The best lunch in Oxford…

29 September 2014

Carolyne Culver, Kellogg fellow and Head of Communications in the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division, reminds us of the need for effective and timely communication in order to ensure that the University of Oxford remains a leader in global higher education. 

Kellogg serves the best lunches at Oxford. That’s what we should say to anyone who jests about cornflakes! And it’s true. Having visited a number of other colleges for lunch – and enjoyed the company of the colleagues who kindly invited me – there has sometimes been a hint of school dinners about the experience.

Last week a number of fellows and staff gathered to discuss how the college ought to communicate with its various audiences, from prospective students to alumni. We agreed that the sense of community we enjoy, not least because we all eat together informally, was an important message to convey to those wondering which college to choose.

We hope that new members of college are enjoying the current packed programme of welcome events, and that it provides them with a reassuring insight into the community that they can enjoy being a part of over the coming years.

Our role in the community and making a contribution to society beyond our walls is also important, College staff and the MCR raised money last week in support of Macmillan Cancer Support as we took part in the charity’s World’s Biggest Coffee morning. You can see photos from the event on the College Instagram and Twitter accounts.

I have recently ‘defected’ from the central University offices at Wellington Square to the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division to be their first Head of Communications. This is a fantastic opportunity to indulge my interest in science and work more closely with the academics and researchers in the Science Area. It’s also a good excuse to have meetings in the cafe at the Natural History Museum, opposite our offices, and gaze down on the T-Rex and dodo. I’m still close to college too!

There are many challenges that we face, for example sustaining and improving facilities in the Science Area, but there is also much to celebrate. Research income and philanthropic gifts continue to grow, as do the number of spin outs. MPLS spin out Natural Motion resulted in more than £30 million in cash and shares for the University. The work of many academics, researchers and graduate students has been recognised by national and international bodies, and our success in securing funds for several Doctoral Training Centres means we can train the researchers of the future.

Communicating the strength of Oxford research and getting the recognition it deserves is something that the departments, divisional offices, Begbroke Science Park and Isis Innovation work hard to achieve. However, we must never make the mistake of thinking the outside world understands and acknowledges our research strengths and our stature, and that we have nothing to learn from others. We face some almighty competition, within this country and globally, and our strength – academic freedom underpinned by the principle of subsidiarity – is also our weakness when it comes to communication. In such a complex organisation it is a challenge to find out what who is doing what, and where, and ensuring that this information is shared with the people who need to hear about it.

Information about researchers, their projects and their publications are spread across many websites. This is something that we need to resolve for the sake of members of the University who wish to collaborate with one another, and outsiders who want to find out more about our research and how they might be able to benefit from, and fund it. So this is a plea that we remember that effective and timely communication – upwards, downwards and sideways – is a challenge for all of us, and is necessary for any university to remain cutting edge.

If any fellows or students based in MPLS departments would like to meet and share ideas, I would be happy to do so – and we can enjoy the best lunch in Oxford at the same time!

Carolyne Culver, September 2014