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Quality Assurance/Quality Improvement

of Academic Departments

Peer Review Group Report


Department of Zoology
University College Dublin

Quality Assurance/Quality Improvement

Peer Review Group Report

Department of Zoology

Academic Year 2001/2002

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Contents

Page

Members of the Peer Review Group 4

1. The Department 5

2. The Departmental Self-assessment 7

3. The Site Visit 8

4. The Peer Review 10

5. Findings of the Peer Review Group 12

6. Overall Analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses,


Opportunities and Threats 22

7. Recommendations for Improvement 24

8. Response of the Department of Zoology Co-ordinating Committee


to the Peer Review Group Report 27

Appendix 1 29

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Members of the Peer Review Group

Name Affiliation Role

Professor Stephen Phillips University of Glasgow Extern

Dr Julian Reynolds Trinity College Dublin Extern

Dr Angela Bourke Department of Modern Irish, UCD Chair

Professor Pat Shannon Department of Geology, UCD Rapporteur

Professor Ciaran Regan Department of Pharmacology, UCD Cognate

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1. The Department of Zoology

1.1 Location of the Department

Located on the Belfield campus, the Department of Zoology at University


College Dublin occupies a working area of c. 1699 m2 (2179 m2 including
corridors, toilets, halls etc) in the Biology Building in the Science Block. An
additional lecture room (54 m2) is located in the main Science Lecture Theatre
Building. Details of the space resources available are presented in Appendix
11 of the Self-Assessment Report (SAR). The building, a purpose-built facility,
was first occupied in 1964. The Department of Zoology occupies the south
end of two floors, together with some rooms on the third floor and a small
room on the ground floor of the Biology Building.

There is a total of 13 offices in the Department. All academic staff have their
own individual office space, as do the Departmental Administrative Assistant,
the Principal Technician and one Senior Technician (whose office is used as a
stationery store and the reception point for deliveries).

1.2 Staff

The Self-Assessment Report, written by the Departmental Quality


Assurance/Quality Improvement (QA/QI) Co-ordinating Committee, tabulates
the staffing levels in the Department at the time of the assessment. There are
11 academic staff (one Professor, six Senior Lecturers (including one who
recently retired) and four Lecturers). Two young Lecturers have been
appointed and the appointees will take up their posts in the late summer.
There is one Senior Administrative Assistant. The complement of technical
staff is ten full-time (one Principal Technician, five Senior Technicians, two
Technicians, two Senior Attendants), and two (Senior Technicians) part-time
technical staff. Three post-doctoral fellows are employed in the Department.
Thirty-four postgraduate students are currently registered in the Department.
Detailed Curricula Vitae of the academic, administrative and technical staff are
provided in Appendices 1 and 2. Summaries of the postgraduate students
and their research projects are given in Appendix 4.

1.3 Courses and Programmes

The Department is currently involved in five undergraduate degree


programmes. These are as follows:
BSc Honours Degree in Zoology,
BSc Joint Honours Degree in a Biological Subject and Molecular
Genetics,
BSc Topical (Honours and General) Degree in Cell and Molecular
Biology,
BSc Topical (Honours and General) Degree in Environmental Biology,
BSc General Degree.
It also contributes to undergraduate teaching in the faculties of Agriculture and
Medicine. The Department runs a taught Master of Applied Science degree in

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Environmental Science (MApplSci), with input from other departments and
faculties. Academic staff from the Department also contribute to courses in
the degree of Master of Engineering Science (MEngSc, Faculty of
Engineering), and to the degree of Master of Science (Agriculture) in
Environmental Resource Management (MSc(Agr), Faculty of Agriculture).

Undergraduate student numbers in the Department have remained relatively


constant in all years during the past five years (Table 1) but they represent a
substantial increase on the previous five-year period, particularly at Second
Year level. The number of students in the taught masters (MApplSci in
Environmental Science) is at the highest level since the instigation of the
course.

Table 1 Total Number of undergraduate students in each year

1996/97 1997/98 1998/99 1999/00 2000/01


1st Science 362 369 368 337 364
Service Teaching
First Agriculture 199 199 218 226 214
Medicine 142 123 140 139 155
2nd Science 123 112 120 129 108
3rd Science 72 56 84 60 78
4th Science 47 49 53 63 48

Details on each of the individual taught programmes are presented in Chapter


3 of the SAR. Each programme is described in detail in a clear fashion with
information provided on such aspects as objectives, course overview,
methods of teaching, methods of assessment, skills acquired and examination
results. This information is backed up by a most comprehensive and thorough
description and analysis of each course in Appendix 7. This provides
information on each lecture and on each practical, together with details of
required texts and recommended reading.

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2. The Departmental Self-Assessment

2.1 The Co-ordinating Committee

The Departmental QA/QI Co-ordinating Committee was established in March


2001, following the outlines for procedures from the QA Office. The Co-
ordinating committee comprised members of the academic, technical and
administrative staff and a postgraduate student. It was representative of all
grades of staff in the Department. The members of the committee were:

Dr Mark Rogers Senior Lecturer & Acting Head of Department


Professor Eamonn Duke Professor of Zoology
Dr Declan Murray Senior Lecturer (retired)
Dr Bret Danilowicz Lecturer & Associate Dean
Dr Mary Kelly-Quinn Lecturer
Ms Dorothy Allen Senior Executive Assistant
Mr Robert French Principal Technician
Ms Jennifer Coughlan Technician
Ms Louise Bailey PhD student

2.2 Methodology Adopted

Following an outline of the QA/QI procedure from Professor Don McQuillan in


February 2001, the Departmental Co-ordinating Committee was established in
March 2001. Regular meetings were held with the facilitators (Dr Angela
Bourke and Professor Pat Shannon), in accordance with the schedule
outlined by the QA Office. Four such meetings were held and individual
contact with the facilitators took place throughout the procedure for
clarification on specific points of issue.

