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When I heard the Science of Happiness course was being made available, I was immediately curious. Not only did Bruce Hood’s course offering provide the prospect of doing something to cheer me up during lockdown, but because I’ve spent the past year admiring the authentic learning techniques used in the Bristol Futures course. However, I had my reservations, with over 700 students and only 4 weeks can this really improve my happiness? Either way, I had the time to try.
After the usual technical difficulties, the lecture began. Personally, I am not the biggest fan of watching things online and unlike many student’s RePlay has always baffled me, but this lecture actively encouraged you to engage. Using the chatbot rather than being asked to raise your hand/ turn on your video and microphone made it feel safer to ask questions. I was less afraid of asking a stupid question, or of my video freezing at a comical moment (the new reliance on technology does not suit my decrepit laptop). We were also encouraged to use the chatbot for just that: chat. Hearing about where people were from and what they were feeling grateful for made it feel more like I was in a room of likeminded people rather than staring at blank screens.
From an authentic learning standpoint, the Science of Happiness really glows, particularly in the way that it is ‘assessed’ (as an optional course it is not credit bearing assessment). Before setting our weekly task, Prof. Hood provided an entire slide about WHY we should be doing these tasks and HOW it would be helpful for us. This is always something I have struggled with at university, being set tasks that at the time feel arbitrary and I am unsure about what their purpose is or the skills I am developing. By explaining it simple terms why we should be doing the task, it made me look forward to doing it, and excited to see the possible results.
From the perspective of a student in lockdown, I was excited to see the blending of synchronous and asynchronous teaching. Again, with a decrepit laptop and dodgy internet connection, the interactive seminars were not always in my favour, so the opportunity to reflect on the course in my own time by completing small daily tasks was appealing. Similarly, a big part of this course seems to be about reflection: on your day; on your experiences; on your relationships. I am also applying this to my learning outside of this course with the hope it might become a valuable ‘Way to Wellbeing’, particularly in a time when it is easy to wish things were different.
All in all, I’m looking forward to the rest of this course, and who knows, maybe it’ll make my life in lockdown a little bit happier.
As forewarned, my hedonistic adaptation kicked in slightly this week, and although I noticed a significant change in my mood shortly after the first lecture I have now noticed it drop back down to normal; external factors may have come into play with this week being full of deadlines. Nonetheless, the homework, write 3 things that went well in your day has been making my evenings far more pleasant, and I have been able to savour the little things much better: sitting on the grass with my dog, really good bread etc. Also, by doing a little bit of asynchronous work each day (8-10 minutes) I have really stayed engaged with the ideas and concepts behind the lectures.
This week for our homework we are to write a gratitude letter expressing our thanks to someone close to us and READ IT TO THEM. While I see how helpful this would be, I would be lying if I said that my inner Stiff Upper Lip is battling against my desire to try and reach a new level of sustained happiness. We will see, I have the feeling that with the right amount of nervous laughter and self-deprecating jokes I will manage to stutter the words out.
One aspect of the lecture that really changed the way that I am currently viewing lockdown is the idea of ‘Focalism’: being obsessed with one thing and thus being unable to see the context and situations that go on alongside it. This is easy to do with university at the best of times, focusing so hard on the stress of impending deadlines that you fail to see any of the positives going on around you. Lockdown puts this into hyperdrive, and I have previously spent days absorbed in the news, not focusing on the fact that the weather’s been lovely in England for almost eight weeks or that the lack of dog groomers means that the family dog now resembles a pompom made by a very young child who has not yet mastered their motor skills.
This week was on mindfulness. Not to sound too colloquial, but mindfulness is my jam. I love yoga and meditation and am a full believer in breathwork, chakras, EVERYTHING. I greatly enjoyed the homework and the five-minute meditation session mid-lecture. For any two-hour lecture, I would say this is a must halfway through. A lot of the lecture this week focused on the impact of exercise on mood, and while I think most people know that, I was surprised to find that the reasoning behind this was not the endorphins released (although I’m sure that helps) but a routine. By committing a bit of time each week to something it gives us structure, which in turn makes us feel more purposeful and ultimately, happy.
The final week was on goal setting, and I am beginning to see the benefits of going through all the studies which initially while I enjoyed as they are interesting examples, thought they detracted from the core content. This course has not told me anything I didn’t already know; diet, exercise and sleep are important and through reflecting, mindfulness and gratitude you can feel more fulfilled, but it has allowed me to understand all of these concepts on a deeper level and empathise with my past self about why I may have failed to do these things in the past and imagine the obstacles that may stop me doing it in the future.
