Partners: more than just a summer school

decorative header photo introducing foreword by Dr Damian Parry

I have been leading the Partners programme in the School of Biomedical Sciences (as it was then) since 2014 – and have enjoyed every moment.

In “normal times” it’s a great opportunity for students to come onto campus and experience university life in a “snapshot”. It’s my ideal that the experience will minimise fear of the unknown, seeing that Newcastle University’s School of Biomedical, Nutritional and Sport Sciences is a place where students can feel at home, see themselves thriving and anticipate a great 3 or 4 years ahead.

Obviously, last year and this year things have changed, and we’ve had to move the provision totally online, but hopefully there is still a chance to see what university life will be like, meet future colleagues in studies and members of staff, and get to know each other.

The School has an increasingly diverse student body coming from all sorts of backgrounds. Our aim is to build an inclusive environment where everyone is supported and encouraged to succeed regardless of who we are, and the Partners programme plays a key role in this. We all have hurdles in life which we need to navigate and it’s the job of all staff and students to make sure that everyone feels at home in the School.

For me, Partners has two main benefits: the most obvious is the reduced offer, but I think the most important is the removal of barriers. Enabling students to see the School as a place they want to be, where they feel they can belong and a place they can thrive.

Hear from some of our previous Partners, and current full-time, students below about how the Partners programme helped prepare them for university study. With bonus staff perspectives from Dr Geoff Bosson, Dr Harley Stevenson-Cocks and Dr Vanessa Armstrong on delivering the Partners programme in the remote world!

I have been involved with Partners for the last 2 years now and it’s something I really enjoy being part of. Although we were remote last year and will also be this year, we still managed to interact and discuss science over Zoom and on discussion boards, and I got to showcase just how important immunology is – especially mid-pandemic!

It was a very welcomed opportunity to interact with students again in the sessions we ran last year and COVID-19 seemed like an appropriate topic for the week where we could cover all of the subject disciplines we offer within the School. The feedback we received was really encouraging and I was grateful for my first experience of running a successful remote course all on a new virtual learning environment (VLE) platform (Canvas).

I’m passionate about supporting all students and encouraging uptake of opportunities to help develop new skills, support career progression and improve employability. I am the Academic Lead for Employability and also co-ordinate placement years with Harley. I was really keen to connect alumni from the School with Partners and to help insire.

Having had quite a convoluted career myself my motto is (sorry for the cliché!) “Life is a journey and not a destination”.

The Partners program opened a door to a university career I didn’t think I would ever experience. Coming from a lower-income background, without a perfect set of A-Levels, I had already accepted that I wouldn’t be studying at a first-choice university. When I noticed that Newcastle offered a program that specifically encouraged and facilitated the entry of disadvantaged students, I was sceptical at first. I thought, what’s the catch? 

Many universities offer foundation programs as a stepping-stone to their desired degree. However, those programs involve an extra year of university study, including the required funding. After attending the Partners summer school, I was very happy with what I’d experienced. The lecturers were welcoming, informative, and for once I was actually confident that I could attain a degree at a quality university. I’m currently in my second year of a (so far) successful Nutrition degree, and I appreciate the opportunity. 

When the Partners scheme had to be changed from an on-campus in-person experience to a virtual one at short notice, it meant that more academic staff could get involved…..and as I love to talk about science at any opportunity, I did not need asking twice if I would get involved!

As someone who did not enter academia through the traditional A-level route I am keen to support initiatives, such as Partners, that open educational opportunities to anybody who has the ability to reach their maximum potential.

Being able to talk about my favourite subject and explain the role that biochemistry plays in our understanding of the COVID-19 virus means I have had to keep up to date with the scientific literature. This thirst for knowledge is something I have always enjoyed and we want to ignite and cultivate in you during our Partners programme.

The sessions I enjoyed the most last year were the live online debates. The use of Zoom meant I was able to ‘virtually meet’ many of the students and engage in current scientific discussion. We will be including this successful format again this year as part of the week-long programme and I look forward to meeting you when you join in.

