Getting Involved with Teaching

Written by Dr Alan Brailsford, Postdoctoral Analyst, Analytical & Environmental Sciences

Working at a university with around 29,000 students it isn’t surprising that the prospect of at least some involvement in teaching will occur during our life as researchers at King’s, and for those of us keen to contribute there is no shortage of opportunities. However, teaching involvement raises certain questions:  How much time can we commit to? How will any extra workload impact on our primary roles (papers, grants etc)? What are the benefits of teaching involvement?

As researchers we are hardly short of things to do during the working day (and frequently beyond), therefore finding additional time to devout to teaching can be difficult. The best way to resolve this conflict would seem to be open conversations with our line managers, to establish what level of teaching commitment can be realistically achieved given our other responsibilities. Such conversations can of course occur at anytime, but perhaps are most appropriate during a PDR. Not only is this the time for current contributions to be acknowledged, but future teaching input for the year ahead can be agreed upon by both parties, and any compromises regarding other responsibilities made (after all, there are only so many hours in the day). For example, the teaching commitment can be outlined as either a percentage of work time, or total hours over the year, therefore taking into account the inevitable fluctuations in the teaching load. Activities can easily be recorded and monitored through the Teaching Database, which has improved over the last few years and something as researchers we should be filling in to officially record our contribution. Furthermore, it maybe that after taking into account your teaching load it is necessary to review other commitments, for instance getting an agreement to push back other deadlines, or to pass on responsibilities.

Given the inevitable impact on other activities it is important that any teaching contribution is both beneficial to the individual and recognised by the university. Personally, I enjoy the interactions with students and seeing them grow and improve of the year I spend with them is highly rewarding. Project supervision while time consuming can be great for getting small projects done that I never quite get round to. Teaching can also be used to gain additional qualifications such as the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practise in Higher Education, which not only helps your CV but is beneficial for anyone wishing to pursue a career involving education.

As for recognition, in the longer term universities are increasingly offering career progression based on teaching related activates. More immediately though, recognition needs to come from within the department to those making a contribution, and more widely from the faculty and university, something which I know is being reviewed by King’s at the moment.

So in summary, for those wishing to be involved in teaching, both the opportunities and the benefits are there. But to be maximised successfully time management and establishing realistic expectations and goals are important.

Creating a Respectful Workplace Culture

Written by Catharine Ramshaw, Athena SWAN Project Manager, Institute of Pharmaceutical Science and Analytical & Environmental Sciences

Bullying and harassment, which takes many forms, can have a lasting effect on our work and home lives and our ability to do our jobs, which is why it’s important that all staff are aware of what is unreasonable or inappropriate behaviour and where they can go for help.

Here in the Institute of Pharmaceutical Science we recently submitted an application for an Athena SWAN award. Our application evidences what the division is doing to embed principles and practices of equality, support and development for all staff and students, with a focus on women as throughout the UK they continue to be under-represented in senior academic positions within STEMM.

In the course of writing our application and producing our action plan, we took the opportunity to really delve into the culture of the division and look at what we could be doing to ensure that attitudes and behaviours were conducive to a cohesive and supportive working environment. We wanted to ensure that line managers were aware of what they needed to be providing in terms of support for staff and PhD students, that expectations on people’s time and capacities were reasonable and that communication was clear and respectful at all times. Similarly, we wanted to make sure that staff and students knew where to go for support or recourse if they felt that these expectations weren’t being met, or if they had concerns that they couldn’t share with their line manager or supervisor.

So we have organised a series of trainings throughout March for all staff to attend which will workshop some of the issues that staff and students might experience in their roles, and reinforce the principles of what is appropriate, respectful and  supportive behaviour. Through looking at some of the different scenarios which people may face in their place of work and study such as inflexibility around workload and life balance, over-demanding expectations and poor communication, the sessions will help staff work through what behaviours are appropriate and what courses of actions and styles of communication are most helpful.

