Thursday 17 December 2015

The big countdown

Posted by Emma Dorée, Communications Assistant for Fuse

It’s that lovely time of the year again when we count down the days to Christmas. Whilst we are frantically running around trying to complete our Christmas shopping, we are also eagerly waiting in anticipation to see if this year’s X Factor winner will make the number one top spot and whose festive Foxtrot will lead them to become the Strictly Come Dancing winner.

The Fuse Blog however is having a countdown of its own. Seeing as so many great blogs have been written this year, we thought it would be a good idea to have a look at all of the blogs from 2015 and create our very own ‘Top 5 chart’ of the ‘bestsellers’.
So let’s begin….

At number five: No time to run: role overload contributing to physical inactivity in parents? Caroline Dodd-Reynolds’ post looks at how parents find it difficult to fit physical activity into their daily busy routines. With 604 views, this is clearly a subject that lots of people, especially parents, can relate to.

At number four: How active are pregnant women? Measuring the methods. Louise Hayes and Cath McParlin debunk the ‘pregnant pause’ and tell us that guidance recommends that pregnant women should actually be doing at least 30mins of exercise on most days of the week to help reduce the risk of gestational diabetes. This post squeezes into fourth spot by the narrowest of margins, reaching 606 views since publication in May 2015.

In at number three: The troubled families programme: what’s health got to do with it? A guest post by PhD student Stephen Crossley explaining how the Government is helping (or rather not helping) families that need the most help. Stephen goes into great detail about the Troubled Families Programme explaining that health plays a huge role in this issue. This post has had 657 views since it was published in June 2015.

At number two: Bull Sperm and ‘poor parents’: the role of myths in public health practice. Another entry for Stephen Crossley. In this post he takes on the urban myths that surround energy drinks and political myths about benefits and austerity. This post has had close to 750 views.

And finally, time for the top Fuse blog post of 2015. Drum roll please….

Thunder, thunder, thunderclap: when a blog post hits the campaign trail. This blog was written by Fuse Communications Officer Mark Welford and has had an amazing 1575 views. It describes how a Fuse blog post caught the imagination of readers and became a national viral campaign, prompting a campaign page to be set up for people to support the idea that supermarkets should remove unhealthy food from their checkouts. This post followed two other ‘big-hitters’ on the same subject by Mel Wakeman and Amelia Lake: Who’s opting out of responsibility? Battle of the checkouts and Time to chuck the checkout junk? Both have received more than 900 views.

So there you have it, the top five Fuse blog posts from 2015. Let’s see if we can create even bigger and better blogs for 2016!

Did you enjoy reading this post? If so, please vote for Fuse in the UK Blog Awards 2016 by clicking here

Thursday 10 December 2015

"What should I wear?!" - My first conference as a PhD student

Guest post by Roxanne Armstrong, PhD student at Sunderland University

First of all, let me introduce myself. My name is Roxanne and I am currently doing a PhD at the University of Sunderland and I am part of the Fuse partnership. On the 18 – 20 November I attended my first ever conference, the UKCRC public health conference that took place in Edinburgh. I am going to use this blog to guide you through my experience, not to include the academic research that was presented. Hopefully providing an insight into what the “First Conference” feels like for a PhD student.

I am writing this blog, because despite being surrounded by a really supportive supervisory team, there are some things you just wouldn’t ask. A few examples; “do you think a four inch wedge is too formal for the day events? How about with jeans? Do I wear a dress for the conference dinner? Are flat shoes okay?”. This list goes on… This “fashion anxiety” led me to take a suitcase that could clothe a small town, four pairs of shoes and an array of eye shadow shades that a stylist from London fashion week would be proud of.

I started my journey on the train. A busy, smelly, full train. I had reserved a seat, sure, but due to me being (possibly overly) kind, I let someone take it. I glanced around and saw some other Fuse members that I recognised; I braved going over and introducing myself and ended up having a really nice, chatty trip to Edinburgh. Hurdle one – accomplished!
Professor John Frank, Director of  SCPHRP, got into the Scottish spirit at the conference dinner
Second hurdle, accommodation. Would I have a bed? Would I be sharing with a stranger that was prone to sleepwalking? How about free toiletries? I had no idea what to expect and have heard some fairly scathing reviews about conference accommodation. When I walked into my room I practically had to call someone to pick my jaw up off the floor. My accommodation was bigger than my own house! Bed? Check. Free toiletries? Check. Oh and two double beds, two plasma TVs and a kitchen area. I felt like Kate Middleton; surely this means I have made it in the world….

The third hurdle I faced was being in a sociable environment with people I’d only ever seen in a professional light. This was the most rewarding aspect for me; making connections, talking about normal things with lovely, like minded people. We shared mealtime and a couple of drinks and I finished the first evening with people I now class as friends.
Making connections with lovely like minded people
The conference itself was another challenge; I was full of nerves thinking about all of the other academics that would be there and how I’d act around them, but in truth it was so easy going. I was engaging with lots of approachable individuals with a lot of knowledge to share and exchange. I left the conference sessions feeling excited for my own future and how I was so grateful that I have such a diverse and welcoming community around me for at least the next three years and hopefully many more after that.

