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Adaptation & Renewal

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Multiple Adaptation and Renewal teams are working across the entire institution to make sure our return to a new normal is as seamless as possible. Each issue we’ll be working to collect the most vital developments from the past fortnight, sharing where you can find out more information so you can keep afloat of all the different projects happening across the University.

We’ll also be bringing you more in-depth features, looking at certain projects in detail, as well sharing and celebrating all the hard work our staff have been doing, often behind the scenes, during this unusual and changeable time.

We know there’s a lot going on at the moment, and we want to make sure you have access to everything you need to know as the University works to adjust to these uncertain circumstances.

Need to know – 30 June

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Here are the top updates from the Adaptation and Renewal teams working across the University.

1.New guiding principles and guidance for remote, home and hybrid working

Many of us have had to adapt to working at home, and some of us will continue to work from home for some time to come. New guiding principles on home, remote and hybrid working have been published, and further guidance is due to be published later this week.

2. Reopening our estate

The Estates and Health and Safety teams have been working hard with colleagues to ensure that the University is able to begin a phased reopening process. From this week, the first tranche of our buildings (24 buildings, including 17 research buildings) will reopen, listed here. Please note that Government guidelines mean that not everyone can gain access to a building even if open. So please do not return to your workplace on campus until advised by your line manager.

3. Working from home experience survey

Colleagues are encouraged to completely the working from home experience survey that was sent round last week. This important and anonymous survey will help inform what University-wide services may need to adapt or change to best support staff who are working from home. The survey is designed to be filled out quickly, and the deadline for responses is Friday 3 July. If you are working from home, please complete the survey here.

Scientist Next Door: bringing science alive during lockdown

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Many of us were suddenly faced with the daunting task of homeschooling our children while schools were closed. While teachers still offered up as much support as they could, there were concerns about children missing out by not being in the classroom. Valentina Erastova, Chancellor’s Fellow in the School of Chemistry, decided she could help. With Basile Curchod and Matteo Degiacomi, both academics from Durham University, Valentina created Scientist Next Door, an online community of scientists able to teach science and help conduct experiments with children stuck at home. Here she talks to bulletin about the project. 

How did you come up with the idea of Scientist Next Door?

In mid-March we were talking with a friend, who mentioned that their kids are now being homeschooled and beginning to struggle with the sciences. At this point it became apparent that this is going to be a universal problem, potentially escalating throughout the lengthy lockdown period. As scientists, we appreciate the importance of hands-on experiences (at university-level it is achieved through many hours of taught labs). And during homeschooling, this key opportunity would be completely removed from children. 

At first, we spoke to our colleagues and received great support. Many of the fellow scientists were separated from their labs, and the idea of talking about science and demonstrating experiments live for children really excited them. 

We needed to create a platform to connect families and children, and this is how Scientist Next Door came to be. 

What was it like setting this up while being in lockdown?

While we had a clear idea of what we wanted to achieve – that is to support scientific interests and development in children through lockdown – we did not know how to manage it, how large the project would grow and how long it would run. At first, to organise calls with families that we personally know we used WhatsApp. But within a week, the participation of parents and scientists grew rapidly, and it became apparent we needed a bigger, more sustainable platform. We set up a website (www.scientist-next-door.org) allowing any family to get in touch with us through an online form and for scientists to deposit and share materials generated from the calls to grow the knowledge-base of the projects. At this point, with support of professional legal and outreach teams from the University of Edinburgh, we introduced standardised risk and safety assessments for the experiments we perform, and established a protocol for calls to ensure the safeguarding of children and protection of personal information. Each call has a moderator from our side and a parent or guardian. We do not hold 1-2-1 calls between scientists and children. We also ensure that more-or-less the same team of scientists is carrying out calls with a given family. This allows children to get to know the scientists (hence our name Scientist Next Door), to be more at ease discussing science and asking questions. In this format, unique to our project, scientists become in some way role models. We believe this to be crucially important for the future view of science by the children, knowing that personal and family scientific acquaintances and media-imposed stereotypes are among the biggest factors in the uptake of sciences further in their lives. We aspire children to learn how to be a scientist, to stay curious and observing.

Basile Curchod showing fast crystallisation of saturated solution of sodium acetate. Valentina and Alessia are on the call too.

