Lone stars enjoy chance to shine

University of Brighton physics department's only representative is delighted by her achievement

January 1, 2009

For Alison Bruce, there is no hiding place.

The 2008 research assessment exercise produced a confusing mass of data, categorising and ranking the work of more than 50,000 academics in 159 institutions across 67 subject areas. But Professor Bruce is a lone face in the midst of the statistics - she stood as the University of Brighton's only entrant to the RAE for physics.

There in the tables in the funding councils' 120-page RAE "outcomes" book, alongside the 141 University of Cambridge physics entrants and the 140 from Oxford, is Brighton's solitary soul.

And the data show that while 25 per cent of the research output of Cambridge's 141 academics was "world-leading", none of Professor Bruce's work was of similar standing.

Nevertheless, for a single researcher her score was highly impressive. Some 45 per cent of Brighton's physics research output was judged to be "internationally excellent", and a further 45 per cent was "internationally recognised".

"It's very scary being a sole entrant as there's no hiding," she said. "But I have a research group with me, so it's not a sole effort.

"The university and school have been very supportive, and within our school we have two other categories that did well - mechanical engineering and environmental science."

Indeed, Brighton's grade-point average (GPA) for physics was 2.3 out of 4 - compared with a national figure for the subject of 2.65.

"I was very pleased - I was scored as 2.3 as a sole entrant, so was absolutely delighted; it's a big improvement (compared with 2001)," she said.

Overall, 16 universities made submissions consisting of just one member of staff.

Peter Harvey was the University of Sunderland's sole entrant for theology, divinity and religious studies, while Will Large had the same honour at University College Plymouth St Mark and St John, where his work in philosophy earned his department a GPA of 1.9.

"The RAE panel in philosophy made it very clear that they would welcome submissions by individual scholars, so I was very happy to put my own research forward," he said.

"It demonstrates that the 'one-model-fits-all' approach does not work across all the subjects in universities, especially in humanities.

"Of course, no one is an island unto themselves, and my work would not have been possible without the active support of University College Plymouth St Mark and St John," he said.

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