torsdag 14 juni 2012

Research Assessment Exercise (RAE)

My department, the whole School of Computer Science and Communication, and, as far as I know, all the other schools at KTH have undergone a so-called Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) this spring. RAE is apparently (according to Wikipedia) something that comes from the UK:

" exercise undertaken approximately every 5 years [...] to evaluate the quality of research undertaken by [all] British higher education institutions."

KTH has/will be visited by "Around 100 internationally renowned experts from academia and private industry [...] in June to evaluate 47 research areas". Just search for "KTH" and "RAE" if you are interested in finding out more about RAE, or about the previous KTH RAE (from 2008).

Much energy and time has been spent to collect information for the upcoming RAE during the spring (publications etc.). A report about our research area ("Unit of Assessment") - Mediated Communications - has been written and this week, finally, the experts came to talk to (or "interrogate"?) us.

I gave a 10-minute presentation about the Sustainability Team that I'm leading. Not that there is that much to say - we formally started up our activities only during the 2nd half of the spring term and have met only a few times this far. But, it's of course always possible to talk about our perspective on things (e.g. regarding sustainability and ICT), about individuals members in the team and their/our projects, about the new course (Sustainability and Media Technology) that we are giving after the summer, about what we want to do in the team (soon, or in the future) etc. I filled up my 10 minutes and actually got a lot said. I talked fast and I think (hope) I made my point. Or a point at the least.

No less than 8 teams and 2 "impact case studies" were presented and it took 3.5 hours altogether including a coffee break and a presentation of the whole research group/department. We also had a general rehearsal in the beginning of the week (another 4 hours). I honestly think that I have also spent at least 4 more hours (but probably more like 8 hours) putting together my presentation, revising my presentation and practicing the delivery. I had to create some new slides and even more importantly, I had to think through how I could position, and what I could say about our team. It's kind of absurd, but I think I have thus spent at least 1.5 full days, or perhaps even 2 full days, working on and with this 10-minute presentation.

On the positive side, it forced me to both flesh out and then distill my message, and it did give me a chance to communicate my/our sustainability perspective not just to the "jury" (the invited experts), but also to my colleagues and my bosses. I also learned more about what my colleagues do and that was in fact great. But still... 1.5 or 2 days of work for a 10-minutes presentation... I hope I at least will have much use for it later. The presentation is so compact, and I had to take so much out that I think I could easily expend it into a 45- and probably even a 90-minute lecture if I add some additional material. Now it's over and I can concentrate on other stuff that urgently needs to be done before I go on vacation.

Below is a nice picture from the slide set I used. It builds on a text I wrote quite some time ago about the inexpensiveness of electricity (compared to, say, a hundred years ago). My conclusion was that energy, for all practical purposes and from a historical perspective, basically is free today. Or, if not exactly free, then at least "too cheap to meter". The examples in the slide below would not have been possible though, were it not for this great blog post about "free energy" by Barath Raghavan. For some reason I just didn't think about "free energy" in exactly these terms before I read his blog post. Do notice the aesthetics of the pictures and the almost total absence of people. The meta-message is that not only is energy free/too cheap to meter, but we are liberally squandering it today by illuminating roads even when no-one drives on them etc.


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