The Committee met formally on 11 occasions. Informal discussion took place


on numerous occasions between members of the committee and with other
members of the staff. In the final weeks of report preparation members of the
Committee met as and when necessary to deal with the paperwork.

Dr Mark Rogers convened the meetings and prepared the agenda. Ms


Jennifer Coughlan acted as recording secretary. Minutes of each meeting
were circulated, after approval at the subsequent meeting, to the facilitators,
all members of staff and all postgraduate students of the Department.

Student questionnaires were distributed during the first- and second-semester


courses of the academic year 2000-2001. Questionnaires to past graduates
and employers were circulated in September 2001.

Dr Declan Murray acted as co-ordinator of the report. Responsibility for


individual chapters was allocated to various members of the Department. All
staff in the Department were involved in collecting, compiling and analysing
data, and contributed in some way to the preparation of the report.

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3. The Site Visit

3.1 Timetable

The detailed timetable for the PRG visit is enclosed as Appendix 1 of this
report. The site visit took place on 15th to 17th April 2002. The PRG met:
All staff members, as groups and/or individuals,
Representative groups of Third and Fourth Year undergraduates,
taught MSc and postgraduate students,
Postdoctoral fellows
The Dean of Science,
A representative of the Careers Office.
The PRG viewed teaching and research facilities of the Department.

3.2 Methodology

The work of the PRG involved the following:


Review and assimilation of the Self Assessment Report (SAR) and the
accompanying documentation, in advance of the site visit.
Meeting with Professor Don McQuillan on 14 th April 2002 for a briefing
on the site visit procedure, to discuss initial collective overview and to
assign tasks to individual members of the PRG.
Meetings with the Departmental Co-ordinating Committee, Acting Head
of Department, Professor of Zoology, Dean of Science, academic,
technical and administrative staff, member of the Careers Office, post-
doctoral fellows, postgraduate students, Third- and Fourth- Year
undergraduate students.
Visit to the teaching and research facilities within the Department,
involving informal discussions with academic and technical staff and
research students.
Private meetings of the PRG during the site visit, to identify and discuss
key issues, to evaluate the information provided and to adjust the
agenda as required.
Analysis, synthesis and discussion of facts and views. SWOT analysis
with identification of departmental strengths, weaknesses, opportunities
and threats. Identification and discussion of PRG preliminary
recommendations.
Preparation of outline skeleton of PRG report.
Preparation and delivery of the Exit Presentation at the completion of
the site visit.

3.3 General Comments

The PRG found the site visit to be an extremely informative process. The
information, views and opinions expressed by the staff and students served to
clarify and strengthen the information provided in the very comprehensive
Self-Assessment Report and accompanying material. The visit to research
laboratories and teaching facilities also helped the PRG to evaluate the
physical state of the Department as described in the Self-Assessment Report.

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We are grateful to all members of the Department for their open and candid
answering of our questions, and note the very high level of professional
commitment shown to the Departments work by all the staff. We also wish to
record our appreciation of the courtesy afforded the PRG by the Dean of
Science and the staff of the Faculty Office, who made the Faculty Boardroom
available at short notice for our interviews and meetings when the
departmental boardroom proved too small.

The PRG noted with disappointment the fact that no First- or Second-Year
undergraduate students turned up for the scheduled meeting. Neither was
there an opportunity to meet with employers in order to gain an independent
view of the quality of graduates and of the relevance of the taught
programmes and research training to a career in industry, biomedical research
and other areas of employment that graduates of the Department have
followed. It was not clear whether employers are consulted when courses are
being devised or revised.

The PRG particularly wishes to thank the Acting Head of Department for his
co-operation at all stages of the process. His personal attention to the Self-
Assessment process and to the Site Visit made our work both more efficient
and more comfortable.

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4. The Peer Review

4.1 Methodology

The PRG first met on the evening of Sunday 14 th April 2002. Throughout the
entire period of the site visit the PRG group worked together, including visiting
the teaching and research laboratories. As the Department of Zoology is not
over-large, it was felt that the ideal methodology was to work as a group in
relation to meetings with groups and individuals rather than to break into sub-
groups with specific tasks. During off-campus analysis the PRG also worked
as a group.

The expertise brought to the PRG by the external reviewers was vital to the
successful completion of the work, particularly in the areas of comparative
analysis of the teaching and research areas.

The tasks of overseeing the various parts of the review were subdivided, by
agreement, initially into the following areas:
Departmental Details: Professor Pat Shannon
Planning and Organisation: Dr Angela Bourke
Taught Programmes: Professor Ciaran Regan
Teaching and Learning Dr Julian Reynolds/Professor Stephen Phillips
Research and Publications: Professor Stephen Phillips/Dr Julian Reynolds
External Relations: Professor Ciaran Regan
Support Services Dr Angela Bourke

Responsibility for the SWOT analysis, together with the recommendations,


was shared by the entire PRG group, as was the preparation of the Exit
Presentation. The finished report was produced through an editorial process
that involved all members of the PRG.

4.2 Sources Used

The main sources used by the PRG in the review and preparation of the
report comprise the following:
The SAR, and accompanying 11 appendices, produced by the
Departmental Co-ordinating Committee
Information, views and comments provided by groups and individuals
representing the Co-ordinating Committee, the academic, technical and
administrative staff of the Department, postdoctoral fellows,
postgraduate and undergraduate students, the Dean of Science and a
representative from the Careers Office.
The collective impressions gained from the tour of the Departmental
teaching and research facilities.
Copies of postgraduate theses.
Additional documentation requested by the PRG regarding aspects of
the Universitys strategic development plan, the Division of
Biosciences, job descriptions, the new benchmarks for promotion to
Senior Lecturer, and Careers Office documentation on First

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Destinations of recent Zoology graduates from the Department.

