Friday, May 18, 2012

Facebook is Engineering

Two things I say often came together today on a BBC item

  • Engineers work with their brains first and their hands second
  • Women make great engineers

Imagine having Facebook and Dropbox on your CV!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Engineering For Life

I spoke to University and Faculty Executive Boards this week about our aspirations for Engineering at the interface with Life Sciences and Health.  We want to build on success we have had with INSIGNEO (who by the way submitted >€10M research proposals to the EU this month led variously from our faculty, that of Medicine, Dentistry and Health, and the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust), ChELSI, SCENTRO, SITRAN, KRI and many more activities.

As part of the University's 2022 Futures programme we have created a project "Engineering for Life", and I'm delighted that Visakan will take a pause as HoD of ACSE (with Rob Harrison acting for him) to lead that project over the next 9 months or so.

So expect to see "Engineering for Life" used as short hand for "engineers working with biologists, medics and others across the university and NHS" over the next few months.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Last week I had the great pleasure of co-hosting a special event in London for our engineering alumni. More than 50 of our graduates (from recent to slightly less recent!) gathered at the stunning new offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to enjoy the spectacular view of Tower Bridge and network and socialise with each other and faculty staff. However I have a feeling that the main draw was the fascinating presentation and Q&A session conducted by Jonathan Neale, Managing Director of McLaren Racing.

Jonathan gave a wonderful insight into the world of F1, from the personalities involved to the incredible engineering challenges faced by his team. Each year only 5% of the previous year’s car remains the same, as the team works on increasingly innovative designs to try to beat the constraints set by FISA. And this all has to happen in less than three months to be ready for the next season.

The venue for the event was generously provided by PwC through Dean Gilmore, who graduated with a BEng in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Sheffield in 1984 and is a Partner with PwC.

Chatting to our alumni reinforced to me how proud I am of our students and the things they go on to do when they leave us. The companies represented on the night included Arup, QinetiQ, BP and Network Rail amongst many other prestigious firms. The event also highlighted how proud our alumni are of where they came from.

This event will be the first of many such events and I very much look forward to the next one.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Talking of Growth

Fridays are meant to be a day I set aside for research, and indeed I did write two lines of code this morning.   But more important events got in the ways.  First, Edison my last PhD student as principal supervisor had his viva today.  He passed with flying colours (or with minor corrections as we say).  So well done to him.

This afternoon was our Faculty Forum, where staff from across the Faculty congregate to listen to a few short presentations and ask questions.  On this occasion I spoke about the Faculty's plans and ambitions for the next five years, Elena Rodriguez-Falcon reported on her first impressions as the new Faculty Director for Women in Engineering and Malcolm Butler reported on our ever-increasing building plans.  Readers within the University cans find the slides of the presentations on the Faculty Website (I'll put the link in when I find it!).

One of the things I spoke about was our latest Big Splash staff recruitment activity - 24 academic posts were advertised today, with further support-staff posts to be advertised in the next few weeks.  You can read about those here:

A fine way to end the week.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thinking About the Future

I spent today in three long meetings - nothing surprising about that, other than each was really quite interesting.

First up was the Engineering PEG (the Project Executive Group with over site of our large building programme).  We received reports on there strands of activity:

  1. The Engineering Graduate School (EGS).  Tenders have been received and a contractor will be appointed in a day or two. Despite the inevitable asbestos hiccup the programme is back on track, and we can still hope to occupy in September 2013
  2. The New Engineering Building (NEB) at Jessop's East.  This is the new teaching building that will provide state of the art specialist engineering facilities, more student led learning facilities of the kind found in the Information Commons and new staff-led facilities.  All at a scale to support our projected student numbers up to 2021.
  3. Mappin refurbishment.  Even with the construction of the EGS and NEB far too much of our estate will be of poor quality.  Accordingly, a programme has been running for the last few months to review and plan for a very substantial refurbishment campaign.
Second meeting of the day was a review of the submissions for collaborative research space.  Three floors of the EGS will be given over to large interdisciplinary research groups, and following a call for expressions of interest, a Faculty panel met today to consider the submitted cases.  We were over-subscribed  but have been able to identify soon-to-be-refurbished space to create some extra opportunities.  Selected groups will be working to refine their proposals over the coming weeks.

