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Geoscientist becomes ERC secretary general

German-Canadian geoscientist Donald Dingwell has been appointed secretary general of the European Research Council, the EU’s funding body for basic research.

Dingwell will hold the position in Brussels from 1 September 2011 until December 2013.

In July, an ERC governance task force recommended to remove the secretary general post (see RE 325, 21/07/2011), which holds few formal powers.

The task force’s recommendations will be applied from January 2014; until then, the three top functions (ERC secretary general, president and director of the executive agency) are to be maintained, the ERC said.

Dingwell’s role is to liaise between the ERC’s scientific council, its executive agency, and the European Commission that provides the funding for basic research.

“My job is to communicate the wisdom of the council to the agency and to communicate the practicalities of the agency back to the council,” Dingwell told the ScienceInsider website. “They will have different views sometimes. But I know I have the support of all sides.”

Dingwell joins the ERC from his post as head of the department for earth and environmental sciences at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany.

The volcanologist has little experience in research policy-making, but has experience as a user of policy, he told ScienceInsider. He is an ERC grantee himself and has also taken part in an ERC review panel.

“I’ve seen a lot, and I have a lot of experience in the practicality of how [research evaluation] panels are run, not only within the ERC also in more complex structures, such as those of the Marie Curie programme,” he says.

ERC president Helga Notwotny commented in a statement: “With his distinguished career in science and his international vantage point and background, I am convinced that Professor Dingwell will deliver an important contribution to the ERC, not the least in terms of international outreach and strategy—an area that lies at the heart of the ERC’s mission.”