On 12th December 2017, in the middle of that period of heavy snow and ice which brought the West Midlands to a halt, I found myself sitting in front of my laptop being interviewed by Skype for the position of REF Panel Adviser. A couple of weeks later, I was delighted to hear I had been successful, and will be panel adviser for Main Panel D and its sub-panels for the criteria setting phase which is to take place this year.
So what does this actually mean? I am fortunate in that having undertaken the same role for REF2014 I know what I am letting myself in for.
REF panel advisers are all experienced professionals from HEIs, often but not always REF Managers, who work alongside the Main and sub-panel chairs to make the REF process work. They are expected to advise on rules and process during the course of the REF, to make sure meetings run smoothly and deliver the outcomes needed, and to do quite substantial amounts of writing at different points in the process. Over the next year, we will be working with our Main Panel chairs to draft the panel criteria, taking into account sub-panel discussions. As Main Panel D has 10 sub-panels, this will mean juggling a lot of different points of view to try to produce a document which meets both HEFCE’s (or Research England as it will be) requirements and also reflects disciplinary characteristics and norms. This is quite a challenge…
This may all sound quite dry and boring, but in fact the role is immensely interesting and rewarding. It involves working with some of the brightest and best academics in the country, on a hugely important project, to very tight timescales, and on top of the day job. (Am I mad?) In REF2014 I made some great friends during the process, many of whom are going to be involved again; visited some truly awful hotels, but also got to eat at some great places (the Chelsea Arts Club being a highlight); assisted SP chairs in wrestling with all sorts of tricky problems arising from the assessment process; got to be in Edinburgh on the night of the Scottish referendum; watched the scores for MPD emerging over the course of the year and realised that UoB was likely to do quite well in a number of subjects; and saw that for all its faults, the REF process is delivered, by and large, by a group of highly committed individuals determined to ensure the outcomes are fair and accurate. I can’t wait to start again.