4.3 Peer Review Groups View of the Self-Assessment Report

The PRG acknowledges the wholehearted participation of all the staff of the
Department throughout the QA/QI process. This was very evident in the
quality and clarity of the information in the SAR. The openness, hospitality
and generosity with time during the entire QA/QI process, and especially
during the site visit, was greatly appreciated. The members of the
Department found time to produce an excellent report while revising many of
the Departments taught courses and continuing to carry out research and
normal teaching duties. The genuine team effort was very impressive and
professional, and has made the task of the PRG much easier.
Notwithstanding the team effort, it was clear to the PRG that the Acting Head
of Department had exercised considerable leadership during this testing time
and had conspicuously led from the front. He has shouldered a full teaching
burden and maintained his research group. He is to be congratulated for this.

The factual information provided in the SAR report and in the accompanying
documentation provided an excellent, clear and informative insight into the
operations of the Department, its personnel and its teaching and research
programmes. The clarity of its layout and presentation will allow this SAR to
serve as a reference document for many years to come. The SAR provides
valuable background information that will be of use in helping to plan the
future development of the Department. In addition to the factual information,
the Department, in the SAR, offers a frank assessment of what it perceives
are its strengths and weaknesses. It is to be complimented on this.

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5. Findings of the Peer Review Group

5.1 Department Details

The Department of Zoology occupies part of the oldest purpose-built building


on the UCD campus at Belfield. The building was first occupied in 1964 and
has had minimal renovation or refurbishment since then. The PRG considers
that the Department, in the context of its current staff complement, is
adequately provided with its current total allocation of space, but it is clear that
the present layout is quite inappropriate for the teaching and research needs
of a modern University department. The current room layout in the
Department does not permit the most effective use of the available space and
the Department will face difficulties in providing appropriate space for the new
Professor of Zoology. The provision or promise of good quality space will be
required to attract outstanding candidates for the Chair. Pressure on space
will also increase once the new lecturers develop their own research groups.
The spread of the Department on parts of four floors in the Biology Building is
far from ideal and there is a particular problem with the storage of bulk
equipment used in fieldwork. Currently some of this is stored in an insecure
outbuilding. Secure storage needs to be provided by the University either
within or outwith the Department for this purpose. There is a very urgent need
for radical refurbishment of both teaching and research laboratories. This
should be the responsibility of the University: the Department should not be
expected to fund it from its Supplies & Travel budget.

Strong adherence to the requirements of Health and Safety is not always


obvious in the Department and reference was made to this fact in the SAR.
For example, protective laboratory coats do not appear to be always routinely
worn in laboratories, while bags of samples are sometimes left lying around in
laboratories. Some areas were particularly cluttered and untidy, with exit
aisles in laboratories sometimes impeded. A bicycle was parked in the
Autoclave room. Greater attention needs to be given to increasing the
general awareness of Health and Safety throughout the Department.

The Department is the largest Zoology department in Ireland with a current


complement of 11 academic staff (with a further two new academic staff
joining in the next academic year), 12 technical staff (including two part-time)
and one Senior Administrative Assistant. The age profile and the committed
and dedicated staff are very positive aspects of the Department.

The Department has a strong and proud history of serving Irish science and
society, and honouring the intellectual traditions of classical Zoology, while
embracing new developments. The skills, flexibility and positive attitude of the
technical staff have contributed greatly to the development of the Department
in its teaching and research activities.

5.2 Planning and Organisation

The high quality of its Self-Assessment Report shows the Department of


Zoologys ability effectively to plan and organise its operations. The process

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of self-assessment, however, has made the Department aware of certain
deficiencies in its own administrative structure, which it has already begun to
address, with positive results. We support this constructive approach and
recommend that it continue, with the participation of all members of the
Department. The PRG expects that the momentum already generated will
carry the Department towards an improved structure for the planning and
organisation of all its work where transparency and a culture of
communication and exchange of information are paramount.

Zoology is fortunate in having a generous and dynamic Acting Head, who


leads from the front and considers the welfare of all staff members as well as
students. The Department is at a crossroads, however, with many changes in
recent years and more expected. Two new appointments have been made to
academic staff and these people will take up their positions in the coming
months. The current Professor of Zoology is about to retire and the Chair of
Zoology will soon be advertised. All taught courses are under review. The
Conway Institute has yet to become fully operational, while the new Division of
Biosciences, which will bring several departments together in a format as yet
undecided, is still at the planning stage. Notwithstanding that all the staff we
spoke to were broadly welcoming of this Division, we note that the letter of
intent to form the Division of Biosciences which was sent to the President of
UCD was dated November 2000, almost 18 months prior to our site visit.
Progress in developing the Division seems to be very slow and members of
the Department appear to know little about the plans or progress of the plans.
In the absence of a timetable, or a clear picture of how that Division will be
structured, it is apparent that a degree of apprehension exists about the future
identity and profile of the Department of Zoology within it. It is essential that
the Department identifies its own priorities now and draws up structures for
the management of change. The professionalism, flexibility and openness
shown by all staff during the QA/QI process give us confidence that this can
be achieved.

Appendix 5 of the SAR gives the text of the Departments Five-Year Plan,
produced in 2000. While this document is useful, its emphasis is on the
maintenance of existing areas of excellence and on open-ended exploration
of further possibilities, rather than on defined strategies. Chapter 2 of the
SAR notes that the QA/QI process has focussed the Departments attention
on its goals; it also anticipates the preparation of a new five-year plan
following the presentation of the present Report by the PRG. We warmly
recommend this course of action, as we find little evidence so far of the sort of
strategic planning which will be required at this crucial period of the
Departments development if it is to maintain and enhance its position in
teaching and research.

Certain areas of planning and organisation work excellently. Despite many


complaints about communication, we found that members of staff interact well
with colleagues on a personal level and share a commitment to excellence in
the Department. What seems most strongly lacking is an efficient central
clearing house for information, with defined lines of communication and a
committee structure that can be understood by everyone. The PRG

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commends the Department on already establishing new committees and
subcommittees to deal with aspects of planning and organisation, but its
operational procedures are still not fully transparent, especially in the
distribution of teaching duties. A description of the Departments management
structure should be prepared, therefore, and made available to all staff, with a
staff activity profile for each member of the Department. The Universitys new
Staff Development Programme will offer further opportunities to review the
work of individuals, and we would expect each staff member to meet with the
Head of Department on at least an annual basis to discuss his/her career and
contribution to the Departments work.