The Partners programme was thoroughly enjoyable and allowed me to meet new people, as well as giving me a head start on using Canvas. I found this really helpful, especially with changes to the way content is being delivered this year, as I had insight into how lectures would be delivered, enabling me to practice note taking.

Meeting people on my course was great, as it meant I already had people I could chat to about work, as well as being able to meet them (socially distanced) once we got to Newcastle, which helped me to settle in. Each day on the programme we studied a different aspect of biomedical science which I found very interesting, as this was a new level of detail compared to A-Level. The content was also linked to the SARS-CoV-2 virus which made it relevant and therefore more engaging.

The Partners programme for me was an exciting, educating and eye-opening experience. Having just taken my A-Level exams, attending the summer school was a small glimpse at my future.

The format of the summer school allowed for myself and future students alike to get a feel for the university; to get used to our soon-to-be new home. I had the opportunity to experience what lectures, seminars and labs would be like whilst also having the opportunity to be taught by our future lecturers, an experience I was particularly excited for.

My own mental health issues ensures that I have a bucket of worries about changing environments and the summer school allowed these worries to be put at ease. Even though I did not end up going to university until the year after, the experience still aided me and, if anything, only gave me more reasons to reapply.

I’d only been working at Newcastle for a few weeks when I was asked to help with the School’s Partners scheme last summer, so I must admit I felt like a bit of an imposter. I hadn’t even been on the university campus by that point!

Nevertheless, as the physiology specialist for the week, I was excited by the prospect of delivering a day of content covering the impacts of COVID-19 on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, and so I jumped at the chance to get involved. If anything, I was probably a bit too excited, as I got carried away and ended up recording an 80 minute lecture on the subject…

For me at the time, it was a great opportunity to work with new colleagues and deliver something new and engaging in the remote format we’d been forced into by the pandemic. Getting the balance right was tricky, as we weren’t able to rely on ‘live’ sessions which is what we are more used to, so we had to ensure our asynchronous (non-live) plan was still coherent, informative, challenging, and most importantly interesting!

It was also nice to get some student contact in, as I’d joined the team right at the end of the academic year when teaching was winding down.

When the current academic year started back in September, I recognised a lot of students from the Partners scheme were now enrolled as full-time students here, so it was good to know we hadn’t put everyone off! Our opportunities to see everyone in real life are unfortunately still limited, but fingers crossed that all changes soon and we can start seeing people in three-dimensions again.

In the end we received some overwhelmingly positive feedback about the scheme, which was great and showed our efforts had been appreciated. I’m very much looking forward to getting involved again this summer and building on what we learnt last year with the next Partners cohort!

When I attended Newcastle Partners in 2019, I was extremely excited about being offered this chance to spend a week on campus to get a taster of Biomedical Sciences and also to meet new people! At the time I was very shy and was nervous to leave home for a week to be in Newcastle, however when I arrived I realised everyone was feeling the same, so friendships came naturally!

I would say one of the most useful things in Partners were the lectures. As the style of teaching was so different from my sixth form this allowed myself time to trial and error note taking and figure out which type was best tailored to my particular learning style.

Overall I think the social events, trial lectures and the experience on campus really helped me get an idea of what Newcastle University was all about and helped me make friends that I still have today!

Clinics, Catering, and Community Settings: Placement Experiences in First Year Dietetics

September 2020 was just around the corner. I was feeling excited but also nervous to begin the journey as a student in the very first cohort of the MDiet course at Newcastle University. Little did I know that COVID-19 was going to change university life as we know it.

The new norm included logging in to different Zoom classes, communicating with classmates via e-mail or texts, and learning how to measure portion sizes from an online live lab. It was all new at first, but our lecturers were always ready to respond to any request we had. What I love the most is that our cohort is quite diverse with different people, ideas and backgrounds coming together to learn, discuss and debate on Nutrition and Dietetics matters. MDiet is a safe place for us to communicate our thoughts and goals.

