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Former student named as new Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)

Posted: 15th May 2020

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser DBE FRS, former Wychwood student and the distinguished plant scientist and Director of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, has been named as the new Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the national funding agency investing in science and research in the UK.

Announcing her appointment, Business Secretary Alok Sharma from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: “Professor Leyser’s appointment comes at a critical time for the UK. The coronavirus pandemic has shown the importance of science for our future and UKRI has a vital role to play in this.

“As the new Chief Executive, Professor Leyser will drive forward UKRI’s mission to create the great British companies of the future and help keep the UK at the cutting edge of global research and development.

“I would like to thank Sir Mark Walport for his dedication to UKRI, leading its transformation programme and championing science, engineering and technology across the UK.”

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “I am thrilled with the appointment of Professor Leyser and I look forward to working closely with her to drive forward our shared ambition to boost our world-leading research and development.

“Since its launch in 2018, UKRI has gone from strength to strength. Professor Leyser has already led a highly collaborative lab in her previous role which will be a great skill to bring to UKRI as it embarks on a new stage of exciting evolution.”

Dame Ottoline has a long-term interest in inclusiveness and engagement in science and has driven many initiatives to support an open and collaborative research culture that delivers high quality research that is both valuable and valued. This includes ongoing work to improve research culture. She has for a long time been actively engaged in science policy, currently chairing the Royal Society’s Science Policy Expert Advisory Committee and serving on the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology.

In 2017 Professor Leyser was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to plant science, science in society and equality and diversity in science. Her own research has resulted in major advances in our knowledge of plant development and includes pioneering work in studying hormonal control of shoot branching through interdisciplinary approaches.

Dame Ottoline, who is also a Fellow of Clare College, said: “UKRI has a unique opportunity to make a profound contribution to tackling the many challenges facing the world.

“In my career, I have seen the power of genuinely collaborative cultures to catalyse the transformative thinking needed to create effective solutions.

“I look forward to working with the UKRI team to ensure that the UK’s superb research and innovation system continues to work for everyone, by pioneering new partnerships, developing innovative funding models and strengthening international collaboration.”

Mrs Johsnon, Head at Wychwood School, said: “We are thrilled and delighted to hear of Dame Ottoline Leyser’s appointment as the new CEO of UK Research And Innovation and offer her our congratulations.  We celebrate the appointment of the first woman to this key role. As an alumna of Wychwood, a single-sex girls’ school with a strong tradition of developing excellence in the sciences, Dame Ottoline Leyser’s stellar research career as Director of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the University of Cambridge ensures she is exactly the right person to take on a nationwide oversight of research in the UK and we look forward to her expertise and influence extending throughout the UK.”