The Zoology Department has a high profile in the scientific community and
among the general public perhaps more than is realised by the members of
the Department. As the Department has recognised, however, its corporate
image needs to be improved. A visitor at present receives an impression of a
jaded department with little ambience of vitality and pride in achievements,
with no obvious focus and little orientation. Staff have commented that their
achievements and those of their students, whether as individuals or groups,
are barely noted, much less celebrated (as say, by displaying book jackets or
posters prominently on noticeboards). It is important that the First- and
Second-Year classes be used to attract students to stay with Zoology, and
here again, the Departments ability to communicate its message clearly
through various media will be vital. Those students we spoke to who are
below Fourth-Year level professed themselves baffled by the Departments
structure; we therefore urge the re-establishment of the Staff-Student
Committee without delay, and the provision of a comprehensive handbook for
each year.

The Departmental Office has an important role to play in the areas mentioned
here, since its function is to facilitate all of the Departments work. Given that
the Senior Executive Assistant is expected to be the first line contact for
students, this office should be the natural heart of the Department. At present
it is not clearly signposted and is reached via a small dark lobby, which
contains a photocopier and a fax machine and easily becomes crowded. The
arrangement of its furniture, moreover, makes it a less than welcoming place
for students, staff and visitors. We recommend that this space be redesigned
with a desk or counter facing the door, and that well-lit noticeboards be
installed in its immediate vicinity to convey important and frequently-changing
information about courses and other activities, and to designate this area as
the Departments administrative centre. If possible, the office should
accommodate racks for documentation. All members of the academic staff
and the Principal Technician should have keys to it.

The main role of the Senior Executive Assistant is to provide administrative


and secretarial support to the Head (or Acting Head) of Department. While
much of this function will in practice devolve to all members of the academic
staff, the Senior Executive Assistant must have easy access to the Head. The
Head of Department should therefore establish a presence as soon as
possible in the present Professor of Zoologys office, which is about to be
vacated and which adjoins the Departmental Office.

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The filling of the Chair of Zoology must be carefully planned. The Department
should draw up a briefing document for the Academic Council Committee on
Chairs. To attract a high-calibre candidate, moreover, it must plan the
allocation of space and facilities. At present, resources of various kinds, from
the expertise of the technical staff to laboratories and storage space, are
inefficiently used. There is a tradition in the Department of history rather than
need and merit dictating the allocation of space, technical assistance and
other resources. This reduces flexibility and the ability to respond to a
continually changing scientific environment. The Department should move
away from a model of ownership by individual academic staff of technical
support and laboratory space, and consider establishing a more flexible
system including technical support units, each under the direction of a Section
Head Technician. Storage space is clearly a problem for a department that
relies so much on fieldwork, but a coherent policy on the use of space is not
apparent. Along with its policy on health and safety, this should be an
important part of the Departments new five-year plan.

5.3 Taught Programmes

The Department is currently involved in five undergraduate degree


programmes; it also runs the interdisciplinary Master of Applied Science in
Environmental Science degree and contributes to other undergraduate and
postgraduate courses leading to Master of Science degrees in the
Engineering, Agriculture, Veterinary and Medical Faculties.

The undergraduate teaching programme in Zoology is broad-based and


reflects the research interests of the academic staff. There has been a
commitment to updating and re-organising the course content on a regular
basis. The Fourth-Year course is quite powerful and most appropriate to the
current needs of zoologists working in a community that is becoming more
and more aware of its environment. The courses on immunology, animals
and genes, prions and cell culture, while excellent in content and generally
enthusiastically received by the students, could be considered to be further
developed as integrated courses in the planned Division of Biosciences.

The Biosciences initiative, with nine degree options and involving one third of
all science graduates, has stimulated a major overhaul of First Year courses,
with revision of the Second-Year courses now in progress. Despite such
integrated courses, the different destinations of students in the first three
years should be seen as an opportunity to recruit from the best students into
Zoology. This will require interdepartmental co-operation and the active
involvement of course committees.

The PRG met a group of fifteen students that represented Third Year, six
students from Fourth Year Zoology, two students from the taught MSc course
and 15 postgraduate students. Fourth-Year students perceived themselves
as fully integrated into the Department; they reported a highly demanding but
exciting and challenging course and an approachable staff who were
generous with their time. This was in marked contrast to Third-Year students,

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who found the staff unapproachable. These students had no sense of
departmental layout, location of staff offices or whom to approach for specific
information. They had sought unsuccessfully for examination details on new
courses and their requests for knowledge of exam paper layout and sample
questions had been turned down. The taught practical course was perceived
by Third Years to be out of date and lacking in organisation when compared to
other Bioscience departments. While the Third-Year students appeared
somewhat disoriented and to a degree disillusioned, the transformation in the
Fourth Year and taught MSc students was remarkable. These students, by
contrast, gave glowing reports of their laboratory and fieldwork experiences.

There appears to be some over-teaching and duplication in respect to the


formal lecture component of the taught programmes. Some aspects of the
programme could equally well be taught in joint courses or by other
departments. The burden of teaching loads could also be reduced
considerably by an increased learning to learn approach. This approach
would, however, require an emphasis on the use of tutorial classes. There is
also a need to ensure transparency in the staff teaching allocations.

A residential field course is lacking, and would provide a needed bonding


experience for Third Years. The practical component of the taught courses
could be improved by updating the practical manuals and by ensuring that the
demonstrators are sufficiently versed in their theoretical content and in the
objectives to be attained. Greater involvement of the staff in these latter
aspects would contribute significantly to attaining this goal. Student
handbooks should be provided for all undergraduate years, with information
on evaluation and marking schemes and emphasis on how the courses build
year by year.

