MIST

Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial

Latest news

A Summary of the SWIMMR Kick-Off Meeting

The kick-off event for the Space Weather Innovation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk Study (one of the Wave 2 programmes of the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund) took place in the Wolfson Library of the Royal Society on Tuesday November 26th. Seventy-five people attended the event, representing a range of academic institutions, as well as representatives from industry, government and public sector research establishments such as the UK Met Office. 

The morning session of the meeting consisted of five presentations, introducing the programme and its relevance to government, the Research Councils and the Met Office, as well as describing details of the potential calls. The presentations were as follows:

  •  Prof John Loughhead (Chief Scientific Advisor to BEIS) - Space Weather Innovation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk Programme (a governmental perspective). The slides from Prof John Loughhead's talk are available here.
  • Prof Chris Mutlow (Director of STFC RAL Space) - SWIMMR: Project funded by the Strategic Priorities Fund (a perspective from STFC).  The slides from Prof Chris Mutlow's talk are available here.
  • Jacky Wood (Head of Business Partnerships at NERC) - Space Weather Innovation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk (SWIMMR) - A NERC perspective.  The slides from Jacky Wood's talk are available here.
  • Dr. Ian McCrea (Senior Programme Manager for SWIMMR) -  SWIMMR: Space Weather Innovation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk: A wave 2 programme of the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund.  The slides from Dr Ian McCrea's talk are available here.
  • Mark Gibbs (Head of Space Weather at the UK Met Office) - SWIMMR (Met Office perspective and detailed description of the calls.  The slides from Mark Gibb's talk are available here.

During the lunch break, the Announcement of Opportunity for the five NERC SWIMMR calls was issued on the NERC web site.  The afternoon therefore began with a brief introduction by Jacky Wood to the NERC Announcement of Opportunity, and the particular terms and conditions which it contained.

The remainder of the afternoon session was spent in a Question and Answer session in which attendees were able to ask questions to the speakers about the nature of the programme and the potential timing of future calls, and finally to an informal discussion session, in which participants gathered into groups to discuss the opportunities for funding which had been outlined. 

2019 RAS Council elections

As you may have seen, the nominations for RAS Council are currently open with a deadline of 29 November. MIST falls under the “G” (Geophysics) category and there are up to 3 councillor positions and one vice-president position available. MIST Council strongly encourages interested members of the MIST community to consider standing for election.
 
Clare Watt (University of Reading) has kindly volunteered to be a point of contact for the community for those who may wish to talk more about being on council and what it involves. Clare is a councillor on RAS Council, with her term due to complete in 2020, and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 

 

Outcome of SSAP priority project review

From the MIST mailing list:

We are writing to convey the outcome of this year’s priority project “light touch” review, specifically with reference to those projects within the remit of SSAP. We would like to thank all the PIs that originally submitted ideas, and those who provided updates to their projects over the summer. SSAP strongly believe that all the projects submitted are underpinned by strong scientific drivers in the SSAP area.

The “light touch” review was undertaken with a unified approach by SSAP and AAP, considering factors that have led to priority project development (in STFC or other research councils) or new funding for priority projects (1/51 projects in the STFC remit) in the last 12 months. After careful discussion, it was agreed by SSAP and AAP not to select any project where the remit clearly overlaps with UKSA (i.e. space missions or TRL 4+), reflecting STFC’s focus on ground-based observations, science exploitation and TRL 0-3 development. Whilst in no way reflecting the excellence of the science, or community scientific wishes, this approach has resulted in some changes to the list of SSAP priority projects. However, now, unlike at the time of the original call, it is clear that such projects cannot move forwards without UKSA (financial) support, and such funds are already committed according to UKSA’s existing programme. SSAP remain strongly supportive of mission-led science in solar-system exploration, so SSAP have strongly recommended that the high-level discussions between UKSA and STFC continue with a view to supporting a clear joint priority projects call in future, more naturally suited to mission and bi-lateral opportunities.

The priority projects (and PIs) identified by SSAP for 2019/20 are:

  • Solar Atmospheric Modelling Suite (Tony Arber)
  • LARES1: Laboratory Analysis for Research into Extra-terrestrial Samples (Monica Grady)
  • EST: European Solar Telescope (Sarah Matthews)

SSAP requested STFC continue to work with all three projects to expand their community reach and continue to develop the business cases for future (new) funding opportunities. In addition, SSAP have requested that STFC explore ways in which the concept of two projects—“ViCE: Virtual Centres of Excellence Programme / MSEMM Maximising Science Exploitation from Space Science Missions”—can be combined and, with community involvement, generate new funding for science exploitation and maximising scientific return in solar-system sciences. Initially this consultation will occur between SSAP and STFC.

