The zoologist chosen by Oxford's world-renowned department to set up an international group in field ornithology will land in exalted company. And the post is very well rewarded. Lee Elliot Major reports
If there was ever a university department that could lay claims to hosting a team of scientific superstars, then it is Oxford University's department of zoology. The world-leading research centre into the biology of animals is where the best-selling author Richard Dawkins first developed the concept of the selfish gene. Two other staff members, Lord May, president of the Royal Society, and Sir John Krebs, chair of the government's food standards agency, are said to deliberate over the nation's science policy problems during their weekly jogs together. Before leaving the department controversially four years ago, Roy Anderson advised the government on the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.
Now the department is recruiting a new breed of young academics as it branches out into emerging multidisciplinary fields. It advertised for a new post in field ornithology in last week's Times Higher . The lectureship is the fourth of five new jobs being publicised by the department this year, covering the broad range of its research: developmental biology, epidemiology and ecology. A post in ecology research will be advertised in the next few months. The department recently added to its impressive array of external funders by securing an endowment from Hoffman-LaRoche, the US pharmaceutical company, for a new chair in ornithology.
"The university responded to that by setting up a lectureship to build up an international group in field ornithology," Paul Harvey, head of the department, says.
The zoologist who lands the job will also be able to monitor the breeding habits of birds in the longest-running field study in the world - first established in the 1940s. "We are able to track the impact of global climate changes," Professor Harvey says.
The position is also an attempt by the department to redress the dominance of molecular studies in zoology and promote whole-organism research. The department is looking for someone with a research record in ecology and evolutionary biology, particularly with an ornithological component. The deadline for applications is May 21.
If the prospect of such exalted company is daunting, then the remuneration package on offer should offset any concerns. The combined salary for the new lecturer will be £42,900 a year. The successful candidate will become a fellow of St Catherine's College, where s/he will give one-to-one tutorials to students. The college position also comes with a housing allowance and free meals.
The department of zoology has 40 academic staff, 18 senior research fellows, 100 contract research assistants, 150 graduate students, 25 technical staff, 15 ancillary staff and 34 administrative staff. Yet the biggest problem is losing talent overseas, according to Professor Harvey.
"We recently lost one who was offered $200,000 in New York, with a flat in Manhattan," he says. "We are not able to compete with the best salaries in New Zealand, Australia and the US."