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X-Men, first class


Ivory Tower: Another REF return of a celebrity academic

A study in Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. A Research Excellence Framework officer is waiting at the table; Professor X enters.

Officer: Thank you for making time to see me.

Prof X: Anything to help the university.

Officer: I know it’s early in the cycle, but I’d just like to touch base about your plans.

Prof X: For the school?

Officer: For the REF.

Prof X: Is that a supervillain?

Officer: Some think so. We prefer to think of it as an essential tool in the management of performance.

Prof X: Well, I think you’ll find my team is ready to go.

Officer: Can I just check for my records, what is the name of your team?

Prof X: The X-Men.

Officer: “Men?”

Prof X: The X-Men, yes.

Officer: I’m not sure you can say that these days.

Prof X: Sorry?

Officer: The university has an Athena Swan bronze, so I’m not sure you can call yourself that.

Prof X: It’s just a name.

Officer: You can’t just employ men. Did you not get the memo on diversity and opportunity?

Prof X: We are a very diverse group.

Officer: Are you?

Prof X: Yes, my team are all mutants.

Officer: Dear oh dear, professor, have you completed the unconscious bias training?

Prof X: I’m telepathic, if that’s what you mean?

Officer: That’s too much information, professor. I would have thought a simply descriptive name for your team would be more appropriate.

Prof X: Such as?

Officer: Well, it would usually be something like, The Centre for Research into bla, bla, bla…

Prof X: We don’t do bla, bla, bla.

Officer: That’s what I’m here to find out. Perhaps you could describe your research.

Prof X: Research?

Officer: Yes, you are a professor with a significant responsibility to conduct research.

Prof X: How long have you got?

Officer: It would be a good idea if you could explain your research to a layman.

Prof X: “Man?”

Officer: Person.

Prof X: Well, the question of “man” is very important here. You could say I am a specialist in the next stage of human evolution.

Officer: Is that Panel A or Panel B?

Prof X: Some of us have special powers.

Officer: Like a vice-chancellor?

Prof X: Is that a supervillain?

Officer: I couldn’t possibly comment.

Prof X: Some of us will always earn the suspicion and envy of others.

Officer: You mean you have research grants?

Prof X: Many, and we have used them to protect humanity.

Officer: Sounds as if this could be an impact case study.

Prof X: To support those special individuals I founded a school for the gifted.

Officer: Is that like one of those Maths schools?

Prof X: It doesn’t have very many students, if that’s what you mean.

Officer: Teaching quality isn’t really my thing. I’ll leave that one to the OfS.

Prof X: Is that a supervillain?

Officer: Yeah, totally. Can I ask you, professor…. sorry, my records are incomplete, it just says here Professor X.

Prof X: Xavier.

Officer: Are you Spanish?

Prof X: No.

Officer: That’s good.

Prof X: Don’t you like Spaniards?

Officer: Not at all, I was just thinking about the whole EU thing.

Prof X: Don’t you like the EU?

Officer: I just meant, who knows where we will be by the time the next REF comes around.

Prof X: Still not associated with Horizon Europe, probably.

Officer: Can I ask how you came to be a professor?

Prof X: I have PhDs in genetics, biophysics, psychology and anthropology, with a two-year residence at Pembroke College, University of Oxford. I also received an MD in psychiatry while spending several years in London. I was later appointed adjunct professor at Columbia University in New York.

Officer: OK, but that makes you, overqualified, part-time, precarious Contract X, rather than Professor X.

Prof X: It’s all a bit hazy after that.

Officer: OK, tell me, what is it that you and your team do here?

Prof X: We save humanity.

Officer: You mean vaccine research?

Prof X: No, we fly about in a supersonic plane and use our special powers to fight supervillains.

Officer: Unpack that for me. Plane?

Prof X: I designed it myself.

Officer: Right, that’s the aeronautical engineering unit of assessment.

Prof X: The team are interdisciplinary. You should meet them.

Officer: That would be helpful. Are any of them independent researchers?

Prof X: There’s Wolverine, he’s pretty independent.

Officer: Good, and what is Dr Wolverine’s role?

Prof X: He’s an animal.

Officer: If you can refrain from the personal comments, professor. Have they made any kind of scientific breakthrough?

Prof X: Adamantium.

Officer: Sorry?

Prof X: He has adamantium claws.

Officer: Claws?

Prof X: Yes, a unique skill.

Officer: It’s certainly unusual for a postdoc. But did I hear you right, “adamantium”?

Prof X: Yes, it’s a special alloy.

Officer: Surely it’s a made-up word that sounds a bit like Adam Ant?

Prof X: It’s closer to Captain America’s vibramium.

Officer: I’m beginning to wonder if you should be in the UoA for chemistry or creative writing. Who else is in your team?

Prof X: Storm.

Officer: Dr Storm?

Prof X: No, but she’s a great teacher, the students love her. Wherever she goes she brings the weather with her.

Officer: Yes, I have an aunt and uncle who are like that. Anyone else in your team who does research?

Prof X: Jean Grey.

Officer: At last, a normal name. What does she do?

Prof X: She has the ability to destroy worlds.

Officer: Is she a peer reviewer?

Prof X: No, she is married to the one we call ‘Cyclops’.

Officer: Look, you really need to do that training. Perhaps, you could just tell me what it is you do?

Prof X: I plug myself into Cerebro.

Officer: I’m sorry I asked.

Prof X: It is a machine of my own creation, which allows me to read the minds of everyone on the planet.

Officer: That’s interesting, have you thought about commercialisation?

Prof X: With great power comes great responsibility.

Officer: Yes, but you must have registered the IP. Surely, you could sell a service to businesses.

Prof X: Like what?

Officer: Advertising? How many people are thinking about having sausages for dinner, or something?

Prof X: I think you really misunderstand our work here. Cerebro has been used by the US government.

Officer: Influencing policymakers, now we’re talking. What did you use it for?

Prof X: To hunt down rogue mutants.

Officer: And you were doing so well.

Prof X: However, my old foe Magneto uses an anti-psychic helmet to prevent me from reading his mind.

Officer: I’m beginning to wonder whether you have ethical clearance for all this.

Prof X: We once worked together but now he is my nemesis.

Officer: You mean you used to co-author papers but now he is the third reviewer?

Prof X: Something like that. Look, I’m rather busy today, is there anything else?

Officer: Yes, finally, can I ask, do you use Researchfish?

Prof X: That is a supervillain, right?

Officer: I think we are done here, professor. Can we expect to see you at the Research Leaders’ Forum?

Prof X: The university will stop my grant if I don’t come, yes?

Officer: Absolutely.

Prof X: OK, see you on Wednesday.

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