All posts by Claire Louise

Meet the Leads – Anjam Khan

In order to help you get to know the wider EDI Team, we’ve been interviewing EDI Leads across the Faculty to find out more about them and the work they do within their roles. Our first interview is with Dr Anjam Khan, the Biosciences Institute Academic EDI Lead.

Tell us a bit about your background, and some of your interests and hobbies outside of work?

I was born and bred in sunny Manchester, it really doesn’t rain there as much as people say! I studied and worked at Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities. I came to Newcastle as a Principal Investigator – I had a five year plan but I’ve now been here for 25 years! It far exceeded my expectations, I love the University, the city, and most importantly I love the people of Newcastle. I’ve had opportunities to move elsewhere, but I’ve been hooked and have been here ever since.

I’m very passionate about research. My research in the lab is involved in looking at the mechanisms of how microbial pathogens cause disease in humans. I’m also interested in vaccine discovery. I’m Director of the Infectious Diseases Facility in the University and the demands of the role have snowballed in the present pandemic towards COVID-19 research, so it’s been really hectic and busy. SARS-CoV-2 fits particularly well with my research interests in vaccine discovery. 

As an academic I strongly believe in teaching, it’s really important to inspire, motivate and engage students, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, to show them your passion and interest. Captivating and inspiring the interests of the next generation and showing them the beauty of science is a crucial part of my role as an academic. 

In terms of my hobbies, I enjoy football. My father held a Manchester United season ticket since the late 1950s onwards and my family are all supporters of Manchester United. But guess what – I’m the blue sheep of the family, I support Manchester City! That’s caused lots of interesting interactions. I’ve been a lifelong supporter of Manchester City, before they had the money and the success they enjoy now. Cinema is also a strong interest of mine. I’ve got an eclectic taste in films and my favourite directors range from Alfred Hitchcock to Peter Jackson to Quentin Tarantino. During COVID-19, as the cinemas have been closed and new releases put on hold, we ended up subscribing to Netflix and catching up on a broad range of films, especially those that belong to the post-apocalyptic and dystopian genre like The Andromeda Strain or Contagion!

Dr Anjam Khan

What caused your interest in EDI, and are there any particular aspects that you feel most passionately about?

I strongly believe in social justice, where people are judged according to the criteria of ‘who they are’, rather than ‘what they are’. This passion stems from my own principles, but also from my background. I’m from a diverse ethnic Asian Pakistani background and I was brought up in a white working-class area of Manchester. I witnessed and faced racial discrimination first-hand and in different forms from my early years onwards. One thing that increased my acceptance or ‘street cred’ within my white peer group were my football skills. From playing in the school yard to being selected for trials for Manchester schoolboys and Manchester City Juniors, people saw I was good at football and they accepted me much more easily than if I hadn’t been good at football. I think those kind of ‘credentials’ put you in the in-crowd, but the key thing is that nobody should have to be good at football or something else to get accepted, they should be accepted for who they are and not exposed to prejudice because of colour or religion or ethnicity. Then, as a student in Edinburgh I observed sectarianism and how supporters of two main rival football clubs, Hearts and Hibs, were polarized based on religious divisions, belonging to the Protestant or the Catholic religions, and seeing the tensions that existed amongst some rival fans and supporters.

I think one of the key issues we have in society and the world globally is that people focus on differences; what makes me different from you, rather than looking at what people have in common. If people looked at what they had in common with others, the world would be a much happier place to be in. You can take it down to religion, to what city you’re from, you can take it down to which side of the street you come from. 

Through education, through knowledge and understanding, we could change people’s perspectives and I think that should really begin at home, then at school and so on. If you look at young children, they tend to be colour-blind. Children don’t see the differences we see as we get older, which is fantastic. I think we’ve got a lot to learn from the minds of young people.

What made you decide to take on the role of EDI lead? 

Biosciences (NUBI) is a new institute that’s been formed following a major Faculty restructuring and is one of the biggest institutes; there’s about 150 academics, with Professional Services and People Services Staff, and a large number of postgraduate students. The reason I applied for the role was that I’m passionate about social justice and equality for all. In my view, universities should be really bastions of EDI and I think if we are being sincerely self-critical, it is clear in recent years they’ve fallen short of that role. The Higher Education sector in general has dropped well behind where it should be in 2020. If you look at newly emerging companies and businesses in the commercial sector, such as new IT companies, biotech companies, they’re much more proactive in EDI and I think it’s been a bit of a catch-up exercise for universities that’s only really begun recently.

