Video transcript: New Chief Executive joins UK's leading bioscience funder

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October 2008

Commentary by Nancy Mendoza, BBSRC Media Officer
"The UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council has recently welcomed a new Chief Executive, Professor Doug Kell."

"BBSRC’s Matt Goode met Professor Kell to find out his thoughts as he takes over at the helm of the organisation."

Matt: Doug, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. Can we start off by asking: What do you see as the role of BBSRC?

Doug: "So BBSRC has many communities and many audiences, but its chief role is clearly to act as the guardian of all that’s best in British science in the areas of biology, biotechnology and non-clinical life sciences generally. And that includes the development of novel techniques, the establishment and curation of resources, and various kinds of computational and informatics activities."

Matt: "Do you have any immediate plans for BBSRC?"

Doug: "So the relatively short-term agenda has already been set because we have a rolling process of consultation with our funders and our community to work out what it is that we want to see funding, where the scientific opportunities lie. And those have been set down in our ten year vision, our five year strategy plan, and the current three year delivery plan that tells us how we’re going to spend the money that we got in, and the general areas where we see the greatest scientific opportunities, some of which will be more curiosity-driven, and others of which will be something which perhaps a shorter-term eye on the possible impact of our scientific activities may have."

Matt: "There’s been a lot of talk about knowledge transfer and social and economic impact amongst Research Council-funded scientists. Are you going to be expecting BBSRC-funded scientists to change the way they conduct bioscience research?"

Doug: "What we’re not going to be expecting is that people lose any sense of excellence being the primary thing that we wish to see happen. And ‘excellence with impact’ is very much our watchword. Nevertheless, there is no impact without excellence and therefore that won’t be changing. What we do recognise however, is that over the years, the UK has been perhaps slightly less good than it might have been at exploiting some of the excellent science that it does. In most surveys of the matter, we are either first or second in scientific excellence throughout the world. However, we have just announced a couple of schemes, a pair of new awards. The Innovator of the Year Award for individuals, and the departments Impact With Excellence Awards for departments in universities that have shown particularly high levels of entrepreneurship and leadership in driving that transition between the excellent science that they do, and a product, or process, or a policy that delivers real impact in the real world."

Matt: "Unlike a number of the other Research Councils, BBSRC employs a large number of its own scientists in five sponsored institutes. What do you see as the ongoing role for the BBSRC-sponsored institutes?"

Doug: "The particular thing that the institutes can and do do is to take on biological problems that have a long-term association with them, that might be harder for individual teams in universities to undertake. And only when you have people able to work on problems like that for very long periods do you maintain the critical mass that is necessary to tackle those kind of problems. The institutes will remain a very vital part of our activity, especially when we’re beginning to face questions of climate change and sustainable food supplies. The institutes are particularly well placed to address those kinds of problems, and, of course, they are able to go into responsive mode for funding as well."

Matt: "What made you first want to become a scientist?"

Doug: "I think the answer to that is: just a curiosity about understanding the world around me, the world in which we live, and how it works and why it behaves in the way it does, and that gave me an enquiring mind that led me to understand that the scientific approach to understanding how things work is probably the best we have, and that therefore led me rather inexorably to being a scientist."

Matt: "Some would say that now you’ve reached the pinnacle of the biosciences as a career now you are Chief Executive of BBSRC. What made you want this job?"

Doug: "I think it follows from my breath of interest in understanding how things work. And I’ve had funding from the BBSRC over almost all of its remit over the years, and so I just have a broad interest in taking forward the kind of science that BBSRC has been sponsoring for a long time. And when the opportunity came to put my name forward, I accepted that opportunity and was fortunate enough to be chosen. So I’m really looking forward to this really once in a lifetime opportunity."