Working with disabilities in the veterinary profession

Dick Vet graduate Dr Bryanna Mariel Andrews explores the role of inclusion of vets and vet students with disabilities in the profession.

Head shot of Bryanna AndrewsPeople with disabilities are an important part of the veterinary medicine community and profession. However, only recently have veterinary organisations and businesses begun to officially provide the space and support for them in earnest.

In the UK, seven million people, constituting 18% of the working-age population, are classified as disabled according to the Equality Act 2010.  Of these, only 17% have been born with these disabilities (Pillai et al., 2007).  Furthermore, 2% of the working population become disabled every year, with 78% of people acquiring a disability from age 16 onwards (University of St. Andrews, 2020).  These statistics represent the development of disabilities within the general public as no similar statistics exist within the veterinary profession.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) requires veterinary schools to act as the gatekeepers for the veterinary profession and admit only those students who can complete every part of the degree. Although a large number of students do not present or disclose disabilities before qualifying as veterinarians, many may develop them during their working career.  However, with proper support from coworkers and the clinic, these vets can continue to act as important contributing members to a veterinary team (RCVS, 2014).

Tynan (2004) found that most UK schools made “strenuous efforts” to provide veterinary students with disabilities the most opportunities to succeed “without compromising the essential requirements of the curriculum.”  While the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at The University of Edinburgh and its affiliated hospital have an impressive track record for supporting students through the curriculum and staff in their everyday roles, further initiatives can be implemented to provide a fully inclusive environment for students and staff with disabilities.

 

Diversity and knowledge

Increasing diversity of the veterinary profession has been a crucial focus of recruitment and admissions teams in the previous decade.  As Dr. Michael J. Blackwell, first African-American Dean of the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine said in 2001, veterinary schools’ duty is to “train veterinarians to go into a diverse community” and to “cope with the realities of society.”  He goes on to say that “of the three main medical professions – dentists, physicians, and veterinarians – veterinarians have the broadest-based medical degree.  [..] They are therefore responsible for the most diverse mission among all medical professionals,” and “such a diversity of role therefore demands a diverse group of people” (Blackwell, 2001).

As the realities of society include clients and coworkers with disabilities, veterinary schools can provide familiarity and understanding about disabilities and how to better support colleagues and clients with disabilities.  Veterinary graduates and staff with disabilities are likely to be able to relate to clients with disabilities and are therefore an important human resource in veterinary teams. Empowering this diverse group of people is therefore a form of human sustainability necessary to “resolve the most basic issues of survival experienced by such a high percentage of the world’s population” (Tynan, 2004).

 

Research support

Understanding diversity and disabilities in the veterinary profession is not only a focus of UK universities; insight into the prevalence and distribution of disabilities within the veterinary profession is of great interest to academic institutions and veterinary communities across the world.  At the World Veterinary Congress 2002 in Tunisia, veterinarians participated in two sessions on disabilities in the profession, with dozens of people across the world recalling stories of veterinarians they had worked with who had disabilities and successfully held their jobs.

In October 2002, following the success of those sessions, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) gave £250,000 to the six RCVS-accredited schools in the UK to continue research into disabilities in the veterinary profession and how the physical and mental rigors of a veterinary training and career can be met by people with disabilities under the DIVERSE research framework (Tynan, 2004).

 

Supporting openness

Creating a comfortable climate for students and staff to disclose disabilities is a way to bring awareness to the disabilities already present in a workplace or teaching environment.  At RVC, 3.5% of the students declared they lived with disabilities in 2007. After creating a “comfort climate” surrounding reporting disabilities by working to remove the stigma of having a disability in veterinary school, the RVC found 20% of their students reported having disabilities in 2012 (Nouri, 2013).  One common disability reported was dyslexia, the most common learning difference in the UK. It is estimated to affect one in ten people, while mental health difficulties occur at even greater frequencies (RCVS Knowledge, 2005).  It is only by destigmatising disclosure of disabilities and supporting others who live openly with them that we can truly know the frequency and types of disabilities present in our profession.

 

Existing stereotypes

Many veterinarians can understand working with and supporting students with learning and emotional difficulties rather than physical disabilities.  Veterinarians quoted throughout Tynan’s work showed reluctance to work with or see people with disabilities succeed, citing concerns over their own safety, or that of the client, patient, or the veterinarian with disabilities (Tynan, 2004).

Tynan believed that concern over veterinarians with disabilities in the workplace is connected to concern with the image of the profession and beliefs about the vet’s capabilities (Tynan, 2002).  Tynan cites the Herriot model as the unhelpful beginnings of these views, which features two aspects that hinder the belief that vets with disabilities can be safe and productive in the workplace.  The first view is that “vets must be tough and strong – this is dangerous and difficult work,” and the second view is that “vets must be able to deal with all animals, great or small” (Tynan, 2004).  This is linked with the idea that larger animals such as livestock and horses pose the greatest danger to vets with disabilities, which unfortunately overlooks the many severe recorded injuries caused by smaller animals to even those veterinarians without disabilities.

The British Veterinary Association, for example, found in 2015 that companion and mixed vets were the most likely to report work-related injuries as compared with equine and farm vets; 64.2% of small animal and mixed vet respondents each reported work related injuries compared with equine vets at 60.7% and farm vets at 53.2% (Small Animal Talk, 2015).

