishing to collaborate in key areas or research.

Photo by Antevasin Nguyen on Unsplash

Ext er n al f u n din g bids pr epar ed

Although the Champions are just beginning their work, and our lists of shared interests are still being created, there have been a number of applications for external funding that have been developed. This includes: -

an application to the National Institute of Health Research for a ÂŁ1m project that focuses on tackling inequality in coastal communities;


a ÂŁ4m initial application to the Research England Development Fund, currently being developed by the Director;


an outline application to the EPSRC strategic equipment scheme (value TBC).

Photo: ESCALA, University of Essex

Special Collect ion s gr ou p est ablish ed An area of real opportunity is to more closely coordinate our archives and special collections, and enable wider access to them by members of all three universities, including academics, researchers and students. This was explored in Phase 1, and there was some initial activity, such as a shared exhibition at the 2018 Conference. Steps were also taken to identify common themes shared by the special collections. A special interest group (SIG) has now been identified and convened, and it is starting to work on: -

Possible routes for funding for digitisation, engagement and innovation;


Creating a single portal for our special collections on the EARC website.

Equ ipm en t -sh ar in g in it iat ive developed The sharing of equipment between universities was one of the main drivers for many of the regional consortias being established following the Wakeham Review. In the first phase of EARC (2013-18) there was no single coordinator who could take on the role in facilitating and enabling this to happen. With the appointment of the Director (2019), we can now explore this potential opportunity. Not only will it benefit colleagues across the Arc, giving them access to a wider pool of significant equipment, but it will also enable us to apply for strategic funding. A task-and-finish group has been appointed, and the first steps have been taken in developing the parameters for such a scheme. This includes corresponding with Jisc to identify the appropriate data we need to provide for a shared database, and developing a two stage approach in auditing our equipment, starting with internally shared ?platform?equipment and, depending on the success of this, the individually-held, lab-based equipment.

Objecti ve


To support experi mental, ri sk -tak i ng acti vi ty

Pilot pr oject s f u n ded

Throughout 2019-20 the Eastern Arc Fund provided funding for a diverse range of workshops and projects that supported collaborations between the partner universities and beyond.

It has supported 12 projects led by more than 30 academics and researchers at the three universities, and involved the participation of many more. Topics covered include novel ways to manage invasive species, development of a Covid-19 vaccine, and human rights and climate change. Investigators from one of the projects, looking at household decision making around single-use plastics, discussed their work in the eighth EARC podcast.

However, given the financial uncertainties following the pandemic, the Fund has been put on hold for the immediate future. It is hoped that it will reopen once the impact of the coronavirus on the higher education sector is better understood.

Con ser vat ion gen om ics t o t ack le in f ect iou s disease in t h e en dan ger ed M au r it iu s par ak eet £9,945 Prof Jim Groombridge (Kent) and Prof Cock van Oosterhout (UEA), with Dr Matt Clark (Natural History Museum) Exper im en t al Social Scien ces Wor k sh op Dr Fernanda Leite Lopez de Leon (Kent), Stefania Sitzia (UEA) and Patrick Nolen (Essex)


Low -en er gy AI f or t h e au t on om ou s det ect ion of in vasive species Prof Andy King (Kent), Dan Knox (Kent) and Dr Lynn Dicks (UEA), with Sam Day (Asian Hornet Action Team) Th e ef f ect of t h e EU Dir ect ive on Su st ain abilit y Repor t in g in lar ge EU f in an cial an d n on -f in an cial f ir m s



Dr Silvia Gaia (Essex), Prof Claudia Girardone (Essex) and Dr Francesca Cuomo (UEA) Ret h in k in g et h ical con su m er ism : Un der st an din g t h e dif f er in g h ou seh older r oles in ef f ect in g su st ain able ch an ge


Dr Danielle Tucker (Essex) and Dr Alison Dean (Kent), with Dr Pamela Yeow (Birkbeck) Tr acin g im pact s of f oet al vs con t em por ar y clim at e con dit ion s on adu lt ph ysical an d m en t al w ellbein g Prof Irma Clots-Figueras (Kent) and Prof Sonia Bhalotra (Essex), with Dr Joseph Flavian Gomes (UC Louvain)


M at h em at ics of t h e East er n Ar c Dr Marina Iliopoulou (Kent), Dr Murat Akman (Essex) and Prof Mirna Dzamonja (UEA)


Secon d an n u al Bodily an d Cogn it ive Selves Wor k sh op Dr Megan Klabunde (Essex), Dr Louis Renoult (UEA) and Dr Briana Beck (Kent)


Hu m an r igh t s an d clim at e ch an ge: Fr om con cept u al t o pr act ical aspect s Dr Stephen Turner (Essex), Mr Birsha Ohdedar (Essex) and Dr Giridharan Renganathan (Kent)