In terms of Newcastle, we’ve got positive histories in supporting black equality. Back in 1967 Martin Luther King was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University, the only university in the UK that awarded him that doctorate during his lifetime. In 2019 the University named a new building after Frederick Douglass, who was an enslaved Black man who became an abolitionist and spent time at Newcastle; he gave an anti-slavery lecture before he became a free man. There’s good history there, and reveals strong positive values on equality, but Martin Luther King was here in 1967 and that’s a long time ago now, and again, naming a building after somebody isn’t necessarily helping EDI per se within the University. When the EDI Academic Lead position became advertised, I applied for it, but the last thing I wanted was a ‘yes-no’ tick box system where we say, yeah, we do EDI, here’s a tick. I wanted to be proactive and involved in the process of promoting and embedding EDI within the culture of the University. I thought this was a great opportunity to contribute towards promoting EDI in the Institute, the Faculty and the University, and to make a genuine and positive impact.

Following the major Faculty restructuring, EDI appeared to become embedded and embraced in the new Faculty structures in a way I didn’t expect, and I was really happy to see that. Most importantly, seeing the wonderful commitment to EDI of my boss and NUBI Director Joris Veltman, and Helen Miller who’s NUBI Head of Operations, made me feel that I could get the key support needed to make changes if they were required, and have a real impact on promoting and embedding EDI within the university culture. We’ve also got some good people in place for guidance and support like, Malasree Home the Faculty EDI Officer, as well as the newly appointed Faculty EDI Directors Amy Reeve and Damian Parry, Judith Rankin the Dean of EDI, and Julie Sanders the Deputy VC, who’s leading on EDI and the Race Equality Charter.  Collectively we have a great team and I feel we can make a genuine difference at the Institute, Faculty, and University levels.

What are your main responsibilities as an EDI Lead? 

Key responsibilities include leading on Biosciences Institute EDI activity, including identifying, promoting and sharing best practice and effective initiatives. Ensuring strategies, policies and practices encompass all protected characteristics, as well as supporting Faculty level EDI activity, including Athena SWAN and reporting to Institute Executive Board and Faculty EDI Committee. 

It is vital to have representation across all sectors of NUBI and listen to a range of voices and perspectives to create more effective strategies for change. I have established and now lead a Biosciences Institute EDI Steering Committee to help promote and nurture a culture of EDI within the  Biosciences Institute. The  Steering Committee includes an Academic Lead, myself, but also Professional Services, People Services, and Postgraduate Research Student Leads. We now have two Postgraduate Research Student leads which is great because we’ve got a big PGR community. We wanted to have a cross section of the Institute on the committee, so I have approached the Research Theme Leads from the Institute to identify people that could be EDI representatives. I was really surprised at the passion and enthusiasm of so many people! Some of the younger staff, early career researchers and postdocs were keen to get involved, but they had no experience – they are now going to be mentored by more experienced people in those themes, and for some themes we’ve got two joint leads. In total as of yesterday, we’ve got 20 members on the steering committee! I’m really pleased with that because it means we can reflect across the different sectors of the Biosciences themes. The Biosciences Institute is based across six or seven different sites across campus and these representatives are spread across those different sites as well. From my viewpoint, the more voices we can have on the committee, the more perspectives we can bring in, the stronger and richer our committee will be. We will hopefully be able to engage all the Biosciences Institute in becoming active in EDI.

One of the other important tasks I really want to do early in this journey is create a website in Biosciences to promote EDI and include our mission and vision statements, useful networks and training opportunities, details of the composition of the Biosciences EDI Steering committee with contact details. If anybody’s got questions, they can easily approach somebody they feel comfortable to speak with. More importantly, I also wanted to have report and support pages. There’s an online form where you can give feedback either anonymously or by name, and say, “This is how we can make Biosciences even better for EDI,”. We’ve also got another very important online form, to allow people who feel they experienced or witnessed issues to come forward and confidentially report them to receive support. Alternatively, issues can also be reported anonymously. I think this feedback and reporting system is really important to enable us to capture any issues which aren’t coming through at the moment. People are very different, I think part of the EDI committee’s role is really to empower people to feel more confident to come forward and raise issues, and for us to demonstrate that those issues will be taken seriously and dealt with appropriately. These issues could be micro-aggressions or something more severe, and this is now an invaluable reporting mechanism to identify and support staff and students.

