Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on 17 April, Alice Gast was asked to comment on the case of Professor Grimm, formerly professor of toxicology in Imperial’s Faculty of Medicine.
Professor Grimm took his own life in September last year after being told that he was “struggling to fulfil the metrics” of a professorial post at the institution, and was under an “informal review process”.
Asked about the incident, Professor Gast said that professors “are under pressure and they have a lot on their plates”.
“Professors are really like small business owners,” she continued. “They have their own teaching to perform, they have their own research and they have their research funding to look after.”
She outlined other professorial duties including working with teams of postdocs and postgraduates, translational work and the development of spin-off companies. “It’s a very highly competitive world out there,” she said.
“We’re moving towards more and more highly collaborative work, which I think helps, because one starts to recognise you can’t do it all alone.”
Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology at the University of Oxford, previously told Times Higher Education in a letter that Imperial needed “an abolition of the performance targets that equate good performance with financial targets of grant income”.
“Placing so much emphasis on annual funding targets is bad for science, creates a dysfunctional incentive structure and is even worse for the individuals who try to do good science,” she wrote.
Earlier this month, an inquest heard that the “needless” suicide of Professor Grimm, who took his own life by asphyxiating himself, may not have been prevented if revised policies on performance management had been in place.
In the wake of Professor Grimm’s death, Imperial ordered an internal review of its staff policies, which recommended several changes, including improved support for those facing performance management, the inquest heard.
The episode of Today featuring the interview with Professor Gast is available here.