Tuesday 30 April 2013

Working at home

Posted by Jean Adams

I quite often hear myself saying to people “no, sorry – I don’t work on Fridays”. This isn’t true. I work full-time and that includes Fridays. What I mean is that I work at home on Fridays and so am not available for meetings. But it’s not a Freudian slip. I don’t stay at home on Fridays and potter around doing the laundry, drinking coffee, nipping out for a manicure, and answering the odd email. I really do work at home on Fridays.

One of the best things about life as an academic is the flexibility and freedom. I can (within reason) work on what I please (and can get funding for). I am primarily judged on outcomes and (within reason) it doesn’t really matter how or where I work, as long as I deliver. I can block out one full day a week of my diary ad infinitum and no-one has ever questioned it or suggested it might be inappropriate. 

With two people working at it, we're lucky to have a big kitchen table
I like working at home. I like that I can sleep instead of commute. I like that I can have the radio on whilst I work. I like that I can warm up some leftovers for lunch rather than have yet another cheese sandwich. I like that there is never another meeting in 35 minutes that means there’s no point in even starting the next big task I have to do.

But there is something about working at home that makes me feel guilty. Maybe a little guilty that not everyone has this luxury. A little guilty that when I’m working at home alone I am heating the kitchen just for lonely old me. But I think mostly guilty that perhaps I am somehow ‘working’ at home, rather than working at home, without noticing it.

The result is that I go into overdrive. I work and work. It is true that I might put on some laundry. But I often forget about hanging it out or stuffing it in the drier. When I work at work I aim to leave my desk by 5.30pm to get a run in before going home. Often this turns into 5.30pm for 6pm in a frightfully posh drinks party sort of way. But 6pm is the very latest. When I work at home, it’s more often 6.30pm for 7pm. And now it’s light in the evening, it can turn into something much later that only works because I can sleep in on Saturday.

My working at home guilt seems to primarily productivity-related. I have to work harder than normal to justify being at home. But I have heard others describe a presence-related working at home guilt. They feel they have to be somehow more available in their kitchen than in their office – answering emails as soon as they land, ever-ready on the end of the phone. To me this negates the benefit of the wide open time and space that working at home gives me to concentrate on big tasks. I can understand the sentiment, but this expression of the guilt would undermine why I continue to work at home. At least with my guilt I get something productive out being here at the kitchen table.

How does working at home work for you?

Thursday 25 April 2013

How to annoy people at conferences; or, a few hints for keeping the Chair and the audience happy.

Posted by Sally Brown

I attended the British Sociological Association conference a couple of weeks ago, and it was an excellent conference with a wide range of interesting papers on all topics under the sociology umbrella. However, I confess that during a couple of papers my mind began to drift, and I was thinking more about what the presenter was doing wrong and not about what they were saying. Having racked up many hours at conferences, listening to papers and chairing sessions, a list of “what to do when presenting a paper” began to form.

No presenter wants to lose the attention of their audience, annoy their fellow presenters or get on the wrong side of the person chairing the session (you never know when they might be chairing you again!), so I hope the following hints and tips help anyone preparing to present at a conference.

Presumably the president is not used to loosing the attention of his audience

1. Turn up, and be on time. Seems obvious, but some people who are on the programme sometimes just don’t show up. If you know you can’t make it, withdraw ahead of time. Fair enough, sometimes there’s a crisis and you can’t get there on the day, in which case ring the conference and tell them you’re stuck on a train (or wherever you are) as it will save the Chair of the session running up and down three flights of stairs looking for you.

2. Get into the room ahead of your session, load your presentation onto the desktop, then check that it opens. If you’re doing anything complicated like using video clips or sound, test them. Timing is usually quite tight and if you only have 10 minutes to speak, you don’t want to lose 3 trying to get your presentation to work.

