University of Otago

Centre for Gene Research

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Centre for Gene Research Gene Structure and Function Theme Review
Professor Brandon Wainwright, 23 August 1999

 

General Comments

As part of the review I spoke to a number of individual members of the Gene Structure and Function Research Theme who were representing various disciplines within the theme such as Zoology, Cancer Biology, Microbiology etc. It rapidly became clear to me that there was an extremely low level of awareness of the role and intention of the Gene Structure and Function Research Theme. Indeed, it became quite a challenge for this reviewer to discern the nature and value of the current Research Theme structure. Clearly, there is a requirement for the University to position itself in areas of excellence in order to respond to National Funding Policy initiatives but this notion does not appear to have been communicated in any meaningful fashion from the University Administration to the members of the Gene Structure and Function Research Theme . In my conversations with a senior member of the University Research Administration it appeared that the Research themes concept was ill defined, without any specific criteria being apparent. For example, I was unable obtain any clear vision as why a theme qualified as "emerging", other than the statement that it was "emerging"!

The membership of the Gene Structure and Function Research Theme is extremely broad and crosses such a degree of endeavour that the notion of "theme" is pushed to its' limit. As far as I could ascertain this is a direct consequence of the membership of the Gene Structure and Function Research Theme being largely derived from the users of the Centre for Gene Research (CGR). It is worth stating that the CGR directed by Dr Kalmakoff is seen by its' users as playing a vital role within the University research community. The CGR enables many members of the University to have access to gene technology expertise and should be nurtured. However, the users of the CGR do not constitute a Gene Structure and Function Research Theme and I would urge the University to refocus the theme. As it stands the Gene Structure and Function Research Theme is not an effective vehicle to demonstrate the particular excellence of the University of Otago in this area.

 

Specific Comments

Professors Antony Braithwaite and Anthony Reeve were selected for specific review. It is clear that both of these individuals are significant within the international cancer research community and publish consistently in the upper echelons of the international scientific literature. Professor Reeve has an excellent record in postgraduate training, grant funding and community interaction. Professor Braithwaite has joined the University relatively recently so his outputs in terms of postgraduates are more difficult to ascertain but he clearly participates in many aspects of the research life of the University, and of the country. Both of these individuals are clear assets to the University.

Research outputs were provided for all Gene Structure and Function Research Theme members. The output for each investigator was modest at around 3 papers each but counting papers and impact factors is a relatively futile exercise when the breadth of disciplines and responsibilities (ie full time academic staff, full time researcher etc) is taken into account. A consequence of this breadth it is certainly difficult for the Gene Structure and Function Research Theme to demonstrate "excellence". Similarly, competitive grant funding works out at around $200,000 pa per investigator which is a solid performance. I suspect that a fine analysis of these data would suggest that there are some outstanding performers in here but difficult to demonstrate an outstanding performance across the board.

The funding obtained from the University for the Gene Structure and Function Research Theme appears to have been put to good use through the sponsorship of a retreat/symposium. A useful expansion of these activities would be the establishment of an active seminar program to specifically support the theme. In the longer term the University may wish to engage the wider community in the current debates on GMO etc (it may already) and the members of the Gene Structure and Function Research Theme would be ideally placed to contribute.

Centre for Gene Research
Centre for Gene Research
Centre for Gene Research

 

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Last Updated: November 2001


Centre for Gene Research
Centre for Gene Research
Centre for Gene Research
Centre for Gene Research