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A reception attended by around 100 academic and professional services staff representatives from across MPLS Division and central services was held at Linacre College this week.

Professor James Naismith shaking hands with Professor Sam Howison
Professor Jim Naismith shaking hands with Professor Sam Howison

Guests gathered to celebrate Sam Howison’s service as Head of Division since April 2019 and welcome the incoming Head of Division Jim Naismith, and to congratulate staff at all stages of their careers who were recognised with MPLS Awards in 2023.

The event followed a smaller gathering of around 50 close colleagues and senior University representatives, during which Anne Trefethen (Pro-Vice-Chancellor, People & Digital) offered a vote of thanks to Sam and Tracy Gale (MPLS Divisional Registrar) presented a couple of small gifts as a token of appreciation from the Divisional Office.

Speaking a fortnight before the end of his five-year term as Head of MPLS Division, Professor Sam Howison said: “The real joys of being head of MPLS have been in the amazing science that we are doing, and in meeting colleagues from across the whole of Oxford. I have learned a vast amount and I have many new friends. It has been a tremendous privilege to have had this opportunity. I wish Jim Naismith and all colleagues across MPLS the very best for the future, whatever it may bring”. 

New senior appointments

During the larger reception that followed, Sam Howison welcomed the new Professors appointed within the Division this year, as well as newly appointed Associate Heads of Division, Martin Castell (Associate Head, Taught Degrees) and Harish Bhaskaran (Associate Head, Research), and Stephen Faulkner as the new Head of Department for Chemistry.

Jim Naismith, who takes up the role of Head of Division on 1 October, offered some rousing words about his ambitions for MPLS and science in the UK, and our outgoing Associate Heads Laura Herz and Marta Kwiatkowska, and former Head of Department for Chemistry, Mark Brouard, were thanked for their commitment and contributions to the Division.

Head of Division’s reflections 

The afternoon’s event continued with an informal conversation in question-and-answer style, between Tracy Gale and Sam Howison, in which Sam answered questions ranging from, ‘What do you think MPLS Division might look like in 10 years’ time?’ and, ‘You provided us with steady leadership throughout the pandemic and its aftermath; is there anything that stands out as a key opportunity to arise from it all?’ to ‘Has being a mathematician helped you in the role of Head of Division?’ and, ‘Is there anything you’ll miss about being Head of Division?’ 

Sam’s responses highlighted the critical importance of promoting equity, diversity and inclusion in academia, and he spoke of his own experiences of navigating University life with hearing and visual impairments. He said the key piece of advice he would give to new academics joining the Division would be to spend time getting to know colleagues in other departments and building the connections that lead to new perspectives and fruitful collaborations. 

Sam also spoke about the importance of focusing on the student experience and of graduate training and early-career support, and the opportunities a post-pandemic world poses for rethinking the way we deliver teaching and education in the sciences. 

He described how, over the last few years, MPLS has quietly pivoted its strength and efforts towards tackling some of the biggest challenges facing the world today, with climate change and the environment being a key case in point. He painted a picture of an exciting future for science at Oxford, supported by fantastic new facilities not far from completion, including the refurbished Radcliffe Science Library, the Life and Mind Building that will soon house the Department of Biology, and the work underway to expand Begbroke Science Park and help us harness our full innovation potential. 

MPLS science showcase

Research and engagement staff from three MPLS departments also joined the reception to showcase some of Oxford’s exciting science through interactive outdoor displays.

  • Representatives from the Oxford Robotics Institute demonstrated their autonomous ‘Spot-The-Dog’, which is used for mapping and monitoring environmental conditions, ranging from power stations to the grounds of Blenheim Palace;
  • The Department of Chemistry’s outreach and engagement team showcased some of the latest work from the Ineos Oxford Institute for Antimicrobial Research and on hydrogen fuel cell technology; and
  • David Pyle’s research group from the Department of Earth Sciences brought part of their ‘Sensing Volcanoes’ stand, which was chosen to be one of nine main exhibits for this summer’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in London. This exhibit demonstrated how scientists and communities are working together successfully in the Caribbean to monitor volcanic activity and help predict future eruptions. 
The Oxford Robotics Institute's RoboDog The Chemistry stall at the MPLS Reception David Pyle talking to people at his volcano stall

Left to right: Robo-Dog; the Chemistry stall; David Pyle at the 'Sensing Volcanoes' stand

Celebrating divisional awards

Having been hastened indoors by torrential rain, the reception continued in the college dining hall, where members of the divisional Senior Academic Leadership Team introduced each of our four annual MPLS award programmes in turn and invited the 2023 winners and commendees to come to the front and be congratulated.

Martin Castell (Associate Head, Taught Degrees) introduced this year’s Teaching Award recipients; Harish Bhaskaran (Associate Head, Research) spoke about the winners of the inaugural Awards for Outstanding Research Supervision; Matt Jarvis (Associate Head, People) celebrated the winners and commendees from this summer’s Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Awards, and Dermot O’Hare (Associate Head, Innovation and Industrial Liaison) concluded the event by congratulating our Impact Award winners and nominees.

MPLS Teaching Award winners

MPLS Teaching Award winners

MPLS Research Supervision Award winners

MPLS Outstanding Research Supervision Award winners

MPLS ED&I Awards winners and commendees

MPLS ED&I Award winners and commendees

MPLS Impact Award winners

MPLS Impact Award winners