 

Workplace accommodation

In the US, nearly 12% of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) students disclosed a disability, with 40% of those being physical disabilities (Gleeson, 2020).  Supporting these students involves the same modifications that are in place for veterinarians in practice with disabilities, and include shifting the mindset of what is expected from students, modifying activities to meet the needs of the student.  Issues with differing levels of physicality of veterinary work, such as standing for a long period, can be resolved by changes to the work schedule and environment, as well as the use of clinical teams including veterinary nurses and interns to assist on tasks which a veterinarian with disabilities cannot complete alone (Gleeson, 2020).

In the workplace, studies show that less than 25% of people with disabilities require workplace accommodations.  Reasonable accommodations are often much less costly to employers and organisations than is assumed. A US study found that 69% of accommodations cost nothing and 28% cost less than $1000, making workplace accommodations accessible for all clinics and thus removing another barrier to supporting veterinarians and veterinary students with disabilities (Peck and Kirkbride, 2001).

Providing an inclusive culture and allowing people with disabilities to define their own limitations will give the veterinary community the most diverse workforce possible and therefore the best ability to meet the needs of our varied clients and patients.

Bryanna thanks her colleagues Inês Orfao Crespo, Katia Marioni-Henry, Sílvia Pérez-Espona and Valentina Riggio for their invaluable edits and advice.

 

References

Blackwell, M. J. (2001) Diversity and disability [Speech]. AAVMC Annual Meeting, Washington D.C. 31 March 2001.

Gleeson, M. (2020) Veterinary schools rethink standards for students with disabilities.  Available at: https://www.insightintodiversity.com/veterinary-schools-rethink-standards-for-students-with-physical-disabilities (Accessed: 5 April 2021).

Nouri, F. (2013) ‘Reasonable adjustments: improving access and quality of experience’, American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges Annual Conference, Alexandria, 8-10 March.

Peck, B. and Kirkbride, L. T. (2001) ‘Why businesses don’t employ people with disabilities’, Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 16(2), 71-75.

Pillai, R., Rankin, J., Stanley, K., Bennett, J., Hetherington, D., Stone, L., and Withers, K. (2007) ‘Disability 2020: opportunities for the full and equal citizenship of disabled people in Britain in 2020’, Institute for Public Policy Research, pp. 1-112.

RCVS (2014) ‘Fitness to practice – a guide for UK veterinary schools and veterinary students’, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, pp. 1-18.

RCVS Knowledge (2005) Time to take stock: disability and professional competence. Available at: https://knowledge.rcvs.org.uk/news-and-events/news/time-to-take-stock-disability-and-professional-competence/ (Accessed: 18 April 2021).

Small Animal Talk (2015) Workplace injuries in the veterinary profession. Available at: http://www.smallanimaltalk.com/2015/09/workplace-injuries-in-veterinary.html (Accessed: 5 July 2021).

Tynan, A. (2002) ‘At the portal of the profession: the veterinary profession and people with disabilities’, The Royal Veterinary College, pp. 1-100.

Tynan, A. (2004) ‘Veterinarians with disabilities: an international issue’, Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, 31(1), pp. 22-27.

UK Government Legislation (2010) Equality Act 2010. Available at: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents (Accessed: 25 April 2021).

University of St. Andrews (2020) Facts on disabilities. Available at: https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/hr/edi/disability/facts (Accessed: 29 March 2021). 

Extraordinary team working in desperate times

Graham Nimmo on a bicycleDr Graham Nimmo tells us about the development of COVID-19 Critical Care: Understanding and Application short online course.

Graham and his colleague David Griffiths were joint winners of a Principal’s Medal for Exceptional Service in 2020.


In late February 2020, we became acutely aware that COVID-19 was heading towards the UK. It was clear from personal communications with our critical care colleagues in northern Italy and France that this viral tsunami would shortly hit our shores, bearing the human and societal implications of which we have subsequently become so aware.

As the programme team for the MSc in Critical Care, we paused. We were half-way through running Year One of our programme for the very first time. All of our students are frontline acute clinicians, as are most of our faculty. We anticipated that these paramedics, nurses, doctors and physiotherapists would all be focussing on the clinical care of their increasing numbers of patients, with the additional practical and emotional implications of working ‘in the time of COVID-19’.

Our team agreed unanimously that we should suspend our programme and, through the invaluable support of the management team in our College, and the rapid decision making of the Principal, this was actioned on 18 March 2020.

Over the next few days, we realised that we could, perhaps, help in the response to COVID-19 by utilising our skills and experience in online learning, both by repurposing some of our existing materials and by creating new bespoke learning resources.

We foresaw that frontline clinical staff would be suddenly required to work in critical care environments they weren’t familiar with or hadn’t been trained in for some time, and that there would likely be a return to work in acute hospital care for many in retirement, and for those working in community settings and in academia.

 

Developing the course

Infographic showing countries of origin for students of the critical care online courseWith advice from the learning technologists we approached FutureLearn on  28 March and by 31 March we had confirmation that they were able to support the project. The next major step was to take the relevant course content from Learn and move it into FutureLearn.

Under normal circumstances, creation of a new short online course would take around six to nine months. However, a lot of the materials already existed, so a major component was one of migration. While the learning technology team were moving materials, the MSc team and other specially-recruited subject matter experts were creating extra resources to fill any gaps and complete the overall learning package.