We would like to thank the community again for its strong support, and rapid responses on very short timescales. A further “light touch” review will occur in 2020, with a new call for projects anticipated in 2021. SSAP continue to appreciate the unfamiliar approach a “call for proposals with no funding attached” causes to the community and are continuing to stress to STFC that the community would appreciate clearer guidance and longer timescales in future priority project calls.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Helen Fraser on behalf of SSAP

The Global Network for the Sustainability In Space (GNOSIS)

The Global Network for the Sustainability In Space (GNOSIS) is an STFC Network+ with the goal of helping researchers within the Particle, Nuclear and Astrophysics areas to engage with researchers from other research councils and industry to study the near Earth space environment. For more details, visit the GNOSIS website or see this issue of the GNOSIS newsletter.

Over the next few years we expect a large increase in the number of satellites in Earth orbit. This will lead to unprecedented levels of space traffic much of which will end as debris. The aim of this network is to understand the debris populations and its impact on space traffic management with a view to enabling a safer environment.

The free GNOSIS lunch event will be held on 18 November 2019 at the British Interplanetary Society at Vauxhall, London, with a video link to the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, to facilitate participation from across the UK. Tickets can be obtained here.

GNOSIS will be producing a programme of meetings for both space operations specialists and subject matter novices and will be able to support the development of collaborative ideas through project and part graduate student funding. Details of our first workshop will be announced in the next month.

If you are an academic with no direct experience but have knowledge of areas such as observations, data analysis, simulation or even law, then register your interest on our website. If you are a currently working in the space sector or if you are just interested in the aims and goals of the network please also register your interest and get involved.

SWIMMR: A £19.9M programme of the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund

Space Weather Instrumentation, Measurement, Modelling and Risk (SWIMMR) is a £19.9M programme of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Strategic Priorities Fund.

MIST would like draw the attention of the research community to the potential opportunities which will become available as a result of this programme, which received final approval from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in August. The programme will run from now until March 2023 and is aimed at improving the UK’s capabilities for space weather monitoring and prediction. UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund provides a means for linking research council investment to governmental research priorities, hence the areas being emphasised in the programme reflect space weather threats to critical infrastructure, as reflected in the UK national risk register.

The programme will be delivered jointly by the STFC and NERC, mainly through open grant calls, but including some elements of commissioned work to be delivered through open competitive tenders. The first calls are expected to appear during the coming weeks. More information about the programme is available through the RAL Space website, and is forthcoming from the NERC web site.

To mark the official launch of the programme and provide more details of the planned activities, a kick-off meeting is being held in the Wolfson Library of the Royal Society on Tuesday 26 November 2019, from 10:30. Pre-registration is required for this event and can be done using this link. We hope that many of you will be able to attend.

Farewell to the magnetopause and hello science policy!

by Katie Raymer

Last year, I completed my PhD at the University of Leicester and finally crossed the Earth’s magnetopause one last time and entered the science policy-osphere!

In this blog post I’ll tell you about how I got to where I am now and what a career in science policy entails.

Fake news, POST and parliament

When I started my PhD, I hadn’t thought too much about what I wanted to do afterwards. I quite fancied a post-doc position, but knew it would be difficult to get and wasn’t certain if I wanted to stay in academia in the long term. In the summer of my second year, when I was working incredibly hard* (*procrastinating on Twitter…) I spotted a tweet about a three-month policy Fellowship with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). After doing some research and speaking with my supervisors, I decided to apply. I thought it would be a good excuse to start thinking about my CV for post-PhD life and so I felt I had nothing to lose. As it turns out, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!

POST are best known for producing short policy briefings on science and technology topics for parliamentarians known as ‘POSTnotes’. POSTnotes distil an incredibly large volume of research into four-pages in a clear, concise and impartial manner.

The Houses of Parliament (left) and my POSTnote.

During my Fellowship, I was tasked with writing a POSTnote on Online information and fake news – a topic completely different to my PhD and highly controversial! It was great getting to grips with something new and putting my research and communication skills to the test. To produce the POSTnote I interviewed academics, civil servants, people from industry and the charity sector, and read a vast range of literature. After going through multiple review stages, it was published!

I would highly recommend doing an internship during your PhD. It teaches you new skills, and how to work with different people and in different environments. It gives you a break from your PhD and it is fantastic for your CV. Applications for UKRI POST fellowships are currently open.

How much does a kilogram weigh?

For me, it wasn’t an option to not have an income once my PhD funding ran out, so as the date loomed, I started job hunting. After a couple of rejections, my friend sent me a link to a Policy Communications role at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL). I sent off my CV and was invited for an interview. They offered me the job and I managed to negotiate starting part time for my first month whilst I finished writing my thesis (which I would wholeheartedly not recommend if you can help it – new job, new career, new city AND writing a thesis… pretty stressful!).