3. While we’re on timing – before the conference, find out how long you’ve got, then practice until you are spot on. As a Chair, one of the most annoying things people do, when I wave the “one minute to go” sign, is to say “I’ve only got a few more slides” then take five minutes to finish. Even worse is to do that when I’m holding the “please stop” sign. For one thing, it eats into your allocated question and discussion time, and equally as important, it potentially eats into your fellow presenters’ time. I once chaired a session where the presenter refused to stop after her allocated 20 minutes, continued talking for another ten, and then when I stopped her and said we had no time for questions, she complained. To me, it’s showing disrespect to the Chair and the other presenters, and you don’t want to get a reputation for being inconsiderate.

4. The other thing that practising will show you is that you can’t fit 55 powerpoint slides into a 15 minute presentation. My rough rule of thumb is one slide per minute. And don’t spend 15 minutes on your background and introduction, and only start on the meaty stuff when the Chair waves the “five minutes to go” sign. If you’ve got a ton of interesting data, pick out 2 or 3 elements that you think are crucial, and focus on them. I find a presentation that really gets to grips with a few of the key findings and issues is much more engaging than one that skates over every code and category that emerged during analysis, but doesn’t really give the audience any insights into any of them. Of course, if your slot is longer than 15 minutes, you can fit more in, but I’d still suggest you consider going for greater depth on a few elements rather than trying to cram loads of material in.

5. Don’t have slides packed with lines of solid text, and don’t read out your slides word for word. You’ve got two ways of presenting your material, verbal and visual, so use them both effectively. Slides jammed with text, or a series of slides being read aloud means a boring presentation.

6. Take advantage of the fact that you’re in a room with people who have decided that your abstract is interesting enough for them to listen to you, even if you can’t fit everything into your presentation. Tell your audience that you’re presenting a selection of the key findings, and that you’re happy to chat afterwards about your paper. Some of the best bits of conferences are the bits that happen between papers, at coffee or at lunch.

7. Enjoy it! You’ve practised, you know your material inside out, you’ve got the right number of slides, your video insert works and you’ll be on your final remarks just before that “please stop” sign gets waved, so relax and give a great presentation.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

An Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove

Posted by Avril Rhodes

Many is the time in Fuse-land when we think and dream of little else but Fuse branded goods. I know what you’re thinking of, the inevitable parade of pens, pencils, post-it notes, folders, mouse-mats, highlighter pens and so on. I also know that you’ve got a stash of these at home when you’ve filled those plastic bags at conferences, and that sometimes you’ll look wistfully at a pen as you think, “What is that logo?” “What does that stand for?” perhaps ten years after the critical event. There are masses of these things in the Rhodes household – and most of the pens don’t work all that well!

Fuse-land has had its thinking cap on though with an eye to more imaginative branded items and yes, we’ve come up with the ultimate Fuse branded item. Superlative claims just don’t do it justice…..it….

  • Can be used uniquely to celebrate, and indeed, publicise “Fuse at Five” 
  • Is a fashion item of note 
  • Will keep you warm in the coldest of winters (and recent summers) 
  • Makes a useful gift for your gran 
  • Is cheap to produce…mmm… sorry I mean economic 
  • Will coordinate with any wardrobe 
  • Fits in with the latest trend for “yarn bombing” – this is really current 
  • Will appeal to all those crafty academics out there 
  • Might be the beginning of a new career if the research grants just dry up 
  • And will be the envy of all the other UKCRC Centres 
And what is this unique item? It is the Fuse gloves – each digit crafted in a Fuse colour following the order of the Fuse swirl – from the outside to the centre and from the centre to the outside; for reasons of egalitarianism. Dead easy for all you knitting folk – just get a standard glove pattern, a selection of wools, and away you go! And much cheaper than buying the Fuse Communications Officer a black sports car with a fuse logo on the driver’s door. Perish the thought!

Fuse gloves - designed, knitted & modelled by Avril, photo by Mark
So, of course this begs a question – what else could we make, and quickly? The Fuse scarf – a bit dull but could be done. The Fuse beanie hat – possibly only to be seen on a mountain top, which might defeat the object of spreading the word, but you have to admit, tempting to work the motif in the round. The Fuse tea cosy – maybe? Egg cosies for all the family? A laptop woolly cover or carrying case? A mobile phone sock?      