Pedagogically, there were also many aspects of the course that I really enjoyed. The variety of homework was something that I really relished, and it was enjoyable having a distinction from week to week. In a lockdown exam context, it helped to break up the monotony of essays and gave me something productive to do each day. Furthermore, while I was not very good at keeping up with the Nudge app, the fact that I had a medium to contact my lecturers without logging on to blackboard and my email, meant that if I was having problems with any of the tasks I could contact them in a less formal manner than logging on to blackboard.
I guess the ultimate question is, am I happier because of taking the course? For anyone who knows me, I’m a pretty cheerful person anyway, so I’m not sure my happiness has gone up drastically. However, I have noticed significantly less ‘bad days’, and my ability to cope with these bad days has felt more conscious as if I am equipped with strategies to do so. Similarly, I feel like I’ve been able to appreciate the good days more and be a little bit more present in moments of enjoyment. In short, I am a believer, and would strongly recommend anyone and everyone to enrol on this course in the future.
This might not seem like a time of opportunity. Everything is cancelled or postponed, and it seems like our worlds are shrinking (both metaphorically, and physically – something I’m acutely aware of as I’m currently working out of my dad’s bike shed). But there’s a chance here to take a huge stride towards something the university has been inching towards for some time. And it’s more than just a chance – I think in these extraordinary circumstances, there’s a serious need for it.
Co-creation is using students’ feedback, opinions and skills to develop learning and teaching. Like I say, it’s nothing extremely new to the university, but it’s usually on a much smaller scale. These aren’t business as usual times. I’m asking any heads of year, heads of school or anyone else involved in decision making around assessment and teaching to co-create like you’ve never co-created before. I’m mostly talking about final year students, as I think this is the most pressing concern, but this applies to end of year assessment for all students, and the transition to digital teaching for the last few weeks of term.
There’s a mountainous task ahead. Re-designing the in-person, timed, high-pressure, exam-based assessment that a lot of subjects use as a heavy proportion of a student’s final degree classification seems almost impossible. Or finding a way to account for a lack of support and teaching for students who don’t have exams. And not to mention it’s during a time of incredible mental stress on academics and students alike.
There’s plenty of literature out there about moving to online assessment – what works, what doesn’t, how to mitigate against plagiarism, loads of fun stuff. And as academics, it might be tempting to look through research and case studies, talk to other academics in other universities, and come up with a robust plan, backed up by literature and experts alike. But there’s a huge human element here that is never going to get captured without getting students heavily involved in the decision making process from the start.
So please, as soon as possible, start thinking about how you and your students are going to face this together. There’s an endless list of tools you can use to find out what your students want, and generate ideas, without anyone having to leave their house. You can send out polls, you can run q&as, you can use padlet to collect ideas and comments, you can use discord or skype to organise small group discussions. You can even use tools like Blackboard Collaborate to run online workshops. There’s a community of students who are scared, nervous, uncertain about their future, and feeling like huge decisions are about to be made that they have no control over but will have a massive effect on them, in the short and long term. You’ve got the tools to turn that anxiety into real solutions that work for staff and students and might even be able to set a precedent for student-led decision making in the future.
I assume the idea of workshops doesn’t fill you with glee. I know how hard it is to get students to engage with them, and you often only hear from the same sort of students. But I promise you, if you advertise through as many channels as you can, and are honest with students, and tell them you aren’t sure what to do, but want to work with them to figure it out, you will be inundated with students wanting to be involved (and not just the annoying ones who write blogs..).
Everything feels out of control at the minute, but this is our future, and if there’s a chance to have a say in it, we won’t miss it. We want our degree classification to be fair. We want everyone to have a chance to get what they are aiming for. We want it to represent everything we’ve done over the last three years. Every lecture, seminar, lab, late night in the library, hours spent searching for just the right paper; every moment when something finally clicked into place, every lecture watched five times on replay at half speed until we got it; the experiments that went right, the experiments that went wrong; the 9am monday lectures which we really wish we’d gone to more of, the 9am lectures we dragged ourselves into with a lounge stamp on our arm and a pounding headache, and all the other parts of the three or more years that we’ve given to this degree.
Please listen to your students. Trying to manage this chaotic situation must be a nightmare, and just like us, you’re only human and you can only do so much. In your shoes, I can’t even imagine what I’d do. But I know where I’d start.
University of Bristol students have come together to host a free wellbeing conference open to students, staff and members of the public.
The conference, which is themed ‘Looking
to the Future’, is being held on University Mental Health Day and will feature
a mix of discussions, workshops and creative exhibitions.
The organisers hope that the event will
encourage an open dialogue between attendees about wellbeing in the university
and wider community.
The Bristol Wellbeing Conference is a
collaborative event which is being hosted by the Bristol SU Wellbeing and
Education Networks, and the Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching.