Fast forward to March 2021

My ‘Relocate to Newcastle’ plan was activated. Words cannot describe how happy and grateful I was to finally meet all my peers and academic staff in person. Not to mention the excitement felt when placement dates and allocations were released. We were going to spend our placement in a range of settings: with a dietitian in a clinical setting, in a hospital’s catering department, a community care setting, and at a food bank, as well as 2 days on campus learning about communication.

Putting my “Student Dietitan” uniform on, moments before my very first hour of placement began.

The first day

The first day of placement had arrived! I’d barely slept through the night but was feeling enthusiastic as I packed my bag; “Student Dietitian” embroidered uniform, student ID, water and face covering – all check.

My classmate and I arrived 20 minutes early, changed into our uniforms and found the cafeteria where the dietitian would meet us. At 9:00am the dietitian approached our table, and we were heartily welcomed as she introduced herself and her role at the hospital. We all went up to the wards, where she explained to us her daily routine, showed us different types of tube feeding and when these are used.

At 10:30am, the ICU rounds began. We were able to observe and take notes on the daily communication processes. Medical practitioner and students, physiotherapist, senior nurse and students, acute dietitian, speech and language therapist and other healthcare professionals were all present and actively evaluating the patient’s condition.

Once finished, the dietitian explained the reasons behind the decisions made and gave us time to ask questions. A day in the life of an acute dietitian was a truly fascinating experience.

On our way to find the hospital’s cafeteria.

Hospital catering – efficient AND tasty

The next day it was our catering department placement. Same routine as before; we arrived early, got dressed and the head of the catering department met us at 9:00am. He gave us a tour of the facilities and then handed us over to the woman in charge of the wards. She showed us the different menus available and guided us through the entire process.

We were quite impressed with how well organised the catering department was. For example, the food in the freezer was arranged by popularity, with the most requested dishes near the front and the more unpopular ones towards the back. Once the orders from the wards came in, the process of collecting, distributing the food, cooking it at the ward kitchen and serving it began.

We were amazed at how smooth the process was and how efficiently the staff communicated. With the time left, we were able to ask questions and even got to interview some elderly patients about their satisfaction with the food. Another amazing and educational experience.

Left: Learning about the different IDDSI (International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative) levels of food available at the hospital. Right: IDDSI level 4; beef in gravy. It might look different but it was really tasty! 10 out of 10.

The food bank – a humbling experience

Our last off-campus experience before the Easter break was at a food bank. I was not sure what to expect as I was assigned to spend half a day at the warehouse.

My classmates and I were warmly welcomed to the facility and got a tour around the warehouse. The volunteers, as well as the working personnel, seemed to be doing a great job. The warehouse was well organised, and I was happy to see so many donations coming in.

I thoroughly enjoyed spending my day there and contributing to the community. It was definitely a life learning experience that I will never forget. Often, I hear people talk about food poverty and health inequality, but it makes such a difference when you actually get hands on experience of the only food options people in the community can afford.

Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes before offering any advice was the lesson I learned that day.

Done for the day! Everything is categorised and ready to be packed and distributed to the community.

The importance of communication

During the last week before Easter, we had a communication simulation on campus. It was such a great and informative experience. I especially loved the part where we got split into pairs and had volunteers from roleplaynorth come in. The goal was to make conversation with the volunteers and have them open up without asking more than 10 questions.

As the theme was holidays, I thought that such an easy topic would not require 10 questions – and as you may well have guessed, I was wrong!

After the session I thought about how the 10-question practice task could be applied in a clinical setting. Whilst a dietitian needs to gather a lot of information, a patient may not wish to be asked a flurry of questions, so ‘minimal encouragers’ and appropriate body language are powerful tools to boost dialogue. Another day of placement well spent!

The journey has only just begun

As the Easter break came to an end, I was happy to go back and see all my classmates, as well as have another 2 days of placement. One day was in a care setting linked with St Anthony’s of Padua Community Association, and the other focussed on social media for nutrition and dietetics with Maeve Hanan of Dietetically Speaking.

It is truly fascinating to see so many different settings a dietitian can have an impact in. I can’t wait to see what the future holds, but I am confident we are off to a great start!