Having made Fuse proto-gloves, I now need further inspiration – what’s next? As I know the Fuse gloves will be such an attractive fashion item, I’m prepared, selflessly, to offer them as a prize to anyone who can come up with the best suggestion for an “alternative” branded good! I look forward to receiving your suggestions…now where are my needles?

Thursday 18 April 2013

A second slice of the cake

Posted by Annette Payne and Emma Giles

As Emma mentioned in her blog post last week, we have endeavoured to write two joint posts and I guess that these are in fact testament of the Fuse Sandpit event for early career researchers that we both were lucky enough to attend in February 2013 at Linden Hall.

Previous to this sandpit, Emma and I did not know each other and the fact we got along, had a lot of research interests in common and the same pragmatic perspective led us to keep in touch, have coffee (no cake though….oh has Emma already mentioned that??!!) and to write these posts.

It's all about the cake
So was this part of the Sandpit process? Well Emma and I were not members of the winning team but maybe there was more than one prize and we did win in our own way?

We might have received some strong criticism about our bid of blood, sweat and almost tears (I know there were loud whispers that the feedback was disproportionate to the task in hand and in reality all the teams would have spent more than a few hours writing a bid for submission), we still may not have seen what a successful bid does actually look like and what it would have taken for our bids to make it through to successful funding. Yet both Emma and I fully acknowledge that it was still worth attending and that this was the first event of this type, and that lessons will be learnt, and processes improved upon, but we are both very proud to have been selected to attend and to just have been a part of the sandpit process!

Over our coffee (and NO cake) we discussed the sandpit as a whole process and although we came away without the financial prize we did come away with little personal prizes of our own. We both realised that we were able to work with a research team where there were at times challenging dynamics but that both Emma and myself possessed a degree of self-awareness to manage and blend where required into that team dynamic, enough to allow the process to move forward. I personally came away reassured that I do have academic, research and clinical knowledge that I often don’t give myself enough credit for. I know Emma surprised herself at times how she stepped up and took the lead and was able to get her point across despite a couple of resistant audience members. We both witnessed how the different philosophies of universities both old and new don’t have to clash and compete, but can complement and enhance outcomes.

I think the best prize however is that we have made contact with someone who we would work with, have coffee (and cake??) with to discuss work and any professional issues, and perhaps a fledgling friendship within the research world.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Three questions

Posted by Lynne Stobbart

Editor's note: Earlier this year, Heather Yoeli suggested a little quiz of three questions. This post is another entry for the quiz. If you want to play, just get in touch.

1. In an entirely hypothetical scenario in which time, money and skill were no object and you could research absolutely anything at all, what would you choose?

Much of my research, whether interventional or observational, has focussed on the emergency clinical situation. For example, pharmaceutical and neurosurgical trials in acute brain injury (e.g. STICH), and observational studies in stroke research (my PhD) and the treatment of ischaemic stroke in the hyperacute period (DASH). By definition, these events are unpredictable and occur erratically, making it very difficult for the lone ethnographic researcher (in particular) to be in the ‘right place at the right time’, to undertake data collection. This was well demonstrated during my doctoral research and later, in the DASH study (perhaps trying to observe emergency interactions across three sites in a 20 mile radius was a little ambitious!), where I attempted to observe patient/family/professional decision making regarding the administration of thrombolytic therapy. Given unlimited resources, I would like to expand the ethnographic work undertaken in my PhD to include other emergency research situations, in order to compare and contrast these scenarios and the associated behaviours of clinicians, patients and their families, when faced with a decision about research participation in the emergency environment. However, this would require either a team of ethnographers available to provide 24 hour on-call facility, or a TARDIS for transportation of the lone researcher – a requisition that might not go down well with the finance department!