The practical class laboratories also need to be updated and upgraded,


especially in respect to facilities required for teaching aspects of modern
molecular genetics and microbiology. This upgrading will require significantly
more funding than that available from the departmental budget, especially as
there is a pressing need to ensure that Fire and Health and Safety
requirements are satisfied. The provision of such funding should be the
responsibility of the University.

5.4 Teaching and Learning

Teaching currently is carried out along traditional lines of lectures and


practicals in all undergraduate years except Fourth Year. Departmental policy
has been to allocate teaching responsibilities equally among academic staff,
notwithstanding the level of research activity or time spent on administrative
and other duties at departmental, faculty or University level. While all
academic staff should carry a teaching load, the Department should review
annually the basket of teaching, research and administrative responsibilities of
each member of staff in assigning teaching duties. There is an awareness of
the desirability of including more active learning techniques directed
reading, research projects and essays. Teaching techniques have
incorporated advances such as computer-assisted presentation, and students

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are encouraged to read around the course. One-to-one supervision in Fourth-
Year projects is to be commended.

Mentors are available in First and Second Years, but the recruitment of
postgraduate demonstrators for practical classes is becoming increasingly
difficult. This is a vitally important area of contact with students, and steps to
improve the demonstrator training and their remuneration should be
implemented. The heavy reliance on multiple choice examinations in the First
Year also needs consideration to evaluate if it is the optimum method of
assessment.

Despite a stated formal commitment to integrating courses within the


Biosciences initiative, there seems to be a reluctance to decreasing contact
hours lest this result in a dilution of Zoology. The PRG understands the
commitment of the academic staff who perceive a need for a continuing broad
curriculum in classical Zoology while recognising the benefits of integration.
The PRG suggests that academic staff consider if and how contact hours
could be reduced and/or alternative methods of learning be introduced, and
would emphasise the positive career implications of training in the scientific
method, information searching, essay writing and oral presentation of findings.

5.5 Research and Scholarly Activity

In its strategic plan, UCD recognises the prime importance of self-motivation


of academic staff in the conduct of high-level international research and the
necessity of creating supportive conditions within Departments and Institutes
where research flourishes. In the future the University plans to monitor
research outputs, in their different forms, and to use this information in the
formula to determine faculty funding allocated from the centre. Thus there is
an incentive to departments to maintain and improve research activity.

All academic staff of the Department of Zoology are research active and the
staff complement includes researchers of national and international calibre.
This is rarely the case in similar departments elsewhere. Most researchers
have collaborative programmes in their portfolio of projects within the
Department, the University, Ireland and overseas. Collectively this presents a
very dynamic picture. The publication output in numbers of refereed
publications is very respectable and has improved over the last 5 years.
There has not been a strong policy of trying to publish in journals of as high
an impact factor as possible and the average impact factor for the Department
is rather low. Many of the articles by members of staff have been published in
very reputable Irish journals. Despite the fact that these Irish journals operate
a high standard of peer review, they are not much read internationally and so
generally have a low impact factor. There appear to have been no papers
published in very high impact factor journals in the past 5 years although
several colleagues have done so during their careers and for a few there is an
expectation that they will do so again in the future. It is noted that some
academics are engaged in much report writing, possibly at the expense of
writing refereed papers. The PRG recommends that up-to-date impact factors
for journals be made available in the Departmental Office.

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Research income is relatively high but the greater proportion over the review
period is earned by a relatively small number of individuals. It is noted,
however, that the research of some is more expensive than that of others and
that income alone is not the best or only index of research excellence and
activity. There is no scheme for assisting staff who are in difficulties or lack
funding with their research activities, but the Departmental Supplies & Travel
budget is very valuable here.

The number of PhD students in the Department is high and a large proportion
of the PhD students is made up of UCD graduates. The expectation is that
the PhD will take at least 4 years to submission. While recognising that the
commitment to demonstrating work by some PhD students eats into their
research time, the Department should be encouraging and facilitating PhD
students to submit within three years, with four years as the maximum
duration. Supervisor and student should aim to have at least some work
submitted for publication by the time the thesis is completed. The website,
which most students outside UCD use as their entry point to a department,
needs development to be an effective means of recruiting research students.

There are very few postdoctoral researchers, and none in their second
postdoctoral appointment when they might be of most value. The Department
should address urgently how such researchers can be attracted.

There is no Departmental seminar programme and no expectation of


academics to give seminars. It was disappointing to learn that attendance at
Departmental seminars had been poor and that this was a reason for
dropping the seminar programme. Most active research departments would
have a thriving seminar programme and efforts should be renewed to develop
such a programme. However, the recently instituted away day for
presentation of research by second- and third-year postgraduates was very
successful.

Some members of staff have written books that have been well received.
Some academic staff members have attracted major conferences to the
campus, bringing great kudos to the Department, the Faculty and the
University. However, there is no tradition of celebrating the achievements of
an individual or a group at the departmental level to the benefit of collegiality
of all.

5.6 External Relations

The Department has a very high external profile. Members of staff participate
regularly in TV, radio and popular press events and have extensive links with
state, semi-state and private organisations. The staff involved are to be
complimented on these links and encouraged to foster them as an important
means of publicising the work of the Department, and to attract students and
research funding.

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The Department has many research projects in collaboration with researchers
from external agencies. The number, size and diversity of these projects are
a clear indication of the research strength and international academic
standing of several members of the Department. These research links offer
the opportunity to increase and enhance the research reputation of members
of academic staff. They also have the potential to help with the placement of
graduates from the Department and for the attraction of possible postgraduate
students or postdoctoral researchers.