Over a nine-day period, we produced the bulk of the course, which is still open online. Over 50% of the content was new. Over this time, a number of us worked collaboratively for 12-15 hours every day. A few weeks later, it dawned on me that the worn carpet under my desk at home, and the holes in the heels of several pairs of my favourite hiking socks (which I had worn during this work), were a direct result of those days of concentrated hours stuck in front of the computer!

Our team worked tirelessly through that long first weekend of April, undertaking late night quality checks and joining morning team calls from our kitchens and living rooms – sometimes even small babies made appearances! The educational resources went live at midnight on Sunday 5 April, just three weeks into lockdown, with many of the team staying up late to check that everything had launched successfully. FutureLearn have, for good reason, a quality assurance process which usually takes 30 days. But in these circumstances, we had just 26 hours to resolve 40 essential actions that had to be complete before everything went live.

On the first day we had 5,500 learners already enrolled. Since then, we’ve had excellent feedback from students.

“Five star course on COVID-19 care. Highly packed with useful resources, great teaching sessions with opportunities to participate in live webinars and real time discussions touching all aspects of COVID-19 Critical care including how to manage your own mental health as a frontline service provider.”

“I found the Covid 19 Critical Care course really informative especially in regards to working in critical care which is what I was looking for. Felt despite having worked in an ICU for a year I still had a lot to learn and the course content both included information I didn’t already know and it refreshed knowledge I did know. This definitely helped me during our own initial covid19 crisis on the ward. I would definitely recommend the course to others.”

 

A huge note of gratitude

The University’s strategic support for OER and open knowledge, and FutureLearn’s willingness to bend their own rules, helped enable us to develop this resource at speed. The team comprised staff from the University, FutureLearn, NHS Lothian, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and NHS Education Scotland, who came together to make something positive happen at what was a difficult and stressful time for many. However, knowing how valuable this educational resource would be to staff on the frontline of critical care motivated the team to make the impossible happen.

 

And what about today?

The online course has now run three times, and remains open for registration. To date, more than 48,000 learners from over 200 countries have enrolled.

The course continues to teach healthcare professionals how to care for critically ill patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of major importance it is also helping to facilitate healthcare professionals’ emotional and physical self-care and well-being and helping them to develop the practices to emotionally support both themselves and their colleagues.

In recognition of this work, myself and Dr David Griffith have recently been awarded the Principal’s Medal. We are extremely honoured, This was our statement of acceptance:

“As well as feeling both delighted and humbled by this accolade, David and I are absolutely clear that we will accept this award on behalf of everyone involved in this work including our core Programme and MOOC teams, and everyone else who has contributed and/or been part of the extended MOOC team.”

 

Profile: Chancellor’s Fellows 2021

Forty of the University’s most promising early career researchers have been awarded prestigious fellowships to develop their innovative work.

The new Chancellor’s Fellows have been selected from across the University to be part of the five-year programme. Ten of the new fellows are from the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine (CMVM).

For the first time in the programme’s seven year history, all of the fellows have been appointed from within the University – in recognition of the extreme career uncertainty caused by Covid-19.

The posts are partially funded through the Scottish Funding Council.

The University was committed to ensuring the principles of equality, diversity and inclusion informed the appointment process. Some 80 per cent of the new Chancellor’s Fellows are female and 19 per cent are from ethnic minority groups.

The ten CMVM Chancellor’s Fellows are:

 

Head shot of Adrian MuwongeDr Adrian Muwonge
The Roslin Institute
Adrian is a molecular epidemiologist based at the Roslin Institute. His work focuses on infectious disease drivers at the human-animal interface. The research work is primarily done in African countries, including Uganda, South Sudan, Zambia, Malawi, Cameroon, and Ethiopia. In previous work, he showed that understanding patterns of infectious diseases and their associated antibiotic usage can help explain a significant proportion of emerging antimicrobial resistance (AMR). To continue this work, his Chancellor’s fellowship will focus on innovative ways of leveraging distributed ledger technology (DLT) to map antibiotic distribution, access, and usage at the human-animal interface as a foundation for population level prediction of antibiotic resistance in Uganda. This will be done in collaboration with the Blockchain Technology Laboratory at the University of Edinburgh and Makerere University in Uganda.

 

Head shot of Adriana TavaresDr Adriana Tavares
Centre for Cardiovascular Science/Edinburgh Imaging
Adriana is a PET scientist working at the University of Edinburgh and her team’s research aims are to develop new imaging tools to understand the development and progression of human diseases as well as to quantify treatment efficacy of new drugs. This award will allow the team to develop a new PET technology pioneered by their group called “whole-body molecular fingerprinting”, which will ultimately enable them to use PET imaging as a preventive diagnostic tool. This work will require integration of skills from two colleges at the University of Edinburgh: the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine and the College of Science and Engineering.

 

Dr Ailith Ewing
MRC Human Genetics Unit/ CRUK Edinburgh Centre
Head shot of Ailith EwingAilith’s interdisciplinary research brings novel statistical and computational approaches to cancer genomics at the IGMM, exploiting the explosion of genomic data generated from cancer patient cohorts and enabling the stratification of patients for therapies. A major current emphasis is exploring the emerging role of genomic structural variation in tumour evolution and its potential for translational impact. During her Chancellor’s Fellowship, Ailith will use statistical genomics to identify novel evolutionary biomarkers. Such biomarkers describe how genome-wide patterns of structural variation evolve during tumourigenesis, as well as the spatial dynamics of structural variation within tumours.

