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Research and Public Engagement Conference

13 Mar 2020 3:00PM

A conference showcasing the research output by the University of Suffolk has taken place. Funded by Research England's Strategic Priorities Fund, the one-day conference (held on 13 March 2020) brought together academics, policy makers, commissioners, public sector organisations and the voluntary sector.

The conference shared existing innovative research projects undertaken at the University, encouraged academics and wider stakeholders to think about new research opportunities and identified key research challenges faced by the county and how these might be overcome. 

Professor Emma Bond, Director of Research at the University, said, “In 2019 the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Helen Langton, outlined areas of distinctiveness which are the areas or themes which we want the University to be known for. These are health and wellbeing, creative and digital technologies, crime and social justice, history and heritage, sustainability/energy and pedagogy/learning and teaching. The aim of the conference was to showcase our work in each of these areas, especially work in partnership with policymakers where the aim was to better understand local, regional or national challenges. We want our research to lead to developments in evidence-based policy and to make a difference. This mirrors the University’s overarching aim which is to serve the community and to improve lives.”

Professor Bond and her colleagues Professor Andy Phippen and Solicitor Julian Sladdin, a Partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, demonstrated the impact on policy of a recent research report on online harassment and hate crime.

Julian Sladdin said “The work of Professor Bond and Professor Phippen in highlighting the need for higher education providers to show greater awareness of the risks of students and staff conducting themselves irresponsibly online, or being the subject of online abuse, has been key in leading the discussion around what good sector practice should look like and providing an important sense-check on sector preparedness. It has also been a key catalyst for Universities UK’s recent sector leading guidance.    

Although the issue of online harassment was not specifically referenced in the present Office for Students consultation on harassment and sexual misconduct, I would expect that Professor Bond and Professor Phippen’s leading work in this area will now have even greater currency and impact. It is evident that there is now going to be an increased regulatory and consequently legal focus on providers showing a robust and effective understanding of these risks and that they have the systems to prevent or deal with harassment on campus in all its forms.”  

Dr Manos Georgiadis, Senior Lecturer in Sport & Exercise Psychology, presented the findings of two studies dealing with the psychological impact of wearing a hospital gown. He said, “Using qualitative and quantitative methods we gave a voice to patients requiring long term treatment, patients with Congenital Heart Conditions for example, or had the experience of wearing a hospital gown in the past.”

“Results clearly highlight the need to change current practices related to hospital gown as it lets patients feeling exposed, self-conscious, uncomfortable, cold, disempowered and vulnerable. Our findings were exacerbated for women and people living with a long-term condition. Conclusions of our studies, supported the need to redesign the hospital gown to better protect dignity and to limit its use to medical necessity.”

“These studies are part of a wider effort to enhance Psychologically Informed Medicine that challenges cultural norms in healthcare linked to de-humanising aspects of care. These are symbolically represented by the hospital gown that based on our findings may adversely impact on health and wellbeing including practices that can enhance quicker recovery behaviours. We are currently collecting survey data exploring hospital staff’s views of the gown to gain a better understanding from medical professionals about current use and necessity of the hospital gown.” 

Postgraduate research student, Vanessa Ward, also took part in the conference. Vanessa presented her research entitled ‘Osteoarthritis: a disease model in a dish’. The research by Vanessa, led her to obtain the first Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (iPSC) Line in Suffolk with the use of state-of-the-art molecular biology techniques. This has been seen as an outstanding achievement as these cells can be used as models to study diseases in a personalised way and to test drugs. Her project is part of ongoing research supervised by Associate Professor Federica Masieri. It also involves MSc Regenerative Medicine students at the University and collaborators from the University of Leeds.

Dr Fran Hyde, Associate Dean in the Suffolk Business School, briefed delegates about her upcoming research, which will be called ‘Bringing the outside in’. Following a funding grant from the Academy of Marketing, Dr Hyde will begin research in the autumn looking at the impact practitioners have in a university setting.

Dr Hyde said “The University of Suffolk prides itself on having employability at the heart of its degree courses. In the Suffolk Business School, we often work on live case studies, such as our recent project with the Rural Coffee Caravan. So far, the practitioner/student relationship hasn’t been put under the spotlight. I’ll be addressing questions such as what makes a good engagement, how can the working relationship be improved and what impact does it have on the student and their achievements such as future work placements or creating employment opportunities.”

Dr Sarah Coombs and Dr Sarah Richards shared their research under the title ‘Mythical creatures and playing amongst the dead’. Their presentation explored the primary research carried out with 18 young children, aged between 4 and 6 years. The study aimed to examine the children’s perceptions of their school play area in a disused graveyard. 

Dr Coombs said, “The children took part in active focus groups, walking tours and drawings to highlight to the researchers the activities they engage with in this space, as well as their understandings and perceptions of the gravestones and memorial objects present in their play area. The findings uncovered the rule bound nature of the place, the relationship between life and death, the corporality of death and the magical creatures present within or under the space. Findings from this research challenge the socially constructed distance between childhood and death in contemporary western society. We demonstrate young children’s playful relationships with death and their acceptance of this as part of their everyday lives.”

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