It’s been a very busy time now, especially sadly with the events in the U.S. and with tragic death of George Floyd. I’ve had a lot of concerned and understandably distressed Black postgraduate students and staff wanting support and help with race issues, and wanting to know how the University were going to address and support the issues raised. This was particularly important as we are in the midst of a pandemic which disproportionately effects the health of people of colour, and many students and staff felt isolated with no support. There are important actions now being taken across the University to address the important points and major concerns raised, and are being dealt with urgency.

Do you feel that you’ve had any prior roles or experiences to help you prepare for your role?

Sure, as I hinted before in my younger days I have faced and witnessed racial discrimination. I’ve also been a member of the University BAME steering group and have dealt with important equality issues. So I’ve got insights into how EDI is organised and operates in the University, and has also introduced me to various people in our University EDI teams who I can go to for advice.

What are the main things that you would like to achieve as an EDI Lead?

I think the University has made excellent progress in the last five to ten years on gender equality, receiving the Athena SWAN accreditation at Silver level. Looking ahead there are important objectives I would like to address. First, I would like to build upon the success of Athena SWAN and help contribute to take this to the Gold level. We also need to expand family-friendly and flexible working policies to support staff and students, and we have shown in the pandemic this can be done effectively.

Very importantly we need to broaden the EDI agenda and intensify the amount of work which is being conducted across other protected characteristics. This is especially true now with the alarming issues of race inequalities in society which have recently surfaced and have been articulated by the Black Lives Matter movement. We need to be totally self-critical of our approach and policies to race inequalities, and investing significant amounts of time and resources into addressing the concerns raised. We then need to have an action plan with measurable outcomes. The University have signed up to the Race Equality Charter, and now an increasing number of activities are being taken behind the scenes at the Institute, Faculty and University levels to begin to address race inequalities. These steps have already generated significant momentum in driving this objective forward.

Stress and anxiety have been witnessed at elevated levels in the Higher Education sector, from the undergraduates to the postgraduates to staff. I think that support needs to be delivered for mental health and wellbeing. There’s a lot more we can do – fortunately during the COVID lockdown the University has been quite active in promoting health and wellbeing – but I think this needs to be carried forward. If you look at the population structure across the UK, at undergraduate and postgraduate age cross-sections, the stress that’s reported is much higher in students than in other sectors of the population in the same age range. I think we need to find out what the reasons are for that, help educate everybody on those reasons, and understand how we can deal with these issues. I’d like us to be more proactive and provide support.

As the Director of the Infectious Diseases Facility, as Chair of the NUBI GM and Microbiological Hazards Committee, and as a PI working with microbial pathogens, training and monitoring staff and students in Health and Safety is a mandatory requirement. I think EDI training should also be given the same importance, as this can have a long-lasting impact on people’s lives, opportunities, and futures. EDI training should be made mandatory for senior management, for supervisors, for anybody who’s involved in the selection and promotion processes, such as for example unconscious bias training as it’s something that everybody is subject to. If you’re aware of unconscious bias issues, you can then compensate and make the necessary adjustments to reduce its negative effects, and be impartial and objective in every situation you can be.

At the same time, all staff and students should be encouraged to attend and participate in training courses on EDI. If you look at the University portfolio, there’s quite a few training courses you can do online. Staff and students should complete these, the same way as we do with health and safety courses. 

What do you think your favourite thing has been about the role so far?

Meeting the fantastic staff involved in EDI across the Institutes, Faculty, and University; and seeing their genuine passion, enthusiasm and commitment  to promote EDI. The Faculty EDI Officer Malasree Home has been great, and really helpful and supportive answering my many questions. That’s the thing I’ve been surprised with, it’s how many new people I have suddenly grown to know and be supported by in the University, as well as meeting new people who feel the same way about equality.

