Professor David Parker-2nd chairmanship

David Parker [for biographical notes click David Parker's Research Group] served as acting chairman of the Board of Studies in Chemistry from June 2003 until his thirty-five months of full chairmanship began that year on September 11). He had been free of the chairmanship for less than five years Professor David Parker. Led by his bold and tireless planning, the Department accepted the challenge of winning elusive financial support, and grew thereby in size and productivity. Links with the Department of Physics and the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences [successor, from 2002, to the Biological Sciences Department, in recognition of activities at Queen's Campus] were strengthened.

At the start of the chairmanship, lecturing staff were grouped, for their duties as teachers and assessors of undergraduates, into sections entitled Organic and biomolecular chemistry (OBC), Physical chemistry and chemical physics (PCCP) and Structural, inorganic and materials chemistry (SIMC). These sub-divisions (colloquially teaching sections), chosen to represent the current perception and applications of the subject, were to point additionally towards cross-fertilisation and collaboration in research.

Annual increases in applications to read undergraduate chemistry at Durham, coupled with the University’s determination not to increase its quota for the subject (93 entrants), continued to raise the minimum entry target that applicants were set for their school examinations. For entry in 2004, it was three GCE A2 passes graded at least BBB including chemistry and mathematics or physics, with GCSE mathematics passed at GCSE grade B at least; by 2007, it was ABB (subjects as before) with mathematics at GCE AS grade B. The average grades of entrants kept rising too; from 27.9 (AAB=28, with A=10, B=8) in 2003 to 28.7 in 2006. Yet applicants’ prospects improved marginally from October 2004, when St Mary’s College, the sole surviving residential community from the single-gender era, began to admit men in 2005. In October 2003, the safe capacity of teaching laboratories was exceeded by a spring tide of well qualified first-year [level-1] Natural Sciences entrants opting to study practical chemistry. Cordial relations with the cohort’s director ensured that, in subsequent years, not more than 80 Natural Scientists could expect to study the module Core Chemistry 1. In 2004-5, Core Chemistry 2X ran for the benefit of the 29 second-year [level-2] Natural Scientists from the 2003 entry-cohort who opted to progress in core chemistry alone and could not be found a laboratory place; in subsequent years, the laboratory-chemistry component of Core Chemistry 2 was moved to other second-year modules and replaced by much-needed workshops illustrating spectroscopic and computational analysis. The first teaching fellow Teaching fellows was appointed to safeguard the undergraduate experience (Professor Kenneth Wade, footnote 2) as the demand on research-group leaders for research excellence intensified. Four more fellowships were to follow as the decade progressed.2) A subdued undergraduate cheer at a staff-student committee in 2006 greeted the declaration that the year’s January examination of the module was to be the last in a formal sense, with the introduction of an open-book alternative for subsequent years and the abolition of all other second-year January examinations. All third-year [level-3] equivalents had ended a year earlier. In 2005 also, increased status for the dissertation and its seminar was heralded by the introduction in October of instruction in presentational skills; the increase came about in October 2006 through the transfer of laboratory work from Core Chemistry 3 to other third-year modules. Meanwhile, the University’s overhaul of its examination processes had reached its faculties’ level-1 examination scores: after June 2004 they were collected on-line and the group moderating Science Faculty scores was shrunk from some 35 to 7. Within eleven months, candidates were collecting their own examination scores and results on-line, and pass lists had become available on-line to staff. In October 2005, it was the turn of the Board of Examiners in Chemistry to conduct an overhaul. A committee of four leaders of core-modules at levels 1 and 2, with the Board’s chairman, its secretary and the director of undergraduate chemistry studies, formed a committee to assemble questions formulated by the teaching sections into a balanced set of examination papers for each level, to edit them, to monitor candidates’ scores, to apply discretion where circumstances warranted - such as medical evidence – and to recommend candidates’ academic progress. A parallel committee with different module leaders dealt with levels 3 and 4. To the surprise and delight of all including the chairman's predecessor off-stage, the University found funding for the refurbishment, within six months, of the remaining 1960-vintage undergraduate laboratory – for physical chemistry and spectroscopy – in time for October 2005.

