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!

Finding a routine in lockdown

As part of our blog series where we share experiences, tips, and tricks of living and working during lockdown, Claire Hutton, Research Technical Team Lead, explains how she overcame some of the initial anxieties of lockdown by establishing routine and connecting with people.

I started as Research Technical Team Lead in January, and like everyone else I had lots of plans for the next few months. I really wasn’t prepared for working from home – I didn’t expect the University shutdown to happen as quickly as it did – and I felt like I’d been swept along in a bit of a tidal wave in that last week at work!

Luckily I have a work laptop, but doing everything on a small screen is challenging, and working via RAS (the remote working tool) isn’t ideal! I found the first couple of weeks really stressful – lots of emails from people looking for answers that I didn’t have. I’ll also admit that the idea of getting used to new software like Zoom and Teams made me pretty anxious! I have 2 boys aged 13 and 14 who were also suddenly at home and having to get used to doing work remotely. It all felt a bit too much.

I decided that having a routine would help, so we get up at a set time every morning and start work at 9am, with regular breaks through the day. I have meetings or “coffee time” with colleagues most days, as keeping in touch makes me feel less isolated – I’m a Zoom and Teams expert now!! I go into work once a week to flush taps, check on equipment and make sure there are no issues with the buildings – it’s strange that a trip into work feels like an outing these days!

One of the main things that is helping me is taking part in regular gym classes via Zoom, doing some exercise gives me a lift, and doing it via Zoom means that I get to see my gym buddies as well. I’m also decorating, cleaning and gardening to stay busy.

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.

Flexible Working as a Senior Academic in Lockdown

As part of our blog series where we share experiences, tips, and tricks of living and working during lockdown, Nicola Curtin, Professor of Experimental Cancer Therapeutics, shares an insight into how she has restructured her day to meet the demands of work while being at home.

Firstly, let me say I am in the very fortunate position of : 

  • Being a research academic who is no longer tied to the bench and loves just thinking  
  • Being over 60 so I don’t have to manage home schooling or cooped-up teenagers,  
  • having a house that is big enough for my husband and me to work in separate rooms (a necessity when we are both having Zoom meetings) and  
  • Having a garden to go out in when it’s fine. 

I am finding the lockdown fits pretty well with the way I work, allowing me the freedom to structure each day according to the weather to a large extent. Other than Zoom meetings there is no defined structure or length to my day. It makes no difference whether it is a weekday or a holiday my day will be a mixture of academic work, domestic work (pretty limited – I hate housework) and either gardening or having a post-prandial snooze in the sun (got to keep up my vitamin D levels). This is my favourite time of the year, when the trees at last have some lovely fresh green foliage and everywhere is looking so much more colourful. It has been lovely to have the opportunity to watch the birds – who’d have thought that a tiny wren could be so deafening.  

It isn’t all snoozing in the sun though, I have 3 PhD students and an MD student in their final year so they are busy writing theses and papers and 2 post-docs who are writing grant proposals and papers. We continue to exchange documents and have weekly progress meetings. I really enjoy sharing thoughts about the data, what it means, and how to make it an interesting story for examiners and reviewers. The zoom meetings are largely successful and sharing our screens means it’s actually not so different from our face to face weekly meetings. Without the distraction of getting the next experiment done it has allowed them time to really think hard.  We have been surprisingly productive so far with several papers completed and in various stages along the publication route. 

We have always had fortnightly lab group meetings with a presentation from one member of the group. Rather than 10 of us trying to squeeze into a meeting room these are now zoom meetings from each of our homes where other family members make an occasional (sometimes regular) appearance. It is rather nice actually, so I do hope that in the future we have a much more flexible approach to meetings and tolerate the odd interruption. Of course, it doesn’t always work and sometimes my husband has cut me off by sending a large document when I’m in the middle of a meeting. 

Meetings with groups outside of the University have continued too. Now at least I don’t have to get up at an ungodly hour to get to a 10.00 am meeting in London, so definitely a plus there. Scientific meetings have been cancelled, but they have been rescheduled as virtual ones – it will be interesting to see how that goes. If it works, it will be a lot less draining than travelling to America for a 3-day meeting, although the networking opportunities will be lost. 

On the domestic front, I do miss seeing my daughter and her family, particularly darling Freddie who is 2 and a half and just so delightfully entertaining. Thankfully, we have video calls several times a week. Our neighbours have a WhatApp group and share a lot of information (including photos of the postman, who is dressing up for the occasion) and the Thursday evening Clap for Carers has become an opportunity to reconnect and share seedlings etc. I miss my Zumba and dance classes too but our teacher has put them online. It’s not quite the same as being in class as I miss my weekly catch-up with friends there too but it still puts me in a good mood.  