What has the response been like?

The response has been incredibly positive! Many scientists, from postgraduate students to full professors, have joined the project, allowing us to form teams of scientists able to discuss subjects interesting to children. Even more surprising to us was that the Scientist Next Door went a bit further away than ‘next door’: scientists from numerous countries like Italy, Spain, Greece, USA, China and Chile have joined us! 

Are there ways you might be able to continue the project after the pandemic has ended?

While the original goal was to support children’s scientific interests through the pandemic, the feedback we have been receiving from parents and the changes of children’s engagement with sciences we saw during our interactions, made it clear that the project should continue beyond lockdown. Our initiative revealed a deeper challenge with teaching science to kids – numerous children do not have the opportunity to get excited by science during their curriculum or to think of science around us and to test their ideas in an experiment. We understand that as lockdown eases off, schools will reopen and scientists will return to labs, we will not be able to maintain calls at the same weekly frequency. Nevertheless, we plan to continue calls in a similar format, supporting children’s scientific interests through discussions, and demonstrations. Furthermore, we will continue to run days or week-long experiments in parallel with children (see colouring flowers, weather monitoring, dissolving eggshell, growing geodes for example) allowing us to take time and record observations for discussion together.

The Royal Society of Chemistry has recently awarded Scientist Next Door with an Outreach Grant, allowing us to pursue our activities beyond lockdown and the pandemic.

Hanna demonstrating how carbon dioxide will change the acidity of water. By exhaling into water with red cabbage pH indicator.

What can you say about the experience of collaborating across Universities?

The support from the scientific community was incredible! Working together on the same idea just showed again how fruitful collaborations are! We are so excited with more scientists joining us, from different countries and disciplines, of various scientific ages and experiences. Personally, we felt supported by our colleagues, even when the lockdown was difficult we always looked forward to the calls and setting up yet another experiment. We feel that along the process of creating Scientist Next Door and sharing our passion and excitement for science, we also made new friends with people we would have not met otherwise.

How to stay creative at home – photography

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This week Sam Sills, Photographer at Whitedog Photography, shares her top tips for kicking your photography skills up a notch.

Well if you’re anything like me, you will have started this lockdown with great intentions of learning new things, finishing old projects and using the time in a productive way. However, after a couple of months in quarantine, my ukulele is still getting dusty and the bathroom tiles remain in a box under the sink untouched. So much for new skills!

But there is one piece of equipment that – rightly or wrongly – we are never far away from that could be used to brush on one new skill relatively easily. Our smartphones. Not only have they become our main source of keeping in touch with friends and family but our phones are also most people’s cameras these days and by following a few simple guidelines this is one area we can improve on pretty quickly.

Pre-smartphones, to make images you needed a full size DLSR and, more importantly, the knowledge how to use it. Whilst phone cameras still have certain limitations over a DSLR, the portability and simplicity of use redress the balance. When I shoot commercially, I always have my full kit with me to carry around so having the ability to create punchy and sharp images from something that fits in my back pocket has injected a lot of the freedom and fun back into photography. In fact when I go on holiday, it’s is more often than not my iPhone that records it these days.

So how do we shoot Insta-worthy images or elevate bland snaps from those that clog your photo library waiting to be deleted, to photos that you display digitally or even print out?

1. Clean your lens

Sounds simple right? But it’s a good start. That phone has been in your pocket, hand bag, nearly dropped down the toilet… just give the lens a quick wipe with a soft cloth. (Confession: I use my t-shirt.)

2. Rule of thirds

This applies to most imagery and is the concept that an image be split into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Where the lines cross is where to place things of interest/focus point. This has long been accepted as what is pleasing to the eye. There is even a grid function on most phone settings now so you can find that sweet spot even easier. Also give your point of focus to one ‘star’ of the shot and give it space within the frame.

3. Use leading lines

Think about making the eye move around the image. By making use of any natural pathways or lines of perspective you can lead the eye to what you want your focus point to be. Don’t be afraid of getting low down or changing your level of viewpoint to exaggerate this. Which brings us on to point 4.

4. Change your perspective

Try out different angles and viewpoints. This can be looking from ground level or get high up and look directly down. Basically any view that isn’t the one you get from looking straight forward from head height. Look for repetition of patterns or colour. Get creative and play.