Until next time,

Katerina

Mary Seacole: A Scientist by Nature

In October, as part of Black History Month in the UK, we ran a competition asking students to submit blog posts showcasing the contribution of scientists of African and Caribbean descent to the scientific world. In the run-up to February’s Black History Month in North America, we are delighted to share the winning blog by Cerys Francis-Garside, Stage 1 Master of Dietetics student.

Mary Seacole: A Scientist by Nature

Perhaps on first hearing her name, you would not choose to label her a scientist. Perhaps you might think “Oh I’ve heard of her… who is she again?”. To me, the story of Mary Seacole is one of the most important in science as it is one we can continue to learn from again and again.

When I was about 8 years old I was given an assignment to complete about Florence Nightingale, the Lady with the Lamp. It is true that the effect that Nightingale had on modern nursing could not go unrecognised, particularly her work in sanitation. In fact, to this day we still recognise her importance by naming conference centres-turned-hospitals “Nightingales”. Furthermore, I do not wish to make it a habit to bring one woman down in order to build another up, but in this case, there is more to the story than my primary school curriculum covered.

Mary Jane Seacole

In Victorian England, a biracial black woman enters the scene. Half Scottish, half Jamaican; a time of desperation would be required to allow Seacole to fulfil her aim for which she travelled across the world. I would have thought that the Crimean War would have been enough, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Seacole was turned away. Although historians can only speculate, it was not so cut and dry as solely being an issue of skin colour; in contrary to popular assumption, black people did live in Victorian London. Seacole was turned away for having received no British Nursing training and it is here that I would like to draw the first parallel to the 21st century, as this distinction did not mean that Seacole was unqualified.

Sketch of Mary Seacole by William Simpson, c. 1855

In Jamaica, her mother – a free woman – had taught her an invaluable trade. Like many doctresses in the West Indies, she had excellent knowledge of diseases, herbal remedies, midwifery, and nursing; much of which had been learnt whilst nursing the injuries of fellow slaves. Importantly, in Seacole’s own autobiography, she stated how in the late 1700s these Jamaican doctresses were already practicing a high standard of hygiene.

Seacole’s father was a lieutenant in the British Army, and this link made it possible for her to spend time observing military doctors healing soldiers recovering from prevalent diseases at the time. A reflection of biracial privilege perhaps? The military had a large presence in the West Indies at the time, and a lack of preparation for tropical diseases led them to Seacole’s door. She was also on the front lines of the cholera epidemic in 1850s Jamaica, and again in Panama in 1851, where she successfully treated the first person to fall ill from the disease. So here we have a highly qualified, educated, empathetic nurse, but a widowed woman, yes “only a little brown” [1] by her own admission, and not British by training.

In case I have focused too much on the side of her empathy, in writing this piece I have made the claim that Seacole was a scientist. During the Panama cholera outbreak, Seacole personally performed autopsies; studying, hypothesising and drawing conclusions from each patient she treated. She completed minor surgeries and avoided the use of opiates and lead(II) acetate (now known to be toxic), instead proposing alternative remedies in their place with mixed success which she would later reflect on. I hope this is enough to convince you.

The Start of the Crimean War

With decades of experience under her belt, the Crimean war began. Hundreds of soldiers were dying from cholera, many in cramped, unsanitary hospitals. As previously mentioned, Seacole was laughed away from joining the nurses going to Crimea. It is hard to imagine that the colour of her skin played no part in this, as the death rate of soldiers soared from a variety of complications.

As each route Seacole attempted to take to Crimea was blocked by prejudice of some description, we find ourselves back with Florence Nightingale. I would not be able to explain Nightingale’s issues with Seacole better than she did herself:

“I had the greatest difficulty in repelling Mrs Seacole’s advances, and in preventing association between her and my nurses (absolutely out of the question!)… Anyone who employs Mrs Seacole will introduce much kindness – also much drunkenness and improper conduct” [2]

Again, we can only speculate the truth behind her opinion. Nightingale would go on to express gratitude and fond views of Seacole, despite wishing her nurses had no association with her. Eventually, Seacole found passage to the front line, and nursed many soldiers with her knowledge of disease, military injury, nutrition, and empathy.