 

Head shot of Catherine CromptonDr Catherine Crompton
Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences
Catherine’s research examines social interaction in relation to healthcare provision. During the fellowship, Catherine plans to work with a range of clinical groups to identify where communication difficulties may arise between clinicians and patients with communicative differences (for example, people with neurodevelopmental conditions), understand what form these communication breakdowns may take, understand the mechanisms underlying positive interactions between diverse groups, and examine the impact on practitioner patient interaction, and ultimately on health. By characterising the nature of communication breakdowns and implementing these discoveries in practice, she hopes to optimise healthcare delivery for all – but particularly marginalised and minority groups.

 

Head shot of Lida ZoupiDr Lida Zoupi
Simon’s Initiative for the Developing Brain/Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences
Lida is a neuroscientist. She has a degree in Biochemistry & Biotechnology and an MSc in Molecular Biology & Biomedicine. She obtained her PhD from the University of Crete in Greece, focusing on the interactions between axons and glia in models of demyelination. She joined the University of Edinburgh in 2015 as a postdoc in Prof. Anna Williams’ group working on synaptic changes in progressive multiple sclerosis. As a Chancellor’s fellow at the Simon’s Initiative for the Developing Brain and the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences, she aims to understand the mechanisms with which myelin shapes network function in neurodevelopmental disorders.

 

Head shot of Oriol Xandri CanelaDr Oriol Xandri Canela
The Roslin Institute/MRC Human Genetics Unit
Oriol’s research vision is to empower researchers by enabling them to analyse large and complex genetic datasets interactively and without them requiring technical skills or access to individual-level data. Current obstacles to extract value from large datasets include data’s unprecedented size, complexity, and restricted access (relating to privacy concerns, economic interests, research limitations, and multi-institutional data fragmentation). Oriol plans to use his extensive experience in developing high performance computing tools to address some of the major challenges in the field. Ultimately, he wants to establish himself as a leader in providing genetic analysis solutions, both from an academic and a commercial point of view.

 

Head shot of Rafa AlmeidaDr Rafael Gois De Almeida
Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences
Neurons communicate with each other and with other cells in our brain by releasing neurotransmitters at synapses, but they can also release neurotransmitters away from the synapse. With a Chancellor’s Fellowship, Rafael aims to find out what roles this ‘non-synaptic’ release plays in the nervous system, what are its underlying mechanisms, and how it contributes to neurological disorders. Rafael uses the small and transparent zebrafish embryo to study non-synaptic release, since we can image this phenomenon non-invasively and at the same time determine its effect on neural circuits and behaviour.

 

Head shot of Samanta MarianiDr Samanta Mariani
Centre for Inflammation Research
After a first postdoctoral period in the United States where she studied adult leukaemia, and a second postdoc at the University of Edinburgh on developmental immunology/haematopoiesis, Samanta has been awarded a Chancellor’s Fellowship to study the role of embryonic macrophages in normal and malignant haematopoiesis . She will begin by studying the possibility that embryonic macrophages become leukaemia-associated macrophages during the onset and the early progression of MLL-AF9 infant leukaemia, with the final aim of finding new therapeutic strategies to treat the disease. She will also explore the role of embryonic macrophages in steady-state haematopoiesis to understand how they contribute to haematopoietic stem cell generation.

 

Head shot of Stella MazeriDr Stella Mazeri
The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies/Roslin Institute
Stella is a European specialist in veterinary public health and population medicine, with an MSc in Public Health Research and a PhD in Veterinary Epidemiology and Parasitology. Her main research focuses on understanding drivers and improving control of zoonotic diseases, particularly in Low- and Middle-income Countries. As a Chancellor’s Fellow at The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and the Roslin Institute she aims to use a mixed-methods approach to address key challenges towards elimination of canine-mediated human rabies deaths.

 

Head shot of Ting ShiDr Ting Shi
Usher Institute
Dr Ting Shi is an epidemiologist with a particular interest in global respiratory epidemiology. She has developed wide international recognition through her successful work with international collaborators. During Chancellor’s Fellowship, she plans to continue developing her career within the important field of respiratory epidemiology and related health services research and modelling. She will develop and apply innovative research methods to large-scale multi-centre datasets to improve the safe provision, efficiency of healthcare and health service planning for people with respiratory infections. Her vision is to become a Clinical Epidemiologist with globally influential research portfolio, undertaking interdisciplinary research programme in respiratory medicine.

Read more about the Chancellor’s Fellowships

Immunity memory: creating animations

Lana Woolford at her desk with a microphone in a the foreground

The Centre for Inflammation Research recently partnered with the British Society for Immunology to present a three-part animated series on the human immune system and how immune memories form in response to infections like coronavirus.

Producer Dr Lana Woolford, Public Engagement and Communications Officer at CIR and of Cloud Chamber Studios talks us through the process.

The idea for a series of animations on COVID-19 and immune memory sprang up back in early April 2020, just after the working from home era began and just before my PhD viva.

There was a huge amount of information, misinformation and animated content being shared about how the virus enters cells and the pandemic spread. But the only animation I had seen touching on the immune cells themselves got the facts wrong, mixing up information about coronaviruses with HIV. The main reason for the lack of good quality content was probably that immune responses are fiendishly complicated even for known diseases – there are so many characters and plot-lines to contend with, it’s like a microscopic Game of Thrones playing out in your body.

