Professor David Parker

The chairmanship for the triennium that began on 1 August 1995 was held by David Parker1) [for biographical notes click David Parker's Research Group]. National government was pursuing a higher education system shaped by market forces, pressing the University to maintain its academic departments’ output on reduced financial support and to limit their discretion increasingly. The chairman’s rapid assimilation of weighty briefings, boldness inside and outside the Department, and nimble footwork in response to that pressure did much to preserve the Department’s originality and maintain its progress.

The quality and number of applications for undergraduate Chemistry programmes starting in October 1995 had been improved by the inauguration that year of the four-year M.Sci.(Chem.) integrated master’s degree. Two-thirds of that year’s 91 entrants chose to study for four years, not three; by 1998 (94 entrants), the preference had grown monotonically to 84%. In October 1997, the examination-score target set for applicants to undergraduate Chemistry programmes was raised cautiously as the 1996 intake of 97 had exceeded the University’s quota and thus became liable for a financial penalty. Meanwhile, the teaching committee had been fulfilling an overarching University requirement by grouping all undergraduate chemistry teaching into modules of standardised content, such that six formed the student load for an academic year. From October 1996, the first-year of undergraduate study across the University became six modules at academic level 1. [From 1994, universities had been under pressure from Government to base teaching on modules and semesters; Durham evaded the latter.] Those undergraduates faced the added University imposition of resit coursework examinations. In October 1997, modularisation spread to the remaining undergraduates (levels 2-4) and the new chemistry curricula were included in inaugural handbooks that had been issued in advance to undergraduates at all levels (June for 2-4, September for 1). Thereafter, the handbooks were updated annually. Undergraduates forming the last intake to the degree in the Physics and Chemistry of Materials (October 1996) agreed to study at level 2 an equivalent Natural Sciences programme, so the last PCM graduation occurred in June 1997. In the same month, the highly effective use of Easter-Term tuition time for second-year Chemistry undergraduates ended its 15-year run to make way for 1998’s module examinations, at levels 1-3, in weeks 4-6. Their marks and results were processed through a much-improved, in-house database (1996; A. Royston, E.J.F. Ross) destined to stay in use for longer than all its predecessors combined. [The first was commissioned in 1978 by the chairman of the Board of Examiners in Chemistry (G. Kohnstam) from the same compilers. Until then, the processing occurred in a locked room containing the chairman, his secretary, selected technicians and an array of calculators - desktop and hand-held.] Throughout the triennium, undergraduate laboratories received an unprecedented, ring-fenced annual sum from the Chemistry Budget Centre’s DREAM Professor Lyn Williams for expenditure on equipment, which had become sadly outdated; technicians were encouraged to become involved in proposals for that expenditure. In a further incentive to update the teaching of practical chemistry, stipends were provided – mainly through a teaching grant won from the University - for three level-3/4 or newly graduated students to spend six July/August weeks in each of 1996, 1997 and 1998 testing new and revised laboratory experiments intended for teaching at levels 1, 2 and 3. March 1998 saw the inauguration of the annual statement of teaching-contact hours worked by staff, aimed to encourage a fair distribution of overall workload and of tuition at levels 3 and 4.

The integrated master’s programmes mentioned earlier had begun nationwide and accounted in part for a one-year shortening (1998) in the October list of first-year postgraduates. Fortunately, a postgraduate admissions tutor was on hand to mitigate the fall-off (30 in 1995 became 28 in 1998); the post had been inaugurated at the triennium’s start. By 1996 and for the following four years the Department’s position in a fiercely competitive market for entrants had been strengthened by the chemical industry’s financing of top-up bursaries for five of the maintenance grants on offer. Yet for research groups, funding was scarce. A reduction in the University’s financial support of the CBC through DRAM Professor Lyn Williams forced the abolition, in July 1996 after eight years, of their per capita assistance. A need to match Government funding of replacement spectrometers for nuclear-magnetic resonance and mass led to a CBC levy, from the following month, on the consumables grant linked to each postdoctoral salary. A third element of scarcity came from the University Library’s continuing struggle to fund subscriptions to periodicals and abstracting services: 12-15% of the CBC’s DREAM resource had to move in that direction. Optimism survived: despite the retirements of Arthur Banister, Cliff Ludman and Ken Wade, the number of research-group leaders on October 1 rose from 22 in 1995 to 30 in 1998. Incoming lecturers – Neil Cameron, Sharon Cooper, Benjamin Davis, John Evans, Graham Sandford (as the Department's first Royal Society university research fellow; expected to be established by 2001), David Tozer, Gareth Williams and Mark Wilson - were joined by Todd Marder, an external appointee to a chair in 1997 and by Ritu Kataky and Alan Kenwright, postdoctoral research-service managers in post at the grade of senior research officer, who were making independent contributions to the Department's research profile. There were two promotions to professor (Badyal, Hutson; 1996), and at the end of 1996 the fourth Government survey of university research to be conducted by the Higher Education Funding Councils (covering 1992, July to 1996, March and relabelled the research-assessment exercise), announced a grade of 5B for the Department, the second-highest of seven grades RAE1996. Formal provisions for retired professorial staff wishing to remain research-active contributors to the Department were sanctioned by the University Registrar in March 1997 and May saw the first of the Chairman’s annual snapshots of research activity, intended to summarise output of HEFC interest from named staff likely to be included in the next survey.

