Star puts shine on downcast department

December 14, 2001

We visited six departments before today's results were announced to find out how they were preparing for the RAE.

Cambridge University: Pathology
1996:5, 2001: 5*
Staff: 84 (full-time equivalent)

When Cambridge's department of pathology was graded 5 in the 1996 research assessment exercise, everyone felt let down.

It was difficult to attribute blame, though it did not help that one of the department's leading lights left just before the deadline.

This time the coveted 5* grade has been attained and hence more funding should be forthcoming. Pathology has expanded and Andrew Wyllie, head of the department since 1998, would have been very disappointed if that had not been reflected in the 2001 RAE. "There are all sorts of rational devices to get better grades, but among them are restructuring, clarifying objectives and concentrating on high-quality recruitment," he said.

The department has certainly made advances in the last. Pathology has more than 400 members including 33 full-time academic staff, 70 post-doctoral fellows and about 75 graduate students. Many have a strong clinical commitment but cutting-edge research has always been important.

Grant income is about £6 million annually, with a large proportion from charities and donations. There are also some successful patents, including one on an antibody to fight leukaemia that is close to clinical trials.

Since 1996, some £100 million of infrastructure funding has provided state-of-the-art equipment and two new laboratories.

The opportunity to work in such conditions helped attract a number of senior research fellows, supported by the research councils and medical charities. Their recruitment undoubtedly contributed to making pathology's submission larger and better than before.

The department's bid also excluded a handful of staff, though no more than 2 per cent of the total. Each was selected to reflect the weight of their individual commitment to clinical or teaching duties. It also served to maximise the overall research excellence of the remainder.

For RAE purposes, pathology formed a single clinical laboratory sciences unit with haemotology, clinical biochemistry and medical genetics.

RAE 2001 league tables

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