Is there anything that you hope to learn through this role or that you hope it will teach you?

In this role I have been continuously acquiring new knowledge on EDI. You keep your eyes and ears open to pick up new information, training courses, and reading about EDI initiatives in different sectors. It’s increased my knowledge and understanding of EDI, and also importantly given me insights into people as well.  I hope to learn from these processes and to engage all staff and students to proactively promote EDI across the university, as equality benefits all.

Thank you to Anjam for taking the time to speak to us and share his thoughts. To see a full list of the current EDI Team, click this link.

Women in STEMM: Ana-Madalina Ion

Earlier this week, the University joined WISE’s #1ofTheMillion Day campaign to celebrate over 1 million women working in STEMM roles in the UK for the first time ever. On our Twitter we shared insights from some women in the Faculty about working in STEMM, including from PhD student Ana-Madalina Ion. Ana wrote this blog about a special woman who inspired her to pursue a career in STEMM…

Hello! My name is Ana Madalina Ion (on the right) and I am a final year PhD student in the Faculty of Medical Sciences, Mitochondria Research Group. I come from Romania. I have a bachelors in Biochemistry from the University of Bucharest, and a masters of research from Radboud University, Nijmegen (Molecular Mechanisms of Disease). I did my master thesis in Bordeaux as an Erasmus student, on mitochondria protein degradation, and I liked mitochondria so much that I decided to pursue a PhD in this area.
I would like to introduce you to my inspiring woman in STEMM.

This photo was taken last year in the city of Suceava, Romania. Behind us is the Romanian flag and the statue of our 16th century king Stephan the Great.

The STEMM woman who has inspired me the most and has always encouraged me when I was feeling down is my mother (on the left). Her name is Carmen Angela Ion and she is an aeronautical engineer. She graduated from the Polytechnic University in Bucharest, the Faculty of Aeronautical Engineering, the specialization engines. She graduated in 1986, at a time when my country was still communist, and when the number of graduates was strictly correlated with the number of open positions. People were not allowed to go abroad and there were no private companies where to find jobs, so one could only work in the public sector. Therefore, each year, only a small number of students were accepted in a faculty, a number approximately equal to the number of opening positions. So, not many students were accepted at a faculty each year, and even fewer of them graduated.

My mother was one of them. She went for a ”men-oriented” university, and chose an even more ”men-oriented” specialization: engines. She recalls how when she would go to classes, she would count how many women she could see. My mother always loved maths, so when she went to the university, people advised her to go study mathematics and become a teacher. They would say that teaching is a more female-friendly job, that gives you more time for kids and a family; engineering was too tough for a woman. 

My mum didn’t care. I wish I could say I am proud of her, but as I have no contribution to her graduation, I can only say I am happy she did. It was tough, very tough, but she made it. She didn’t give up, she graduated, and now she works as an aeronautic inspector at the Romanian Civil Aeronautic Authority from Bucharest.

She did take a break to raise me and my sister. She started working again when I was 15. Being a mum at home was another fight for her, because everyone was expecting that she start working immediately after her maternity leave was over. She was judged for not giving me to be raised by my grandparents, for deciding to have another baby even if she didn’t have a salary. She didn’t care.

She was also praised by some intellectual women, which did not help me. One teacher from secondary school told me how grateful I should be to my mum, because she sacrificed her career for me and my sister. My teacher’s words haunted me a long while, because it implied that a woman can only choose one of the two: career or children. Growing up, I struggled understanding that women can have both. And when I grew up enough to talk to my mum about her choice, she told me that she simply didn’t want to miss us growing up. It was never a sacrifice, she never regretted it. She became a full-time mum for 15 years because she decided to.

My mum didn’t follow patterns that others have created for her. She did not give up when she was judged.  And that is very inspiring.  

As a funny ending, I would like to share with you a story. My mum has a female friend from the university, an aeronautical engineer in another city. One night, her friend was called in at her home because one of the passenger planes had a fault and she and her team had to go repair it. When she arrived close to the plane, the flight attendant lady, seeing a woman, asked her, “Oh, are you the catering?” (apparently the flight attendant had ordered some food). “No, madam”, my mum’s friend replied amused, “I am the aeronautical engineer. I came to repair your plane.”

