Working from Home at NUMed Malaysia

As part of our blog series where we share experiences, tips, and tricks of living and working during lockdown, Dr. Clare GuildingDean of Academic Affairs at the NUMed campusshares her experience of lockdown in Malaysia.

Tell us a little about your job role.
I am the Dean of Academic Affairs at NUMed Malaysia, which means that I manage the academic matters for the MBBS programme. I oversee the delivery of the teaching and the curriculum, support student progress and student wellbeing, and oversee the Student Association, as well as helping with staff development.

How did you find the experience of moving to working from home?
It was actually relatively smooth – being based in Malaysia, we already do quite a lot of video conferencing as we have regular meetings with the UK. It’s one of the things that we have found to be a positive – normally we would be the only ones video conferencing, which has sometimes been difficult to manage what with the sound quality and the rapport. Now, with everyone using Zoom, it’s a lot easier to communicate together.

Have you had to adapt your working day with the lockdown?
On campus teaching at NUMed stopped shortly before it did in the UK so there was a period of rapid adjustment for everyone to fully online learning. In the first week after lockdown we uploaded pre-recorded sessions and materials for the students, then began adding in live synchronous sessions as our online delivery skills improved. There has understandably been a lot of anxiety from the students, so we have been making sure to focus on student well-being. Our medicine degree program has a very structured academic mentoring system where the students meet their mentors between six to eight times a year, so these have been continuing. We also sent out a survey to all of our students to ask them about what kinds of things they had access to in terms of technology (laptops, cameras, internet connection), and we heard back from every single one of them.

How has lockdown impacted your daily life?
In Malaysia, we’ve been under something called a Movement Control Order, which from the 18th March closed almost all businesses and severely restricted movement. I’d been training for the Great North Run, so when all the gyms closed I had to start running outside which was difficult – daytime temperatures here can reach over 35 degrees with high humidity (and spiders hanging from the trees!). However, after 2 weeks it was made clear we were not even allowed outside for exercise, a ruling that continued for over 5 weeks, and I found this particularly hard.

The schools closed here in March, so my husband has been running the home-schooling for our 7-year-old daughter. I know a lot of people have struggled with home schooling but I’m lucky that my husband can manage this, and it’s actually been really nice to spend more time with the family.

Do you have any tips for people working from home during lockdown?
I would say that maintaining a routine is important. We have a team meeting every morning which I really value, as it’s vital to keep that kind of structure and check in with colleagues.

I would also say that people should give themselves time between meetings if they can: it would be ideal if we could all start meetings at 5 past the hour and end them at 5 to, so that we can have a transition period to pull everything together for the next meeting – or to grab a cup of tea!

Keeping Colleagues Socially Connected in a Time of Physical Distancing

As part of our blog series where we share experiences, tips, and tricks of living and working during lockdown, Cat Button, Senior Lecturer and Degree Programme Director of MSc Urban Planning, explains how the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape keep socially connected whilst physical distancing.

Many colleagues were sad about not seeing each other when lock down happened. In the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape we are a sociable bunch who like to see each other and meet regularly. Very quickly I formulated a plan to keep us in touch, crucially without increasing email. The simplest solution for us was MS Teams, as colleagues were quickly getting to grips with it and everyone has an account via the uni, meaning no new accounts or sharing of personal details like phone numbers. So instead of introducing a different platform I cobbled something together on Teams (There may be slicker apps, and I’ve heard other groups are using WhatsApp or Slack).

Now APL has a virtual ‘café-bar’ for staff and PGRs to meet, chat, share interesting links and set up social events. We meet on Zoom every Wednesday after work. Everyone brings a beverage (tea, wine, water, gin, whatever you like) and we have a chat. One benefit is that the drinks are cheaper than in a physical café-bar! It is much more child and pet-friendly too. In fact, turn-out to the online meet ups has been higher than when in real life. Perhaps it is a more inclusive type of social event, or at least a more accessible way to meet, or else people are needing it more.

It is lovely to have a social catch up with colleagues once a week, even when I’ve seen some of the same faces in formal meetings that very day. I know online meetings can be exhausting, especially due to the dissonance. It can also mean that more informal social interactions feel like work meetings. We have been having fun with virtual backgrounds and playing with snap camera filters in the social gatherings though. Personally, I try to do the social calls on a different device and in a different room to where I work in, but I know that is a luxury.

