Andrew's Angle - September 2019

Welcome to The Pulse – Huck’s new monthly e-newsletter. Our aim with this venture is to bring a bit more cohesion to our uniquely heterogeneous organization, while celebrating our outstanding people and their work. Here you’ll find a round-up of monthly Huck new items and external media mentions, along with episodes of The Symbiotic Podcast, another new Huck venture that explores the trials, tribulations and rewards of transdisciplinary collaboration in the life sciences. I hope you’ll enjoy the content, forward it on to friends and colleagues, and give us feedback through our website.

Andrew Read

A curious thing about the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences is that no other university appears to have anything quite like it. Think about that. Demonstrably, we aren’t necessary. 

I love that. It means we exist only to make a difference. Good things, often excellent things, will happen if we do nothing; clearly, Colleges and Departments can flourish on their own. That perspective underpins everything I am trying to do as director. “If we do X, what difference will it make?” Of course, that’s also the way our game-changing staff and faculty think: “What difference am I making?” 

‘Difference’, I think, boils down to impact, a hugely slippery concept. Many university administrators measure impact in terms of grant income, or financial efficiency, but of course that’s nonsense: dollars are the input. Impact is an output. My colleague Matt Thomas goes further: we should care less about outputs and more about outcomes. Scientific papers are outputs, and they really can generate outcomes. But papers needn’t be our only outputs, and infuriatingly, outcomes, even from papers, are really hard to measure. Sometimes, outcomes can be captured by citation counts or altimetric scores. But not always. If you actually solve a real world problem, it is often soon forgotten. Failing to solve a problem in an interesting way can better generate social media metrics and citations. 

I think a real measure of impact is the extent to which we change the beliefs and practices of a constituency. Huck’s target constituency is staggeringly diverse. Certainly it includes our global fellow academics - a very important and exciting audience. But our constituency could also be policy makers (EPA, WHO), or the commercial landscape (Google), or those charged with human well-being (e.g. physicians, farmers), or the lay public, striving to better understand themselves and their world. 

In the years to come, I very much look forward to the struggle of trying to balance that portfolio, perhaps one of the toughest challenges in scientific leadership. Right now, Huck is working on all the impact-enhancing initiatives we can construct. Bring us more. We exist to make special things happen.  

- Andrew