‘Staying focused in challenging times’, blog post by Chief Executive, Dr Katie Perry

15 June 2020 | Blogs, Dr Katie Perry blog

When I originally sat down to write this blog in early March, I anticipated that it would follow a fairly standard pattern, in which I set out the opportunities for collaboration that the Daphne Jackson Trust, as the UK’s leading charity dedicated to realising the potential of career break returners to research careers, can offer to fellow supporters of the Foundation of Science and Technology. Its writing was however inevitably delayed by the challenges that COVID 19 has posed to us all, both personally and professionally. I am grateful to the FST for allowing me the time to return to and complete this blog.

Reams have already been written on COVID 19 and I do not claim to be an expert in virology, or the economic or the societal implications of the situation of the virus. Though we are still in the very early stages of comprehending the many seismic impacts that COVID 19 is having, and will continue to have on society, higher education, and STEM research and innovation, the events of the last couple of months have enabled me to reflect on the situation in which we find ourselves.

I think I speak for everyone in observing that as well as the tragic effect of COVID 19 on individuals and families, the virus has impacted on every element of our lives. Moving from the micro to the societal, we hear talk of the world facing a worse financial recession since the 1930s, with the Bank of England predicting a reduction of up to 14% in the UK economy in 2020 and a doubling of UK unemployment. Double digit inflation may become deliberate Government policy and taxes will increase. The higher education sector, the seedbed of so much research and innovation in the UK, is facing a multi-billion-pound financial hole, with research paused, cancelled or rechannelled at immediate notice to meet the demands of tackling the virus. Despite financial mitigation efforts by Government, the establishment of the Research Sustainability Taskforce and the valiant efforts of overarching sectoral organisations such as Wellcome and UKRI, there are massive challenges ahead of those of us who work in STEM, research and innovation.

We at the Daphne Jackson Trust are committed to playing our part in helping the country meet these challenges, and will ensure that as well as continuing to support the full range of returners to STEM, we will, where possible and appropriate, seek to align ourselves with the new strategic research priorities which flow from COVID-19 in areas such as the biosciences, virology, biomedicine, biochemistry, environment and behavioural sciences, statistical modelling, and the medium and long term medical and psychological impacts on individuals and society. The Trust will also continue to work to address the perennial problems which face the UK STEM sector and are even more critical in these uncertain times – problems such as the stemming of the leaky STEM pipeline, bringing back knowledge and expertise to the research and innovation sector and maximising its contribution to UK plc to the benefit of all.

Despite the size and scale of the pandemic, I am at heart an optimist and am confident that the national and global demand for responses from higher education, research and innovation to counter COVID 19 will ensure that our sector, although changed, will survive and prosper. What we also know for certain is that COVID 19 is generating new opportunities for collaboration and, to return to what was to be my original theme, the Daphne Jackson Trust is keen to hear from organisations who are interested in partnering with us. For those readers who have not engaged directly with the Trust before, we are an independent charity which offers unique, flexible, part-time, paid Fellowships to enable men and women to return to research with confidence after a career break of two years or more for family, caring or health reasons. Founded in 1992 in memory of Professor Daphne Jackson, the UK’s first female professor of Physics, the Trust has helped over 400 individuals return to STEM and related careers; seven have reached professorial level. This year, we have expanded our remit to incorporate the social sciences and arts & humanities. 2020 has also seen the Trust pilot an innovative Technical Retraining Fellowship which will further widen our scope and impact.

The Trust’s Fellowships are normally two or three years in length and based at universities and research institutes throughout the UK. Fellows undertake a challenging research project and an individually tailored retraining programme. We award up to 25 fellowships each year. The Trust has no independent income and was not set up with an endowment so we rely on funds from sponsors and donors to meet the costs of the Fellow’s salary and the Trust’s support costs. In addition to UKRI, our sponsors include universities, the national academies, learned societies/professional institutions, industry and charities.

The Trust has established itself as a source of expertise within the policy arena with regard to returners. Examples include contributions to work undertaken by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (2013 study into returning qualified female engineers returning to industry); the Royal Society Diversity Steering Group; the Science Council Diversity Group; the Commons Science & Technology Select Committee (2013/14 Inquiry on Women in academic STEM careers) and the Campaign for Science & Engineering’s 2018 Diversity Policy Review. In addition to the W&W APPG, we are also members of the Parliamentary & Scientific Committee and support the Diversity & Inclusion in STEM, and Medical Research APPGs. We work closely with Advance HE’s Athena SWAN Charter initiative.

Please feel free to contact me should you wish to learn more about the Trust’s work and investigate opportunities for collaboration as a host, sponsor or with regards to policy initiatives.

Dr Katie Perry is Chief Executive at the Daphne Jackson Trust. Katie became Chief Executive of the Trust in 2011, having previously been Trust Manager.  She is a physicist with a background in science communication and holds a degree and PhD in Physics from the University of Surrey, where she worked with Professor Daphne Jackson. Katie manages the Trust’s strategic activities, working closely with the Board of Trustees. She develops and maintains relationships with stakeholders and sits on a number of national committees addressing diversity issues in STEM. Katie’s drive and commitment to engage with key sectoral players has transformed the Trust into the dynamic and influential organisation it is today.

This blog post was originally published on The Foundation for Science and Technology FST Blog on June 5th 2020. 

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