We also wanted to make sure that if staff were encountering issues, and felt that they couldn’t speak to their line manager or supervisor, that they were aware of what avenues were open to them and where they could find support and advice. So a small team of volunteers within the division in professional services, academic and research roles have been trained by Acas (the UK Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) to act as confidential, impartial advisors. They have a dedicated email address where they can be contacted confidentially and we will be advertising their presence widely throughout the division.

It’s our aim that with this two pronged approach of awareness and support we will ensure a culture of respect and support, and that all staff and students will feel confident in discussing issues affecting them and seeking support when needed. We will be doing a follow up survey later in the year to ask staff and students how they feel about the actions we have put in place and will continue to learn from feedback about what further actions people would like to see and what support they would like to receive.

Taking a Stand

Written by Debbie Epstein, Diversity & Inclusion Manager 

One way to help create a culture where everyone has a common understanding of the standards of appropriate behaviour and behaviour that will not be tolerated, is to become an active bystander.  An active bystander is someone who observes unacceptable behaviour and takes steps to make a difference.  They assess the situation, decide what kind of help, if any might be appropriate, evaluate options and choose a strategy for responding.

This type of action sends a strong signal of solidarity to the person who is on the receiving end of the behaviour, and indicates to both parties, and any witnesses, what you consider to be acceptable conduct.  The behavioural norms can shift, if a core number of people have a common understanding of what is acceptable, as the group effect means any outliers will be discouraged from stepping outside these established norms.  Research, mainly conducted in the US, shows that where comprehensive active bystander training and interventions have been put in place, to help reduce the incidence of sexual harassment and violence on campus amongst students, these have been effective.

So how can we be active bystanders and stand up to inappropriate behaviour that we and others experience?

Key steps to take when assessing potential situations:

  • Is the behaviour unacceptable, does it have the ability to cause offense, make someone feel uncomfortable, awkward or humiliated?
  • Can you play a role?  What are you hoping to achieve, is someone else better placed to step in?
  • What are your options?  See below for some suggestions
  • What are the risks to you and others?  Are they worth taking, how could they be reduced?
  • Should you act, and if so now or later?

Active bystander strategies

Below are some suggested approaches, but there will be others.  It’s important not to put yourself or others at risk through the action you take, so use your judgment and common sense and take advice if needed.  You can find more about each of these strategies here.

Strategies in the Moment:

  • Name or acknowledge an offense
  • Point to the “elephant in the room”
  • Interrupt the behaviour
  • Publicly support an aggrieved person
  • Use body language to show disapproval
  • Use humour (with care)
  • Encourage dialogue
  • Help calm strong feelings
  • Call for help

Strategies after the Fact: 

  • Privately support an upset person
  • Talk privately with the party who has committed the act

King’s Diversity & Inclusion Team has started to adopt the active bystander approach in training that is offered to students, and from September 2017 all students will be encourage to participate in an on-line module which includes a focus on active bystander strategies.  Work is currently being undertaken to assess how to make consistent the reporting, support, policies and practices covering bullying and harassment for staff and students, so that provision builds on the already successful and nationally recognised It Stops Here Campaign.

Content for this posting was taken from here.

Further reading:

http://www1.uwe.ac.uk/bl/research/interventioninitiative.aspx

A Review of Evidence for Bystander Intervention

Challenging Bullying at work

Written by Dr Amy Birch

Bullying can affect staff at every level of institution and from all backgrounds. It involves a misuse of power, and is often perpetrated by managers against staff over whom they have power. There is no statutory definition of bullying, but is defined by ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service as behaviour that:

  • Is offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting
  • Is an abuse of power,
  • Uses means intended to undermine humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.

The higher education environment encourages discussion, debate and critical appraisal. However, this may lead to a situation where behaviours that undermine individuals are more easily justified, whether consciously or unconsciously. Competition within academia, not least the “publish or perish” mentality, and increased workloads may also lead to a culture that masks bullying and aggressive behaviours as affective tactics as high internal competition. However, being aware of these behaviours and feeling confident to challenge them can help to educate all staff that this is not tolerated.