They say that before you start a public engagement project, you should always ask whether you are the best person to run it. With links to the British Society for Immunology (BSI) for expert advice on public health messaging, an enthusiastic narrator and visual immunology communication expert in the form of Donald J. Davidson, an animator’s toolbox and the backing of a Centre undertaking vital COVID research (CIR), I felt I could say ‘yes!’ with some degree of confidence.

 

Story board illustrations of organs within the bodyCreating animations

Creating good science animations always follows the same pattern:
1. Literature review
2. Script
3. Storyboard
4. Narrative recording
5. Artwork production
6. Animation
7. Editing
8. Final cut, video description and captions

Like good research however, the process is iterative rather than linear. I conducted the initial literature review over the course of a month. One of the challenges of script writing in this context was that the publication landscape was shifting on a weekly basis, which kept all of us on our toes throughout the project. I wanted to offer a series which was detailed enough to be of genuine educational use, without relying on COVID-specific details that may rapidly become out of date.

As the script was passed around research and science communications experts from BSI and CIR, I put together the storyboard. As a science animator the storyboard represents the most interesting and intellectually challenging part of the process. It has to bring together scientific accuracy; slick transitions; knowledge of software limitations; and visuals which appear, provide detail and reiterate the script’s core messages. Where possible, it should also include boards that can be reused or tweaked as part of different scenes – this saves massive amounts of time when animating.

While Donald was recording the first version of the script, I set to producing artwork. You can see a few here as they progress from the storyboard, but what’s not visible is the number of layers. Each animated element requires a separate layer: every cell, tissue section, limb and mechanism. Over the course of the project, this added to thousands of layers per animation file, which would frequently crash my poor laptop!

With narration files, artwork and music ready, I started to animate. This is a time-consuming process controlled over four dimensions, as instructions are given to stacks of 2D layers alignment with the voiceover, perhaps to rotate a little or move a few pixels to the left. Splitting the videos into banks of scenes helped to reduce file sizes – the separately rendered files could be sent for review and then stitched together as a final piece.

We had to rewrite some of the script, re-record all the narration and tweak some of the animation at short notice following research updates from the BSI Congress in early December. The whole project took 85 solid working days to complete, plus quite a few very late nights adding captions.

 

Feedback

I’m delighted by how well-received the animations have been. We’ve had almost 20k trailer views on social media, shares from Devi Sridhar and Chris van Tulleken, and offers of subtitle translations into ten other languages, which will make the videos accessible across the globe.

They’ve been a testament to the power of collaborative working, the flexibility, creativity and internationality of the University environment, the breadth of our COVID research and the importance of the public engagement professionals and willing researchers who work alongside them.

The story doesn’t end here: we have plans for another piece arriving in mid-February, and plans to use clips from the videos as a springboard for better community engagement on topics like vaccines and immune health.

Watch the videos

Cloud Chamber studios

Science Insights: the pupils’ perspective

Sixty fifth year pupils from schools all over Scotland spent a week online in July on the Science Insights Online work experience programme. Students usually join us on campus but life is a little different this year. Gracie Taylor from Firrhill High School and Evie Tynan who attends James Gillespies High School tell us how they got on with the first foray into work experience delivered online.

 

Gracie Taylor 

Pupil Gracie Taylor taking part in a Zoom sessionI first came across the Science Insights programme around a year ago when I was frantically searching for biomedical work experience. I applied in February when the week was still set to happen in person, on campus at various research institutes across the university. Then, obviously due to the pandemic, the programme was moved online. Even though I knew that I wouldn’t get the hands-on lab experience I had hoped for, I was still super-excited to get stuck in.

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole week but for me the highlights were the MS clinical trials ethics workshop and the Meet the Scientists sessions that we took part in at the end of every day. As someone who is hoping to be involved in medical research, understanding some of the ethical dilemmas around clinical trials was very interesting and a side of my future career that I hadn’t ever thought about before. The sessions were nerve-wracking at first but as we went through the week, I became more confident in asking questions. It’s not very often that you have the opportunity to interact with that many scientists who are all incredibly passionate about their work so I fully embraced this opportunity. I knew that science was broad and multi-disciplinary but I had no idea of just how much potential and flexibility there was. It has made me excited more than anything just to get stuck into my scientific career.

Another highlight of my week was Dr Katie Baines’ talk about her research into equality, diversity and inclusion in STEM. I’m a young leader at my local Brownies, so empowering young girls and women so that they feel capable in STEM careers is really important to me. Katie really inspired me because she came from a scientific research background but then used her experience to drive more of a social change, something that I had no idea you could do with a science degree. Our generation more than ever is likely to completely change career paths multiple times – this is something that used to scare me but now I’ve realised how exciting this is. I honestly couldn’t tell you where I’ll end up but Science Insights has shown me that there’s a world of opportunity that is waiting for me.

I feel like not only have I gained so much insight through the programme, I’ve also grown in confidence. I’ve found that meeting like-minded people has really helped me as I now know people who are passionate about similar things and we can bounce ideas off each other. My one piece of advice to any prospective Science Insights applicants is just apply! I got so much out of the week and I know that anyone who gets a place, even if it’s online next year, won’t be disappointed.

 

Evie Tynan

Pupil Evie Tynan taking part in a Zoom sessionI was introduced to the Science Insights online programme when my biology teacher showed it to me at the start of lockdown. I knew after a little research that it would be beneficial to a keen biology student like myself who was still unsure of what to study at university so I sent in my application. I was super-excited upon receiving my acceptance email, especially having spent lockdown doing lots of uni-related research. I knew this was going to be a great opportunity for me.