Some members of the Department perceive that the proposed Division of


Biosciences, and the Conway Institute, may threaten and/or dilute the
discipline and funding of Zoology by diverting resources into specialised
research areas that are away from mainstream Zoology. Such issues need to
be discussed in an informed fashion by the Department in order to allay fears
and to develop a strategy for development of the Department in the context of
the new initiatives. The Department should consider being more proactive by
developing more cross-discipline courses and by initiating additional research
collaborations with other departments in the Faculty of Science, especially
those that are involved in the Division of Biosciences initiative. However, in
developing such collaboration the Department should have a clear idea on
how its teaching and research activities will fit into the development plans of
the Department and of the Division of Biosciences and the Conway Institute.

The Department has begun to revise and enhance its website. An attractive
and informative website will enhance the ability of the Department to attract
postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers, both from home and abroad.

5.7 Support Services

Chapter 7 of the SAR, entitled Support Services, is based chiefly on an


analysis of responses by staff, students and former students of the
Department to questionnaires about services provided to the Department from
elsewhere in UCD. In this section we consider that chapter and also discuss
the support given to the Departments academic work by its own technical and
administrative services.

5.7.1
The SAR acknowledges the support given to the Department of Zoologys
work by the Universitys administrative offices, while noting the heavy burden
of administration in connection with both teaching and research which falls to
academic and technical staff. The Department is particularly appreciative of
the support it receives from the Faculty of Science Office.

Library and Computing Services are found to be in general satisfactory,


especially for the needs of undergraduate teaching, although students have
criticised the lack of support provided by the Library in that multiple copies of
some often-used books are kept in Earlsfort Terrace rather than in Belfield.
The Librarys funding does not allow it to provide adequately for research
needs, however, and students described the electronic library as generally
poor, with Library staff unequipped to help students navigate the system.

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Computing Services does not appear to have enough staff to deal with
problems in a timely way. The small sample of students interviewed said that
the Careers Office provided little information on job opportunities and advice
and timing of applications for postgraduate opportunities, especially in the UK.
To date, members of the Department have rarely used the services of the
Teaching Development Unit, although its courses aimed at postgraduate
students are likely to be helpful for the induction of new Demonstrators.

The SAR expresses concerns about security within the Science Building,
especially when offices are left unlocked and sometimes open after cleaning.
Postgraduate students and postdoctoral fellows often work late; they operate
a policy of working in pairs, but some nevertheless feel unsafe in such a large
building with so many entrances and such free access.

The Department of Zoology relies heavily on the Central Transport Pool


(CTP), and the new requirement that staff who use their own cars on
University business must have their own business insurance will increase that
reliance. Use of the CTP was greatly reduced last year due to Foot and
Mouth Disease prevention measures, but certain problems which should be
addressed by the University were brought to the attention of the PRG (SAR
pp.110-111). In particular the PRG recommends that (a) cost accounts for the
use of vehicles should be on a monthly basis, and the Head of Department
should approve all payment transfers to the CTP, and (b) staff should be
permitted, when necessary, to keep vehicles at home both before and after
field trips. The requirement that keys be dropped off at a location different
from the vehicle drop-off is unreasonable.

Chapter 7 of the SAR does not consider the Careers and Appointments Office.
Students questionnaire responses indicate that they would like to know more
about career options and suggest that they are uninformed about the
transferability of the skills they acquire in the Department. The small number
of students interviewed by the PRG reported that they had not found the
Careers Office useful or well informed. The PRG interviewed a member of
that office, however, and discovered a real willingness to liaise with the
Department about its needs and to organise a programme specifically aimed
at its students.

5.7.2
Technical and administrative staff are key members of the Department, and
the PRG was pleased to note that their professional contribution to the
efficient operation and development of the Department and the University is
increasingly acknowledged and valued within the University. As that
contribution is essentially in support of the Departments teaching and
research work, we consider it here.

Technical backup within the Department is not equitably or efficiently


distributed. Certain areas of research are less well supported than others, and
the telling quotation, Ill lend you my technician, reflects an earlier and
undesirable culture which cannot but persist in some form while technical staff
are deployed as they are. The PRG recommends that, where necessary,

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technical support units be established, each under the direction of a Section
Head Technician, to afford the sort of flexibility and optimal use of technical-
staff skills which are required in a changing scientific environment. Such units
would also offer career development opportunities to technical staff, whose
contribution to published research could also be acknowledged in print as a
matter of departmental policy.

The Department of Zoologys SAR expresses dissatisfaction at several points


with the administrative support provided by its own Departmental Office, and
this dissatisfaction was raised repeatedly with the PRG during the site visit.
Certain structural changes have been recommended in 5.2 above regarding
access to the office, the layout of its space and the relocation of the Head of
Departments administrative function closer to it. In the context of a new five-
year plan, the Department should re-examine all aspects of the Offices
working. It is important that this be done in conjunction with the drawing up of
a briefing document on the filling of the Chair of Zoology, and in order to adapt
to changes in the working environment. The Head or Acting Head should
liaise with the Senior Executive Assistant to review her job description and
consider how best in the future to implement her role as administrative and
secretarial support to the Head of Department and first line contact for
students.

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6. Overall Analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities
and Threats

Strengths
National/international leaders in research in the Department.
Strong commitment to teaching.
Record of attracting international conferences.
High output of PhDs.
Rising and impressive research income.
All academic staff are research active.
Breadth of disciplines currently covered for teaching. Morale in the
Department has improved within the last year.
Wide range of skills, positive attitude, flexibility of technical staff.
Age profile of the academic staff within the Department.
Perceived benefits from SAR recognised by staff.
Ability of the members of the Department to work together, in a flexible
manner.
Willingness to take on board the challenge of QA/QI process.
Recent changes in organisation and management of the Department
proving effective.
High national and international media profile.
Taught Masters degree.
Acting Head of Department who leads from the front (dedicated,
energetic, research- and teaching-active).
Some money from the Travel and Supplies budget available against
lean funding periods for academic staff.
Fourth Year and postgraduate students enthusiastic about staff
support.