The keynote speaker will be Dr Dominique
Thompson, an award winning GP, young people’s mental health expert, TEDx
speaker, author and educator. Having previously been the Director of Service at
the University of Bristol Students’ Health Service, Dominique has now launched
her own student health and wellbeing consultancy to assist organisations in
improving their student support offer.
Ellie Leopold, Chair of the Wellbeing
Network and one of the event organisers, said:
“We wanted to set up the
conference as a way of celebrating the progress that has been made with
wellbeing at the university, but also recognise the changes that still need to
It’s really exciting that this
is a completely student-led conference and we hope that lots of people come and
engage with this important issue.
I’m particularly looking
forward to the morning panel discussion on the student mental health and
wellbeing survey. Bristol is one of the few UK universities to assess and
report on student mental health and I think that’s something to be celebrated.
To realise the potential of the survey though, we need much greater student
engagement and the Bristol Wellbeing Conference is the perfect platform from
which to kickstart the future of wellbeing at our university!”
The conference will also feature a panel
to look at the Future of Wellbeing in the Curriculum, reflection on the
University of Bristol Mental Health and Wellbeing Student Survey results and a
series of workshops and panels.
The conference will take place on
Thursday 5 March and tickets can be booked
Speakers: Fabienne Vailes (School of Modern Languages) and Richard Cook
If you have been wondering why so many young people in HE are reporting higher levels of mental distress and how students seem to have changed, then this seminar is for you.
In this session Fabienne will give an update on her research and will explain why she has decided to partner with Rich Cook, an occupational psychotherapist in order to explore the nature of these changes in student population and how emotional intelligence seems to be a key component.
By sharing their preliminary findings, Rich and Fabienne will explain why a systemic approach to well-being in HE which creates a ‘growth environment’ is vital. They will argue that it is the unique answer to develop a flourishing institution where both students and staff can flourish and develop the mental agility and resilience to succeed both academically and in the workplace.
This is the second event of our Spark Series.
Fabienne is French Language Director in the School of Modern Language, a Senior Fellow of HEA, a BILT Associate as well as holder of a 3-year BILT University Teaching Fellowship.
Richard is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and Lead Partner of Mindset Practice Ltd, a people development business specialising in the use of applied emotional intelligence to support sustained improvements in performance and wellbeing.
I am in my final year
of study on the Master of Liberal Arts degree programme majoring in Philosophy
and minoring in History. I recently returned to Bristol fresh-faced and
revitalised after studying abroad at Charles University in Prague and
University College Utrecht. I will be working alongside an excellent team of
stakeholders on this year’s ‘Wellbeing and the Curriculum’ project. We
are part of university-wide effort to consider student and staff wellbeing in
policy developments and new projects.
Over three years ago, I
took the fretful leap to move out from a small town in Greater Manchester to
see what all the fuss was about down in the “sunny south”. After arriving at a
new city surrounded by new accents, noises, and necessities certainly required
an extra ounce of resilience than what I was typically used to. I can only
describe these four years as an extensive learning process, sometimes more
personally than academically, the most eye-opening thing I learnt from my time
here in Bristol was after watching a little performance called ‘Help’ at the Wardrobe
theatre, a piece that truly hammered home the notion that it was ok to ask for
help. Hereon, I have been doing just that. I ask for help as and when I need as
well as give a little helping hand to others when they need it, whether that
hand be for the lovely Welsh lady who needed a powerbank for her phone as we
both endured a long coach journey sat side-by-side, or a hand pointing in the
direction for a disorientated fresher.
I am looking forward to getting to know new faces
from the academic and student community. I will be making it my responsibility
to familiarise myself with student wellbeing and learning about what makes all
of us tick, especially since the factors that are constitutive of good levels
of wellbeing tend to vary across our lived experiences. Crucially, I am making
it my mission to give as many students a seat at the “Wellbeing and the
curriculum” table as possible, where we can look at the interplay between wellbeing
and risk: from fears around failure, to fears around introducing yourself to
new people – any and every of your wellbeing concerns matter.
Throughout my time here, many Bristol residents have spotted me pulling pints at Thekla, wearing an unflattering blue t-shirt on campus tours, cycling (often singing) around town to the sweet sounds of Corinne Bailey Rae, and hip-swinging on sticky dance floors. I am sure there will be a lot more of my face around town this year too, see you around.
This conference will be hosted by Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching at the University of Bristol.
This conference is for anyone interested in enhancing the experiences of staff working in higher education – both academic and professional staff – through the application of innovative practices at all levels in higher education. At the conference you will have the opportunity to hear current research and good practice regarding the wellbeing of staff in higher education and connect with like-minded colleagues/change agents wishing to address the question of how can we support staff wellbeing.
