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Image: Grace Gay for Research Professional News

Ivory Tower: four pesky kids and a dog search for evidence on research assessment

Titles and opening song:

Frappy-Dappy-Doo, where are you?
We got some work to do now
Frappy-Dappy-Doo, where are you?
We need some help from you now

Come on Frappy-Doo, I see you
Counting metrics ‘n’ structure
But you’re not fooling me, ’cause I can see
You love People and Culture

You know we got evidence to find
So, Frappy-Doo, be ready for your act
Don’t hold back
And, Frappy-Doo, if you come through
You’re gonna have yourself a research contract
That’s impact

Frappy-Dappy-Doo, here are you
You’re ready and you’re willing
If we can count on you, Frappy-Doo
I know QR will pass one billion

1. Int. The Mystery Mobile, the Frappy gang are driving through a spooky, abandoned town.

Ottoline: Are you sure this is the place? It doesn’t look much like a holiday resort to me.

Stephen: That’s what it says on the map.

Jessica: I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Are you guys all right in the back?

In the back of the van, Kimmy and Frappy-Doo are playing cards, with the prize a large pile of Frappy Snacks. Kimmy looks to have won, but Frappy-Doo produces a fifth ace and scoffs all the snacks. Cue canned laughter.

2. Ext. The gang see an old timer standing in the road waving a lamp in warning. They pull up to him in the van.

Old timer: Turn back!

Stephen: I think he’s trying to warn us about something.

Old timer: Turn back!

Ottoline: Excuse me sir, are you trying to foreshadow a metaphorical warning about changing the weightings of the next Research Excellence Framework?

Old timer: It will come to no good. Go back to where you came from.

Jessica: Sir, can you tell us what that mock-gothic building over there is?

Old timer: Why, that’s our university. It might look scary and intimidating but it’s actually a place of learning.

Stephen: Thank you sir… [the gang drive off in the van] I think these guys need to work on their access plan.

3. Ext. The van pulls up outside the university. A man in a suit comes out to speak to them.

Man: You can’t park that here. The student car park is on the other side of campus.

Ottoline: We are not students, sir. We are looking for evidence.

Man: Of what?

Stephen: People and Culture.

Jessica: Impact and Engagement.

Ottoline: Wider contributions to disciplines by teams of collaborative research-related staff.

Man: Well, I’m the vice-chancellor and you won’t find much of that round here. Not since the REF bogeyman scared off any sense of collegiality. I’m just on my way to close down the chemistry department because they’ve been dragging us down the league table, but you are welcome to look around. [He leaves]

Stephen: REF bogeyman? Hey gang, I think we have a mystery to solve.

Frappy: Roh ro.

Kimmy: Mystery? Man, I think we should just do like he said, get in the van and drive back to Swindon, or Bristol, or, like, wherever it is we’re based these days.

Stephen: I think we should split up and look for clues.

Kimmy: Like, by which you mean, you three go in one direction and me and the dog go in another? I’m beginning to have my doubts about that plan.

Frappy: Ro ray [shakes head]

Stephen: Would you do it for a Frappy Snack?

Kimmy: If you are implying that my character is a stoner who constantly has the munchies, I resent that. I’m thinking about going to HR. This is bullying, so much for People and Culture.

Frappy: Rappy rack? Rure.

Stephen: That-a-boy, Frap.

4. Ext. Later Kimmy and Frappy are walking through some haunted-looking university cloisters.

Kimmy: I don’t know how you got us into this, Frap. Out here in this spooky place looking for evidence to include in a questionnaire-type assessment of institutional process around a collaborative research environment. What’s that growling? Frap, is that your stomach again?

Frappy: Ro Rimmy, rot re.

Kimmy: Zoinks! It’s the REF Bogeyman.

A hooded figure towers before growling and wailing. Frappy jumps into Kimmy’s arms in fear.

Kimmy: Run, Frap!

A chase ensues around the cloisters, during which Kimmy and Frappy stop to enjoy an elaborate sandwich (which Frap steals most of) and they outwit the monster by pretending to be two Italian barbers who give the monster a cut and shave.

