Impacting Research – Impacting Minds

Some thoughts from my Interview Log:

During the semi-structured interviews I became aware of certain practice staff changing their opinions and style of their answers as I asked certain questions. It was almost as if they were undergoing a review of their practice’s processes in their mind as we progressed through the interview. As the researcher, I felt that my questioning was drawing their attention to an areas they had previously paid little attention to but were now discovering strong reasons why they now should (or maybe should have done in the past).

The research process itself can therefore start to spark thoughts for change even before a project is completed.

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Athena SWAN 2013

The Athena SWAN event took place last Wednesday at the University of Leicester. This year’s theme was ‘Breaking through the Barriers of Bias’ with an insightful keynote speech by Professor Jennifer Saul, professor of Philosophy from the University of Sheffield.

Women, across all academic fields, are underrepresented in the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The event aimed to discuss whether our hidden biases as individuals were unconsciously denying women opportunities with academia. The two main strands were concerning implicit biases and stereotypical threat.  In summary, implicit biases are biases which individuals have towards certain ‘groups’ of people who they have unknowingly stigmatised within societies. I use the word groups quite loosely her, as it refers to different socially constructed groups dependent on the context; gender and race can be included within these groups but other groups do not have to be as fixed or apparent. Our instinctive reactions to different members of these groups were what Professor Saul wanted to draw attention to, and the “Project Implicit” psychological test illustrates this point in practice – https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ .

Stereotypical threat was an interesting theory of how an individual may unconsciously undermine their performance do well due to an awareness of belonging to a particular group thought of as being ‘less good’ at certain tasks. The individual may begin to ‘live up’ to their group’s labelled characteristics, subsequently leading to underperformance. An example was given of a study involving children at a young age; infant school girls were told that boys were better at maths before embarking on a test and their results were compared to control groups of girls. The test was repeated with different sets of children and, consistently, those who had been told the additional information did end up doing significantly worse than the others. It did make me wonder just how early we form our biases and which elements within the environment around us influence our biases more.    

Group discussions during the second half of the event brought through ideas of combating implicit bias as mentioned by Professor Saul (i.e. citing more women in papers, having a male/female balance on university students reading lists) aswell as opinions surrounding the effect of implicit bias on recruitment of academics, promotions, merit awards, pay and promotion. Comments surrounding maternity leave and the strain this causes on ‘keeping up to speed’ with developments in your academic department dominated the discussions on promotions and pay. We shall wait to see how the recent government amendments will have an effect on these views and what plays out in practice.

At the end of the session I did feel that there were a lot of problems highlighted but there were complex challenges of to making change happen. This is especially as many individuals (regardless of gender) may feel that they are immune to bias and will therefore not take the step to even recognise the effect of implicit bias in their decision-making, let alone positively work on ways to limit its hidden effect.

Collaborative Writing – Writing as a Team

We are all aware of the benefits of team working – more thoughts and ideas, a chance for smaller thoughts to grow and develop into big ideas with the help contributions from others. But what does this look like in practice, and how is it acted out in the workplace? It requires mutual recognition of every team player’s opinion being as valuable as the idea you are bringing to the table. The best work is produced through many thoughtful stages of corrections,  making changes each time in an attempt to add quality. At first it may seem time consuming and it may feel like there’s a lot of unnecessary shuttling taking place  (going forwards and backwards refining different parts of the same idea) but the effort is definitely apparent in the end product.  These processes are core to collaborative writing and I think doing so is a good way to achieve exceptional results.

CLAHRC Teambuilding Day – Podcast/ Video Champions!

CLAHRC Teambuilding day

CLAHRC Teambuilding day

The annual CLAHRC team-building day took place last week and was attended by both researchers and administrative staff members working within the collaboration. The task this year was for each team to plan, record, edit and present a video production of a five minutes based on an aspect of the CLAHRC of their choosing. The judges of the videos were part of Patient Public Involvement (PPI) groups within the area (PPI’s are open for all patients or members of the general public who are interested in health research, providing them with a platform to voice their opinions on the health services within their locality). As the judges were not health researchers themselves, it was important for all teams to communicate their ideas clearly and effectively.  I’d say that the greatest challenge was the actual creation of a video from storyboard to screening in the space of a few hours, with so many team ideas to choose from and work into the final production. The idea that my team decided on was related to the importance of transferring health research into practice, communicating the value of CLAHRC-influenced health interventions to the patients. The judges were thoroughly impressed by all efforts but there could only be one winner!  Many thanks to Kevin Quigley, Adelle Horobin, and Shona Aggrawal for their ideas and expertise which made the video the product of a great team effort.

And we’re off! – Green Impact

The Green Impact project mentioned a short whileback was officially launched this week at the Departmental meeting and the presentation was well received by the staff attending. It is part of the national Green Impact scheme in association with the National Union of Students. The aims are as follows:

  1. Reducing waste and increasing recycling
  2. Increasing energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions
  3. Increasing sustainable procurement
  4. Increasing sustainable transport
  5. Improving communications relating to sustainability 

The scheme’s  ‘bronze, silver and gold’ award approach allows for creative and innovative solutions to be discussed and implemented in the work place, rewarding the most successful and orignal ideas.  It has provided the Team with a framework which will be helpful when trying to act upon the various ‘green’ areas mentioned above.

In order to keep ‘green’ changes in the workplace relevant to staff behaviour it is important to provide a platform for individuals to voice their thoughts and ideas on how they feel working practices can be made more sustainable.  This is because staff ideas and experiences are the drivers for sustaining ‘green’ initiatives within the workplace in the long term. At the moment the ‘Green Team’ is focusing on collating feedback and judging by the initial responses, I’m quite optimistic that we will be able to implement some key changes in the very near future!    

MS Word 2010 Long Documents

The training covered essential Word document tips that I think everyone working on a report, paper, thesis or any other long document should be aware of. Navigating within reports or papers-in-progress can be difficult and time-consuming if you are unaware of the Headings features. All the features can be customised and saved ready for use on different parts of the document. They help to create a structure for your work whilst maintaining the flexibility you require within the drafting and write-up stages.  The short course was a brilliant overview and is bound to save me hours of unnecessary formatting!

I found a similar, shorter tutorial-style course is available from the Microsoft Office Support page.

Turning the Department Green

Talk around sustainability commonly surfaces here in the UK everytime energy providers increase their prices. It tends to spark the  ‘gas,nuclear or renewable energy’ debate and talk of CO2 emissions targets. Although that discussion is at a national level,  issues around sustainability very much affects all of us on an individual level. For example, A typical 8-hour working day can involve an employee travelling into work from home, working in the office and then travelling back home again at the end of the day. Our actions and how we interact with the environment around us do have an impact at every stage of the working day cycle. Thinking about using less and wasting less is always a good place to start. There’s evidence of a few ‘green’ schemes already in place so it would be good to build on those, see how effective they’ve been and include a few more.  I’m hopefully going to try and get involved in setting up a Green Impact branch in my department to see what we can all do to ensure our actions are as sustainable as possible.