Alumni Newsletter - Letter from HoD

Head of Department Tim Coulson wrote this update for the Trinity Term 2021 Alumni Newsletter

When I wrote the last “alumni letter” I was hopeful it would be the final one penned during the pandemic. Sadly, I was wrong. We are now starting to exit lockdown, and the vaccination programme brings hope. With a fair wind, perhaps the next letter will be written under more normal circumstances.

We knew that rolling out our new four-year MBiol course was always going to throw up the odd challenge but doing it during a pandemic has added another layer of complexity. Yet we have prevailed! I have been incredibly impressed with the way our staff and students have coped with the challenges that lockdowns have presented us with. Recording lectures online has not been easy for many, and nowhere near as much fun as giving them in person. Watching them online can be a lonely experience for many of our students and is not always the greatest way to learn. Many of our practicals have also had to be redesigned for an online environment, although we were grateful to be able to bring our first-year undergraduates back last term to provide them with some face-to-face skills training in the teaching lab. Running Covid-secure practicals threw up plenty of challenges, but our teaching support staff found solutions to all of them, and all were delivered effectively. We can’t wait for all our undergraduates to be back in Oxford. 

We have also managed to keep our labs open during the last lockdown. We have obviously had to adhere to strict operating procedures, and a number of our graduate students and post-docs have had to re-engineer their projects. They have done so with remarkably good cheer, and we have managed to keep research projects going effectively. We have even tried to bring the social side of departmental life online, but perhaps with less success than our teaching.

Work continues to progress on the Life and Mind Building. The Tinbergen building has now been demolished, and work to construct the new building will commence in the next couple of months. We continue to develop interdisciplinary research initiatives. As many of you will heard in the news, jointly with the department of Chemistry, one of our new academics, Tim Walsh, has secured a gift of £100M to form the Ineos Oxford Institute that will be strongly linked with the department, and which will focus on research into Antimicrobial Resistance. The heavy reliance on antibiotics in livestock production is helping create superbugs that render out drugs ineffective. The Ineos Oxford Institute will conduct research to find solutions to this problem, hopefully keeping the evolution of resistant superbugs and the risk of bacterial superbug epidemics at bay indefinitely.