Weaknesses
Lack of strategic plan and coherent vision.
Awareness of Health and Safety requirements is generally poor within
the Department.
Lack of corporate identity and unattractive departmental shop window.
Departmental Office does not provide the support adequate for a
dynamic and ambitious department.
Great concerns by Environmental Protection Agency regarding quality
of facilities for molecular work and recombinant technology.
Teaching laboratories in a poor state of modernisation.
Achievements by department members are not adequately celebrated.
Lack of an adequately sized and experienced postdoctoral cohort.
Heavy reliance on UCD graduates to populate the postgraduate school
(mix is not right).
Poor promotion of departments activities.
Practical classes are outmoded and are not well received by students.
Third Year students perceive academic staff as unapproachable.
Lack of documentation on courses for Second and Third Years and for
postgraduate students.

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Historical lack of recognition of value of impact factor for publications.
Lack of research seminars by staff.
Expectation of long duration of postgraduate projects.
Historically poor communication at various levels of the Department.
Obsessive concern among some academic staff that all academic staff
should have equal teaching loads irrespective of individual level of
research activity and contributions in other ways to the Department and
the University.
Staff room not routinely used by all staff and postgraduate students.
Current teaching and research equipment often in poor repair.
Lack of residential field courses for Third Year students.
Lack of secure storage for fieldwork equipment.

Opportunities
The Chair of Zoology is to be advertised shortly.
Development of the proposed Division of Biosciences is viewed with
broad support by all staff.
The new Conway Institute offers opportunities for research
collaboration.
The current allocation of space offers the potential for redesign,
enabling development and growth
New appointments have been made of young academics with potential.
New benchmark for promotion of academic staff to improve morale.
New funding opportunities through Science Foundation Ireland, etc.
The relocation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the
Veterinary Faculty on the Belfield campus offer new possibilities for
collaborative research.
The website can be developed for much greater effectiveness in
information and recruitment.
Staff Development Programme requires annual meeting of staff with
Head of Department, which will aid personal and departmental
planning and development.

Threats
Failure to address concerns about loss of identity through lack of
communication.
Zoology may be submerged in the Division of Biosciences.
Impact of Conway Institute may reduce opportunities for funding in
some areas of Zoology.
Inadequate promotional prospects for technical and administrative staff.
The Universitys increasing devolution of administration to departments
at the expense of research time.
Loss of potential zoologists in First and Second Years.
May be difficult to attract outside high calibre candidates for the Chair
of Zoology.

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7. Recommendations for Improvement

The PRG acknowledges the many positive and constructive aspects of the
Department of Zoology. There have been the major and ongoing positive
changes in the areas of departmental organisation, and in teaching and
research programmes. The generally positive attitude of the members of the
Department is clearly evident and will be a positive driver for continued
development and progress in the future. The successes and positive aspects
of the Department have been highlighted in preceding sections of this report.
In this section, however, the PRG offers a series of constructive suggestions
and recommendations for improvement. These are not intended as criticisms
of the Department but are offered instead as pointers which may help to
continue the process of development which has been embarked upon and
which will aid towards realising the full potential of the Department of Zoology.
The recommendations are grouped under various convenient headings.

Image and Identity


The corporate image and collegiality of the Department are important and
should be developed.
The Department should re-examine all aspects of the working of the
Departmental Office. The Office should be reorganised to facilitate the
reception of visitors and the dissemination of departmental information.
Nameplates should be on staff and laboratory doors, and a departmental
directory should be provided for visitors and students.
Notice boards for different activities should be provided.
The appearance of corridors and the entrance to the Department should
be improved.
Recent papers or books, posters from conferences and Fourth-Year
projects that have led to published work should be on display in a
prominent position in the Department.
A periodic departmental Newsletter should be produced, outlining
newsworthy features of interest to staff and students.
The Senior Executive Assistant should liaise regularly with the
departmental webmaster to maintain a comprehensive up-to-date website.
Some retraining may be required.

Research
Draw up a departmental strategic plan, which should encompass a vision
for the future, both for research and teaching needs. Consultation with
employers will help adjudge whether the current curriculum is optimal for
graduate employment.
Plan for filling the Chair of Zoology. Evaluate the incentives required, and
their availability, to attract high-calibre candidates.
Take a fresh look at the allocation of space and technical support. History
should be set aside and the Department should look at current needs,
expectations and the need for efficiency. Allocation of critical departmental
resources should be reviewed at least annually.

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Technical support units should be established where appropriate, each
under the direction of a Section Head technician, to provide maximum
flexibility in the running of the Departments operations.
PhD students should aim to finish in three years they should certainly
have submitted within four years. The Department should work towards
the development of a culture of three-year PhD completion
Attract more PhD students from outside UCD. Consider how best to
attract overseas PhD students with a bench fee.
Investigate methods of attracting more postdoctoral workers including
research fellows from abroad, especially postdoctoral workers in their
second postdoctoral appointment.
Develop a Staff Activity Profile or Workload model to avoid disputes over
relative contributions to the work of the Department/Faculty/University.
Consider rewarding technical input into publications by a place in the
author list where justified. This can improve morale.
Revive the departmental Seminar Programme, to include staff
participation.
The Department should consider the implications of the Universitys stated
commitment to reward research excellence and activity in its new funding
formula, and how best to benefit from it.

Undergraduates
Increase emphasis on learning to learn.
Reinstate Third-Year residential field courses.
Use First- and Second-Year classes to attract rather than discourage
recruiting into Honours Zoology.
Consider introducing Third Year tutorials
Revamp and redesign practicals.
Prepare Course Information handbooks for Second and Third Years.
Lectures to undergraduate classes, especially First and Second Years,
should only be given by members of the academic staff, except in
exceptional circumstances as approved by the Head (or Acting Head) of
the Department.
Teaching loads should be distributed as equitably as possible, taking into
account research activities and other Department, Faculty and University
commitments.

General
A greater adherence to the requirements of Health and Safety is required
urgently but this will need serious input from the University. There should
be a general tidying up of the Department. Unannounced spot Safety
checks should be carried out. All laboratory users should sign off annually
confirming that they are aware of, and will adhere to, the Health and
Safety regulations of the Department.
All staff should meet with the Head of Department as part of the Staff
Development Programme on at least an annual basis to review and agree
their progress within and contribution to the Department.