Seacole’s nursing activities in the Crimean War were downplayed by the satirical magazine Punch in 1857 – vivandière is the French name for “canteen keepers”

Her Legacy

The life of Mary Seacole is one that continues to divide. After her death, she was forgotten for a century. Historians can claim that she only served “tea and lemonade” [3], or that she merely comforted those as they passed away, but I find her legacy far greater.

One American soldier described her as “so many shades removed from being entirely black” [1], which does not only read as an indication of her skin tone, but also a slight to characteristic perceptions of black people. Regarding the issue of colourism, it is likely that Seacole was seen as more acceptable. To this day, mixed race and light-skinned black people continue to be seen as the “moderate” choice in a world where diversity is foremost a buzzword.

Mary Seacole’s experience as a single biracial woman will always be relevant during this current time. Whatever it is that you draw from her story, I hope you do infer something. We are scientists, after all.

Interested in reading more about Mary Seacole? Check out the following sources cited in this blog!

  1. Seacole M. Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands: Edited by W. J. S With an Introductory Preface by W. H. Russell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1857.
  2. Chang T-F. Creolizing the White Woman’s Burden: Mary Seacole Playing ‘Mother’ at the Colonial Crossroads between Panama and Crimea. College literature. 2017;44:527-557.
  3. McDonald L. Mary Seacole: The Making of the Myth. Toronto: Iguana Books. 2014.

My role as an EDI rep

By Alex Washington, MSci Biomedical Genetics

For a little while now I’ve been looking for ways to help the LGBT+ and disabled communities but was never sure where to go or what I could do. I do still want to find other ways to help, but I found my starting point as an EDI (Equality, Disability, and Inclusivity) representative in the School of Biomedical, Nutritional and Sport Sciences.

How I got the role

I originally applied to be the LGBT+ rep, thinking “well I’m really queer so that’ll work,” but Dr Parry, head of the EDI committee at the time, thought I’d be better suited for the marginalised genders role, seeing as I’m very vocal about being trans. I didn’t have much of a choice when I was 19 going on 12 but I’m still open about it now, when I easily pass as a cis man (not looking quite 20 yet but getting there).

I am also the rep for disabilities, which wasn’t a part of the plan, but I’m very happy how it turned out. I have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and I know that it’s a serious disability, but a lot of times people brush it off and treat it as “not a real mental disability.” Because of this, a lot of the time I’m scared to speak up about it, in fear I won’t be taken seriously.

Me on my 19th vs me on my 20th (I had a cake, birthday bread was more iconic), thanks Puberty 2.0

At our first EDI meeting, it was mentioned our disabilities rep was a final year student, and so we’d have to find a replacement for when she finished university over summer. At that point I volunteered to be a co-rep with her until she left and take over the role afterwards if we didn’t have any other volunteers, and I’m really glad I did so. My fears of not having my ADHD taken seriously are very real, but they never reflected reality while working with the EDI team.

What I did with the role – it’s more than a way to get a free hoodie

Having worked side by side with the Faculty of Medical Sciences since February, I’m happy to say I’m proud of what I’ve achieved so far in my time as a rep, as I managed to make positive changes both to school- and university-wide policy, and to specific students dealing with LGBT+ and disability issues. From simple things like ensuring the lecture slides are more accessible to students, to more serious matters like how DSA (Disabled Students’ Allowance) is addressed in placement talks. After an extremely homophobic survey got sent out to students, we even got the university to change how student surveys are approved to be sent out.

Talk to us

From my experiences I can say that the School of Biomedical, Nutritional and Sport Sciences and Faculty of Medical Sciences are happy to support their students, but a lot of times issues can go unnoticed. Being a representative, I can highlight to the staff, at a professional capacity, any issues students bring up to me, and then address them. Once a solution is presented, I haven’t once seen excuses be made to avoid fixing the problem, no matter how big or small it was.

For this reason, I would urge any student that is having an issue adjusting to life at university to speak to either me or one of the other EDI reps – whoever is most suitable – so we can support you and help make the university experience more accessible.