I hope this made you smile. Women in STEMM are strong, smart and stubborn. Very, very stubborn. Thank you for reading.

Thank you to Ana for sharing her wonderful story with us – if you have a story to tell about an inspirational person in your life, we’d love to share it! Get in touch at fms.diversity@newcastle.ac.uk.

FMS EDI WEEK PROGRAMME: 24th-28TH febrUARY 2020

It’s back – FMS is holding its second Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Week, and we hope to see you there!

After last year’s success including the celebration of our Athena SWAN Silver Award, we are holding the Faculty’s second EDI Week for staff and students! We have a range of events lined up and listed below so that you can hear about the progress and ongoing work around EDI, and learn more about current issues that might be relevant to you.

Don’t miss out – take a look at what we’ve got lined up and book yourself in! We hope to see you at one of our events!

#FMSEDIWeek2020


Monday 24th February:

  • The EDI Strategy & Our Day-to-day Roles – 10-11.30am, FMS Boardroom
    To launch the week we’ll be hearing from a number of panellists within the Faculty and beyond, talking about how they would like to interpret and translate our EDI strategy in their day-to-day roles. Read more and register.
  • Multicultural Event – 12:30-2pm, David Shaw Foyer
    Organised by the Dental School, this event aims to celebrate our staff/student community by sharing presentations about the various cultures, faiths, traditions and foods within FMS. All are welcome to attend!

Tuesday 25th February:

  • Imposter Syndrome with Rachel Tobbell – 12-2pm, Leech L2.4
    This interactive workshop will explore the experiences of ‘Imposter Syndrome’: how it affects us, how societal pressures can exacerbate the problem, how such internal doubts impact on our lives and what we can do to manage those feelings. Read more and register.

Wednesday 26th February:

  • LGBT Lives – 12-2pm, Ridley Building 2, Room 1.58
    As part of celebrations for LGBTQ+ History month as well as EDI Week, come along and listen to a panel discussion with members of the Rainbow LGBTQ+ staff network as they delve into the day-to-day experiences of working and being LGBTQ+ at Newcastle and in HE. Read more and register.

Thursday 27th February:

  • Breakfast with Athene Donald – 9.30-10.30am, FMS Boardroom
    Join the Master of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, Athene Donald for this session, aimed primarily at ECRs and Fellows, in which you can discuss reconciling the risks of a contract-based research career with a long term vision of making a difference in academia. Breakfast included! Read more and register here.
  • Plenary with Athene Donald: The Art of Survival – 12.30-2.00pm, David Shaw Lecture Theatre
    As a longstanding champion of women in academia, Athene Donald will talk about her experiences and strategies developed during her career to help her succeed, and the value of passing on such knowledge to help others survive within institutions. Read more and register here.

Friday 28th February:

  • Personal Resilience: A taster session, with Lisa Rippingale – 12-2pm, Leech L2.4
    This workshop aims to provide participants with a range of tools and techniques to develop their personal resilience. Read more and register here.

Demystifying Leadership: Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Studies (Ruth Valentine)

Our previous student intern, Georgia Spencer, interviewed Dr Ruth Valentine as part of our Demystifying Leadership blog series to learn all about what the role of Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Studies entails.

What are your main responsibilities in your role?

I’m the Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Studies, meaning I support the Dean of Undergraduate Studies in shaping, developing, and enhancing the Undergraduate programme in FMS.

The most important part of my job is quality assurance, meaning I must ensure the programmes that we deliver are of the standard that they should be. A large part of my role is also strategic; developing new programmes, making decisions, and leading projects, so I often need to approach tasks with a business head. I also work with the learning and teaching staff to ensure a culture in which they feel fully supported and recognised.

The Deputy Dean position is my second role, and has been somewhat of an add on to my other job within the School of Dental Science. There, my research is in nutrient gene interactions, with a specific focus on zinc and fluoride.

What does an average day look like for you?

As I’m sure many others in roles such as these have said, there just isn’t an average day. As I essentially have two roles, my days are a mix of both, which has been difficult. I try to do two days a week in the Faculty Office, but I’m often juggling my commitments in each area.

