What has the UCU strike done for me?

At the University of Stirling we are two days into the UCU strike and it has made me realise how much of my time, even at home, I spend thinking about and doing work. In fact my first response to a possibles strike was “hurray I can get some research done at home” but  Peter Matthews  eloquently blogged last week about what it means to be on strike.

He (rightly) says

“Academic reading while on strike means you are doing academic labour, have crossed a picket line and are a strike breaker.

Academic writing on strike means you are doing academic labour, have crossed a picket line and are a strike breaker.

Preparing that grant application on strike means you are doing academic labour, have crossed a picket line and are a strike breaker.

Ploughing through your inbox to clear it while on strike means you are doing academic labour, have crossed a picket line and are a strike breaker.

Preparing slides for a talk while on strike means you are doing academic labour, have crossed a picket line and are a strike breaker.”

But that leaves me wondering what I am supposed to do- and that means I have seriously got my work/life balance wrong. I should, of course, go and join the picket line but the key focus of picketing in Stirling is in the morning when I am dropping off at school so I have not made it yet. Yesterday I went for a walk, caught up with the ironing and got on top of paperwork for the groups I do voluntary work with. I also phoned the Doctors which I have been meaning to do for about 6 months and booked myself in for a smear test. Amazingly that was scheduled for today so that was one activity today although I have also made soup, scones and banana loaf.

So, I’ve have made a couple of positive health moves (if you ignore the scones and banana loaf) but I am really itching to send the emails that I keep remembering I need to send, do the paper rewrite I was meant to be doing this week, do the project marking that needs to be done for two different modules and tweet about things other than the strike. This has opened my eyes to how much time I spend thinking about work and trying to keep on top of it and there is nothing unusual about me, I am sure there is a country full of academics who feel the same.

Things are only going to get worse though, if there is no resolution to the strike then even when I am in work then it is “action short of a strike” which means working to contract and therefore no voluntary activities. For me that means no Science Fair in March, no Pint of Science in May, no reviewing the paper which needed reviewing by last Friday, no handling of the paper that has just been passed to me as an associate editor of a journal. I cannot organise the Primary Enterprising maths competition I had planned for June. Probably no involvement in research week in May? I don’t know, there are grey areas and decisions I don’t want to make. I do all of those things because I think they are important and I enjoy them. I think they make me a “good” academic and enhance the University’s external profile. Most of those activities are about encouraging the next generation of scientists and getting more girls into STEM, things which I think are essential. I can, of course, mark those projects, write that paper, work on grants and do the work I am contracted to do.

Perhaps my issues are exacerbated by being a parent from which it feels like there is never down time (!) but I tomorrow I might light the fire, put a film on and start to work on training myself not to think about work all of the time. Of course I need to write that quiz for the school fundraiser in March………




Research communication

After some recent reshuffling of the departmental “cabinet”, I am excited to have picked up some new responsibilities and opportunities within the Department of Computing Science and Mathematics. These include “research communication and outreach”. This involves public engagement activities like the Sciencegrrl events we have previously organised, the Scottish Maths week activities we are planning in September and the Faculty Challenges or our Time lecture which is planned for the 20th September.

It also includes ensuring that we are raising the profile of the research that we do across the department. I am therefore running a session on research communication tomorrow. This blog serves as an illustration for part of that session, but is also an excuse to discuss the sorts of things I think we ought to be doing.

Traditionally the way we academics publicise our work is through peer reviewed papers and conference presentations. In order to achieve impact from that work and to influence other researchers then we need people to read and cite those papers or to be in the room when we give talks.

Whilst we still need to focus on publishing in the right journal and attending appropriate conferences, these day social media is an excellent way of letting people know that our work is out there. In addition to citation rates we now have altmetric scores which indicate the influence of our papers and how widely read and used they are. We can also use Kudos to give simple explanations of our papers and promote them through twitter Facebook, or LinkedIn.

Personally, the main social media platform that I use is twitter (@AFSRachel) which I find a really useful way of finding out about grant calls and research  in my area. I also use it as a way to promote work which is going on in the department.

From a departmental point of view we now use a number of different outlets to let people know about our activities. We have departmental twitter and facebook (@csmstir and https://www.facebook.com/StirUniCSM/ ) a news section on our departmental webpage (www.cs.stir.ac.uk)  and a new Faculty newsletter (https://stir.app.box.com/s/xrwtmnzqz9nxjm4m3u783csfb8967ohn ) all of which give us an excellent opportunity to share news with internal and external academic colleagues as well as local schools and businesses.

I will also be encouraging colleagues to write blogs (perhaps contributing to the Research and Innovation Services blog) and to write for The Conversation (https://theconversation.com/uk) both of which I found to be a really interesting way of presenting ideas.

So, hopefully the session tomorrow will encourage some of my colleagues to get more active in promoting their work and they will get more recognition for the excellent and exciting research which they are carrying out.







Facing the dragons

This morning I gave a 5 minute pitch on behalf of  our Global Food Security research team at the University of Stirling’s Dragon’s Den event. In the end it was a great event, it was really good to see all of the exciting research going on in the University and the Dragon’s were very generous. They gave a mix of resources we had asked for and some interesting ones we had not thought of. Our bid received many of the resources we requested and overall it was a really positive experience for us. However, I was very nervous about the whole thing in the run up to it.