I had doubts knowing that it was going to be online and thought it was a shame that we wouldn’t get the practical or social aspect as other years did, but after the first day I was pleasantly surprised. After the initial introductory session where we met the organisers and our sub-groups, we took part in a webinar about where biology can take you and why science is for everyone. I loved hearing from Generation Scotland about their work and the TeenCovidLife survey where they shared the results and how they compared with adults. It showed that lockdown impacted teenagers just as much despite being excluded from many studies outwith this one.

During the week, I enjoyed speaking to different scientists about their various research projects and learning all about life as a scientist through talks and as part of ‘meet the scientist’ sessions at the end of the day.  We heard from scientists working in developmental biology, cancer research, science communication, bioethics and much more and spoke about their careers and current work. I had no idea that a career in scientific research had so many travelling opportunities. It makes me very excited about my future.

We also listened to a few talks about animal research, its importance and the ethics involved, which sparked some very interesting questions and discussions over how you measure an animal’s sentience and why one animal is preferred for research over another. I loved hearing from Cameron Wyatt about the use of zebrafish as a model organism and the process of keeping and looking after these as well as the benefits of using them over other animals.

We also took part in other ethics discussions about multiple sclerosis and the stakeholders in a clinical trial. In small groups, we talked about informed consent and the risks involved at the different stages of a trial. It was very thought provoking but difficult to put yourself in the shoes of a patient.

On one day we managed to get hands-on from home with some practice suturing using string and plastic bands. I think I speak on behalf of all participants when I say it was very difficult! I managed to complete mine after a little trial and error.

On the final day, we took part in a webinar about the current pandemic that spoke in depth about the science behind this virus and its relatives as well as simple epidemic modeling and the use of phylogenetic trees to track how the virus has spread. I loved being able to see how my knowledge from school applied to this area and others. We also heard from Martin Reijns about testing for the virus and how they get from sample collection to results. Hearing about the pandemic from experts in the field was incredible, especially how the technologies have developed in the few months since the pandemic began. It was also brilliant hearing their professional opinions on future predictions of the virus, potential for second waves and overall how we have handled it. I felt much better hearing it directly from scientists rather than rumours circulating the media.

I loved my week with Science insights and it really highlighted to me the diversity of options both in degrees and further down the line. Having previously been concerned I wouldn’t get the same opportunities to meet new people online, the platforms we used allowed us to connect with other participants and I’ve come out with many new friends, some of which I’ve already gotten the chance to meet and I hope to be able to meet the rest in the near future. I was heavily encouraged throughout the week to keep asking questions and I’m glad I did. I learnt so much because of it and I would ask more if I could do it again. I’m so inspired by all of the scientists I was lucky enough to meet and the week has sparked many new interests I previously knew little about.

Overall, Science Insights Online was completely worth it and I’d urge any S5 pupils considering a science career to apply in coming years. The discussions that arose from all the talks I took part in were truly eye-opening and showed me a whole new side to science. I learned so much, not just about different scientific areas but also navigating a science career, which you don’t often get at school. It was a truly amazing experience and I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to take part.

Raj Bhopal on COVID-19

Professor Raj Bhopal on why ethnic and racial minority groups are seemingly being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

 

Professor Raj BhopalMy name is Raj Bhopal and I am Emeritus Professor of Public Health at the Usher Institute. I officially retired in 2018, having held the John Usher Chair of Public Health for 19 years.

I have devoted much of my academic career to studying public health epidemiology with special reference to ethnic and racial variations in health and healthcare outcomes. I have, for example, been studying for 35 years the approximately 1.5 and three-fold increased incidence of heart disease and diabetes, respectively, among Asians.

Now the Covid-19 pandemic has brought me out of retirement and I have been working with colleagues including Dr Gwenetta Curry to review why ethnic and racial minority groups are seemingly being disproportionately affected by this virus. Our work is focussed on UK South Asian and Black (African origin) and African-American populations.

 

Inequalities

The pandemic has sharpened the focus on structural and societal inequalities that have long existed in the UK, the USA, and other countries. In our view, the ethnic variations we’re seeing in hospitalisations and death is largely due to socioeconomic and environmental factors, rather than biological explanations.

For example, many people from minority ethnic groups, especially those who are also recent migrants, hold essential jobs in health and social care, retail, public transport, and other sectors, putting them on the front line and at risk of exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Ethnic and migrant minority groups are more likely to live in overcrowded urban housing centres, the conditions of which can make physical distancing and self-isolation difficult.

 

Raj with his son Sunil
Me and my son Dr Sunil Bhopal

Health disparities

We know that chronic conditions, especially diabetes, are more common in migrant and ethnic minority groups in Europe and the USA. These co-morbidities are contributing to comparatively adverse outcomes for those people who develop COVID-19.

Healthcare disparities are also likely to have a role. For example, in the USA, Black or African American minorities and Hispanic groups are less likely to have health insurance, with consequent reduced health-care access and use.

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)31102-8/fulltext

What can we do?

We urgently need political action to tackle xenophobia, systemic racism, and individual level prejudice and discrimination with concerted efforts to resolve long-standing societal inequalities globally.

I have been contributing to many papers and articles and working with fellow academics and the media to raise awareness of these issues.

Recently, I informed MPs and the BBC about the existence of a report that was denied by ministers in Parliament. This information persuaded the UK Government to release the report containing vital recommendations of measures to protect ethnic minority groups during the pandemic.