EDI rep contact information can be found on the Biomedical and Biomolecular Sciences Stage 1-4 Community modules on Canvas.

Nutrition and Dietetics at Newcastle – A New Era! by Susan Lennie

Exciting times for the Nutrition and Dietetics team at Newcastle University!

As the new academic year is fast approaching, we prepare to welcome our first cohort of undergraduate dietetics students onto our new 4-year Integrated Master of Dietetics programme. The North East of England NHS departments have been asking for an undergraduate dietetics course for some time, so in the last year we have been planning and writing our course, successfully achieving Health and Care Professions Council approval and British Dietetic Association accreditation in January 2020.

Ms Susan Lennie, Senior Lecturer and Degree Programme Director – Nutrition and Dietetics

I suspect some of you are not too familiar with the work of dietitians, perhaps assuming that it’s mostly dealing with obesity, and telling people what NOT to eat. Well, I don’t quite see it that way. I’ve been a dietitian for over 20 years, in both clinical and academic settings, and I can tell you that dietetics is a really varied profession.

In the clinical setting, I worked in the Intensive Care Unit alongside anaesthetists, pharmacists, biochemists, and nurses. My role was to ensure that patients received good quality nutrition via tubes and intravenous lines that would meet their needs during serious illness. Patients were mostly sedated and ventilated so, often, my interactions were advising other health care professionals on adjustments to fluid volumes and rates of feed, as well as how to manage the timing and delivery of feed due to potential interactions with drugs. Reassurance to distressed family members was also important as most didn’t understand how we meet nutritional needs (without chewing and swallowing).

Susan’s experience in paediatric dietetics was varied and enjoyable (image from Pexels)

I also spent some time as a paediatric dietitian which was incredibly varied. Some days I was advising children with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes mellitus (and their parents) on a healthy diet and the timing and dosage of insulin injections, as well as how to prevent (and manage) a hypoglycaemic episode.

One area I particularly enjoyed was working with children with cystic fibrosis. A large proportion of those with this condition have pancreatic insufficiency, where their pancreas doesn’t produce enough of the digestive enzymes to help with the absorption of fat and other nutrients. There are pancreatic enzyme replacement drugs that can be used to help with that, but the dosage of those needs to be matched to the quantity of fat consumed with each meal.

I found it really rewarding to work with the children and their parents to educate them on estimating their fat intake at each meal, working out the correct drug dosage, and subsequently hearing how their symptoms of malabsorption had improved. These patients often struggled with a low body weight, so this was the opposite of managing obesity!

Take a virtual tour of the new Dame Margaret Barbour Building!

Our dietetics course will be sharing some teaching with the existing Food and Nutrition programmes as our students learn about the fundamental biochemical and nutritional sciences that underpin dietetics.  We are all moving into the new Dame Margaret Barbour Building in mid-October and I managed to have a tour of the facilities last week; they are fantastic!  The Food Handling Laboratory and Sensory Analysis Suite are really impressive, and I’m particularly looking forward to using the clinical consultation rooms for simulating outpatient appointments with students and volunteer patients.

2020 has been a challenging year for us all, but in the School of Biomedical, Nutritional and Sport Sciences it hasn’t stopped us forging ahead and creating new learning opportunities and facilities for our students.  We’re excited to begin a fresh chapter with the launch of our new Dietetics programme, so keep an eye out for future blogs to hear about what they have been up to!

In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about what dietitians do, County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust are hosting a Nutrition and Dietetics Career’s Open Day on 16th October 2020 which will be held virtually – see the document below, and please do sign up!

New year, new name, new state of the art facilities!

An exciting year ahead! By Dr Debbie Bevitt

It’s nearly the start of the new academic year and the School is buzzing as we prepare to welcome our new Stage 1 students – and of course to welcome back our existing students!

Dr Debbie Bevitt, our Head of School

We have an exciting year ahead, including a new name for the school and two major building developments which will provide much needed additional study space and specialist facilities for our students.

We have a new name!

Continue reading “New year, new name, new state of the art facilities!”