We have just had some new staff start in our school (recruited before lock-down). It is so nice to be able to direct them towards an online social space, that they don’t have to wait until we are back on campus to get to know us. It can never be the same as bumping into someone in the corridor and having an impromptu coffee, but it is good to still be able to have a chat!

NU Women/Wellcome Trust Reimagine Research Culture – Virtual Café

In January 2020 the Wellcome Trust shared the results of their Reimagine Research Culture survey – the largest ever on the experiences of research culture. A series of Town Halls took place across the country to hear directly from the different aspects of the community, but Wellcome were conscious that not every voice could be heard in this way – they developed a Café Culture kit so people could gather in smaller groups to discuss the survey findings, and propose solutions.

NU Women will be running these cafés virtually in order to inform how we can better support members of our community, and contribute to a more creative, inclusive and honest research culture at Newcastle. These are open to the whole NU Women community, regardless of area of work, role or grade – everyone contributes to research culture, everyone’s voice matters, and so everyone is welcome.

We are running two of these initially, at different times and different days to best accommodate people in different situations. We aim to host these in June and September to best capture the changes and challenges we experience as we emerge from COVID19, and the different ways we can be better allies of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Our first Reimagine Research Culture Café will be held on Tuesday 23rd June at 11.00-12.30 via Zoom. Please follow this link to register. There will be a maximum of 20 attendees at this event due to the virtual format – if you are unable to attend the cafe on June 23rd, or the event has reached its capacity, we encourage you to register your interest for future cafes.

Balancing Work and Care During Lockdown

As part of our blog series where we share experiences, tips, and tricks of living and working during lockdown, Elaine Lopez, Lecturer in Applied Linguistics and TESOL, shares her experience of working from home whilst navigating caring responsibilties.

Even under normal conditions, it’s hard to stop my personal life encroaching on my work. Whilst working from home during lockdown, it’s impossible. I’m the only parent to a child with additional needs, and childcare constraints mean I’m used to swallowing disappointment as I miss opportunities for out-of-hours networking and travel. Now it’s hard to even do the basics.

My son’s needs mean that routine is essential, so my new working day is structured – but there’s no doubt that it helps me too. We’ve made a colour-coded chart for our kitchen showing when we do things together and when I work. He’s with the Xbox and Netflix babysitters for a chunk of the day. I start work later than usual, finish earlier, take a long lunch, and don’t get through even the most essential tasks. But, 4 weeks into lockdown this routine stopped working. His behaviour and emotions were all over the place, and it was clear he needed more time with me. Now I try to start work while he sleeps, do a couple more hours in the morning when colleagues/students are also awake, and the rest of the day is his. He’s doing better which makes life easier, but it is a very temporary solution.

I’m barely home schooling as he can’t study unsupervised, so he’s falling even further behind in his education. I’m managing a maximum 4 hours a day of interrupted work – I know my students are missing out and my (very understanding) colleagues are picking up the slack. And don’t even mention research! I’m exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. Like many parents, I’m counting the days until I can work productively again. My job gives me a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment that, if I’m brutally honest, motherhood doesn’t. But as soon as schools fully reopen, I’m booking a week’s leave to just sleep, rest and recover.

Elaine Lopez, Lecturer in Applied Linguistics and TESOL.

NU Women Glasses Charity Collection

Following the great success of our NEST winter clothing drive, NU Women is now collecting glasses and sunglasses for donation to Vision Aid Overseas. Donated glasses will be recycled and the proceeds used to support the fantastic work being conducted in providing brand-new glasses and eye care services oversees. Any glasses cases will be passed on to charity shops in the local area.

Please drop off glasses/sunglasses/glasses cases to the donation box at the reception desk in King’s Gate (and thank you to the kind staff there for hosting them!). Donations are welcomed until March 15th.

NU Women’s winter clothing collection, and now this glasses collection, demonstrates our commitment and our goodwill to supporting local and global issues of equality, diversity and inclusion.  We welcome suggestions on future collections!

Gender Agenda @ Newcastle University

Last month, the Institute for Social Sciences hosted a research and networking event entitled Gender Agenda. The event endeavoured to highlight the vital gender research being conducted across all areas of the university, detailing the historical journey of gender concerns within the university and showcasing current gender research from all faculties and all stages. The event encouraged a dialogue on the need to foster collaborative and interdisciplinary connections across the university, and the importance of acknowledging and approaching gendered concerns in our teaching, our research, and our activism.

Continue reading “Gender Agenda @ Newcastle University”