If I had to give some advice to someone who had never been to a conference before it would be the following: be open minded – every conference is different and you will find yourself being a social chameleon, adapting to whoever you meet, this is a great skill to develop. Secondly, enjoy it! I enjoyed every minute and really made the most of it. Finally, take as many free pens as your pocket will allow… That’s what they’re there for!

Oh, and I couldn’t end this blog without telling you – I opted for three inch wedge boots, jeans and a neutral shade of eye shadow. You’re welcome.

Did you enjoy reading this post? If so, please vote for Fuse in the UK Blog Awards 2016 by clicking here

Tuesday 1 December 2015

A day in the life of a 'Pracademic'

Guest post by Natalie Connor, PhD student and Healthy Communities Officer at Groundwork North East

It was at the Fifth Fuse Physical Activity Workshop in Durham a couple of months ago that Istvan Soos, a Reader in Sport and Exercise Sciences from the University of Sunderland introduced me to the term ‘Pracademic’. I had been trying to explain to a delegate what my role was and who I worked for, when Isvtan shouted across the room, "Natalie, you are a Pracademic!" I actually can’t believe it has taken me five years of being a PhD student before finally hearing this term. Cue frantic Googling of the term as soon as I got home, to find a plethora of information on the phrase, which even boasts an entry on the Urban Dictionary website from 2007. I am clearly way behind the times. But maybe it’s because I'm spending so much of my time delivering a PhD intervention that includes scrambling around outdoors in the dirt trying to get rid of some pesky weeds, or building a raised bed in the freezing cold, that the phrase hadn't had time to register.

So I wanted to give you a taste of what it is like to be someone who is still involved in working as a practitioner, as well as studying for a PhD, which qualifies me as a Pracademic.

Gardening selfie!

There are some cons to working out in the field as a practitioner:
  • Always looking like I've been dragged through a bush backwards; 
  • My blood must taste delicious as I am forever being bitten by ravenous midges; 
  • Rogue tomatoes that I find in the car boot two months after being picked; 
  • If I were stopped by the police, my boot containing spades, shovels, rope, duct tape and bin liners would look a little suspicious. Although the rogue tomatoes might actually help me explain myself here. 
Working on the ground delivering community projects can have a number of obstacles that perhaps are not encountered as much in the academic world: payment on result targets, political pressures and economic difficulties for the third sector to name a few. Occasionally, funding will become available at the very last minute. Although this may sound great, the time required to develop and then implement a robust service is lacking. In the academic world, it can sometimes take years to get funding through to deliver a research project. In that time frame, political and organisational objectives have often changed direction. Sometimes, things that sound great in theory are actually nigh on impossible to deliver, whether that’s due to lack of engagement within a community, resources or the lack of a particular skill set. On the other hand, sometimes programmes that are delivered aren't based on any real evidence or theory to justify them. So the two worlds need to come together to try to address these issues. Collaborative practice therefore is a necessity.


Not only are there practical and logistical barriers to navigate, but also the challenge of being an impartial researcher, when I am so heavily involved in the project being evaluated. I have found it very important to reflect after every single intervention session that I have delivered; to think about what has been said by participants, but also to think about what I have said. I need to ensure that I am recognising any potential bias on my part and be mindful of it. I also need to acknowledge that there could be the problem of participants not being completely honest, for fear of upsetting me due to the trusting relationships that have developed. I make sure that when I am collecting data, I remind the participants to be completely honest, as their honest answers are what will ultimately help to shape a better service in the future. I think these are the main issues that a Pracademic will face, but as long as we can continually reflect, and acknowledge that this could potentially affect data, we can do our best to prevent this from happening.

To balance all of this, there are some pretty amazing positives to working on the ground, which allow me to get a real insight into community life. Access to participants does not feel like a barrier to me, and is something that I know other researchers sometimes face. I am able to build a relationship with local people, who will then share their thoughts and views with me, as there is trust. I am not just seen as a researcher, but someone who is working for a local charity that is trying to make a difference to the participant’s local community. Carrying out research in the field means that there is a connection to what is happening in the real world. Getting ‘out there’ to deliver an intervention has been the easier part of this PhD, and for me, definitely the most enjoyable. I also seem to walk away with an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables. Not a bad perk!

It has been a demanding journey so far as a Pracademic, filled with many ups and downs, many moments of self-doubt, and countless barriers that I've had to dig deep (got to get one pun in!) to overcome. But I’ll take rogue tomatoes in the boot of my car any day.

Did you enjoy reading this post? If so, please vote for Fuse in the UK Blog Awards 2016 by clicking here