date: Fri Jun 1 13:28:05 2001
from: Mike Hulme <m.hulmeatXYZxyz.ac.uk>
subject: outcome of John Taylors visit
John, Nick and Neil,
First of all thank you for attending yesterday the visit of Dr John Taylor to the Tyndall
Centre and for contributing through your presentations. He finally left at about 5.10pm
having probably spent longer with us than intended. If we get any formal feedback I will
send it round.
The key messages I got (personal ones of course) from his visit both from the open session
and from the later closed session were as follows:
1) he clearly is sufficiently interested in our progress to have made time for the visit.
The inter-disciplinary nature of the Centre is clearly something that he is keen to
encourage in future Research Council initiatives and consequently he would like Tyndall to
succeed. In this context, he sees the need for Tyndall to be quite directive in 2^nd and
3^rd funding rounds, ensuring we hit a small number of big successes rather than rather
more moderate ones. He welcomes our involvement of expertise from outside the Consortium.
2) he is keen to see UK science succeed also on the European and world stages and was
encouraging us in Tyndall to think also in these terms. Hence his comment about Tyndall
leading a network of excellence in Europe to position ourselves well for the FP-VI
Programme (the European Climate Forum is the obvious starting point for this) and also his
encouragement to us to think about using the Wolfson salary top-up scheme to attract big
science names from abroad with big salaries to work in the UK. He specifically said the
scheme has attracted no applications yet in our area (environment or climate?) a hint that
he would like to see some applications.
3) he recognises the long-term nature of what we are embarked on, thus confirming the view
received from other quarters that we have 10 or 15 years of funding in sight if we
demonstrate our potential to make a difference. He was quite clear about the focus of the
Tyndall Centre being on top-quality science, some of it risky, and felt that Tyndall
getting too deeply involved in government contract research, or indeed consultancy, would
dilute our effort (at the same time, he recognised there may be potential down the line for
some associated spin-off activity that might operate more aggressively in these latter
4) he clearly wanted Tyndall to be ambitious, both in relation to point 2) above, but also
in proposing big new research initiatives for new funding either via the individual
Research Councils or even direct to him. This is a message we have also previously
received via NERC and EPSRC. These big ideas for big money are needed most immediately to
feed into the 2002 Spending Review (deadline September 2001, but in reality July). To make
the case for new money directly earmarked for Tyndall rather than being an open community
programme we would need to demonstrate not only the importance of the idea and our
potential to realise it, but also to show clearly that we have already moved from being a
proposed network of researchers to one that knows where it is going and what it wants to
do. This may be difficult for us to do so early in our cycle. He personally would be
happy to join a small discussion group with one or more CEs from the Councils and us if we
had any concrete ideas to propose.
5) in relation to points 1) and 4) above, he clearly favours thinking about the big ideas
rather than picking off Research Councils one-by-one. Hence, if we wanted to bring MRC and
BBSRC into our funding circle, we would best do it by demonstrating the cross-disciplinary
essence of proposed research rather than by playing too strongly on a single disciplinary
addition to the Tyndall brief.
6) he likes the Isaac Newton Institute model of inviting some of the best scientists for
between 1-6 months to one institute to work in depth on research frontiers. This is an
idea we could pursue in future in the area of integrated climate change assessment,
although we would need new money for it.