From the Operations Manager
TBSI has a Golden Opportunity
Keith Alden, TBSI Operations Manager
By Trevor Butterworth
Moving gas canisters, running safety audits, attending to suppliers, Dr. Keith Alden has had his hands full after starting in November as TBSI’s new Operations Manager, simply catching up on the myriad infrastructural issues that had accumulated in the wake of his predecessor’s illness and death.
But if infrastructure is destiny, it’s only because it supports people—and their ideas. “TBSI is more than a building where five schools are housed, it’s an institute to foster collaboration”, he says. “That was the intention behind its creation. And that’s because some of the most interesting science and some of the biggest discoveries come at the interface between two sciences—or where a new perspective is brought in on a problem from a different side”.
Alden comes to TBSI from AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research), a multidisciplinary research center hosted at Trinity and supported by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). As Business Development Manager, Alden helped lead Amber to a second five-year funding grant from SFI but at double the original amount. He credits much of Amber’s success to creating the kind of space that dissolved the distance between disciplines.
“I’d often go to a physicist with a problem and then to a chemist with the same problem and get two different answers”, says Alden. “Then I’d put them together with an engineer, and we’d have a really interesting way to tackle an issue that wouldn’t have been evident to any of them as individuals”.
To create the same environment at TBSI, Alden has begun building a new Executive Committee and TBSI board, which will, in turn, drive a more strategic approach to fostering collaboration and growth. Given that the schools are already co-located, which is half the battle, what kind of structures will help their researchers to collaborate? Part of answering this challenge also requires thinking about what TBSI means as a brand: how it communicates its mission, its vision and values to itself—the people that work within its walls—and how it communicates its value to Ireland and the outside world.
To mark the 10th anniversary of TBSI this summer, Alden has commissioned a report analysing TBSI’s impact over the previous decade. “TBSI is home to a significant number of global leaders in their fields and to some very exciting reputation-making research from early career and young scientists,” says Alden. “This report will look at the scientific impact of their work, profile some of the best research to come from the Institute’s PIs, and point to the most exciting work being carried out right now”.
It will also contain an economic analysis to provide insight into how investment in the Institute has a knock on effect on the Irish economy. “We are analysing,” says Alden, “all direct government, and non-exchequer investment, EI, SFI and EU grants, philanthropy, spin-out, technology licencing, and industry collaborations over the past 10 years to better understand where TBSI sits in relation to its peers and to quantify and qualify how investment in science and people benefits the country. Building this report requires the help of many people from across college and is a huge team effort. When complete it will be a very useful tool to help secure future funding and build upon our successes”.
“The operational issues are tangible and manageable things; they just require time—and they are being solved, thanks to people like Caroline Levis and other TBSI staff”, says Alden. “But we also have a golden opportunity to build a culture of collaboration. That’s why I’m here; that’s what I want to achieve.”
Trevor Butterworth is an adjunct assistant professor of science communication in TBSI. He founded Sense About Science USA, is co-founder and VP of Indicio.tech, and acting executive director of the Cardea steering group at Linux Foundation Public Health.