I do miss seeing my students and staff face to face though and the casual contact for spur of the moment discussion of an idea or problem solving, or even just a good laugh (although we do manage a few of those in zoom meetings, particularly with the family interruptions). I also miss my daily walk to work across the Town Moor, the sky is so big and the sound of the larks is so cheerful. I don’t miss the cows though. I am so looking forward to walking in to see everyone. And getting my hair cut, but isn’t everyone? 

So to sum up, what has worked for me is: 

  • Scheduling meetings according to need, of appropriate length and at a convenient time of day. Enjoying the interruptions from children and pets, it’s an opportunity to understand others different circumstances as well as to support and motivate. 
  • Working according to my own schedule as far as possible. As long as the work gets done it really doesn’t matter when, it might be working furiously all Sunday or late into a Wednesday evening. 
  • Getting outside as much as possible and taking pleasure in looking at the environment. 
  • Having some quiet time just to think (not worry) and maybe re-evaluate priorities. 
  • Staying in touch with friends and family and making new friends with the neighbours. 
  • Thinking how great it will be when the lockdown is over, even if it won’t be the same as before.  

Maintaining positivity and connectivity in Lockdown

As part of our blog series where we share experiences, tips, and tricks of living and working during lockdown, Linda Robinson, Organisational Development Lead and NU Women Committee member, shares her story of neighbourly support and celebrating VE Day.

What are your memories of the Covid-19 pandemic back in 2020?  In years to come if I’m asked this question my response will be: ‘although it was a dreadful time for many, for me it was a time when I discovered I was surrounded by a wonderful group of neighbours’.

A few days after it was announced we needed to stay at home, I discovered a note through my door from one of my neighbours asking if I would like to join a neighbourhood WhatsApp group so we could keep in contact with each other.  Having this group has certainly helped us get to know each other – after 20 years of living at the coast in Cullercoats I now finally know the names of all my neighbours.

Since lockdown we have all been vigilant about staying at home but have been actively looking for things to do to keep us all from going stir crazy.  One neighbour made pom poms to hang from her garden tree, within a space of a few days she’d made some for every neighbour to hang outside – we’ve heard our street is now being referred to as the Pom Pom Street.

On Saturday evenings we all gather in our gardens for an ‘isolation disco’.  At 9pm Pride Radio play 3 songs for those having an isolation disco – so now on a Saturday evening there’s lots of bad dancing in our gardens and lots of laughter too. 

We held a ‘Stay in your Garden’ street party to celebrate VE Day on the 8th May.  We all dressed in 1940s style, organised a picnic, and played a few party games – all while remaining safely in our own gardens.  On the day we raised over £100 that we now plan to donate to the residencies of a local care home in Cullercoats.

Celebrating VE Day with a ‘Stay in your garden’ party

When this is all over, I will miss the pom poms and dancing with my neighbours in our gardens on a Saturday evening, but hopefully will be learning some new crafting skills… One neighbour has offered to start a ‘Street Craft Club’ in her new garden shed – which she’s managed to build since lockdown!

Linda Robinson, Organisational Development Lead

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”

Rattle Snake screening review

On 6th December 2019, NU Women participated in a campaign to show a recorded performance of Open Clasp’s gut-wrenching and game-changing production, Rattle Snake, to as many people as possible. Why? Because despite living in a country where discussions about domestic and sexual violence are happening more frequently, over one million women still experience some form of domestic or sexual violence per year – and these are only the figures we know about. 

Open Clasp is a charitable organisation placing theatre at the heart of transforming lives of disadvantaged women and girls through acts of collaboration. They campaign for change on an international, national, and personal level. They’ve won awards for their work, but most importantly they’ve reached out to and impacted the lives of 107,764 people to date.  

They’re incredible.  

From 25th November – 10th December 2019, Open Clasp made their live recording of Rattle Snake available online to demonstrate the signs, effects, and emotional upheaval caused by coercive control in personal relationships.  

Open Clasp performance of Rattle Snake

They bring to the stage the reality of women experiencing the often-hidden nature of domestic abuse through the emotive and powerful performance of two actors. In fact, I couldn’t believe there were only two women on stage – the emotion they put into showing the multifaceted reality of the women they represented was breath-taking. And when I say reality, I mean these are performances based on collaboration with women who have experienced the trauma of coercive control. Trauma that won’t  end unless we, as a society, are willing to look for the signs of such abuse and have a system that puts an immediate stop to it.  