5. Move, don’t zoom

Zoom functions on the majority of smart phones are not that great. They tend to diminish the quality of the image and pixelate or make it look out of focus. Much better is to get close to the subject. Get moving and go abstract if needs be. You will be amazed at the quality of the close up detail most phones will record.

6. Use available light

As with Zoom function, Flash mode is still relatively poor. Use available light sources whether that be the sun or street lights or whatever naturally occurs in your environment. Think about what effect the position of that light source will have. If you want detail in a portrait, keep the light behind you or to the side. Unless you want a silhouette, which can be used to great effect for a more creative look, then you want the light to fall on your subject.

Now here is the rub, once you know all of this and have gained a bit of confidence, go out and break the rules. Make mistakes, take bad shots to realise how to make great ones. You have nothing to lose and the most important thing is to have fun being creative and documenting memories.

Will you be giving any of Sam’s tips a try – let us know how you get on! Send us your snaps to bulletin@ed.ac.uk.

Reflecting on an unusual Pride month

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The past few months have seen us have to wave goodbye to a number of events, instead finding ways to celebrate them separately and behind closed doors. Despite this, our Staff Pride Network still gathered (virtually) to mark Pride month, and to support each other during this strange time. Here, Jonathan MacBride, Co-Convenor of the Network, chats to bulletin about adapting their Pride plans to a digital environment. 

What has it been like organising the celebration of Pride during lockdown?

We’ve been glad to have the resources to host a virtual, Prideful, event to bring community members together to reflect, commemorate and celebrate.

Have you managed to take everything online successfully? Has it felt the same hosting events virtually?

There have certainly been varying levels of success and hiccups but we have continued our regular social events and increased our online offering with alternating weekly yoga and Qi Gong (Body Clock Flow). Weekly Wednesday online lunchtime catch-ups for all members have replaced monthly lunchtime events held at different campuses on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Wednesdays. Our monthly Evening Social on the 1st Friday has moved online and drinks are much cheaper! Where conversations would have bounced around in person at these social events, people online want to contribute to the conversation but will often find themselves starting to talk just as someone else does. It’s different, it’s learning how to make it work, and that’s ok. Rather than fight it, we’ve embraced it and even organised an Animal Crossing event for IDAHOBT (International day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia) where some members joined in on their Nintendo Switch and others watched on Twitch.

How has the Network managed to successfully connect and support each other when they’re unable to meet face to face?

Everyone on the committee and the entire volunteer team have continued to work together to deliver fantastic events, maintain an active social media presence and create interesting communications, while members have responded with generous event feedback, and liking, sharing and retweeting our communications. It motivates us to keep working with the University, attending strategy meetings and organising ever more for our LGBT+ colleagues and allies.

Can you expand a bit more of some of the events you had to alter to fit these lockdown circumstances?

Our Diversifying Wikipedia event on the 25th anniversary of Pride marches in Scotland changed from face-to-face training in a WRB University room to Collaborate for the training, Collaborate side rooms for extra help, and a Discord for other support and questions for our special guests. I’d never heard of Discord before this and now I organise activism on one Discord and chat to friends while experimenting with acrylic paint on another! Event participants created new Wikipedia pages for LGBT+ authors, publishers, and historic and current Scottish LGBT+ bookshops (Lavender Menace Bookshop and Category Is Books, if you want to look up their handiwork!). The AGM in August (date TBC) will be online for the first time too!

Will you be continuing with any of these once things are back to normal?

What’s normal? I expect we’ll maintain a fully inclusive approach, making events accessible in-person and online. We’ll adapt and do our best.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

Pride Month is a time where our community comes together to celebrate the progress we have made towards being included and accepted and ending discrimination. We must acknowledge that the Pride movement is built on the shoulders of Black trans women activists like Marsha P Johnson and we are still fighting today to end racist, homophobic, biphobic and transphobic oppression.

To find out more about the Staff Pride Network, visit their webpages.

How have you been celebrating Pride month this year? Let us know in the comments below.

Photography: VictoriaYurkova/GettyImages

Thought for the week – 30 June

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This week Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, reflects on our wellbeing as we think about returning to work.