And finally the Faculty's Strategy Review Steering Group met today for the first time to reflect on the process we will adopt in reviewing our current strategy.  The groups comprised a cross-section of staff selected in the hope that they would have opinions to offer - hopes were met!  More will be heard from them over the next few months.

A day full of meetings is not for everyone; but when the meetings uniformly convey optimism and ambition for the future they seem bearable.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Being a bit global

I've been meaning to write something about an event that took place in the Faculty 2 weeks ago: the Global Engineering Challenge (GEC) but stuff kept getting in the way.

I spent most of last week in Ireland as part of a review of Engineering at NUI Galway.  On the way there I joined the Vice Chancellor and other colleagues at Westminster (so not really on the way there at all) for a dinner with most of our local MPs.  We were there as guests of Paul Blomfield, MP for Sheffield Central and former General Manager at the Student's Union.  Our purpose was to seek their support in our plan to develop a New Engineering Building on the Jessop's East site.  It very quickly became apparent that we didn't need to explain why Engineering growth would be good for the Region - they explained it to us, and the compelling logic of maximising the benefit we can deliver from this very precious resource: a large, reasonably level site close to our existing facilities. We left even more convinced that this is the right thing to do for the City building on its and our global reputation for manufacturing and engineering.

The review in Galway was stimulating at a number of levels. First the Irish are great hosts and good company; it really is true that Guinness brewed in Ireland is drinkable, even enjoyable.  Second it was sobering to see the impact that government cuts are having on Universities there.  Finally the beneficial years of the Celtic Tiger period are very visible in Irish universities.  Their facilities are comparable or better than our own and their period of growth has left them equipped to compete globally.

Which brings me, at last, to the GEC.  About three years ago the Faculty made a commitment to giving our students the opportunity to work in multidisciplinary teams.  While all our students do a significant amount of project work in teams it's almost always in teams of one discipline, so 5 mechanical engineers or 5 computer scientists, working on a problem largely in their own discipline domain.  This led to a lot of pondering: how do you get 900 students (the rough number in a single year) organised into groups across all 9 disciplines.  While we were pondering we saw the phenomenon of Engineers Without Borders - a student society with global reach.  From that came the idea of taking part in their GEC.  I won't tell you what this means, but with some trepidation point you to  The enthusiasm shown in the YouTube clip (produced by Journalism students by the way) was real - but don't take my word for it ask around.  Everyone you ask will tell you that the staff involved were fantastic - as were the (largely post grad) facilitators.  They are rightly basking in their glory at the moment, before settling down to planning how to do it all again next year, oh, and to run an even more demanding event for all 900 second years, too.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A week of Excellence

I spent most of last week caught up in excellence:

Perhaps most importantly we completed the process of promoting colleagues to Readers and Professors.  Engineering did particularly well with  8 new Readers and 6 new Professors.  Announcements will be in the next Faculty Newsletter (1 Feb, I think).

Apart from that, I spent four days in Germany as part of a review panel considering submissions for Clusters of Excellence in the frame of the German Government's Excellence Initiative (EI).  Can you imagine travelling to small provincial city (Swindon, perhaps) as part of a 20-strong delegation from your University to sell your vision of how you could develop a world leading cluster?  Imagine taking your Vice Chancellor and your State Minister of Science (Education is traditionally a state, not federal, matter in Germany) and then being grilled for 4 hours by a 20-strong international panel.  The prize?  €40M per successful cluster.  So far the EI has handed out €1.9B in the first round with a further €800M to be distributed in the present second round

The Science was good - though no better than three or four similar clusters we might advance in Sheffield - but most striking was the need for very significant reform in hiring and progression policy,  most obviously in connection with gender equality.  The norm seemed to be about 5% women among professors in German engineering.  Since one of the objectives of the EI is gender equality, it is not surprisingly these interconnected issues were scrutinised carefully.  Given the priority that we are giving to Women in Engineering at the moment, it was very interesting to see some of their quite bold ideas.

The most sobering point from a UK perspective was the intense political will - at both federal and state levels - to make good German universities even better and to harness that improvement for the good of the country.  While our own government speaks of the value universities can add, there aren't many €40M pots to bid for at the moment and David Willett's recent speech advocating a growth in world-class science with no more money, seems faintly ridiculous by comparison.