NPL is the home of measurement in the UK: they develop and maintain the national primary measurement standards, as well as undertaking scientific research, development and testing new products and processes. As my role at NPL included comms, I was lucky enough to get involved with the media campaign on redefining the kilogram (and three other SI units!).

'Le Grand K' in fire and bomb proof vault (left)! A BBC News headline of the kilogram redefinition (top right) and the NPL logo (bottom right).

Until recently the kilogram was defined by a lump of metal, known as ‘Le Grand K’, which sat in a vault in Paris – whatever this lump of metal weighed set the ‘kilogram’ standard. Immediately you’ll spot the flaws in this – the mass of a lump of metal is not stable and it is estimated that Le Grand K has actually lost about the mass of an eyelash over its lifetime! So the point behind the redefinition of the SI units was to future-proof the system and link all the SI units to physical constants. The kilogram is now realised using the Planck constant. You can read more here if you are interested.

I worked at NPL for about 9 months before moving to where I am now. Lots of people tell you that it looks bad on your CV to only work somewhere for a short amount of time and change jobs frequently. This was certainly a concern of mine especially since I had just changed my career entirely, but I think it’s more important to do a job you really want to do. I enjoyed my time at NPL, but the job wasn’t quite what I wanted to do. I learnt a lot and had some great opportunities (like going to Versailles to watch scientists from all over the world come together to vote to redefine the kilogram!), but the time was right to move on.

Newton’s death mask, science policy and meeting Boaty McBoatface

I started at the Royal Society in March 2019 and have loved it. The Society is a fantastic place to work with an incredible history. It is the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence in the world, and its walls are adorned with paintings of past and present eminent scientists such as Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein.

One of the exciting opportunities about working at the Society is that I get the chance to explore their library and vaults. They contain a vast array of scientific journals, articles, minutes from every meeting the Society has ever held, artwork, and even Sir Isaac Newton’s death mask (a plastercast of his face made immediately after his death… bit gross really).

The Society has one of the largest science policy teams outside of the civil service. I work as a Policy Adviser in the research systems team. This means I look at things like funding for research and development in the UK, and research culture which encompasses topics such as academic career paths, equality and diversity, research integrity and open access.

One of the cool things about my job is that I often have the opportunity to get out and about and meet people. Below is a photo from a visit to the National Oceanography Centre to discuss immigration policies for researchers. We were given a tour of the labs and I was introduced to Boaty!

A photo from when I met Boaty McBoatface!

What is science policy?

Science policy is often looked at in two ways: science for policy and policy for science. The first is about providing independent, authoritative and accessible scientific advice to decision-makers and to inform public discourse – so this could be providing evidence on climate change for government, for example. The second, which is where my work falls under, is about creating the best possible environment for excellent science by providing evidence and advice for policies that will have a direct impact on research such as migration, exiting the EU, and research culture.

Some of my day-to-day responsibilities include undertaking research, drafting reports and briefings, and organising and managing events and projects. I work with Royal Society Fellows and other experts to develop and promote independent, expert, and timely advice to decision makers.

What jobs are there?

There are lots of different science policy jobs you can do. Policy roles quite often overlap with communications and public affairs, so depending on what you enjoy and where your strengths lie, you could work anywhere on the policy communications spectrum.

You could work for Government in the civil service or be a policy analyst in the House of Commons or Lords Science and Technology Committees. Conversely, you could have more of a lobbying role and work at a learned society or charity like the Institute of Physics, Wellcome Trust or the Campaign for Science and Engineering, or work at a National Academy like the Royal Society or the Royal Academy of Engineering. Instead, you could have a more technical consultancy role and carry out research that will be used by policymakers.

I’ve only mentioned a few, but there are a lot of different jobs out there!

How can you do it?

Here are some of my top tips for starting a career in science policy:

  • The most important skill you need is being able to communicate complex topics to a wide variety of audiences. You can practice this by volunteering for outreach activities (see Affelia’s post for more information), or try writing about your work in a blog.
  • Doing an internship will obviously give you excellent experience, but I know this isn’t always an option for everyone. You can also apply for other things like STEM for Britain and Voice of the Future, which will demonstrate your interest in policy and communication skills.
  • You don’t need to be an expert in politics, but having a basic understanding helps. There are lots of accessible sources out there – check out the Institute for Government or the House of Commons Library and subscribe to their newsletters.
  • Organisational skills are vital – I spend a lot of my time organising events and meetings. Try organising an event at your university or in your research group. Perhaps you could run a journal club or invite a speaker to your university to talk about their research.
  • Think about your CV early on and look at what skills you will need (for whatever career you want to do!). Start identifying and filling the gaps.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions! I’m on Twitter (@kraymerr) or you can This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. smile