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Dear all,

The RDM newsletter marks the many achievements of RDM staff and students, and this newsletter comes at the end of what is probably the most extraordinary year that any of us has lived through. The fact that this newsletter is as full as ever is a testament to the hard work that so many have put in across the department.

In particular, thanks are due to our lead administrators, HR, student and finance staff, lab, safety and facilities managers and many others who have kept the department going since March. It is down to the commitment of this group that so many of us were supported to work from home, while those who needed to work on-site were still able to come in safely and continue to produce high-quality scientific work.

This work includes crucial efforts in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic: from understanding the immunology of the response to the novel coronavirus to understanding its long-term effects, RDM researchers have been prominent in contributing to Oxford’s remarkable scientific effort against this disease. You can read about their work in a special ‘COVID research’ section in this newsletter, and a section on the RDM website is now dedicated to this ongoing strand of research. Many thanks to all of these researchers.

Thanks are also due to each and every one of you: together with the immense behind-the-scenes work detailed above, your efforts in following safe working guidance means that we have so far not had a single case of a COVID-19 transmission from on-site working in our labs or offices. Please continue to follow this safety guidance carefully, and do work from home wherever possible.

With the announcement of high efficacy for multiple vaccine candidates, we hope to be able to welcome everybody back to our buildings in the near future. We probably won’t escape our current restricted pattern of on-site working at least for the first few months of 2021, but there is at last light at the end of the tunnel. Despite this, I appreciate that the effects of the pandemic are far-reaching, and the lost time and extra pressures that this year has brought will continue to affect us, and the research landscape, for some time. I encourage everybody to make use of the specific COVID support that the University has put together for both students and staff members. We also recognise that many of you might like to continue with some form of working from home even when we are all allowed back on site; there may indeed be new ways of working post-COVID.

Many of you may therefore have questions about how you will be working, and what the department plans are. With this in mind, I will be leading an online ‘Town Hall’ meeting open to everybody in RDM on Monday 11 January 2021 at 10 am. Whether you’re a researcher, a student, or support staff, please do come along to this meeting, and please send us your questions in advance. I will be joined by representatives of senior leadership teams across RDM, and we hope to cover as many of your questions as we can, as we talk about our plans for 2021.    

Many new colleagues joined us, despite the challenges this year has thrown up: a very warm welcome to all, and especially to Professor KJ Patel, the new MRC WIMM Director and new Director of the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit, and to Associate Professor Ross Chapman and Professor Ronjon Chakraverty, who join us as PIs from NDM and UCL respectively. At the same time, we have lost some key contributors to the Department and I would particularly like to acknowledge the vital contributions of Professor Doug Higgs and Professor Alison Banham, both of whom helped me hugely in getting RDM established.

Many of our academics gained new titles: warm congratulations to our new Professors, Associate Professors, and University Research Lecturers, about whom there are more details further in our newsletter.

This year has also brought sad news, including the death of Professor Vincenzo Cerundolo at the beginning of the year. Enzo, as he was universally known, was the Director of the MRC Human Immunology Unit (HIU), a world-class scientist, and a much-missed friend and colleague.

But at the end of this year, I am cheered by the news that over 30 new DPhil students will have joined us by January 2021 – a very warm welcome to you all. You were our first cohort with an online induction, complete with hand-delivered brownies instead of the tea and cakes we usually lay on for the day.

At the end of this unusual and challenging year, I am very grateful and proud for all that everybody at RDM has done.

With best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

Hugh Watkins

December 2020 newsletter