FCT

R&D Institutions

Resultado da avaliação 2007 na área de Ciências Agrárias

Unidade de I&D

Centro de Investigação e de Tecnologias Agro-Ambientais e Biológicas [AGR-Norte-VilaReal-4033] visitada em 22/01/2008

Classificação: Very Good

Comentários do painel de avaliação
Sobre a unidade
Goals, ongoing and planned projects, strategic development in the future.
The Unit CITAB results from a merge of three former units at the University (CECEA, CEGE and CETAV). The staff of the Unit was selected based on criteria of productivity, and resulted in a decrease in the number of members (now 41 effective members). The Unit has now organized its research into four research areas: Integrative Biology and Quality, Ecointegrity, Biosystems Engineering, and Climate and Atmospheric Modelling. In the reorganization, much attention has been paid to reinforcing international contacts, specifically through a systematic establishment of a network of “anchor institutions” for long-term strategic international collaboration for the four abovementioned research areas (or groups).
The four research areas have been justified by the need to focus relevant research and to reduce the number of research goals. The Panel is of the opinion that the research areas well justified in the current context. However, some of the titles adopted may not be comparable to generally used international wording (especially the headings “Integrative Biology and Quality” and “Ecointegrity”). It is evident that the fourth research area on Atmospheric Modelling is still in its initial stages, and is in size much smaller as compared with the other research areas (or groups). The Unit as a whole has currently a fairly good balance between senior and junior researchers (post doctoral researchers and PhD students) and has been able to attract a critical mass of researchers working on the established research agenda combining multidisciplinary expertise. Generally, the reorganization and strategic goal setting seems to have paid off, measured by the increase in scientific productivity (both quality and quantity), expansion of international contacts, and increasing number of post graduates. The training results are good. The future vision aims at strengthening interdisciplinary approaches and internationalization. The Panel found the integrative chain concept linking multidisciplinary research expertise on innovation, technology development and sustainability attractive, especially in the context of innovative applications (the Douro Valley platform).
The Panel is of the opinion that the Unit is in general performing very well and is clearly meeting high international standards in its work. However, the research lines are not equal in their strengths and it seems that there is not enough integration between the research lines.
Therefore, the Panel recommends further focusing in the strategic topics addressed that could build more synergies within and between the research areas and especially with modelling approaches.
In addition, the Panel would like to make the following recommendations:

- there is a need for the Unit to strengthen collaboration with groups/ research teams having socio-economic expertise (e.g. regarding issues such as land use and sustainable agriculture, as well as the chain concept);
- There is a need for updating basic laboratory equipment;
- There is a need at the university level to provide the necessary administrative and accounting support for the researchers, especially considering the demands for substantially increasing the activities in the EU and other international projects.

Training of young researchers and students
Training of PhD’s and Masters seems to be good

Organization of workshops
Good

Interdisciplinary activities
Both inwards and outwards: good.

Interactions with other national and international research units and companies
Very good; especially the concept of ‘anchor institutes’.

Participation in international research programmes (EU etc.)
Satisfactory, but below potential regarding EU PF programme

Knowledge and technology transfer
Very good; especially ‘Douro Valley Platform’

Outreach activities
Very good

Attitude and work environment
Stimulative and ambitious: very good

Most pertinent comments and recommendations
- There is a need for the Unit to strengthen collaboration with groups/ research teams having socio-economic expertise (e.g. regarding issues such as land use and sustainable agriculture, as well as the chain concept);
- There is a need for updating basic laboratory equipment;
- There is a need at the university level to provide the necessary administrative and accounting support for the researchers, especially considering the demands for substantially increasing the activities in the EU and other international projects.
Sobre os grupos de investigação
Biosystems Engineering [RG-AGR-Norte-VilaReal-4033-136]
The group comprises 16+7 PhD’s, focuses on engineering subjects of various kinds (wood, energy, biofuel, animal (rat) movement, telemetry and signal processing, solar energy. Research fields seem (indirectly) relevant, though sometimes it is unclear in what context and in which interdisciplinary cooperation studies are carried out. The impression is that the group is primarily reactive; it offers help to many researchers requesting such, but lacks a more explicit own vision on research and research priorities. . Productivity is good, international cooperation good, training results (masters 13 and PhD’s 15 over the 3y period) very good. It is difficult to judge the plans, output and right organizational position of such a (technical and supportive) group, whose expertise could be exploited by many in many research fields. It could be worthwhile to define own priorities and targets.
This is a fairly large group with 23 researchers (PhD) and 14 other researchers (non PhD) listed. The group has impressive international collaboration and volume of externally funded projects. Most EU-projects have been funded through the INTERREG III -window aiming at practical outputs. The lines of research are quite diverse ranging from wood mechanical properties and energy exploitation of forest biomass and biofuels to designing animal models with rats (nervous system studies) all the way to developing wireless farms and modelling and forecasting solar irradiation. It is difficult to see, how the selected research lines will build synergy within the group. The group has been successful in signing research contracts with private actors. Regarding the training outcome, the group produced 15 PhD and 13 MSc theses, which is a very good record.
How does building animal modelling with rats and the neurological approach benefit agricultural research in broader terms?
Regarding the external funding, what are the key topics and collaborators in those projects?
To which universities have the PhD theses been completed?
Climate and Atmospheric Modelling [RG-AGR-Norte-VilaReal-4033-137]
The group counts 3+6 PhD’s, carries out meteo- and climate studies, which are relevant, also for many other groups dealing with climate change. It is important to link national approaches to international (IPCC) context and accomplish international cooperation as well as find cooperation with national research groups in need of relevant climate data .The group as such is young and is not yet established (proto-group) Scientific productivity of members seems good in quantity and quality, training results are good (masters and PhD’s) Future research vision is (too?) ambitious but very well motivated. During the site visit it was discussed to: i) search for cooperation with expertise elsewhere and ii) focus on effects of climate change rather than the causes. The latter choice could help to strengthen cooperation with e.g. forestry, agriculture, ecology. It is felt that such a group could have a more central role in Portugal if equipped sufficiently and staffed more liberally than at present. The group/ leader showed ambition and enthusiasm.
This is a small group (9 researchers having PhD and 2 researchers non PhD) working on a well-focused research field regarding climate modelling and forecasting. The work has international significance which is reflected also in the international contacts and strategic partnerships of the group. The group publishes in well ranked international journals. The group has trained 6 PhD students and 11 MSc students, which is a fairly good achievement for the size of the group.
Main research areas in the future; how to keep a solid focus in the work that the small team does? For future research, which institutes/ groups will be key collaborators? What are the justifications of the special requirements listed?