Key speakers include: Professor Gail Kinman- University of Bedfordshire; Fabienne Vailes- University of Bristol and Vida Douglas- University of Hertfordshire. To be confirmed: UUK(TBC) and Dr Diana Beech, Policy Advisor to the Minister of State of Innovation, Science, Research and Innovation (TBC)
The conference will be split across the following themes: 1) Good practice to support staff wellbeing; 2) Research to enhance understanding of staff wellbeing; 3) Practical session to build flourishing communities in HE
We are seeking conference submission(presentation/workshops) for the above themes. Deadlines for your expression of interest (Abstract of 300 words max) is 29th May 2019 and you can access the form via the following linkhttps://forms.gle/fJ2s7bgj7EmQM2Z2A
Feedback on your submissions will be provided by 3rd June 2019. If you would like to contribute to this conference, please don’t forget to submit your abstract expression of interest here
10.00-10.30 Conference Registration
10.30-10.45 Conference Aim and Purpose: TBA and member from conference planning group
10.45- 11.15 Enabling Flourishing communities and institutions in HE: Fabienne Vailes
11.15-11.45 Staff wellbeing in higher education and how can it be supported? A model for wellbeing in HE: Vida Douglas
11.45- 12.00 Comfort break
12.00- 1.00 Parallel Sessions- Presentations/Workshops covering three themes: 1) Good practice to support staff wellbeing; 2) Research to enhance understanding of staff wellbeing; 3) Practical session to build flourishing communities in HE
1.00-2.00 Lunch (Grab a bag)- posters, networking, mindful walking in gardens
2.00-2.40 Keynote presentations x 2 – Gail Kinman and another speaker (TBC)
2.45-3.45 Parallel Sessions- Presentations/Workshops covering three themes: 1) Good practice to support staff wellbeing; 2) Research to enhance understanding of staff wellbeing; 3) Practical session to build flourishing communities in HE
3.50- 4.30 Final Session (plenary) – Panel (Main Speakers and Rapporteurs) = main themes from the conference, next steps: Panel Chair TBC.
The conference has been supported by a planning committee, consisting of colleagues from Universities and Organisations supporting higher education. The conference convener is Vida Douglas, Professional Lead Social work at University of Hertfordshire.
Please contact Vida Douglas for more information about the event or to discuss any of the above.
The student hackathon continued last week, looking at the
theme ‘Balancing wellbeing, freedom, independence and success’, with students
exploring concepts of cohort identity, attendance and engagement at lectures
and the personal tutoring system. As well as discussing these elements as a
group, they also interviewed staff from across the university to find out more
about what was going on to support the students in their wellbeing at the same
time as allowing them freedom and independence.
We sat down at the end of the week and came up with these six top points from the week.
1. Wellbeing should be at the forefront of all interactions with students.
Wellbeing should be prioritised in all situations where the action affects the students: when courses are designed, assessments planned, emails are sent, lectures are delivered, materials are put on Blackboard.
2. The personal tutor role needs better clarification.
There is currently a disconnect between the personal tutor description on the Bristol website and how this plays out in reality. Further to this, the role is not carried out consistently between different staff, meaning that students get a vastly different experience when it comes to personal tutoring. It is suggested that a list of personal tutor responsibilities is shared between staff and student so that all are aware and have the same expectations. It is also suggested that the website is rewritten to be more reflective of the role.
3. The transition to university needs to be slower and longer.
At the moment, students are only given ‘Welcome Week’ to adjust to the new ways of working in university, but for many this is not enough time, and find themselves lost when starting to study in this new, independent way. The students propose a longer, 4 week transition period, off timetable, where students meet other in their cohort and undertake formative academic activities in a no-pressure environment.
4. There should be a stronger and more organised link between academic departments and societies.
There are areas of the university where the academic department and linked society have a strong connection, and where this occurs there is a strong cohort identity and supportive environment. It is suggested that this should be the case across the entire university to create a better sense of community across the cohort. Michael and Alex touched on the idea of the ‘familiar stranger’ in their presentation – someone who you saw in large lectures and passed going to and from the library, but didn’t know. They suggested that these latent connections could be activated through shared smaller group experiences such as tutor group meetings or through an academic society, to become someone who you could have a conversation in the corridor with or sit with in the library – creating a wider community than your close circle.
5. More visible accessibility of academics.
Along with lecture shout-outs from Wellbeing Advisors, it was also suggested that academics are more vocal about hours they are available to come and discuss assessments, materials or general discussion about the course. One student said that one of his course leaders emailed out the hours he would be available for students to drop in on a Monday each week, and everyone agreed that they would like to see their own course leaders do this. Students often feel intimidated by just dropping in on an academic so would like a regular email knowing when would be okay to do this.
