Reflections on 2018

by Jennifer Rubin

As we come to the end of a busy year in the research landscape, it’s been an exciting and challenging time to take up the role of Executive Chair of the ESRC. The year has brought organisational changes, numerous societal challenges with which social science can help, and the advent of large new funds in UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to support research across disciplines and sectors to facilitate this.

However, the existence of challenges and funds to support research is only part of what’s needed. Interdisciplinary challenge-driven research is only possible built on a foundation of excellent research within and across the range of disciplines, and requires a broad, secure data infrastructure and well trained social scientists to make use of it. I have been impressed by the range of researchers across many disciplines in recent months who are clearly very keen to help social science make its contribution in this new landscape. With so many of the major challenges of our time driven by people and behaviour, social science is fundamental to better understanding and addressing them.

However, it’s also clear that this strong commitment to working in new ways, even when funds are available to do so, brings its own challenges, and in ESRC we will do what we can to help. For example, I know that we need to make funding calls more accessible. I also understand that we need to provide good lead times and advance notice whenever possible. So, alongside the notable interest and excitement about the significant injection of new funding available to do research that is often squarely focused on issues at the heart of social science, there are other challenges and issues which some of you have shared in recent months. I look forward to meeting with more of you and finding ways through these in the coming period.

Meanwhile, I’m delighted that we have two outstanding new directors joining us from January to help in this, Professors Alison Park and Paul Nightingale, bringing not only brilliant expertise but also wonderful collegiality and significant additional capacity. Paul, Alison, the staff of ESRC and I are all looking forward to working with our research community, our own Council and our sister councils, the learned societies, our collaborators and colleagues in government and industry to ensure that we include social science thinking as funds are scoped and communicated.

We also look forward very much to working with you all to find ways to sustain and strengthen the UK’s world-leading social science base, so that the UK is, and remains, an environment that encourages and fosters, supports and benefits from training, attracting and retaining world leading social scientists.

This year we’ve launched the new Administrative Data Research Partnership and a new Postdoctoral Fellowships scheme, as well as the flagship UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships. We’ve had another year of outstanding impact awards with ESRC videos winning first and second prizes at the European awards for impact in social science; we’ve set up successful collaborations internationally as well as new funding initiatives around productivity, mental health and more, and had great success with the Global Challenges Research Fund, where social science is playing a central role. And of course we have continued to support excellent research with responsive mode funding throughout.

The last eleven months have flown by, and I’d like to thank all the staff of the ESRC and UKRI for their impressive hard work and dedication, and offer my deep thanks to all who have welcomed me into this role through the year.

I wish you a joyful and relaxed break.


Jennifer Rubin 150Professor Jennifer Rubin is the Executive Chair of the ESRC and Champion for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at UK Research and Innovation. She is also Professor of Public Policy at King’s College London and was appointed to the Independent Industrial Strategy Council in November 2018.

You can follow @jenkrubin on Twitter.

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