Ecointegrity [RG-AGR-Norte-VilaReal-4033-135]
The group shows a clear effort to identify a vision as well as thematic priorities (predicting models, biomarkers and bioindicators, fire behaviour) and organisation priorities (internationalization, increasing PhD students, cooperation with enterprises).
The unit as a whole give clear guidelines on standards of PhD students
The group shows a high level of internal interaction, together with a well structured interaction with other groups of the unit.
The group declares a commitment to interdisciplinarity. As far as socio-economic aspects there is a recognition of their importance and a declared commitment to embody socio-economic aspects into research programs, but there is scarce evidence on how this goal will be pursued.
There seems to be a rather intense interaction with other research units
Knowledge and technology transfer is considered as a priority, but there is no evidence on how it will be organized.
The group is very young and motivated. The leadership is adequate. Young researchers can benefit from a lively working environment, from consolidated international contacts (the so called anchor institutions) and from appropriate stimuli to productivity and quality given at unit level.
The RG, its name is rather abstract, contains 12+3 PhD’s and 10 others deals with terrestrial and aquatic (agro) ecosystems approached by e.g. satellite images and watershed field data; land use and fire ecology are other topics. Monitoring and modelling are intrinsic parts of research. All of these are relevant. The scope seems to be too wide, more focus and vision on coherence could improve research. Cooperation within Portugal could be enhanced (Lisbon). Since other countries have comparable problems and approaches (inter) national cooperation is profitable. Present cooperation is good! Scientific productivity seems to be good. Training results (masters & PhD’s) sufficient.
Integrative Biology and Quality [RG-AGR-Norte-VilaReal-4033-134]
How does the group intend to practice the interdisciplinary work in the new situation?
Who are the strategic and most important stakeholders of the group’s future work?
The area of research seems rather broad. Will there be focusing of research - or expansion?
How will cooperation with other national groups take place? Very progressive response to reorganization.
Increase in scientific productivity and increase in cooperative coherence. Stakeholder orientation not very clear.
Clear international progress and ambition. Future plans are ambitious but attainable.
General scientific concept may need some more focus and stakeholder orientation. Target for FP7 is OK.
Scientific standard seems to increase; also higher ambition for journals to publish in? Higher IF’s? Stakeholders are not very ‘visible’ in the reports. How come? What concrete plans to increase the number of foreign PhD students and post docs?

Comentários da unidade

We greatly appreciate the time and effort made by the Panel for providing such a thorough evaluation of CITAB.The comments are very welcome and will be taken in consideration to improve the policy and respective activities of each Research Group and the CITAB overall.Some criticism arose from the titles adopted for “Integrative Biology and Quality” and “Ecointegrity”. That observation needs some discussion inside the groups in order to find more appropriate designations that reflect with higher acuity the research areas.We recognize, despite our efforts, that we did not attain yet a full integration of the 4 Research Groups that emerged from a very complicated process of merging 3 Research Units however, it is in our annual planning and policy to achieve such goal and proceed with meetings to stir the liaison between the 4 Groups. Moreover we want to concentrate the scientific activities from each Research Group to avoid dispersion, focus on strategic topics and bring people together for fruitful discussions and scientific progress. In this respect, we fully agree with the collaboration with colleagues from other research Unit on Social and Humanity Sciences to link to social-economic studies and production-chain approach.Regarding national cooperation I’m afraid the panel did not refer to the involvement of CITAB in a proposal of an Associate Laboratory with our partner Units from Lisbon (ISA) which work on similar areas.We appreciate that the Panel agrees with the international approach through “anchor institutions” which needs more dynamics to make sure we can propose international projects together and be more active on the collaboration with our international partners.Regarding resources, we expect that FCT can support with a special Financial Programme the update of basic laboratory equipment. On the other hand, at the University level staff will be nominated to handle the economical issues of the Research Units, overall.