6. Personal tutors effectively signposting other services in the university.
Personal tutors, although often visited for wellbeing related reasons, aren’t trained to deal with such issues, and yet regularly take this on as part of their role. The students suggested that personal tutors are made more aware of the various support services available to students when dealing with such issues, as well as academic support services such as Study Skills and PASS mentors.
Amy Palmer on behalf of the students involved in the BILT student hackathon.
In the crisp sunshine of a Saturday morning, I walked to Whiteladies BTP to have a coffee with John Gilbert, fifth year medical student and former Faculty Rep for Health Sciences. John pioneered the establishment of the University-wide Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey. We talked about John’s journey into medical school, his university experience and his time working as a faculty rep. Imagine coffee clinks and a persistent hum of steam in the background, which underscored our conversation.
Content Warnings: discussions of issues pertaining to mental health, suicide and self-harm.
So John, what inspired you to apply for medical school?
I suppose it’s probably because my brother and sister are both doctors – that had a lot of influence. I looked at other things to do, but medicine just seemed right at the time. It’s quite young to decide what you want to do, but I think I’ve been quite lucky because I’m still enjoying it.
I used to live with a medic and I was really interested in the Bristol medical course because, despite being a degree that is quite scientific at heart, you do creative and practical, as well as more traditional forms of assessment, and I was wondering if you could tell me about the kind of things that you get up to in journey to becoming a doctor?
So there’s an element we do call ‘whole-person care’, so instead of just focusing on the disease and the treatment, the medical school are really keen for us to focus on personal treating, as that’s what makes a good doctor – you don’t just come in and treat the cancer or the lung condition, you treat the human that’s sat there and it makes the process a lot nicer for everyone. So a lot of it is focused around the dualism between the doctor as a scientist and the doctor as an artist – we explore how creative you need to be for innovation and to make change in medicine, and there was a lot of opportunity to be creative.
The other quite fun ones are called ‘OSCE’s’, Objective Structured Clinical Examination. It’s made up of ten-minute stations where you’re asked to break the bad news of Cancer or do a cardiovascular examination, all checking that you have the real-life skills to be a doctor. Depending on the unit, we might have to do a presentation or an essay as well, it’s really varied which is quite nice.
Absolutely. What did you do for your whole person assessment?
I think I did a print about Alzheimer’s, and it was just the Alzheimer’s word repeated. At first it started multicoloured and then it faded to grey scale, and then the word just faded out completely – just that sense of losing everything.
See that’s what I think is so good and interesting about this course – I find your diversity of assessment, while I guess it is tailored to becoming a doctor, should nevertheless be applied to lots of different subjects. How do you find that range?
I think it reflects the whole spectrum of specialities that doctors end up in, and I think that’s the key thing. You’ve got surgeons at one end, or psychiatrists on the other and the range is just trying to satisfy and get people interested from an early stage in what they want to do.
I guess it goes back to the fact that if you only have one form of assessment, then that’s only favouring one kind of brain and one kind of speciality. Medicine’s variety of assessments is much more democratic.
The nice thing about medicine is that in the past couple of decades, there’s been a massive focus on evidence-based medicine and that has transferred into medical education and medical assessment. In terms of all the ways we are assessed, medical schools across the UK try to evidence that these are valid tools of assessment, shown to make a safe doctor. So as a student, you can feel confident that you’ll be good enough if you pass, which is quite nice.
Yeah absolutely. Just to feel like you have a safety net, and you feel secure. What’s been the highlight of your university time so far?
I’ve been really lucky to be involved in a lot of societies. I’ll be going into my sixth year of university next year, so I’ve had a lot of time to do fun things. I think one of my favourite trips has been diving in Gozo in the Mediterranean with the university’s underwater club, and that was incredible. It was a really fun trip and a great society. Other things that have been really fun…just sports at Bristol. I know they get a bad rep, but if you’re just looking for something fun to do, I’ve enjoyed it.
I don’t think it’s the sports themselves that get a bad rep, it’s the wider culture.
Yeah, sometimes the culture of intense initiations can exclude so many students. One of my friends was really involved and became the chairman of the medic’s rugby and completely changed the culture of it. He got so many more people involved and opened it up to vets and dentists, and essentially anyone who wanted to play. He got the highest turnout to training ever. They have fun drinks but there’s never any pressure to drink and it completely turned the club around.
So tell us a little bit about your time working as a faculty rep for health sciences. When did you do that? What initially compelled you to apply? How did you establish the Mental Health Survey?
