Reverie: Taking time out to care for you

Held in collaboration with the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research (BISR), this Astrea event took a light-hearted approach to understanding the value of taking time out to care for yourself.

I am relaxed … I am alert … I am relaxed and alert at the same time.

Reciting meditative platitudes with mobile phones clasped firmly between hands in prayer pose, Sophie Huckfield and Sophie Bullock (together known as Ambience Factory)’s portrayal of the modern worker’s idea of taking ‘time out’ was simultaneously eye-wateringly funny and alarmingly close to the bone.

While convincingly masquerading as Chief Happiness Officer and Chief Resilience Officer, the pair’s real aim is to use play and comedy to investigate work practices.

Kicking off Thursday’s Astrea workshop on taking time out, Ambience Factory’s performance parodied some of the ways in which modern organisations pay lip service to work life balance, from mandatory mindfulness to unhelpful advice such as “don’t give in to stress: get over it.”

The science behind rest

The ice-breaking introduction was followed by a panel discussion featuring Ambience Factory, Dr Caroline Kamau (Organizational Psychology), Prof Felicity Callard (director of BISR) and Lise Groenvold (former graduate intern of Birkbeck Institute of the Humanities and BISR), and chaired by Lou Miller, BISR manager. The panellists began by exploring our understanding of rest. The picture that each of us conjure into our minds with the word ‘rest’ is likely to be very different. As one panellist put it: “Doctors will prescribe rest to patients, but rest is an undetermined term. While for one person, going for a run at 6am will put them in the most restful state of mind, for someone else, that won’t be the case.”

Historically, scientists have had a very black and white view of rest: you’re either doing a task or you aren’t. But social scientists are now collaborating with neuroscientists to show that some parts of the brain are far more active when we’re off task, pointing to prolonged benefits of taking regular moments of rest.

You are not alone

Another key point that came out of the discussion was the idea that people often feel that they must deal with stress in isolation. Dr Caroline Kamau from the Department of Organizational Psychology, whose research explores burnout and stress in NHS doctors, highlighted the severity of the issue – doctors suffering sleep problems or alcohol abuse caused by stress may be struck off – but also the fact that this is surprisingly common: “We want to normalise stress for doctors and find out the mechanisms of it.”

Stigma and guilt

Audience questions focused on the feelings of guilt that are so common when we take time to rest. Often, we feel we are letting colleagues, friends and family members down by prioritising ourselves. These feelings of guilt are a symptom of a culture where success is equated with busy-ness. These issues are social and it is everyone’s responsibility, including employers’, to introduce policies and enforce rules around absence, sick leave and working hours, to ensure everyone is well rested enough to work at their best.

Stress less

Based on her research, Dr Kamau hosted an adapted version of her Working Stress board game and app. Playing head to head (or in this case, table to table), each team had to not only use their knowledge and understanding of stress to answer multiple-choice questions, but also have open discussions about how we deal with stress and whether our strategies might be helpful or maladaptive.

There was even a task to develop and draw a novel idea for stress-relief in the workplace. The results ranged from the sensible to the bizarre. Some of the innovative ideas – inspired by the tech solutions hailed by the likes of Google but satirised by Ambience Factory — included a sustainable outburst booth (or SOB) for controlled venting of frustration through crying, and the popular Positivity Portal for My Birkbeck, which displays positive messages to boost your motivation – no PIN required! It was a hilarious end to a stress-busting event.

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Birkbeck student graduates with a first after a coma left her unable to read or write

Odessa Hamilton is graduating today with a first class honours degree in BSc Business Psychology after recovering from trauma that left her comatose. This is her #BBKStory.

I ran a successful business in New York, but that all changed when I suffered a trauma and went into a coma.

The doctors did not expect my recovery, but when I woke, I had lost the ability to move from my mouth down. Speaking, reading, walking: I had to re-learn it all. As if recovering from that wasn’t enough, I then decided to apply to university.

The first year was tough. Having to re-learn how to read meant ordinary tasks presented a real challenge. Initially, I couldn’t decipher between words like ‘cite’ and ‘site’, never mind get to grips with complex vocabulary expected of you as a university student.

Birkbeck gave me the platform to do what would not have been possible anywhere else. Evening study meant I could continue to go to my countless hospital appointments for treatments, tests and therapies during the day. Lecturers and all other staff at Birkbeck were always incredibly supportive and willing to help wherever necessary, which proved invaluable!