How can you beat bullying at work? Below are some tips of what to do if you face bullying at work:

  • First, don’t blame yourself and do not ignore it – this will only make you feel worse.
  • Keep a record of all events; along with all evidence of negative acts (e.g. email/written correspondence) and any witnesses – if you have a work diary, it is helpful to write specific instances on the days that they happened.
  • Keep a record of how the events are affecting you – how does it make you feel? How does it affect your mental, physical, and emotional health? Does it have any impact on your family/social life?
  • Seek an informal resolution early, where possible – sometimes it is possible to ask the perpetrator to stop. They may not recognise that their behaviours are inappropriate and this may provide a quick and effective resolution. It may be helpful to write down what behaviours you find offensive (avoiding emotive and general comments about the person), what effect they have on you and how you would like this behaviour to change. If appropriate, take a friend or union representative with you but it is advisable to let all parties know that you are going to do this in advance.
  • Discuss your situation with your support network within and outside work:
    • Talk with your local HR advisors, staff representatives, or diversity and inclusion champion
    • Contact the Employee Assistance Programme; this is a service that provides independent, free, confidential advice and guidance on a range of practical issues for staff on both home and work concerns. This service is paid for by King’s College London and is free to all employees.
    • If you are a member of a union, seek advice from a college representative. There will be formal and informal procedures for dealing with the situation. The decision on how to progress rests fully on you; however, it is important that the union is aware of any incidents involving their members.
    • Support is also available from charitable organisations: Mind can offer support via phone (03001233393) and email (info@mind.org.uk). Samaritans are available to talk 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by calling 116123 on any phone.

FoLSM Bullying & Harassment Awareness Month

Written by Dr Ah-Lai Law, Diversity & Inclusion Champion in FoLSM

I am the Diversity and Inclusion Representative for The Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine (FoLSM) whilst working as a postdoc at the Randall Division.  My time working in different academic institutions has helped me recognise that research staff work in a unique environment. The academic environment is not less or more stressful than a job in industry or in the corporate world and is not less “real”. Quite simply, the stress is different. Most of us are in academia because the research is interesting and it engages our minds. We never stop thinking about the research we do and our research becomes part of us; perhaps similar to nurturing a child and wanting your child to succeed. We often work self-inflicting hours to achieve deadlines and to get the result we want. Hours spent getting an experiment to work is soul draining but when you do succeed, the reward of the euphoric feeling of  gaining new knowledge is immense and addictive and makes the constant battle with the peaks and troughs  worthwhile. This drive we have makes competition fierce. This, I feel has, helped develop a culture where working long hours are normal and sometimes even expected of you. The competitive environment also adds to the pressure. Most of the time, the pressure is manageable but sometimes this pressure turns into behaviour that is bullying and harassment, which perhaps was not even intentional.

The Research Staff Network (RSN) representatives recognise that bullying, harassment and discrimination exists and this can occur across many different levels in the academic hierarchy and these unwanted behaviours come in many forms. The FoLSM Bullying and Harassment Awareness month is a campaign to
help raise the awareness of bullying, harassment and discrimination and to offer sources of help and advice.  We have put on two repeating events: Monday 20th March: 12-2 pm at Guy’s and Tuesday 28th 4-6 pm at Waterloo to help us understand what to do and how to deal with bullying, harassment and discrimination.  These events will also help us to understand more about the different problems people experience so that we can change existing unwanted behaviour. My role as Diversity and Inclusion Representative is to listen to your views, problems and suggestions and relay this back to the decision making heads to better our work place environment and make it a place that is inclusive and supportive to allow everyone to thrive.

If you are interested in similar events being held within your faculty, please contact Dr Amy Birch at amy.birch@kcl.ac.uk

Ah-Lai Law is a postdoc in the Randall Division. She is currently the Diversity and Inclusion Representative for The Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine and is a member of the Faculty Diversity & Inclusion Steering Group and Kings Harassment Working Group. Ah-Lai completed her PhD at UCL and joined Kings after her first postdoc in Paris. These posts have provided her with experience in a variety of research environments and a clear understanding of the obstacles often experienced by research staff both in their native country and in a foreign country. Ah-Lai enjoys running and the arts in her spare time.

 Poster 3  28-02-2017