Since stepping into the role, I’ve dropped some of my research, and officially I now just do teaching and scholarships, I’ve found that my responsibilities as Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Studies fit better with teaching than research. However, I do still feel like I do research, as my role is often like market research; investigating how to develop a great program through methods such as student surveys and reviews.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I love this role as it allows me to have influence at a University level, not just in Dentistry. I’m very passionate about widening participation and inspiring the next generation, and as Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Studies, I have been able to push for this across the whole Faculty. For example, considering how take home exams will work for those without internet access at home, and how the University can help to fund trips. I feel very proud of this and our widening participation numbers.

I also like that I’m able to check everything and be very thorough. I can look across the whole Faculty and see how certain areas can be improved. I can make sure I’m questioning everything, and asking the right questions, such as why we’re assessing students in a certain way, or if they like it. I find this really interesting, as I can be inquisitive about everything. The job also gives me a real sense of satisfaction when new programmes I’ve helped design are rolled out to students.

What do you feel you get out of your role?

Firstly, I feel like it gives me a platform to fight for the students and ensure that they’re being prioritised. I love that we can support them through schemes such as the Intu Scheme, for students who aren’t quite ready. This means we never have to compromise the quality of our degree programmes, and can be proud that they’re really good, but we can still give extra support to the students who need it to make sure everything is still fair.

What do you think is your biggest achievement in your role?

In the long term, I feel that championing widening participation and helping to eradicate the elitist attitude that has existed in Universities historically has been my biggest achievement, simply because I feel so strongly that this is very important. My role has given me a bigger arena to make a difference, which is such a special position to be in.

I’ve also loved introducing a new program, Dietetics, which starts in 2020. I feel that I got it through the Faculty and got it to the place where the DPD can create a fantastic course. It will be in the new building, with new kitchens and sensory booths, which is just great.

What made you want to apply for the role?

When I applied, I was doing an Associate Postgraduate Taught role and really wanted to learn more about Undergraduate, as well as expanding my influence to create change. Really, I just saw this role as a progression from my Postgraduate Taught role. As Deputy Undergraduate Dean, I still look after the quality assurance of Postgraduate Taught, so I continue have elements of my old job incorporated into this one.

Before I applied, I chatted informally with the Dean of Undergraduate Studies about the role and how it would impact my career development, which gave me a clearer view of whether the position was right for me. I was also helped to apply by my close colleagues. They encouraged me, supported me, and gave me the confidence to put my name forward.

Have you had any prior leadership roles or training opportunities that helped prepare you for this role?

I did the Leadership Foundation Programme for the Directors of Excellence in Learning and Teaching, where I found out a lot more about leadership. I was then put forward for the Academic Leaders Programme by the Faculty, which was a programme run in cooperation between Durham and Newcastle. I found this programme really helpful; especially elements such as the 360 feedback, and the small leadership sessions on coaching, which was a really useful technique that I’ve used since. I also was able to make valuable links with people in other Faculties and at Durham, including more senior people who were able to advise me. I also had mentorship from NU Women when I first took on my prior role.

In my interview for my previous role, I had to do a five-minute presentation about my vision for the role. No prompts. No PowerPoint. But I’d say this was a great learning experience, as it helped to show me that I can speak up and champion causes.

What have you learnt since starting your role?

I think a key thing its taught me is that I’m more of a strategy person and I don’t want to manage people so much. This has helped to confirm for me that I’m in the right role and on the right path. I’ve also reduced my research, which I never would’ve seen myself doing three or four years ago. This has really helped shape the direction of my career.

My position has also given me a lot of insight into the wider University as a whole. I never realised when I applied that I’d be involved with Kings Gate, for example. It’s allowed me to branch out and make a difference both across other Faculties, as well as externally at a national level.

What have you found more challenging in your role?

I’ve found time management difficult, because I’ve tried to do it all. But I’ve learnt from this that you simply can’t. Something has to give; you can’t do it all. But I feel like I’ve got the balance right now. I’ve accepted my own capabilities and I let go of my previous admissions responsibilities, which has given me more time. I’ve gained more confidence in saying no and have learnt to delegate.