My lecturers truly encouraged me to continue my studies, and facilitated such by supporting my applications. After graduating with a first class honours degree at Birkbeck, I chose to study a combined Masters in Psychological Sciences as part of the Brain Faculty at UCL to secure my BPS accreditation. Thereafter, my studies shall continue with a doctorate in psychoneuroimmunology.

My unsolicited advice for anyone considering university with a disability and/or a chronic illness is ‘don’t be afraid to be vulnerable’. We often fear being different or being seen as less than, but your condition is not something to overcome – it just is. No different from someone having to wear prescription glasses. If I can study and do well in my situation, anyone can. All it takes is tenacity, diligence and resilience [and perhaps a dry sense of humour to help you along the way].

I don’t make comparisons and I don’t feel sorry for myself: I just get on with doing my best.

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The case for greater evidence-based policing in the UK

Dr Almuth McDowall from Birkbeck’s Department of Organizational Psychology reports on the recent international conference on policing education and training.

On Wednesday 27 June 2018, Birkbeck hosted an International Symposium on Evidence-Based Policing.  As most of us are aware, there are quantum shifts ahead in the UK policing training landscape. According to the Policing Education and Qualifications Framework (PEQF), going forward, there will be three graduate routes to entry as a Police Constable: a) an apprenticeship, b) graduate entry conversion, and c) policing degrees. This requires a fundamental rethinking of how we train police officers and what we can expect of them. What can the UK learn from other professions and contexts? This was the overall question guiding our symposium with around 70 delegates, including academics and policing practitioners, many of whom were international attendees.

Professor Jennifer Brown, Co-Director of the Mannheim Centre for Criminology at London School of Economics and Political Science, opened proceedings to question if there is evidence that graduates will do a good job in law enforcement. The consensus is that research is lacking in this area, especially in the UK context, and there is an increasing need to better understand the value that ‘graduate readiness’ adds to policing on the streets. David Gamblin, Research Assistant at Birkbeck, presented research conducted as part of a Home Office Funded Innovation grant which was spearheaded by the Mayor’s Office for Policing in London (MOPAC) and led by Birkbeck’s Department of Organizational Psychology, Birkbeck’s Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR), and University College London (UCL).

This tracked participants from ‘Police Now’, a leadership training programme over time and also investigated their take on ‘Evidence-based Policing’. Findings show high motivation to make a real difference, the importance of the environment once ‘on the beat’, and highlights that direct effort to train in evidence-based approaches can be helpful, but effectiveness depends on how this is done. Tiggey May, Senior Research Fellow at ICPR, outlined qualitative research from the same project which shows that the environment in forces varies greatly and that there is a need to be clear about what can and cannot be expected from graduates in training. Dr Jyoti Belur, Senior Lecturer at UCL, outlined a stakeholder review to question the extent to which forces are ready for the changes in training, highlighting an all-round need for more education and guidance.

Dr Cody Telep, Assistant Professor at Arizona State University, built on these themes by outlining his own programme of research which focused on police receptivity to research. His findings show, perhaps not surprisingly, that there is a real difference between ‘chiefs’ and ‘officers’, especially as more senior officers have a higher chance of being exposed to evidence and being willing to conduct research.

Dr Norma O’Flynn from the Royal College of Physicians presented data from the medical context, noting that more access to evidence means more drug prescriptions. A key question is whether this is always in the interest of the patients. Her presentation also highlighted that one needs to be clear on the purpose of evidence – is improvement in quality, rather than quantity, of care, not a key objective? Dr Karen Lumsden, Associate Professor at the University of Leicester, continued with the evidence-based theme, also using qualitative approaches to understand evidence-based policing. She highlighted the importance of context as a driver and the strong influence of the (policing) performance culture.

Finally, an interactive world café got everyone off their seats to work together towards solutions. All agreed that graduates have the potential to bring critical thinking, a desire to question, and upscaling of skills to policing – if these qualities are actually utilised. This depends on the culture, protecting learning time, good partnership between forces and education providers, and how policing is actually taught. Forces need to be transparent, to co-design and co-deliver training, and to promote the right kinds of skills and knowledge. Academics also need to do their bit by fostering innovation, combining rigour with realism and drawing on best practice research.

Delegates told us how much they had valued the event; in particular, they stressed that we got the balance right between critical dialogue and not ‘losing’ the practitioners with an overly academic take – “Great event full of insightful resources – thank you!” was a resounding comment.

We hope to draw this learning into a publication, so please so stay in touch if you would like to know more about our activities. A Special Issue of Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice is underway for 2019.

Read Extending the Remit of Evidence-Based Policing.

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