I am particularly concerned about the worldwide impact of COVID-19 on immigrant populations, specifically failed asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants. Equally, failing to attend to such populations is a risk to all of us. This was demonstrated recently in Singapore, where the pandemic was controlled except in the hostels housing migrants. This led to a second wave of infections emerging from these hostels.

I have written to the UK and devolved governments to urge them to remove the ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition, which prevents people who don’t have permanent leave to remain in the UK from accessing state benefits.

Many of these individuals contribute significantly to frontline public services, such as the NHS, and fulfill key-worker positions maintaining the nation’s infrastructure, cleanliness and sustenance supplies. Yet these workers do not have access to the same state rights and support as their friends, neighbours and colleagues. This includes rights such as child tax credit for those in employment and for those who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, who were already engaged in precarious self- or zero-hour contract employment. There is no safety net or furloughing or state support.

I believe this is an unjustifiable denial of the human rights of some workers, students and others, who are not being treated on an equal basis with other citizens as a result of their nationality. This is particularly egregious at a time of national crisis, such as we are facing right now.

https://www.bmj.com/content/368/bmj.m1213/rapid-responses

Children enjoying ice cream
Children from the carefree days we now yearn for.

Effects on children and young people

Another major concern of mine is the impact of the pandemic on babies, children and young people across health, education, social care, justice and poverty. With my son Sunil, a a lecturer and specialist trainee in paediatrics, I am helping to set out the risks of COVID-19 in children in the context of other problems we have. We have found that less than 0.4% of deaths in children are caused by COVID-19, fewer than by influenza and road traffic accidents. The bottom line for me is that my children and grandchildren are far more important than I am. I don’t want them to be disadvantaged to try and prevent me getting COVID-19.

The different policies of European countries, and indeed even within the UK, in relation to children returning to school are an example of confusing variability that could have major impact on the future livelihoods of our children.

To help provide some context for parents, teachers, clinicians and policymakers grappling with this, we have examined age-specific mortality data across several countries which shows that deaths from COVID-19 fortunately remain very infrequent in children and young people.  Results are similar for each country.

We are making this data freely available through a  table published online, which includes deaths by age-categories and by country and is regularly updated with the latest data (https://tinyurl.com/child-covid) .

Given these data, we think the medical community should be upfront with parents, carers, teachers, clinicians and decision-makers that the direct impact of COVID-19 on children is currently small in comparison with other risks that children face in everyday life, and that the main reason we are keeping children at home is to protect adults. This conclusion may change as the pandemic evolves, and the epidemiology of COVID-19 in children should be closely monitored.

https://www.bmj.com/content/369/bmj.m1669/rr-4

Raj's parents
My parents shortly after arriving in UK.

A bit about me

Many of us who come from abroad have unusual histories and I would certainly say this about my own family. I was born in Moga, a town in Punjab in the fifties and we moved to the Gorbals, Glasgow when I was two years old. The Gorbals was the most notorious slum in the whole of Europe. Many immigrants in Scotland started their lives there.

My mother’s side of the family were in the tailoring business that supplied uniforms for the British army in India. My father was also a tailor. A few years after arriving and saving some money in Glasgow, my father started a wholesale and retail clothing shop called Moga Trading Company in Norfolk Street, which was on the A1 leading from Glasgow to London. I would consider myself both Punjabi and Scottish in a 50-50 ratio but I didn’t become a tailor. Like many traditional Indian families, we were all encouraged to become professionals and I became a doctor.

Related titles by Professor Raj Bhopal

>> Migration, Ethnicity, Race, and Health in Multicultural Societies

>> Epidemic of Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes

Blog written by Professor Raj Bhopal and edited by J Middleton and J Durkin

Adjusting to working from home

Hazel LambertWith the majority of our staff and students now working from home during the coronavirus crisis, former freelancer and CMVM Public Engagement with Research Manager, Hazel Lambert, has some advice on how to make the best of it.

Before I joined the CMVM team last year, I worked from home, alone, for nearly four years. For the first three years, I loved it. Then I got a wee bit lonely and decided to re-join the world. Here is what I learnt. Hopefully it will help you as you adjust to working from home.

Create your workspace – if you can close the door on it, all the better. My first home office was a shelf that folded down from a cupboard at the end of the bed. When you work and live in the same space, finding a way to put work ‘away’ really helps. If you can sleep and work in different rooms, that’s ideal. If you can’t, throw a blanket over your desk set-up until it’s time to go ‘back to work’.

Prioritise – if you have less time than usual, do the most pressing thing first. Some things will fall off the end of the list, but don’t beat yourself up about it. For all the perfectionists out there, when you have a limited time window to get a piece of work done,  then remember that sometimes good enough is good enough.

Check-in with your colleagues – when I was freelance, I kept in touch with clients through video and phone calls: they really help with clear communication. Text and emails are great but sometimes nuances are lost. Our team has a short MS Teams call every day to say hello and agree priorities – it works.

Routine – get dressed or stay in your pyjamas, you choose. But set yourself a start and end to your working day, it helps. And if it doesn’t work, change it.

Set a timer – if you can’t resist the lure of the fridge, or the piles of laundry are distracting, set a timer for 25 minutes. Sit down and focus. When the alarm goes off, stick a load on, grab a snack, stretch, wander about the room, then sit back down for another 25 minute slot. You’ll be amazed at how much work you get done.

