Yesterday afternoon I attended a research symposium in the College of Life Sciences where colleagues from several of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies discussed their latest results. It is part of the flagship open innovation programme Professor Philip Cohen and I set up more than 13 years ago, for which the University was awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2005. It was an enjoyable event, yet a poignant reminder of the research I decided to put behind me when I accepted the role of Principal just over two years ago.
Deciding to move on after nearly thirty years leading my own research in this University and, before that, in the pharmaceutical industry, has been one of the toughest decisions I have ever had to make.
It is hard to describe the buzz that comes literally from adding to the world’s sum of knowledge and having the privilege and good fortune to train and inspire the many staff and students who have passed through my lab over the years.
Of course for much of the time there were more tears, frustration and confusion than enlightenment. To any researcher these are merely the things that heighten the experience when success eventually comes.
So why did I do it? I know some Vice Chancellors who still do research on a part-time basis keeping one foot in their academic roots. This was not for me for several reasons.
Firstly, I believe this University deserves a Principal who is fully committed to the role knowing that if he fails there is nothing to fall back on. Secondly, having been associated with one part of the University for 22 years, it was important for me to show that my commitment now is to the whole of the institution and its varied roles in learning and teaching and the community that surrounds us as well as research.
And then there is something I could only know now after being in the post for a couple of years; it’s a great job! But that doesn’t stop me having occasional pangs for the lab and the people in it.