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In progressing the Biosciences initiative it could be helpful to visit other
institutions where such a re-organisation has taken place and been
running for a period.

University
The University should fund departmental refurbishment, particularly
structural requirements under Health and Safety. Departmental Supplies &
Travel funds should not be required for this purpose.
The Central Transport Pool should submit accounts to the Department on
a monthly basis, with all financial transfers to be approved by the Head of
Department. Staff should be permitted to keep vehicles at home both
before and after field trips.

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8. Response of the Department of Zoology Co-ordinating
Committee to the Peer Review Group Report

The QAQI Co-ordinating committee would like to thank the Zoology


Department Peer Review Group (PRG) for the obvious commitment and effort
put into the site visit and the subsequent report. The Department appreciated
the comprehensive nature of the review undertaken by the PRG before,
during and after the site visit.

The QAQI Co-ordinating committee welcomes the report and the


recommendations made in relation to improving the quality of teaching,
research and management of the Department. The broad validation of the
conclusions made in the Department's Self Assessment Report (SAR) adds
impetus and weight to their implementation both internally and in the
recognition that funds should be provided by the College to address the
structural issues highlighted in both the SAR and PRG reports.

The QAQI Co-ordinating committee would like to clarify and emphasise a


number of points made in the PRG report.

The recognition that there is an urgent need for refurbishment of the


Department and that proper refurbishment would obviate the need for
increased space allocation to the Department must be stressed (PRG report
section 5.1). The specific identification of an urgent need for secure storage
space was also welcomed.

The committee also welcomed the recommendations made by the PRG in


relation to proper remuneration for demonstrators but believes this must be
dealt with by the University and not independently by the Department (PRG
report Section 5.4).

There was some concern expressed that the PRG had the view that some
staff were too involved in writing reports and this was at the expense of writing
research papers. (PRG report Section 5.5). Some Academic staff have been
actively involved in seeking funding to address specific demands/needs from
industry and semi-state bodies because of limited funding opportunities in
some disciplines. This funding has provided support for undergraduate and
postgraduate projects which otherwise could not have been undertaken.
Remuneration for this activity has contributed to the funding, or partial
funding, of a number of PhD, MSc, MApplSc and, in some cases, 4th year
undergraduate projects. The compilation and submission of reports is a
requirement of such activities. Such work, reflected in a "report" has not only
provided essential information to the funding body but has also fostered a
vibrant research ethos, supported undergraduate and postgraduate research
and in many cases (where confidentiality is not an issue) has also later
resulted in peer reviewed papers.

Similarly, the PRG have stated that there is no departmental seminar


programme (section 5.5). The Seminar programme in the last academic year
involved 10 speakers from outside the College. In the SAR, the Co-ordinating

27
Committee recognised that the programme was not as effective as it should
be and recognised that there was a problem with attendance, but the
Department has for many years operated a seminar programme and will strive
to improve it.

The PRG report also indicated that there was a failure to recognise the
achievements of staff at the departmental level (Section 5.5). The Co-
ordinating Committee also recognised this problem but would argue that the
failure extends beyond the Department to both Faculty and University as well.

The Co-ordinating Committee endorses the views expressed by the PRG in


relation to the Central Transport Pool but would also suggest that the age
restriction on students driving should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
The Department would also urge that the procedures used by the CTP in
relation to charging be improved to allow Departments to identify staff
responsible for hiring and appropriate grant codes to assist in the proper
distribution of those costs.

The Co-ordinating committee did not agree that there was a historical lack of
recognition of the value of impact factors for publications. Emphasis has
always been placed on dissemination of results through publication in the
most appropriate journal for the research undertaken while recognising that, in
some instances, the most appropriate journal may not necessarily have a high
impact factor

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APPENDIX 1. Timetable of Site Visit

Sunday, April 14

5 p.m. PRG only.


7.30 p.m. Dinner hosted by the Registrar and Dean of Science

Monday April 15

9.00-9.30 Greeting by Head of Department followed by PRG meeting.


9.30-10.15 PRG meets with Department Co-ordinating Committee to
discuss the Department in the context of the SAR
10.15-10.45 PRG meets with Acting Head of Department.
10.45-11.15 PRG meets with Dean, Faculty of Science over coffee.
11.15-11.30 PRG meet in private.
11.30-12.15 PRG meets academic staff excluding members of the Co-
ordinating committee.
12.15-12.30 PRG meets with Senior Executive Assistant in the Department.
12.30-1.15 PRG meets with Technical staff excluding members of the Co-
ordinating committee.
1.15-2.15 Working Lunch (PRG only).
2.15-3.00 PRG tours Department to see teaching facilities.
3.00-3.30 PRG meets with postgraduate students.
3.30-5.00 PRG meets individual members of the Department.
5.00-5.30 PRG meets post-doctoral fellows.
Evening: PRG meets in Hotel, followed by dinner.

Tuesday April 16th

9.00-9.30 PRG meeting.


9.30-10:00 PRG meets Principal Technician.
10.00-12.00 PRG reviews research activities, facilities and resources.
12.00-12.30 PRG meets with 3rd year students.
12.30-1.00 PRG meets Taught Masters students.
1.00-2.30 Working Lunch (PRG only).
2.30-5.00 PRG meets individual members of the Department.
5.0.5.15 PRG meets Careers Office representative.
5.15-5.45 PRG meets individual members of the Department.
5.30-7.00 PRG work on presentation.
Evening: PRG working dinner in Hotel.

Wednesday April 16th

9.30- 10.15 PRG meets with Chair of Department.


10.15-11.00 PRG meets with Acting Head of Department.
11.00-1.00 PRG work on presentation.
1.00-2.00 Working lunch (PRG only).
2.00-4.00 PRG work on presentation.
4.00-5.00 PRG presentation to full Department.

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