I initially dreaded working on appeals. But I’ve learnt that I’m not that bad at them, and I’m proud that I’ve shown others and myself that I can do it.

How do you balance the role with your other commitments?

With two small children, it’s been important to have a really good attitude towards work-life balance. Even though no academic role is 9-5, really good time management during the day, as well as delegating to others, has helped give me my evenings with my family. I’m also very strict on not checking emails during holidays and there’s very little travel involved in my role, other than the occasional conference in London.

My line manager has also been very aware and very understanding of my family commitments. For example, with the University Education Committee which starts at 8am, she’s very understanding if I’m not able to get there for it. Sometimes, you just have to decide you’re spending time with your family.

When it comes to my family, my husband is very supportive, and we share everything completely. I’d like to be a good role model to my daughter by being successful in my career while balancing it with my outside commitments.

Thank you to Ruth Valentine for taking the time to speak to us about her role! We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the roles and responsibilities involved in being Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Studies (and a special thank you to Georgia for giving us such a wonderful series!).

Personal Histories: Adetunji Otemade

October was Black History Month, a month dedicated to celebrating black people in the UK. Through this Personal Histories blog series we hoped to honour our own staff and students at Newcastle by speaking to them about their interests, likes and dislikes and aspects of their culture, to learn more about their stories and histories.

For our fourth and final blog in the series, we had a very interesting chat with Dental Sciences Teaching Fellow, Adetunji Otemade to find out more about his interests, perspectives and career.

How did you end up in Newcastle?

When I saw the job application I was in the process of relocating to New Zealand actually, to work in New Zealand and well… things changed! I’ve always wanted to go into academia and obviously how I applied was a last minute thing, but I got the interview, got the job and it’s been great since then. I’ve always been around in the North East because I did my bachelor’s degree at Teesside University and went on to do my masters at Teesside as well, so I would consider myself a Northerner.

How did you become involved in your role?

I trained as a Dental Hygienist and Therapist and after my first degree I worked in practice for a while, then worked within communities. I’ve always felt a keen interest and a spark when it comes to research, so I went ahead and did a master’s in Public Health. When I finished my master’s degree I worked down south in London with an NHS Trust where I  was involved with various dental outreach projects which include dental care for the elderly in care homes, dental care for the homeless and primary school visits. After my master’s degree I wanted to do a PhD which was a reason why I was looking to go abroad, but then this job came up and I just feel it’s a perfect fit.

When it comes to pursuing a PhD degree or research in general, in our profession as Dental Hygienists and Therapists, we don’t necessarily have lots of people going ahead and doing PhDs – we do have a couple staff around here that have got their PhD and it’s actually following their footsteps and doing something worthwhile, but at the same time doing something that you enjoy and contributing to the profession as a whole. So yeah, it’s been a long journey; I actually started as a dental nurse back in 2007 which was when I moved up to the UK from Nigeria.

What are your main hobbies and interests outside of your role?

I love photography, and I do a blog – a men’s style, men’s fashion blog, just taking photos and writing about how to dress and stuff. Hopefully it’s still working because I can’t remember the last time I posted, with my workload and trying to balance that. I enjoy photography as well, grabbing my camera, going out and taking shots and pictures. But yeah, my main hobby outside of the University is basically fashion photography and blogging.

I love music as well and I’m trying to combine my love for music with the kind of research that I’m doing in terms of music therapy, or how music affects our brains when it comes to managing anxiety in patients.

What would you regard as your proudest achievement?

On a professional level I would say getting to where I am today; it’s been a long journey considering the background that I came from. I’ve always been in an academic environment as my dad taught at a higher institution before he retired, and my mum as a primary school teacher and eventually as a head teacher before she retired. However, it’s not been an easy journey. I had to leave university during the first year of my animal science degree back then. My reason for leaving was because I was young and dumb; however, the constant university strike that was rampant in the country back then did not really help either. I was lucky to have my aunty who happened to come over to Nigeria from the UK on a visit and thought the environment was not really ideal or working for me and made plans for me to come over, all of which only took about 4 months. So finding myself in this environment from somewhere where you’ve struggled in the past and it’s taken you loads to actually get to know yourself, to get to a place where you have a master’s degree and hopefully start your PhD… It’s a great achievement.