A TARDIS - essential research kit for the ethnographer?
So, until time travel becomes a realistic and affordable possibility, I would love to replicate, in the UK, the ethnographic work undertaken by Lesley A. Sharp in the U.S., and presented in her book, Strange Harvest: Organ Transplants, Denatured Bodies and the Transformed Self. I hope that my current work developing funding applications for social sciences research in transplantation will support and facilitate at least some part of this.

2. If you could poach a piece of research from one of your colleagues, which and whose would you pick and why?
For the purposes of answering this question I have chosen to interpret the word ‘colleagues’ in its broadest sense, i.e. other researchers. Apart from the aforementioned work by Lesley Sharp, I also covet the work of Roberto Abadie, who explores the emergence of ‘professional guinea pigs’, individuals who have made a ‘career’ out of serial participation in clinical trials for financial gain. Again, a TARDIS would be useful to take me back to the period immediately prior to the now notorious Northwick Park incident (TGN1412 – ‘We saw human guinea pigs explode’), to enable me to explore the existence and experiences of ‘professional guinea pigs’ here in the UK, before and after this unfortunate event.

3. If you could study and/or work at any university in the world where would you go?
I confess to being something of a ‘home bird’ and therefore thought that I would struggle with this question, however, a couple of places might lure me out of my comfort zone. Purely for personal reasons, and based on a sense of familiarity, I would love to live and work in either Edinburgh or Glasgow. I have no familial or historical links to either as far as I am aware, but always feel a strong sense of belonging when I’m there – hardly an ‘academic’ basis for upping sticks though.

My other choice however, would be much more rooted in my academic interests – research and clinical ethics. In 2007, as part of my doctoral training, I attended a week long intensive bioethics course at The Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, Washington D.C. The Institute is renowned as the home of the 'four principles approach’ to medical ethics, sometimes referred to as ‘The Georgetown Mantra’. During this course I had the opportunity to listen to presentations by the authors of this work, Tom Beauchamp and Jim Childress (during which, I should make clear, they emphasised that they had never intended that autonomy be privileged above the other principles!). I attended seminars, lectures and workshops with other eminent ethicists, familiar to me from my reading including Ed Pellegrino, Bob Veatch, Madison Powers, Maggie Little, Ruth Faden and John Keown and would love to return to further immerse myself in this fascinating topic.

Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University
Academic pedigree aside, aesthetically also, both Georgetown and Washington itself, are fantastic locations with splendid attractions. More practically, the grid system (consisting of letters and numbers and thus even simpler than other states), means that even the most geographically challenged individual (i.e. me!) can run, walk and generally mobilise without the need of a Hansel and Gretel style trail of breadcrumbs – quite important for someone who can (and indeed has) get lost in the next street!

Now all I need is my Fairy Godmother, with her “I’ll give you three wishes” routine….

Thursday 11 April 2013

Only connect

Posted by Janet Shucksmith 

As the Fuse Communications Group baton passes over from me to Jean, I’m claiming the liberty of publishing a blog post swansong before I tape my beak shut and get on with something else. We have done a lot in the couple of years since we set up the Comms group, but there remains a great deal we need to do, both in terms of internal communications within the family of Fuse staff and associates, and external communications with practice partners and academic colleagues.

