This year’s Faculty of Science Networking event took place on 4 May and was an opportunity to pause and reflect on the year we have experienced under the coronavirus COVID19 pandemic. The Dean, Nick Brook, opened the afternoon by acknowledging that it has been a difficult year for all staff with everybody across the faculty working harder than ever to deliver excellent teaching and research in a challenging environment. The Dean also raised that the events of the last year have highlighted the importance of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and work towards ensuring equality of opportunity across our activities. With this in mind, Alex Butler (Executive Chair of the EDI Committee) and Rajani Naidoo (Head of Race Equality Taskforce) updated the Faculty on initiatives underway to develop and embed EDI strategy across the culture of the University and steps towards applying for Advance HEs ‘Race Equality Charter’.
Reflecting on the positives, Amanda Harper identified a number of processes that have been streamlined - across taught programme, placement, finance, marketing & web teams new approaches are in place that are more effective and efficient.
Daniel Lou Hing acknowledged the personal and professional challenges for technical staff who were among the few staff groups staying on campus in the first lockdown to maintain core research functions and facilities – from fridges/freezers to organisms!
Momna Hejmadi focussed on the positives for learning and teaching highlighting the advantages of new ways of working to widen the experience of our students by building new skill sets, providing global opportunities and interdisciplinary working in a proactive and inclusive way.
Anneke Lubben highlighted the work of MC2 to re-think training – providing remote access to facilities for users and also providing remote advice from instrument specialists working from home to users in the lab. Alongside this, the provision of online training resources opens up the possibility of commercialization but also improving provision of outreach resources for schools.
Matt Davidson highlighted the positives in using online working to facilitate the development of new research teams that were more efficient and inclusive. In our busy worklife it isn’t always possible to stop and go to a physical meeting but ‘virtual sandpits’ have been very successful in bringing researchers together.
Abi Lyons spoke about the efforts Human Resources had made to support staff during the pandemic. While acknowledging that life has been a juggling act for many, balancing home life and professional demands, she highlighted how the University had supported staff to move to home working on a wide scale and embraced flexible working. HR are looking at how to formalize a new ‘hybrid working’ model for all staff where practical moving forwards so that people can have the benefits of working both at home and on campus.
Terri-Anne Jones spoke about her role as a Wellbeing Champion in the Faculty and the importance of mental health. She highlighted the importance of small steps for self-care in helping ‘empty your stress container’ and support mental health and wellbeing as well as a range of activities lined up for Mental Health Awareness Week (May 10th-14th).
All the speakers highlighted the huge change staff had been through in the last year. The ability to build new teams or communities online, more easily than in the physical world, seemed to have been a common positive of the pandemic across the Faculty. We’ve all learnt new skills and had opportunities to take up training or attend seminars that we would not otherwise be able to do. Coronavirus has also accelerated a change in the way we work and we can look to a future of hybrid working with more activities being completed online. The flexibility this offers and how you respond to this may depend on your role but also on your view of the commute time – whether this is time spent fuming in traffic or a nice break between home and work. Either way, the improved ease of parking was generally agreed to be a key benefit of the pandemic.