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The University of Southampton
Interdisciplinary Research Excellence



Q: What is the University's strategy for interdisciplinary research?

A: This is set out in the IDR Strategy which was updated in 2014 by Professor Judith Petts. The strategy relates to leadership and management of interdisciplinary research, mainly through the University Strategic Research Groups (USRGs).

Q: What is the reason for having a strategy for interdisciplinary research?

A: The University’s strategy was developed in response to the research councils increasingly supporting bigger and longer collaborative projects that address areas of societal need. The University recognised that to maintain and grow its research income it needed to encourage the establishment of interdisciplinary networks of researchers and to nurture distinctive long-term interdisciplinary research programmes that have impact on major areas of societal need.

Q: Who is responsible for delivering the University's strategy for interdisciplinary research?

A: The implementation of the strategy is the responsibility of the Director of Interdisciplinary Research, who reports to the DVC for research. Oversight is by the Associate Deans. The Chairs and co-Chairs of the University Strategic Research Groups (USRGs) are responsible for establishing interdisciplinary communities of researchers and co-ordinating major bids for funding, while the leaders of the Focus Areas are responsible for developing and establishing distinctive long-term research programmes.

Q: How does the University's Strategy for Interdisciplinary Research link to recent capital investments?

A: The University's strategy is closely aligned to recent major capital investments. The NanoScience USRG and the Focus Area of "The Sensored Environment" build on the recently completed The Mountbatten Nanofabrication facility. The Complexity in Real World Contexts USRG together with the "Integrated Decision Support Systems" and "Multi-scale Models for Policy Development" Focus Areas exploit the University's investment in High Performance computing. The Life Sciences USRG is strongly linked to the new Institute for Life Sciences.

Q: How do I find out what's happening in a USRG?

A: Each USRG has a mailing list so the easiest and most direct way to find out what's happening is to get your name on the mailing list. You can do this by contacting the relevant USRG co-ordinator or the USRG Chair. Alternatively you can get a general overview of the USRG by visiting its web site.

University Strategic Research Groups

Q: What are the USRGs?

A: The University Strategic Research Groups (USRGs) are interdisciplinary networks of researchers drawn from across the University and who are interested in working together on projects that address issues of direct and significant societal impact.

Q: How do USRGs operate?

A: Each USRG has its own way of working. However, since they all fulfil networking and co-ordinating roles they have regular events such as discussions, seminars or away-days. Each USRG is led by a Chair or by a small core group of co-Chairs who may be supported by an advisory group. These advisory groups tend to have representation from the relevant stakeholder Schools.

Q: How do I become involved in a USRG?

A: You can become involved with the USRGs by attending any of their events, by joining a network that is coordinated by an existing USRG, or by contacting the USRG chair or the appropriate USRG co-ordinator.

Q: How are USRGs resourced?

A: The USRGs are resourced centrally with an annual allocation to cover their networking functions. In addition, the USRGs are supported by two co-ordinators, who are members of Research and Innovation Services (R&IS).

Q: Can I get funding for studentships or PDRAs from a USRG?

A: Since USRGs are funded to support networking they have limited funds to support studentships or PDRAs. Although it is unusual, it may be possible for USRGs to support students or postdoctoral researchers where there is an exceptional strategic rationale for doing so.

Q: What led to the current mix of USRGs?

A: The majority of the current USRGs have come about in response to the areas of societal impact that were identified by Research Councils UK in 2008 and which have framed much of the public funding of research. Two (Work Futures and Complexity in Real World Contexts) were set up in response to 'grass-roots' lobbying.

Q: What is the lifetime of a USRG?

A: This is difficult to answer in that the USRGs are meant to establish and nurture interdisciplinary networks, which is a long-term endeavour. The performance of each USRG is reviewed annually, and the outcome determines the way the USRG will develop during the following year. It is possible that some USRGs may need to be re-organised to ensure that opportunities to secure funding are not lost.

Q: Is the number of USRGs fixed?

A: The number of USRGs is limited by the resource available, both in terms of the central allocation available to support the USRGs, and in terms of the commitment of members of staff, many of whom are members of more than one USRG. The expectation is that at any one time there will be between 6 and 10 USRGs.

Q: Can I form a USRG?

A: The short answer is yes. There is a procedure in place for making a case for a new USRG. The procedure also sets out the criteria that will be used in assessing the case.

Q: Who can be a USRG Chair?

A: Any member of academic staff could be a USRG Chair or co-Chair, providing they have a track record of research leadership and academic credibility in the area of focus of the USRG.

Q: How are the Chairs/co-Chairs of the USRGs selected?

A: Chairs of USRGs are selected by the DVC for Research in consultation with the appropriate Associate Deans. Co-chairs are selected by the DVC for Research and the Director of Interdisciplinary Research in consultation with the appropriate USRG Chairs.

Strategic Focus Areas

Q: What are the Strategic Focus Areas?

A: The strategic Focus Areas are areas of activity where several USRGs overlap and where Southampton has distinctive research led by staff with exceptional track records of achievement. Currently there are four such areas: 'The Sensored Environment', 'Integrated Multi-scale Models for Policy Development', 'Integrated Decision Support Systems' and 'Strategies for Regional Resource Management'. All come under the heading 'System Interventions: from Policy to Mitigation and Control' which represents the common focus of several USRGs on the prediction/anticipation of system behaviour (e.g. resilience) and the development of system interventions (which may relate to policy, mitigation actions or system control).

Q: How do I get involved in the Strategic Focus Areas?

A: Since the Focus areas are at the overlap between different USRGs it should be a natural extension of belonging to a USRG to become involved with a Focus Area. If you feel that your research expertise or skills can contribute to one of the Focus Areas, or overall to the theme of 'System Interventions: from Policy to Mitigation and Control', you should discuss this with the appropriate USRG Chairs and the leader of that Focus Area.

Q: How are the leaders of the Strategic Focus Areas selected?

A: These are chosen by the DVC for research and the Director of Interdisciplinary Research in consultation with the relevant Associate Deans.

Q: Can anyone establish a Strategic Focus Area?

A: There are clear criteria for leading a Strategic Focus Area, and the leaders of these have a clear vision for how to develop the area coupled to outstanding track records of achievement in leading interdisciplinary research teams and securing research funding.

Q: How are Strategic Focus Areas resourced?

A: The Focus Areas are resourced separately from the USRGs, with funding being allocated to leverage major external research contracts and to support critical appointments where capacity gaps have been identified.

Interdisciplinary research offers the opportunity to open new areas of research, to use different expertises to explore the same issue, to tackle complex problems and to augment the return on investment in research by opening the use of knowledge, tools, methodology and solutions generated in one discipline to other disciplines.

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