At the time was as I was applying, a lot of my friends were suffering from mental health issues but they weren’t really willing to go to the university about it, and that really shocked me. I was asking them why and people were scared of things like Fitness To Practice, so potentially being struck off, not being allowed to complete the year, or being forced to take the year out. There was a big myth around what the General Medical Council did, and how willing it was to stop you studying medicine, as you have to show that you’re fit to practice. And I think that was partly one of the issues around students not approaching the university for mental health help.
I guess it means you have to grow up very quickly, as well.
You do, yeah. And when you’ve got mental health issues and you know you’re being overseen by a professional body, it’s a massive barrier to seeking help. So the survey started when I spoke with Zoe Backhouse and Helen at the SU, and we just wanted to do a small in-house survey at the SU, so we designed a survey and started asking a few personal questions about drug use, self-harm and suicide. It got quite serious and the university said that we couldn’t ask these questions unless you get ethical approval. Eventually after three attempts, with the help of some really kind academics from the School of Social and Community Medicine, we got ethical approval and ran the survey in May of 2017. We got a really staggering response rate of over 50%, and some really useful data for the health sciences, so that’s the short story.
We wanted to run the survey again, and the university suggested that we disseminated it across the whole university. I haven’t been involved since, but I think there hasn’t been as much student involvement since we first did it. Since a student hasn’t been directing it, it hasn’t really got as good a response rate, which is a bit annoying. Students are always hounded with requests to do things, and I think I was particularly persistent in trying to get students to fill it out because it was so important at the time.
It’s difficult isn’t it. Most people will always respond to a Student Union dissemination, and obviously the Student Union does need to be separate to the university to hold them to account, but at the same time that divide also creates a rift of engagement.
Yeah, so I think the challenge for the future will be, as with all surveys, trying to get a better response rate. I’m obviously very biased but I think it is the most important survey that Bristol has to do.
Off the back of that, what steps can be taken to improve response rates?
You need big billboards in libraries with a QR code, you need to get the SU on board, lecturers involved, you need heads of student societies and presidents on board and it just needs so much more student involvement and engagement, and getting an email from someone you’ve never met before from the senior management team at the university probably never gets read. They should be monitoring if these emails are being opened and if the link’s been clicked on, and they definitely have the capability to do that.
What steps do you think this university, and universities across the country, can take to improve their stance on mental health?
I think Bristol is under a lot of pressure because of the suicides that have happened here, and that puts a big spotlight on Bristol. One thing that I’ve noticed recently, especially in the press and with peers, is that everyone’s been very critical of Bristol. And they’re allowed to be, and I fully understand why they’re being critical, but not many people are offering solutions or ideas for change. All I’m seeing is an anti-university rhetoric instead of a ‘this isn’t good enough – change it’ attitude. That’s what I feel, but I’m not sure if that’s right and I’d be happy to debate that with people.
The NHS used to provide a lot of these services, and it’s faced massive cuts over the last few years. Coming from an NHS background, you do see these cuts in person when you visit psychiatric hospitals or see that a GP only has ten minutes to deal with any patient. The NHS also has a massive role to play in student health.
In terms of the university, mental health services need more funding, we need to cut down key student concerns like waits for student counselling, or encourage more positive help, such as group therapy and better access to mental health services. It’s a really difficult question and I think if there was an easier answer it would have already been done. Nothing that’s worth doing is easy. We need to start thinking about, not just universities, but how we as a society and a national health service, are to look after these students and provide for them.
Aside from academic knowledge, or medical knowledge, what has your time at university taught you?
I want to say, more than I’ll ever know. I don’t think I’ll know what it’s taught me until after I’ve left university and I’m a few years away. I’ve gained so much from being at university. Just being a more confident person, engaging more in things, dealing with when things go wrong, growing up as an adult – learning big adult things. Learning how to relax is a really important one. The most important thing in life is just to have fun, and enjoy yourself.
I think that’s an interesting point about feeling the impact but not being able to articulate it yet – that’s a sign of personal transformation. Following on from what you were saying about the importance of relaxation, what kind of things do you personally do to chill out?
Whilst I was studying in Bristol, and I wasn’t away working at hospital, I joined a lot of clubs, I did diving, Judo, I did a triathlon for a year just to get a bit fitter. Nowadays, I just do a bit of cycling. I really enjoy making pizza. Otherwise, just a bit of Netflix – often I’m just a bit tired so I like to lounge around and do nothing!
This takes us back to the importance of sports and exercise. I find for me that exercise, and the release of endorphins, is often the best way to make me feel better when I’m feeling a bit lower than usual.
I have the perception at Bristol that sport is a competitive thing and you need to be good at it. This goes back to the previous question of what I would do to try and improve mental well-being at the university. I’d try to create far more opportunities for inclusive sport where people don’t need to feel judged or good at something.