A colleague recently told me that he felt both stressed and deflated with the current demands of home life and the frustrations at work. Nothing seemed to be falling into place and there was very little sense of belonging to any supportive community. As I tried to offer some consoling words, I began to think about what kind of staff and student communities we should be creating when we all return in September.

As well as the focus on delivery of services to allow for flexible ways of working across teaching and research, universities should also prioritise the physical and emotional environment they create. The very purpose of a university is that it remains a place where one imagines alternative ways of being, where one fosters new intellectual horizons and friendships. So often the joys of learning come from the joys of our relationships, whether between colleagues or between staff and students. They have their own chemistry and can often provide the solace we need when feeling alone or anxious.

As we respond to the challenges of the coming months, it’s important that we give due attention to the emotional wellbeing of all who make up the university.  Whether it’s in person, online or hybrid, teaching and research will continue because that is what universities do; we will for the most part overcome the technological hurdles. But we aren’t always aware of other people’s struggles and often reluctant to confess our own. This is why the emotional support we both ask for and are able to give to others is what will help us flourish as a place of community and integrity in the years to come.

Photography: Sam Sills

Edinburgh Racial Equality Network

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In recent weeks the Black Lives Matter movement has touched everyone and brought many thought-provoking issues into the light. It seems fitting to take this chance to encourage those feeling vulnerable or those wanting to champion change to join the Edinburgh Racial Equality Network (EREN).

With the University’s Strategy 2030 centring on People as a key strategic area for our future the network’s commitment to creating an environment where race is celebrated and everyone is treated fairly will be a key part of this work.

EREN have recently organised new webpages on the Equality and Diversity site sharing their values and principals, and how they will be working to achieve these goals.

Membership is open to any member of staff who supports the values and purpose of the network. The network is looking to recruit members from all walks of the University to build a strong group that demonstrates the diversity of academic contributors and the support of allies. Members must maintain the confidentiality of sensitive information and are expected to make a meaningful contribution to the group.

To find out more information visit the webpages, or follow them on twitter.

What is Compassion in the time of COVID-19?

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Compassion is attentiveness to the suffering of ourselves and others, with the wisdom and steps taken to relieve it. Compassion calls forth action, but with the wisdom to know when, how and what is required.

Harriet Harris and Marti Balaam

I – Why we feel stuck

Ordinary times have a certain quality to them. They rumble along, quietly. Much is unremarkable, invisible, and unquestioned. Habits, patterns, and practices sediment into their own rhythms, regular as a heartbeat. Personal and societal circumstances vary, of course, in what counts as ordinary. For some it is ordinary to step outdoors and fear sickness; for others, it is not. But we are all familiar with the nature of ordinariness itself, however this manifests in our lives.

Woven into ordinariness is ethical life. “Ethics is part of the human condition,” the anthropologist Michael Lambek writes: “human beings cannot avoid being subject to ethics, speaking and acting with ethical consequences, evaluating our actions and those of others, acknowledging and refusing acknowledgment, caring and taking care, but also being aware of our failure to do so consistently.”i In other words, even in the most ordinary of times, questioning what is right or good is inherent to being human – as is awareness that we will not always get it right. An ordinary life is one of ethical questioning, uncertainty, and imperfection.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not an ordinary time. It is extraordinary, and therefore many of the qualities of ordinary time and life are inversed. Much is suddenly remarkable, visible, questionable. Rhythms are disrupted. But the ethical quality of ordinary life – the questioning, uncertainty, and imperfection – is not inversed: it is amplified. The stakes are higher. The question of what is right or good to do – of what compassion, for example, looks like at a time like this – suddenly has fresh urgency and potency.

Harriet Harris and Marti Balaam define compassion as “attentiveness to the suffering of ourselves and others, with the wisdom and steps taken to relieve it. Compassion calls forth action, but with the wisdom to know when, how and what is required.” These questions of action – what to do, and when, and how – are resonating right now at every level of our society: government, institutions, communities, families, individuals.

The difficulty of ethical life in the time of COVID-19 is that answers to those questions are partial, incomplete, and shapeshifting. They emerge slowly, only after haggling, debate, and dispute. The definition of a key worker; the date to start lockdown; the date to lift lockdown; whether to quarantine, track, and trace; whether to wear a mask if you are a bus driver; whether you can wash and reuse PPE; whether to show up for work if your employer will not protect you; whether you can walk twice a day, if you have a mental illness and will decline without exercise; whether you can leave your household, if you have fought with your partner; whether to go to A&E, if you have chest pains, but live with someone extremely clinically vulnerable.