The recruitment of Colin Bain and Kosmas Prassides to professorships (external appointments, 2005) and an externally appointed reader (Jonathan Steed, 2004) led an increase in the number of research-group leaders on October 1 from 28 in 2003 to 36 in 2006, and a need for more accommodation. The other contributors to the increase were lecturers (Philip Dyer, Anne-Marie O’ Donoghue, Jan Verlet), holders (Rachel Dickins, Karl Coleman) of research fellowships funded by the Royal Society of London [forerunners to established lectureships] and an internal promotion to senior research officer (Andreas Goeta). The increase was offset solely by the resignation of Mike Crampton3). A chair and a lectureship among the increase had been funded by a grant from the University’s strategic improvement programme, which provided a second chair (bioactive chemistry; unfilled at the chairmanship’s end). Significant additional grants benefiting research included (i) the University’s award of a lectureship from October 2006 (unfilled also) to be shared with the Department of Physics; (ii) funding, to start in October 2004, from the Government’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for the 5-year employment of four academic fellows (Ivana Evans, Jackie Mosely, Aileen Congreve, Lars Pålsson) to sustain and initiate research services and, imaginatively, to engage in outreach to schools; (iii) the Government's university innovation centre grant to One Northeast for nanotechnology, providing revenue of 2.8 M£ to support three 3-year postdoctoral researchers from October 2003; and (iv) an allocation of 4 M£ over two fiscal years from April 2004 from a third tranche of the Science Research Investment Fund (SRIF3), administered by the Government’s Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). More details of this grant appear in the last paragraph. Yet HEFCE tempered its generosity by insisting that universities move to apply full economic costing to research activities. From March 2006, research-grant proposals from research-group leaders had to include, in overheads expected from the funding body, such items of cost as maintenance of workspace fabric, Departmental services (equipment depreciation for analytical services and employment of its operators, of stores staff and workshop staff) and a university’s general services (library, computing). With EPSRC set to pay 70% of the full economic cost of its grants awarded and 46% as the average overhead recovered currently from non-Government funding, HEFCE had given the Chemistry Budget Centre (CBC) and its fellow travellers a mountain to climb. The doctoral students arriving with some of the new leaders gave the size of the graduate school a boost, particularly welcome in the approach to the census year for HEFCE’s research-assessment exercise for the years 2001-7. The recruitment of first-year, full-time doctoral students in the calendar years 2003-6 rose healthily – 25, 30, 30, 32 – straining EPSRC’s doctoral training account (DTA) through its dependence on the Department’s fluctuating success at winning EPSRC research grants. That fluctuation – and the underlying imbalance in productivity among leaders – had been a matter of concern for several years. The strain on the DTA was eased by encouraging experienced leaders supervising DTA-funded new starters from 2005 onwards to seek 30% of the studentship cost from external funding. Strain returned when EPSRC announced that from October 2004 its Ph.D. training programmes were to lengthen beyond 36 months, ideally to 42. In response, the Department offered EPSRC postgraduates 39 months of funded training - 36 months for experimental work and 3 for preparing the thesis - and set up a reserve fund to mitigate delays outside a student’s control. For the very small number of studentships funded by the Medical Research Council, 48 months became the norm, with CBC support. Expansion of doctoral training, the contribution of a percentage of the cost of refurbishing workspace for new staff and the University Library’s annual statement of shortfall in money available to subscribe to chemistry periodicals put irresistible pressure on the CBC equipment fund, to which research groups and research services could bid annually to renew equipment. From August 2004 to July 2006 the fund was not able to assist with purchases.

Administrative demands on the chairman were eased from August 2005, over a twelve-month induction period, by the designation of a director of teaching and a director of research, with executive powers exercised on the chairman’s behalf. The directors, meeting the chairman and the Department’s senior administrator weekly, became ex-officio members of the chairman’s management-advisory group, meeting quarterly and renamed the Departmental executive committee in November 20054). Of equivalent administrative significance was a fairer status for staff - usually post-doctoral researchers - on unbroken fixed-term contract for more than four years, who from July 2006 acquired a right to be considered for open-term employment.