Performance sports is all great, but if you’re applying for performance sports as a club, and you have to show that your top teams are completing at a high level, how are those clubs expected to provide for people who used to play social netball or hockey or rugby or swimming at school? Those people aren’t going to turn up anymore, as it’s not the right environment, and you’ll be forcing people who used to do it for a bit of fun into a highly competitive atmosphere. This puts so many people off from doing sport and I disagree with that entirely. I think there needs to be a major rethink of sport and exercise at university.
I completely agree – there’s not enough opportunity to take up a new sport as well!
I think a lot of students at the university would do more sport if it wasn’t so exclusive and competitive and there’s definitely not enough opportunity to go and have a bit of fun, and do something once a week, or just to try things. The Sports Officer a few years ago did a good job of trying to change that around and make it a bit more inclusive, so there was freshers’ week and a second week in January when you can go and try another sport, as a taster.
So speaking of tasters, if you could take on another subject aside from medicine, what would it be and why?
I’ve always really loved planes and helicopters and part of me really wants to be a pilot, so probably aeronautical engineering, I find it so fascinating and cool. I love those really boring plane documentaries about airports and how do they do it and how do they build it – it’s really dull, but I love it.
What are your top three places to hang out in Bristol?
Cabot Tower’s a really nice, free place to go and get an amazing view from Bristol. I like places with really good views, so the suspension bridge. Then either the top floor of the Bristol Royal Infirmary or the top floor of Biomedical Sciences, where you can look out across the whole city.
Shout out to biomedical sciences, that’s such a beautiful building! Do you have anything else you would like to throw in before we wrap up?
Just make the most of university, get involved, make mistakes, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes – it’s the only way we learn. We’re all very afraid of getting things wrong, failing and whatever.
I think we could do a whole other interview about fear of failure among students.
I really think we need more life lessons from a younger age: learn to fail, relationship advice, money advice, all the things we never get taught – there’s more to life at that age than learning how to do trigonometry and calculus.
I think we’re facing so many problems in this world that we have no idea how to solve, so we need to instil a better sense of discussion and critical thinking in the next generation. I just think there’s a much larger place for philosophy and critical thinking in our education system. I just think there needs to be a massive reform in the nature of our education, as it stands.
This interview was carried out and transcribed by Phoebe Graham, BILT student fellow.
The following post was written by Fabienne Vailes, the Language Director for French and holder of a University Teaching Fellowship.
There were the Millennials (Generation Y – born in the 1980s and 1990s), children of Baby Boomers and now Generation Z or Gen Z. Gen Z have been the source of a lot of debate in the media with Psychology professor and author Jean Twenge calling them iGen or Generation M and Stein ‘the Me Me Me Generation’ in his 2013 article.
At the end of October, Jeremy Vine sparked an online debate after posting a video on his Twitter account stating that baby boomers are the real snowflakes and that they ‘should get off youngsters – 20 something’s back’.
Whether we agree or not with the above, younger people clearly generate a lot of discussions amongst parents, educators and society in general. And our students seem to struggle to ‘get us’.
What if instead of talking about ‘generational differences’, we used a different approach?
The issue with a focus on generational differences
The danger with the constant analysis of behavioural differences between generations, between baby boomers and ‘millennials’ in this instance is that it can lead us to ‘other’ as defined by Merriam Webster dictionary ‘to treat or consider ‘young people’ as alien to oneself or one’s group (because of different racial, sexual, or cultural characteristics). It creates a divide and a notion of ‘them’ and ‘us’.
We seem to apply this ‘othering’ to Gen Z and Gen Z to us. ‘The other’ becomes misunderstood which is brought about by a lack of effective communication. Poor communication and understanding meaning that ‘the other’ feels ‘we do not get them’. This leads to an inability to understand ‘others’ from their perspective.
Nirmala (2013:1)[i] explains that in general the “other” is anyone who is separate from one’s self. The existence of the others is crucial in defining what is “normal” and in locating one’s own place in the world. The other is perceived as lacking the essential characteristics possessed by a group and hence is considered to be a lesser or inferior being and therefore is treated accordingly.
But when we act this way, this is likely to affect our relationships with ‘the other’ and to create a separation. This might in turn create a sense of loneliness and social isolation.
Loneliness is often divided into two elements according to the theories of Weiss (1973): emotional loneliness, which is caused by a lack of close and intimate social relations, and social loneliness, which is caused by a lack of wider social contacts[ii] .
Social isolation is generally agreed in the literature to be more objective than loneliness and relates to the extent to which an individual is isolated from social contacts including friends, family members, neighbours or the wider community.[iii]
Whether it is loneliness or social isolation, both have been linked with numerous physical health problems such as depression (Wang et al, 2018)[iv], dementia (Holwerda et al 2014)[v], suicidal ideation (Stickley et al 2016)[vi] and an overall increased risk of dying earlier[vii]
But what if there was a different and more positive approach to this?