Cheer yourself up – for some of us, being alone is bliss; for others, it’s more of a challenge. If you live alone and now work alone, find the thing that makes you smile. It doesn’t matter what it is but build it into your schedule. I’ve held back on introducing the ‘office disco’ to my colleagues in CMVM but maybe when we are all back in the office…

The kids – if you have a baby, toddler or a worried teenager, the reality is it’s just about impossible to work and look after them at the same time. Don’t try – it’s really stressful. Set working times instead, share these with your line manager and your children so everyone knows what to expect. Then you can focus even if it’s just for an hour. Everyone will feel better.

Be kind to yourself – For many of us there is something hugely calming about logging in and working- the familiarity is reassuring when everything else around us has changed. But remember to step away too, be kind to yourself. We are all coping with new ways of working, changes to our lives we can’t control and supporting the children, friends, partners, colleagues and neighbours around us. Don’t be hard on yourself if you have a tough day.

And finally – put a bit of tape over your webcam unless you are on a call. It helps with the ‘I’m available or not’ mentality and prevents anyone else from seeing your home disco moves if, like me, that’s the thing that cheers you up.

If anyone would like to check in on their public engagement project or needs advice on a communications project you can send me a calendar invite for a chat on Thursdays between 3pm and 7pm and I’ll do my best to help.

Hazel Lambert, CMVM Public Engagement with Research Manager.

Teaching in China

Sander van den Driesche is one of a number of ‘flying faculty’ CMVM lecturers who have been teaching for the past three years on the Zhejiang University/University of Edinburgh Institute (ZJE) Integrative Biomedical Sciences degree programme.

The two universities jointly established the research institute at the new international campus of Zhejiang University, which is based in Haining, about 90 miles from Shanghai.

Now entering its fourth year, the degree programme is taught both by Edinburgh and Chinese colleagues, with graduates receiving a Bachelor of Science (Hons) from The University of Edinburgh and Bachelor of Science from Zhejiang University.  The programme is the first of its kind in China, with the Edinburgh elements taught entirely through English.

Originally from the Netherlands, Sander moved to Edinburgh in the early 2000s, initially taking up a research technician post at QMRI, before beginning a post-doc and then taking up a lecturing position. His own research investigates the role that foetal development can play in male reproductive health disorders such as low sperm count and testicular cancer. But in his role as course organiser at Zhejiang, he teaches a range of different subjects.

“What makes it exciting for us is that we are the ones who developed the programme,” he says. “Even though the degree runs parallel to Edinburgh, we have more say in what we teach each year and we don’t always teach just in our own academic specialty. When you’re there you’re expected to contribute to what you can.”

University of Edinburgh lecturers are contracted to teach for up to 12 weeks per academic year at Zhejiang.

“We tend to go out in blocks of a couple of weeks at a time,” he says. “We have quite a big teaching team now, as we have three years’ worth of students.”

While language can be a bit of a barrier at times, Sander finds teaching at Zhejiang particularly rewarding and quite different from his experience at Edinburgh.

“We have standard lectures, of course, but we do a lot of tutorials, group work, problem-based learning and practical sessions as well.  Those sort of approaches are quite new to the Chinese style of teaching. And you get a lot more questions than you would from Edinburgh students.”

“I think the key cultural difference is that Chinese students are particularly keen learners,” he adds. “They want to understand things really well and usually come to the lectures extremely well-prepared. They are very keen to have course materials such as slides in advance, for example.”

Future collaborations

Now that the institute is open, and with colleagues beginning to build up their research groups, Sander is optimistic about further collaborations.

“We have our postgraduate students starting to do PhDs, and they will need an Edinburgh-based supervisor, so we are all slowly becoming supervisors to research students out there as well,” he says. “There’s space in the institute for at least a couple of hundred PhD and post-doc students, so that is only going to grow.”

“One of the next challenges for us is probably going to be how we convince UK or European post-grads to base themselves there. I think it’s just a matter of time. When we get our first cohort of graduates next year, we’ll see what happens.”

Read more about Sander: https://www.ed.ac.uk/discovery-brain-sciences/our-staff/research-groups/dr-sander-van-den-driesche

Read more about ZJE:  http://zje.intl.zju.edu.cn

Online learning: the Master of Public Health experience

Dr Rose Geddes and Dr Neneh Rowa-Dewa from the Master of Public Health programme tell us about the benefits of online learning.

Online learning is ideal for those who want to gain a qualification but who have other commitments such as jobs or children.

While our Masters in Public Health (MPH) can be taken on-campus, we are finding that the online option is increasingly popular with students, as the programme is flexible and there are no specific class attendance times.

Currently we have over 140 online students with 27 courses on offer as part of the overall Masters programme.

There are so many exciting things about online learning for both students and staff – students get to study with a global community with whom they share their knowledge and experience. They communicate their ideas through active discussion boards, blogs, group work and videos, and in the process get to know each other very well.

Similarly, we have an ongoing dialogue with our students during the three years they are with us. We get to know them very well and genuinely feel we learn as much from them as they do from us.

Working together with academic and support staff from other online masters programmes in the Postgraduate Hub in the Usher Institute is both valuable and fun.

We share our insights, challenges, experiences and birthday cake! At graduation, staff, students and their families get to meet each other face-to-face, often for the first time, and celebrate together.

Find out more about the Masters in Public Health

Watch more student testimonials