Rapid strides were made in the revitalisation and expansion of accommodation. The need for chemistry to secure its central position in science had been apparent nationally since the mid-1990s, particularly among researchers at the interfaces with the medical and biochemical sciences. Many chemistry departments had begun to merge with their life-sciences neighbours – some by co-occupation of new buildings. In Durham at that time, DRAMA Professor Lyn Williams had driven the Geological Sciences Department into intensive occupation of its rooms above the east and south-east wings of Chemistry’s accommodation and a penthouse of 16 small offices that had been built in 1978±1 atop the west wing for the geologists. The process had left second-floor rooms empty above Chemistry’s oldest accommodation (west and south wings). HEFCE’s series of SRIF disbursements opened an opportunity for Durham to catch up gradually with rapid progress in other universities. As a start, SRIF15) was used to create a Centre for Bioactive Chemistry in the empty rooms surrounding the suite for theoretical-chemistry research Professor Jeremy Hutson. The new laboratories (rooms 203-217), occupied in January 2005, included ample space for a Biological Sciences professor and his research group, co-directing the Centre and working next to three re-accommodated Chemistry research groups with common interests. A synchronous project with SRIF1 funding created a new building, on the southern half of the site of the Science Laboratories huts History [go to 1946-76], for Geological Sciences (known from October 2004 as Earth Sciences) and others. Its occupation in August 2003 left more empty rooms above Chemistry; they comprised the second-floor rooms of the east and south-east wings and the penthouse. By September 2005, a cluster of them had been refurbished and formed into rooms 255-61 and 277-8 for the preparation and spectroscopy of thin films and monolayers. The rooms were occupied by physical-chemistry researchers, including an incoming professor’s research group. During the chairmanship, three significant refurbishments were funded outside SRIF. CBC funding brought the six easternmost penthouse offices (301-6) out of neglect and ready for Chemistry's usage from February 2004. University funding formed five larger offices (241, 243-6) in the east wing for occupation in September 2005. The third refurbishment, University-funded also, made ready, by January 2005, a suite (049, 050, 054; 010, 032 added later) for the other incoming professor’s researchers. Later in 2005, HEFCE’s allocation from its SRIF3 disbursement allowed the University to commit 4 M£ for the readying, in the period 2006-8, of two groups of rooms for the Centre for molecular and biomolecular structure. By the end of the chairmanship, work had begun: the incomplete refurbishments (1984, 1996) of a 1960-vintage laboratory in the west wing were being rectified to create workspace for research into organometallic synthesis (100) and rooms in the south-east wing were being turned into laboratories (262-273) for the research groups of two recently appointed experimentalists in chemical physics and spectroscopy. The final pieces of this intricate jigsaw of refurbishments and expansion were left to be put in place by the next chairman through the refurbishment of the remaining second-floor rooms of the east wing, with SRIF4 funding (2008-10), to house additional researchers including three additional Biological Sciences research groups.


For 2001-3, see Professor Randal Richards.

1) University of Durham/Durham University, Board of Studies in Chemistry, minutes, 2003-2006.
2) The duration of these fellowships was designed to be indefinite, being subject instead to year-on-year availability of funding from grant-awarding bodies and research-group leaders' research-leave funds.
3) This was the penultimate retirement - or resignation a year before the age-related expiry of an open contract - among a cluster (1997,Oct.1-2007,Sep.30) of 10 promoted leaders after an average service of 36 years [contrast one retirement, after 36 years' service, in 1981-96].
4) Renaming was in the air: two months earlier, the University of Durham had become Durham University.
5) Other changes funded by SRIF1 Professor Randal Richards include (a) the incorporation early in 2006 of the remaining engineering-geology room (097; Professor Richard Chambers Professor Lyn Williams) for biosurface-chemistry research and (b) the refurbishment of the vacated Geological Sciences workshop and its link to the Courtyard Building (018 and 019) for researchers from the energy group of the School of Engineering and Computing Sciences to pursue, from April 2005, their study of the tribology and replacement of human joints.
hod/david_parker-2.txt · Last modified: 2017/08/27 16:33 by euan
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