Young people as ‘a new evolving culture’
Herbig[viii] said that culture can be defined as the sum of a way of life, including expected behaviour, beliefs, values, language and living practices shared by members of a society. It consists of both explicit and implicit rules through which experience is interpreted”. Hofstede refers to culture as a “programming of the mind”[ix].
Isn’t it this specific concept of culture that the media is referring to when they look how young people behave differently from their parents and grandparents?
What would happen if instead of using generational differences we were inspired by Intercultural Communication and started looking at our children and students as ‘a new evolving culture’? We could adopt the approach that culturally agile expats take when encountering a ‘foreign culture’ which shares different rules or views from theirs. They observe their natural reaction to thee foreigners’ thoughts, feelings or behaviours, particularly if they are extremely different from their own.
They also become more tolerant and understanding towards them. They even are a bit curious and start wondering what beliefs the foreign culture holds to behave in that specific way.
I believe we could try to use and develop these same skills or what Deardoff[x] calls intercultural competence or the ability to develop over time the targeted knowledge, skills and attitudes that lead to visible behaviour and communication that are both effective and appropriate in intercultural interactions. These skills adapted from Byram[xi] (1997)’s work on Intercultural competence include “Knowledge of others; knowledge of self; skills to interpret and relate; skills to discover and/or to interact; valuing others’ values, beliefs, and behaviours; and relativizing one’s self.
This intercultural expertise is relevant to everyone.
Of course, all actors in education (learners, staff and parents) are concerned by this notion of intercultural competence and we could all benefit from improving the aptitudes advocated by experts.
So, next time any of us (Gen Z or older) is tempted to use words that encourage ‘othering’ and ‘generational comparisons’, why not pause, consider this concept of a new evolving culture and become much more curious about the recipients’ ‘programming of the mind’? This is likely to lead to far less ‘separation’ and far more ‘attempts at ‘understanding’ and a development of ‘empathy’ which decades of work[xii] suggest fosters and maintains close relationships in particular. This is of significant importance as supportive relationships buffer people from stress and its detrimental effects on health by providing positive affect, a sense of predictability and stability in one’s situation, and a recognition of self-worth (1985:311).[xiii]. The opposite results of loneliness and social isolation in fact!!!!
[i] Nirmala, S The idea of othering in J.M Coetzee’s waiting for the Barbarian New Academia (Print ISSN 2277-3967) (Online ISSN 2347-2073) Vol. II Issue IV, Oct. 2013
[ii] iii De Jong Gierveld and Van Tilburg (2006) ‘A 6-Item Scale for Overall, Emotional, and Social Loneliness’ Research on Aging 28 (5) pp. 582-598; Victor, Scambler and Bond (2009) (p.584)
[iii] Victor, Christina, Bowling, Ann, Bond, John and Scambler, Sasha (2003) ‘Loneliness, Social Isolation and Living Alone in Later Life’ Research Findings: 17 from the Growing Older Programme
[vii] Perissinotto, Carla, Cenzer, Irena Stijacic and Covinsky, Kenneth (2012) ‘Loneliness in Older Persons: A Predictor of Functional Decline and Death’ Archive of Internal Medicine 172 (14) pp. 1078-1083 lv Perissinotto, Cenzer and Covinsky (2012) (as above) p. 1081 lvi Berkman, Lisa, Melchior, Maria, Chastang, Jean-François, Niedhammer, Isabelle, Lecierc, Annette and Goldberg, Marcel (2004) ‘Social Integration and Mortality: A Prospective Study of French Employees of Electricity of France – Gas of France’ American Journal of Epidemiology 159 (2) pp. 167-174
[viii] Herbig, P. (1998) Handbook of Cross-Cultural Marketing, New York: The Haworth Press
[ix] Hofstede, G. (2001) Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values, London: Sage
[x] Deardorff, D. K. (2006), The Identification and Assessment of Intercultural Competence as a Student Outcome of Internationalization at Institutions of Higher Education in the United States, Journal of Studies in International Education 10:241-266
[xi] Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters
[xii] Davis, MH, Oathout HA (1987) Maintenance of satisfaction in romantic relationships: Empathy and relational competence. Journal of Personality Social Psychology: 53(2):397-410
Morelli, SA, Lieberman MD, Zaki J (2015) The emerging study of positive empathy. Soc Personal Psychol Compass 9:57-68.
[xii] Cohen, S, Wills TA (1985) Stress, social support and the buffering hypothesis. Psychol Bulletin 98: 310-357