Aside from my work and academics I would say it’s having a family, having my kids.

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced?

It’s a difficult one, you know. In terms of challenges I would say looking back it’s been very difficult to climb the career ladder, so to speak, and I think it depends on the level that you are, for example if you’re starting from scratch.

In terms of my profession, being a dental nurse back in the day used to be mainly dominated by females so I’ve experienced sort of, like, discrimination along the lines. Things are changing now but we still have a long way to go in the UK and the world generally when it comes to making things equal for men, women, people from different races and backgrounds, sexual orientation and everything. Sometimes it’s very difficult to cope with the fact that you’ve lectured, you’ve taught students here, you’ve mixed with lots of people, and on your way home you still get racially abused. In 2019. So yeah, so that’s a very big challenge.

What inspires you?

Life. Knowledge. And self. I just see life as a journey, and I feel we need to appreciate knowledge and cherish it. Once you’re knowledgeable – well, you can’t know everything – but once you’re more knowledgeable it makes you much more informed and when you know your rights and you know what’s right for you then that can be moved through life, knowing that you know. And in terms of life, as we all live on this planet, we are all human beings regardless of where you’re from, your sexual orientation, religion and everything and as long as other people are happy then you can be happy. So that’s what inspires me, and seeing everyone achieving their full potential is something that I cherish a lot. I think that that’s what brought me to this role because you want to inspire knowledge and inspire the next generation of young kids who will go ahead and do greater things.

Can you give me a selection of your favourite things from your culture, favourite music, films, food, literature etc?

Food! Being a Nigerian man, we don’t joke with our food. So local food, I know lots of people talk about jollof rice and stuff like that, but personally for me, a food called iyan which is yam flour meal, pounded yam, or you have eba (made from cassava). I think they now call those types of food swallow – that was something I heard recently – I went to Nigeria last year but it’s been a while and things have changed since moving over here, emergence of these new things. So swallow is any food that is made like maize meal, cassava meal, those types of foods and you eat them with spicy sauce, vegetables and stuff with meat, fish; that’s a big thing. So food is very important and special. Then it’s just the culture, the music and swag; I don’t know if people are aware of it but African music is poppin’ right now. The likes of Burna Boy, Davido, Wizkid, Runtown, just to mention a few, are popular at the moment. So yeah, definitely the food and the music.

What do you think about when you hear “Black History Month”?

Obviously because my early education is not from the UK I don’t really know much about Black History Month, whereas if you ask my son or my children they will know as they’ve been taught. But having lived in the UK for quite a while now I understand that from a Western perspective Black History Month is basically to celebrate the achievements of black people in the UK, to look back and see how far they’ve come, the struggles and how far they still need to go as a community.

In terms of the context of Black History Month here it’s all about the achievements of black people through the Windrush and I think that’s the lens that we normally use. But as Africans, or western Africans we have a different history even compared to the Caribbean and everything. For example, as far as I’m aware in my family we’ve had great great grandparents or family members who migrated to the UK around the 1920s and there is little that we know about it – what I’m trying to say is that there’s lots of different ‘black’ history and I don’t know… To try and pull everything together and celebrate a month, I don’t think that works. But having said that, if that’s something we need to do for the purpose of equality which includes every race, then we just have to do it and keep working with it.

As a Nigerian I would say I don’t see myself as black and I have never seen myself as a black man until arriving in the UK. I am a human being who is fortunate to be born in the part of the world I was born. I just feel I’m now in an environment where we have these labels and systems. However, this is where we are now and in order to make a change and spread the message that we are all human then I need to make my voice heard. We have blacks, Caucasians – we’re all human beings. I think I’m at that stage where I’m still trying to understand why we have to have this month – what about people of Chinese origin, Asian origin – are we going to have history for everyone? But this is what we’ve got now so we’ve got to work with it.

Thank you so much to Adetunji for doing this interview with us – we are so grateful, and really enjoyed hearing his perspectives. And the music recommendations have not gone unappreciated!

That’s one of the best parts about celebrating one another and sharing our stories or ideas with others – you never know what you might learn, or the impact that a fresh perspective could have. We hope that you’ve enjoyed our Personal Histories blog series, and we would encourage you to get involved

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