Gird your loins! In the next five years, we have to:
  • Establish a really clear focus for Fuse. Occasionally problems arise because partners think we are funded to be a support organisation. We aren’t. We’re a research organisation that thinks it’s important to do the sort of research that will ultimately be useful (hopefully in short order) to improve practice, help people make better policy decisions and improve people’s health. 
  • Get the contact points with Fuse right – our new service, AskFuse, to be launched in June, ought to help here, if it acts as a ‘listening ear’ as much as an evaluation service.
  • Get the communications right with our policy and practice partners. We have to be responsive and creative – let’s use social media, animation, podcasts, webinars etc to liven up our delivery. Listening, as well as talking at or with partners, is critical however. 
  • Get the products right through which we aim to spread news about our research work. We are about to produce a series called Research Bites, giving brief outlines of project outcomes. We also need to make serious attempts to improve the information people post on the website about their projects; the website is constantly being improved to allow people to navigate around it more easily, but there needs to be decent stuff there when people arrive at the last click. We all need to accept more responsibility for pulling out the ‘what matters about this work’ themes. 
  • Challenge ourselves to think about ways of interacting less formally about our research. Could we run a CafĂ© seminar series for example?
  • Get out a bit and talk to different people. It’s tempting to always work with people who ‘get it’, but we need to be a lot more adventurous, and there are a lot of new kids on the (public health) block after April. 
  • Get the Fuse brand recognised (and understood) nationally amongst other public health researchers. 
  • Continue to find better ways to talk to each other, to mentor and support our early career researchers and to bring in the skills of our associates to enrich Fuse work. 
Mark, Jean and the rest of the Comms Group will be doing a fabulous job, but will need everyone’s ideas and co-operation. Get creative and communicate!

Editor's note: if anyone wants to take up any of the challenges that Janet lays down, or has any great solutions to some of the problems she raises, please get in touch.

Tuesday 9 April 2013


Posted by Emma Giles and Annette Payne

So, firstly we should maybe point out that this blog post was inspired by the Fuse conference on the 25-27th February 2013 at Linden Hall. This sandpit event aimed to inspire post-docs and post-grads (like our good selves) to write an inspiring, appropriate and sure-to-be funded research bid. Whilst this conference was held a few weeks ago, what we really found useful – and which inspired this post – was the opportunity to network. Being researchers in different North East Universities (Emma is based in the Institute for Health & Society at Newcastle University, and Annette works full time for the NHS Health Improvement while studying part time at Sunderland University) we don’t often get the opportunity to meet for a prolonged period of time with researchers from other universities. 

Cookies by Paolo Marco - an important ingredient of effective networking
On arriving at the Fuse event, both myself and Annette were placed in the same group, in which we were to spend many waking hours together working on a hypothetical (but a potentially very real) research bid. Together with an additional four researchers, Annette and I set to thinking about how we would write a research bid that would shed some light on how reticent Hep C carriers would come forward for testing. Whilst admittedly Annette and I were ‘forced’ to network in the first instance, in that we were allocated to the same working group, we soon realised over coffee (and dare we say it biscuits and other sweet goodies) that we got on rather well and that we were both interested in very similar research fields. Annette is currently starting her 3rd year of her part-time PhD (and aiming to finish in 12 months!) looking into the views and patterns of alcohol use in older adults living in sheltered housing, whilst I completed a PhD (in 2010) into the food, alcohol and physical activity behaviours of young adults, together with a first post-doc which looked at the dietary behaviours of older people.  Sharing similar research interests and skills (such as a firm interest in the value of qualitative research) was an interesting finding from meeting each other.

Since meeting up for coffee recently (minus the cake unfortunately!), we decided that we should thank Fuse for giving us the opportunity to network. The Fuse conference allowed us to meet with researchers from all of the five North East Universities (Newcastle University, Sunderland University, Teeside University, Durham University and Northumbria University). It gave us the opportunity to identify potential collaborations with other researchers and universities, to establish new friendships with people who share similar personal and professional interests, but crucially, by listening to other people’s research interests and skills, it helped us to fully appreciate what we have to offer as junior/early career research and the skills that we could bring to any budding cross-university collaborations. 

Whilst usually the dreaded ‘N’ word brings a tear to the eye, and a lump to the throat akin to that of ice breakers; the networking opportunity provided by Fuse was (fairly) enjoyable. The informal atmosphere, the always-ready-to-help mentors, and the open-attitude of all those involved, meant that we learned quite a bit about ourselves, but also about others who attended the event. In future, should we ever have to network again, we can tell ourselves that not always do we need to break into a cold sweat when made to network, that it can be fun (okay maybe a stretch too far), useful, and also result in a new friendship/collaboration being made. In this instance the networking between Annette and I paid off…shame it couldn’t have helped us write the winning bid though!