As definitions, categories, answers, and indeed laws emerge, we might think that the uncertainty would ease as ordinariness of a new kind reasserts itself. We even have a phrase for it: ‘the new normal’. But remember, we are in extraordinary times, and the characteristic of ethical life that is currently amplified is that this moment, as we live it, is both urgent and uncertain. As Lambek reminds us, ethics are in every move we make, and we feel the weight of them. This is the moment we are in, and we must live it, without knowing how it turns out.

It is no wonder that amidst this uncertainty, with so much at stake, so many of us feel stymied and stuck. It is no wonder that rates of anxiety and depression have dramatically escalated. While the labels of mental health can be tremendously useful, and its treatment lifesaving, it is important to hold some space in which the difficulty of this ethical moment is not medicalised. This is not just a public health emergency, it is an ethical emergency, with questions of how we care for ourselves, each other, and our world reverberating through every step.

Where do we go from here? How do we get unstuck? “The wisdom to know when, how, and what is required” is not easily come by. As Lauren Berlant argues, compassion is not an absolute quality; it is culturally and historically contingent. To feel the shifting sands beneath our feet is to feel this. Sometimes, it is all we can do just to acknowledge that wise action is contingent. To do so is to create space that is prior to clarity, but does not guarantee it. If we are to become unstuck, we must aim to be more specific about what compassion looks like in the time of COVID.

i Michael Lambek, ‘Introduction’, in M. Lambek, ed., Ordinary Ethics: Anthropology, Language, and Action (New York, 2010), p.1.

Kitty’s weekly mindfulness virtual drop-in consists of an email with a suggested practice, theme, and article or podcast episode for reflection, to explore in your own time. Email mindfulness@ed.ac.uk to subscribe.

Photography: PeopleImages/GettyImages

Digital skills: Microsoft Teams training

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The past few months have seen wave after wave of new programmes and technology become commonplace. Video calls replaced face-to-face meetings and a huge range of apps appeared for us to choose from. Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams are everywhere; if you’re not using them daily, you’re seeing adverts for them all over the place.

Using new programmes can be daunting but the Digital Skills team have created Microsoft Teams training sessions which run once a week. Teams is available to everyone at the University through Office 365 and offers an easy way to stay in touch with other members of the University while we all work at home. The online course covers all the basics including:

  • Accessing the app;
  • Joining and creating Teams and managing roles;
  • Organising Team content using Channels;
  • Instigating, replying to and reacting to Conversations and private Chats;
  • Scheduling and managing online meetings; and
  • Customising settings to manage your notifications.

Since the course began in April, there have been 14 sessions and around 325 attendees. Currently they are running once a week. You can book into a session through the events page.

You can find more information about Teams on the IS website.

Helping you to unlock your potential: launch of new coaching platform for leaders

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The HR team has been working tirelessly to help support our staff in their new working from home environments. Here Bea Young, HR Partner – Organisation and Development, and Kristy Robertson, Senior HR/OD Partner – Learning and Organisation Development, share a new coaching platform available to staff.

In these times we recognise that being creative, innovative and flexible, all while building great relationships are key. Coaching can support you to do this.

Our Learning and Organisation Development Team are working with Know You More to provide a digital coaching platform offering high quality coaching. This is critical in helping you navigate the significant changes that the University and the sector are facing.

This insightful Forbes article by Rasmus Hougaard analyses three powerful mindset shifts to help you move from surviving to thriving, while cultivating self-compassion and developing a growth mindset. Do you recognise yourself in this?

Coaching puts you in focus to help you consider your challenges and opportunities, thinking about what’s important to you and helping you to find a path to navigate through. All while building your confidence in your skills and leadership. If you’re interested in shifting your mindset as you go forward, you can now easily and quickly access high quality, personalised 1:1 coaching.

If you’re interested take a look at the webpages for more information, or contact Bea Young or Kirsty Robertson (Beatrice.young@ed.ac.uk or k.robertson@ed.ac.uk).

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