5. Ext. Later back at the Mystery Mobile

Kimmy: I think we out-ran him, Frap.

Stephen: Did you guys find any evidence?

Kimmy: We found the REF Bogeyman.

Frap: REF Rogeyman!

Kimmy: Like, did you find anything?

Jessica: Not really, we just walked about for a bit. Had a spot of lunch.

Kimmy: I knew it. You guys never find anything, while me and the dog are always at risk. I’ve got my eye on you. It’s all going in my email to HR.

Frappy: [nodding] Ralways rat risk.

Ottoline: While these two were having lunch, I found some evidence. There seems to be some sort of research support office over there.

Frappy: Rupport roffice?

Stephen: I think it’s time for one of my legendary traps.

Jessica: You mean like an institutional REF code of practice?

Stephen: Better than that. We need to lure the Bogeyman in, so Kimmy and Frap, you guys dress as Athena and a swan, and when the Bogeyman comes…

Kimmy: Like, no way! I’m a senior administrator at Research England, I am not dressing up as a Greek goddess.

Stephen: Would you rather be the swan?

Ottoline: Remember, Kimmy, you are doing this not just for Research England but for all the funding councils of the UK.

Kimmy: I know you are contractually obliged to say that, otherwise we’ll get emails, but I’m still not doing it.

Jessica: How about two Frappy Snacks?

Kimmy: How about two increments and one day a week working from home?

Frappy: Rwo Rappy racks? Rokay.

6. Int. The Research Support Office, Kimmy and Frappy are sitting at desk dressed as Athena and a swan. Stephen, Ottoline and Jessica are hiding behind an office divider.

Ottoline: So, when the REF Bogeyman makes it to Kimmy and Frappy, you release the net and we’ll trap him, creating a safe and responsible research environment to enable wider engagements in disciplines and society beyond the outputs of individual members of staff.

Stephen: What could go wrong?

Frappy: Rimmy?

Kimmy: Like, not now, Frap. I’m drafting my grievance for HR.

Frappy: Relp, Rimmy! Rogeyman! Ref! Ref!

The Bogeyman is towering over them, growling, holding a monograph in one hand and a short-term contract for a postdoc in the other.

Ottoline: Release the net!

Jessica: Oh wait, my Hesa data set is snagged in it…

The gang are accidentally snared in their own trap along with Bogeyman. A chase ensues as the gang and the monster run around the university cloisters under the same net. Eventually, Frappy trips the Bogeyman and as they all fall somehow the gang are freed but the monster is tied up.

Ottoline: Let’s see who this REF bogeyman, who has been scaring away any sense of community and shared endeavour, really is. [She pulls off his mask]

Everyone: It’s the vice-chancellor!

Vice-chancellor: And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids!

7. Ext. Back at the Mystery Mobile

The vice-chancellor is cuffed and being led away in a police van. The gang are talking to the local sheriff.

Sheriff: But I don’t get it, why would the vice-chancellor want to scare everyone so much that they were frightened for their jobs?

Stephen: Creating competition is good for dividing the workforce and taking resource from other institutions, but it’s just not how we do science and research any more.

Sheriff: Well, we’ve got a lot to thank you kids for.

Ottoline: It’s teamwork in a supportive and nurturing culture. We like to practise what we preach.

Jessica: Say, how is Kimmy getting on with that grievance for HR?

Kimmy is typing out the grievance. Frappy is preparing a giant hot dog sub. They squeeze the mustard bottle too hard, and it goes all over Kimmy’s typing. Everyone laughs, except Kimmy.

Frap: Frappy-Dappy-Doo!

Titles and song.

Terms of use: this is a free email for fun on a Friday, it should be shared among colleagues like a copy of the initial decisions of the Future Research Assessment Programme. Want instructions on how to make your own Athena or swan costume? Hey, we’re not judging you. Want to say hello? Email ivorytower@researchresearch.com

Did you know that when dogs run around it’s called a frenetic random activity period, or a Frap, just like a chase in Scooby-Doo, or, preparing your university for the changed rules of a national research assessment.