The call for Interdisciplinary research themes and ideas to be pitched to the Dragons came a few months ago and we were keen to put a Food Security bid together. However I know some people who were not confident about giving a pitch and let that put them off getting involved. I have been thinking about equality issues for a while now and am aware of Imposter syndrome. There is also evidence that women are less likely to put themselves forward for things unless they are completely confident in them. I therefore try to look at the opportunities that arise through that lens and have definitely taken on tasks or roles recently for which my immediate response was that I am not qualified/experienced enough to do that but which in reality I can do.

In this case I actually have quite a lot of experience of giving public lectures and public engagement so have experience of presenting my work to non experts, but that feels very different when you audience are Dragons! As it was the University provided training which was really useful, particularly in terms of helping develop the structure of the pitch and encouraging me to have a draft of the pitch much earlier than I would if left to my own devices. I also did a practice run and got feedback from the rest of the team which was incredibly helpful and they were very supportive. Most importantly I practiced the pitch a number of times, making sure that I could get through everything in the strict timeframe and that I was confident in the flow of the story.That meant that on the day, although I was very nervous, I at least felt prepared. In the end the Dragon’s were very positive-  in my imaginings before the event they had stood up and pointed me out as a fraud, or asked me scathing questions- but that did not come to fruition!

I did mess one question up- for the record John, Stephan Dombrowski is part of the team and his expertise is behaviour change -I am sure he already works with Ronan!

I guess there are two messages to take from this experience. Firstly the Dragon’s Den was a great event and I would encourage other people to take part if the opportunity arises. Particularly since we got some excellent resources which will really help us move our research forward. More generally, if you are the type of person who shies away from these sort of  activities, think about whether you could  take a deep breath and push yourself out of your comfort zone (ideally with a fabulous team to support you like I had). You never know, you might enjoy it!



The Fishbox factor : Online delivery service shown to encourage more frequent and diverse seafood consumption

We have an exciting day coming up at the University this week as our November graduation takes place and it is an especially proud day for me and my Aquatic food Security colleagues as we celebrate the success of the first student graduating from our MSc in Aquatic Food Security. So, only one this year, but we have two on the course at the moment and  a few good applications for next year already so I am sure we will continue to grow. Especially as awareness increases of food security in general and of the important role that seafood plays in that big picture.

Our graduating student is Nada Bougouss from Morocco. The University has included her as one of their graduation case studies so you can read more about her here.

What I wanted to blog about today was her project on seafood consumption. I am currently working on a project funded by an Interface- administered Innovation voucher with a company call Fishbox.


Fishbox is a seafood subscription service in which fresh and seasonal fish is delivered straight to your door. The process involves, customers choosing their loves, likes and dislikes from amongst 80 products, Fishbox sees what is fresh and in market and, based on customer preferences, sends an appropriate box. I am a Fishbox customer myself and a big fan of their service particularly because it has broadened out the types of fish that I eat. In Nada’s project she did a survey and compared people buying fish from local Stirling Supermarkets with those using Fishbox.

The survey showed that more than 95% of  Scottish Fishbox respondents (total of 272) buy Fishbox because of the freshness/ quality as well the origin of fish and seafood. Customers are also encouraged by the convenience of the delivery service and the  diversity of species received. The vast majority of respondents concurred that Fishbox encouraged them to diversify their seafood choices and half agreed that it boosted their eating and cooking confidence. A large proportion of respondents said that Fishbox encouraged them to look for responsibly sourced fish/seafood and that they seek local produce.

At the same time the  local survey of seafood consumers in Stirling (albeit from a much smaller sample 22) found that convenience, taste/texture and health benefits are the most important factors in their seafood purchases.  Sustainability and origin was much less important to these consumers, with far fewer respondents citing this as important compared to the Fishbox customers (23% vs 96%).

Of course what we cannot determine, from this project, is how much of this is because people who use Fishbox do so because they are already interested in sustainable sourcing and local food and how much their views are changed once they become customers. However, it is clear that Fishbox customers eat a wider variety of fish as a consequence of being their customers. This is encouraging because it  means that by offering the right opportunities we could help people to eat a wider variety of fish species which would make seafood even more sustainable overall. Perhaps in subsequent projects we can work out how to do that for the wider population.

Introductory blog post

This blog is a place where I can discuss Aquatic Food Security issues. I have already written blogs for other people. My first blog was for Fishbox, a company I work with,  on what Aquatic food security is. My next blog was for the Global Food Security blog on a series of workshops we held, funded by the Scottish Universities Insight Institute. This blog was on the links between terrestrial and aquatic food production systems and the problems they share. We also produce a short video for these workshops which can be found at the following link

SUII video

My plan for this blog is to discuss the activities and ideas of the Centre for Aquatic Food Security at the University of Stirling.

I am also chair of the Institute of Aquaculture Athena SWAN committee and enjoy public engagement and am chair of the Stirling branch of Sciencegrrl so will also blog about them. As a start here is a short video of the audience response to the Science cabaret we ran earlier in the year.

You can also follow me on twitter @AFSRachel and my email is r.a.norman@stir.ac.uk.