Jobwatch: Building on its strengths

August 13, 2004

Oxford University's Division of Medical Sciences has three professorial vacancies, and is making the multidisciplinary field of neuroscience a key priority, writes Katie Law

Not one, but three prestigious professorships at Oxford University were advertised in the appointments pages of The Times Higher last week.

It is pure coincidence that three eminent scientists are moving on from the Division of Medical Sciences at the same time. But the university has recognised that there could be an advantage in filling these positions strategically.

Near the middle of the advert, in small print, are the key words "the university will be seeking to advance a key strategic priority, namely neuroscience".

Chris Price, assistant registrar, explains: "There is an emphasis on neuroscience because of the incumbents. If we don't replace them with neuroscientists, we might be shooting ourselves in the foot with regards to neuroscience. But it was accidental that they were all neuroscientists in the first place."

While there is no specific department at Oxford for the multidisciplinary field, it straddles a number of important subjects at the university, including pharmacology, physiology and psychology. Colin Blakemore, Waynflete professor, is leaving after 26 years at Oxford, having taken up a four-year post as chief executive of the Medical Research Council. He will retain the guarantee of a professorship, should he wish to return to Oxford at the end of that time, but he feels that it is important that the Waynflete chair is filled in his absence, as it is important in the field of neuroscience.

As far as the strategic hiring plan goes, Professor Blakemore says: "Oxford has opportunities to build fantastic strengths throughout the three related posts. The psychology department has a strong biological bias already. The pharmacology department has great strengths in neuroscience. The neuroscience community is already strong at Oxford. Neuroscience was named as a priority at least ten years ago, and this is still the case. This opportunity to coordinate departments could really be a tremendous boost for neuroscience in Oxford."

As for the other two roles advertised, David Smith, departing professor of pharmacology, specialises in neuroscience, and Peter Bryant, Watts professor of psychology, is an expert in the field of developmental and child psychology. They both retire this year after more than two decades in their jobs.

Each chair is associated with a non-stipendiary fellowship at an Oxford College, and the university is looking for high-quality candidates who are skilled in research and leadership. The university also stresses that, although it is hoping to advance neuroscience through strategic appointment, it would not turn down an outstanding non-neuroscientist candidate.

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