Explor in g par t icipat or y appr oach es t o r esear ch in g h om eless an d vu ln er able you n g people £9,450 Dr Erin Sanders-McDonagh (Kent), Dr Roisin Ryan-Flood (Essex), Dr Isabel Crowhurst (Essex) and Dr Alison Winch (UEA) Developm en t of a Covid-19 vaccin e Prof Simon Carding (UEA), Prof Martin Warren (UEA and Kent) and Prof Mark Smales (Kent), with Prof James Stewart (Liverpool)


M en t or in g sch em e in it iat ed The second objective includes ?encourag[ing] academics...to engage with internal and external stakeholders who can provide different perspectives, different knowledge and different skills.? An important way of doing this is through cross-institutional mentoring. We therefore launched a mentoring scheme, under the academic leadership of Professor Tracey Loughran (Essex). Engaging with someone outside of their own universities will allow academicss at the three Eastern Arc universities to view their situation more objectively, and it will give them an invaluable understanding of how to develop their career, how to balance conflicting demands that they may be faced with, or how to deal with the more practical aspects of research or teaching. There has been strong interest and very positive engagement with the scheme. with over 50 colleagues applying to take part.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Su st ain able r esear ch car eer s su ppor t ed The Wellcome Trust?s report, What Researchers Think about the Culture They Work in, provided clear evidence that there are widespread problems in research culture, which have the potential to affect its long-term sustainability. It is only by acting now, collectively, that we can change this. We worked with Wellcome to host one of nine regional workshops to explore the findings of the report with colleagues across Eastern Arc, and continue to support them in this initiative . However, we are also taking the initiative to look at ways of supporting researchers and developing sustainable careers. One opportunity to do so is to widen a pilot project that took place at the University of Kent between 2018-20. The programme gave an opportunity for postdoctoral research assistants (PDRAs) to apply for funding, to undertake independent research and to manage a researcher, whilst also offering undergraduates a chance to take part in real research. Each PDRA applied for ÂŁ2.1k-2.5k to undertake a discrete research project. Once selected, undergraduates applied to work on the projects. By doing so it gives early career researchers (ECRs) the opportunity to develop their own independent research, gain acknowledgement and raise their profile, and help to secure their future career. This addresses a key shortcoming identified in the Wellcome report. We will further develop this proposal and open discussions with Wellcome to explore the possibility of seeking pilot funding to roll this out across the Arc.

Objecti ve


To engage wi th external poli cy-makers and end users

M en tWebin or in g sch ar ser emies e lau launnch ched ed Inviting external speakers to talk about the wider research policy environment is important in order for those working at Eastern Arc universities to be aware of the wider context in which we collaborate. The first of these was hosted by Public Health England, and looked at the priorities they had identified for research on healthy ageing.

Policy posit ion ou t lin ed Understanding what Eastern Arc stands for is central to our work. We lobby and advocate on behalf of our members. Part of this work is in responding to consultations, and we have drafted submissions to two significant ones in 2019-20, including that which followed the publication of the government?s Research and Development Roadmap. As part of this work we have established a series of ?position papers?that set out where we stand on key current issues, including the ?levelling-up? agenda, the importance of international research, supporting impact and innovation, and strengthening research infrastructures.

Podcast s ser ies cr eat ed With the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, the opportunity for the Director to meet

Episode 9: Covid, BLM, t he Supre and ot her key issues in t he US ele

colleagues at the three universities, and for academics to meet others, was severely curtailed. The podcast series was launched to enable this to continue. It also met the third strategic objective in raising the profile of EARC, and engaging externally. To date there have been 11 podcasts released, broadly on a monthly basis. The topics covered include the origin and management of coronavirus, developing research networks, maintaining health and wellbeing in lockdown, and the art and history of the environment in the Americas.

Episode 8: Single use plast ics and household decision-making

Episode 5: Maint aining healt h and wellbeing during lockdown

Episode 10: The role of t he elect o and t he rise of evanglicals in t he

Episode 7: ?There is no revolut ion wit hout songs?: environment & art in t he Americas

eme Court ect ion

Episode 2: Ret urning t o normalit y aft er coronavirus

Episode 6: ?The myt h of hyperabundance?: t he environment al hist ory of t he Americas

oral college US elect ion

Episode 3: Using net works t o develop research collaborat ions

Episode 1: Underst anding t he origins of coronavirus

Wit h r adical h ear t s an d open m in ds Eastern Arc is the regional research consortium that brings together the universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent. All three universities were established in the 1960s to be a different type of institution, aiming to work across disciplinary boundaries, and to offer alternative ways of thinking. In addition, they are all situated on the eastern seaboard of England, in regions shaped by agriculture, but also by transport, trade, and migration As a result they are both outward looking and believe in the value of 'doing different'. Eastern Arc was established to support and develop this, to encourage and support collaboration, and to work together for the benefit of our universities, the people who work within them, and the regions of which we're part. www.easternarc.ac.uk @TheEasternARC info@easternarc.ac.uk

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