An overhaul of the Department’s committee structure produced clear statements of remit for all bodies and regular meeting times. A research committee was added to the executive committees [the teaching committee (February 1995) became the teaching-and-learning committee], and their meetings were timed to link with those of the Board of Studies in Chemistry and their supporting consultative committees. The latter began to convene and report through email, which spread quickly to most administrative activity. In January 1996 a full-time administrative officer replaced the part-time senior demonstrator whose duties from 1987 had included academic administration. These changes helped to meet the steady stream of additional obligations imposed by the University in response to the national Government, such as producing for the University an annual statement of Departmental intent that had to be approved formally by the Board – it was shared informally with non-academic staff. Chemistry at Durham attracted national attention in April 1998 as the venue for the annual congress of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

The triennium’s most obvious imprint was on changes to accommodation. Substantial resource accumulated from purposeful, dedicated fundraising during the Harris triennium was protected prudently during its successor; their leaders wished the accumulation to be at the disposal of a younger chairman, who in the event was the youngest since Geoffrey Coates. That resource provided the obligatory Departmental contributions to a rush of University refurbishment projects set in train to benefit Chemistry at Durham. Transfer in 1995 of the electrical/electronic workshop to the building formerly housing the Science-Laboratories Mechanical Workshop had left space in the Chemistry-Geology Building to form by April 1996 a laboratory (room 110) and attached writing space separated from laboratory activities for two small research groups. That separation was becoming standard. Over the following twelve months, the fumes cupboards and writing space in neighbouring laboratories for synthesis research (100, 102, 104) were renewed. In April 1997 the larger of two free-standing display cases that had been grazing for 16 years in the central-stairwell concourse lumbered off from its ground floor to new pastures (the smaller - on the landing above - three years later) as the first-year-undergraduate laboratory was decanted into the remaining ground-floor teaching laboratory, already housing the makings of a set of new fume cupboards for October’s entrants. By July, the laboratory above it - formerly for second- and third-year undergraduates practising synthetic organic chemistry - was being readied for their practical physical chemistry. In that month, a venerable floor-to-ceiling mural marek_mural on the east wall of the Building's central-stairwell concourse that had faced its main entrance since the Building's first stage opened was translated to a position out of harm's way in the stage-2 east stairwell and by October 1000 m3 of floor space in a new, hexagonal, two-storey northwest wing (stage 4 of the Building) was being put to use – at the upper level - by undergraduates in years 2 and 3, practising synthetic chemistry, and below by four research groups. A lecture theatre (125) adjacent to the wing's upper level had become part of the new undergraduate laboratory, so an upgraded theatre (060) was created directly below 125. In November 1997, helped by funding from the European Union and the Wolfson Foundation, the former first-year laboratory surfaced from seven months of frenzied attention as an analytical suite, with instrumentation that was mostly new. Among its managers, poised to offer their services to local industry, were Ritu Kataky and Alan Kenwright, the first two senior research officers, with the authority to apply for research grants and postgraduate studentships. Within a year, the upgrade in wiring for electronic communication that these building works prompted was extended to the remainder of the Department’s accommodation.

For 1992-5, see Professor Lyn Williams; for 1998-2001, see Professor Jeremy Hutson.

1) University of Durham, Board of Studies in Chemistry, minutes, 1995-1998; see also Professor David Parker-2nd chairmanship.
hod/david_parker.txt · Last modified: 2020/03/02 00:01 by euan
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