The need to recognise these signs was further emphasised by Catrina McHugh, the Artistic Director of Open Clasp and playwright of Rattle Snake, as she discussed why she made the performance available for all – because there’s a need for further empathy about such situations as a society and within the judicial system. What really impressed me about the evening was the supportive and welcoming environment it invited in discussing the issues raised in the performance – it was inspiring to hear everyone’s response and engage with the production directly. 

Numerous letters and feedback by those who have been impacted by the performance are posted on Open Clasp’s website, showing just how important a role this performance plays in initiating discussion about coercive control. Not only that, but the play has been used in police training to make officers aware of, and recognise, the signs of domestic abuse, as well as to understand that you need to know the full story before judgement can be passed.  

Before we expect the situation around domestic abuse to change, we need to be willing to talk about it, and Open Clasp runs ahead of the crowd in working within communities to represent real experience and put it out there to campaign for change. 

Our ‘post-truth’ world and unconscious gender bias: Sally Shortall

truth-166853_1920Our ‘post-truth’ world and unconscious gender bias: Sally Shortall is the Duke of Northumberland Professor of Rural Economy, in Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy. She talks about unconscious gender bias in our post-truth world.


I have long considered my enjoyment of the weekend Financial Times as something of a guilty pleasure. My friends tend to associate the paper with right-wing capitalist sentiments but I have always found the quality of the economic analysis and international news coverage excellent. In particular, I enjoy the Life and Arts section to which many academics contribute on political, historical, and sociological matters. I am heartened by, and often quote, Noam Chomsky who has also lauded the Financial Times for the quality of its international news coverage.

At the moment I am immersed in a project for the Scottish Government, looking at the role of women in agriculture. I have been all over Scotland interviewing women and men about women’s role in agriculture, in farming organisations, and considering cultural practices that impact on gender roles on the farm. I have studied this question now for more than two decades, and I am struck by the huge strides in gender equality, combined with a seemingly contradictory continuing unconscious gender bias and outright sexism. I am analysing the data right now, so I’m constantly thinking about these questions. The other question I have researched in recent years is how knowledge gains legitimacy. Who decides what the truth is? We now have phrases like ‘post-truth’. Different versions of the truth vie to be seen as the correct one. This question, as we all know, is particularly pertinent in the current climate.

It was with delight that I picked up the weekend Financial Times, and saw that Tim Harford had an excellent article asking what we can do to champion the truth. He explains the problem nicely; it is in the interest of some groups to manipulate facts, and he gives the example of the tobacco industry going back to the 1950s. He presents some of the ‘problems’ with facts: they are boring, people can feel threatened by the truth, and an untruth can beat off a complicated set of facts by being easier to understand and remember. He reports that several studies have shown that repeating a false claim, even in the context of debunking that claim, can make it stick. Our memories fade, and we remember only the myth, because the myth was constantly repeated. He argues that one way to try and combat this problem is to nurture scientific curiosity. A group of prestigious social scientists has carried out research that shows those who are curious about the truth, and are motivated to seek it out and look beyond the repetition of a false claim, are those most likely to be persuaded by facts.

This was the first article I read last Saturday, and I then turned to the main section of the paper. I was struck by the headline on the front page that stated ‘Tesco boss fears white men on boards are “endangered”’. There was a further report on page eleven, with a title that repeats ‘Tesco chairman claims white men “endangered”’. The caption on that article reads: ‘Women from ethnic minority backgrounds are in a “propitious period” Tesco’s John Allan said’. Three headlines then: men are threatened, and women from ethnic minorities have the advantage. The text, for those who did read it, notes that John Allan is one of eight white men on a board of eleven. Tesco appointed half of the board slots it filled in 2016 with women, which meant that they went from having one woman on the board in 2015 to three in 2016, slightly more than 25%. The article reports that management experts do not agree with Mr Allan’s rosy assessment of UK board diversity. The article says that women account for only 29 per cent of directors appointed in the UK last year, the lowest proportion since 2012. Why, then, do these articles lead with false claims from Mr Allan? Tim Harford shows that the myth is remembered because it is constantly repeated. This is what has happened here – the false claim is repeated three times, and only to those who read the whole article will the counter-argument be clear. Tim Harford could have used this article as an example for his piece in the magazine.

There are two issues that concern me here. One is the constant repetition of a myth around John Allan’s statement. This is particularly troubling when a different section of the paper has an excellent article about the dangers of this type of presentation of reality. The second is the subliminal message which is, at best, an example of unconscious gender bias; there are no barriers for women, it is ‘in fact’ white men who are under threat.


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