Singapore Grip

Prof David Leat

In early December 2015, I travelled to Singapore for a 3 day visit to appear in a TV panel discussion on the Future of Learning, recorded by Channel NewsAsia for transmission in January.  This was part of a series to help develop the profile of Newcastle University in Singapore, as the university runs six undergraduate programs there, in a partnership with Singapore Institute of Technology. On learning the names of the other panel members, I was gripped by a little apprehension to be in such company.

For most of my university career, I have been a teacher trainer, higher degree teacher and supervisor and researcher concentrating on securing research income, delivering projects and publishing.  I have done my fair share of professional keynotes and training sessions and had some success with professional publication.  But like many others, the advent of the ‘impact’ agenda as part of the process of having the quality our research evaluated, has spurred my thinking about how we present our ideas and research results to the wider public.  If I am truthful I have tended to shy away from this activity, consoling myself with the feeble notion that the worth of ideas is intrinsic and declares itself.  With such a state of mind, why did I go when it was not essential?  The potential payoff was twofold – first a chance to challenge myself and learn something about influencing public and policy debate with a view to the next Research Excellence Framework, and secondly a chance to catch a little bit of birdwatching in South East Asia.

So here are some reflections:

Can you summarise what you think is important  in a context within 3 or 4 sentences, in a way that an alert lay audience can make sense of.  In your head you have endless arguments, examples, complex concepts, favourite bits of research, jibes etc.?  But can you form that into a coherent message that an audience member can hook into?  You can judge for yourself how I did, if you listen to the recording …

I experienced two media formats, a panel discussion with four other panelists, and series of magazine interviews.  The second is far more comfortable as you get a chance to elaborate and develop points in successive questions.  In the panel format, to a degree you are in competition with the other panelists, partly for air time and partly in arguing your case.  There are many skills to be deployed such as catching the eye of the moderator, waiting for a tiny lull in someone else’s flow and getting in, connecting to what has been said by others, in agreement, disagreement or in terms of causation and, above all, making the audience laugh.

Other panelists

It was intriguing to read their biographies and meet them beforehand.  In my head one of them had a strong institutional line to follow, one had some done some homework (or had it done) so he had some facts to quote and a consistent line of argument, one was a very graceful ‘gymnast’ who could adapt and respond skillfully and one had an amazing CV that seemed impossible in one lifetime and a strong ‘IT’ message.  I had a few ideas about which ideas I could argue against or join in with.  The biggest challenge was the question of ‘coding’ about which there was to be a question.  At least 3 of the others were likely to be very strong advocates of coding, so what could I say that was not ‘anti-coding’ but put it in some fresh perspective?


On news programs and BBC2’s ‘Newsnight’ you do see a range of attire.  As a university representative, shirt, jacket and tie seemed expected and I had been given a university tie to wear.  I am not known for being the sharpest dresser, so should I buy new trousers?  In the end I didn’t – which was fine.  But I had not gone deep enough into my wardrobe deliberations, as after the first section of the program, the assistant floor manager whizzed up to me and asked me to ‘pull my socks up’.  I thought I had done OK so far, but it transpired that this was a literal rather than a metaphorical request as I was exposing a bit of skin between sock and trousers as we were in lounge chairs with no intervening table.  Note to self – long socks next time.


I am not a natural tweeter, and I have my excuses, but if you want to evidence impact then one of the pathways to impact is getting your message out there.  So I will be making a bit of an effort (honestly) as various interviews and the program itself comes out.  Despite suggestions to the contrary I am not going to be glued to my phone when I take the dog out.

And the birdwatching

I managed two trips, a half day to the wetland reserve, Sungei Buloh, on the north of the island and an early morning visit to the Botanical Gardens, which were wonderful and made the trip worthwhile.  I saw a large Monitor lizard swimming, a Stork (Asian Openbill) catch and eat a snake and over 40 species of bird including Brown Shrike, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Arctic Warbler and Oriental Dollarbird.

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