Category Archives: University of Northampton

The persistent crisp packet: 23 years in the environment and still going strong

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Last night Karin and I returned from Buxton in the Peak District where we had hired a cottage and assembled most of our kids and their partners for a weekend get together.  During a walk in the surrounding countryside I spotted this crisp packet sticking out of the ground.  From the typography of the logo I could tell it was old and a bit of internet sleuthing suggests that it was from a special limited edition produced to commemorate the UEFA 1996 European Football Championship.  So it’s been hanging around in the environment for about 23 years, hardly decaying, possibly releasing harmful chemicals into the environment.

Needless to say, I took it home and binned it.  But this one crisp packet is a microcosm of an enormous global problem of single-use plastic waste that is not being disposed of properly or recycled.  It’s a particular issue in the developing world where wastes management infrastructure is simply not able to cope with the volume of plastic bags and packaging, as I saw recently on my trip to Nepal:

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This sort of waste is more than just unsightly: it is harming the world’s ecosystems and the biodiversity they contain.  Manufacturers of plastic need to step up and address this issue.  Action is happening as I know from discussions with colleagues such as Prof. Margaret Bates and Dr Terry Tudor who are actively researching, educating and advising in this area.  But I worry that it may be too little and too late.

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Beekeeping at 7000 ft: Nepal field work part 4

On the last day of field work, while we were waiting for a bus to take us back down to Kathmandu, I spotted some small bee hives next to one of the houses belonging to the local Tamang peoples:

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With a few minutes to spare before the bus left, I quickly investigated and discovered that only one of the hives was actually in use:

But interestingly, the bees inside where the native Asiatic or eastern honeybee (Apis cerana) rather than the European or western honeybee (A. mellifera) that is more familiar in Europe.  The bees are a bit smaller and more distinctively striped than their western counterpart:

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There didn’t seem to be much around for the bees to forage on, just a few flowering mustard plants, so I suspect that they were travelling some distance to find nectar and pollen:

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At this altitude of 2092 masl, or about 7000 feet, the winters are long and cold and the summers dry and hot, so the bees must be tough if they are kept there all year round.  I wonder if A. mellifera would survive these conditions?

All too soon the bus driver sounded his horn and it was time to go; an interesting encounter with a bee species I’d not previously seen.

 

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A unique oak: Nepal field trip part 3

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One of the plants that really intrigued me during my time in Nepal was a species of evergreen oak that is native to the Himalayas and nearby mountainous areas of Asia.  It goes by the name of Quercus semecarpifolia and, as far as I am aware, has no common English name.  Two things surprised me about this species.

First of all, it is heterophyllous, meaning that its leaves come in more than one type.  Leaves close to the ground are spiky and look a lot like those of holly (Ilex spp.) which is what I thought they were when I first saw them:

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Leaves higher up on the plant have far fewer, if any, spikes:

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One of the things I discussed with the students was the job of scientists to identify patterns and to develop hypotheses about processes, i.e. what had caused those patterns.  In this case, after some discussion, we decided that the heterophylly was probably an adaptation to defend the leaves against small browsing mammals such as deer (thanks to Narayan for this image):

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The other thing that interested me about the oak was its overall growth form, which was tall (they grow to 30m) with rather short, stubby branches, very distinctive from a distance:

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The tree were especially striking in the evening mist:

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They look as though someone has been out with a chainsaw and trimmed them, but that’s not the case, they naturally grow that way.  The best hypothesis that we could come up with is that this is an adaptation that prevents the trees from accumulating large, heavy loads of snow which could result in branches breaking.

I’ve never seen this growth form, not heterophylly, in any other oak species, but Quercus is a large genus of about 600 species, so I wouldn’t be surprised if similar species exist.

Part 4 to follow.

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Tracks in the snow: Nepal field trip part 2

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As I mentioned in part 1 of this series of posts, there was unseasonable snow at higher elevations during my trip to Nepal.  This made walking a bit treacherous and at night the temperatures dropped to below freezing.  However it did mean that we could see where animals had been moving about the landscape, including the red panda (Ailurus fulgens) which made the tracks in the image above.

Tracks from a total of seven different types of mammals were recorded, such as black bear:

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And the pika, a member of the group that includes rabbits and hares:

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No yetis, but some very yeti-like, moss covered trees:

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There were some very tough flowers dealing with the snow, such as this Primula denticulata:

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And what I think might be a gentian (Gentiana sp.):

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Walking conditions were very challenging at times:

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But the students really enjoyed it:

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The dining rooms of the hostels in which we stayed were cosy:

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And of course the landscapes were fabulous:

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Part 3 to follow

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Crows and kites over Kathmandu: Nepal field trip part 1

 

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On Monday I returned from a 10 day trip to Nepal to support an undergraduate field course run by one of the University of Northampton’s partner colleges, NAMI.  It was my first time in that country, actually my first time in the Indian subcontinent, and it was quite a trip.  I want to share some thoughts and experiences over a few blog posts.  They will be light on text and heavy on imagery, because Nepal is such a spectacular country in so many ways, and the Kathmandu Valley has an abundance of ancient temples, palaces and other sites, many of which survived the 2015 earthquake that flattened more recent buildings:

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But first, what of those crows and kites?  They are actually Black kites (Milvus migrans), dozens of them, and hundreds of Indian house crows (Corvus splendens), all providing an important service in Kathmandu: clearing some of the rubbish from the streets.  They were especially spectacular in the evening, around 5.30 pm, when I would watch them circling and moving towards their nightly roost:

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It’s a really stunning urban wildlife spectacle that none of my pictures do justice to, so here’s a close up of one of the crows:

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Kathmandu has a serious problem with waste and pollution, as do many large cities in that region:

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But the NAMI campus itself is very nice, clean and well presented:

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And it has wildlife of its own, including and array of birds, butterflies and bees, and at least one species of lizard:

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But beyond that, the staff and students I worked with were just great, a real pleasure to meet, the staff committed and the students very engaged with their studies:

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This one was taken the day that we set off for the field trip, in a bus that was driving us from Kathmandu to Kutumsang at 2470 metres above sea level.  The two NAMI staff members who led the field trip, Narayan Prasad Koju and Sanu Raja Maharjan, are both highly experienced Nepalese ecologists:

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We spent one night at Kutumsang then trekked to Mangengoth at 3420 masl, then Thadepati (3690 masl).  It was unseasonably cold up there and quite a lot of snow was still on the ground.  At that point I started suffering from altitude sickness and was happy to descend back to Kutumsang.  During our trek the students established 20m x 20m quadrats at 200 m intervals and recorded woody plant diversity and abundance, and which plants were in flower.  In addition they recorded the tracks and scats of any mammals they encountered.  Here are some shots of the students in action and the general landscape:

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Part 2 to follow.

 

 

 

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Book review: Vegetation of the Canary Islands by Marcelino J. del Arco Aguilar and Octavio Rodríguez Delgado (Springer 2018)

Figure 1 - Tenerife 2008 - students on the Aeonium field - lo res

 

This is the text from a book review that’s published this week in The Niche, which is the British Ecological Society’s members’ bulletin.


 

The Canary Islands mean many things to different people.  To the millions of holiday makers each year they are places of relaxation, of sun, sand, sea and holiday shenanigans.  To Charles Darwin, writing during the early weeks of the Beagle voyage, they were the “long wished for object of my ambition”.  Having read accounts of Tenerife by earlier explorers such as Alexander von Humboldt, Darwin was excited to have the opportunity to visit “perhaps one of the most interesting places in the world”.  Sadly it was not to be: an outbreak of cholera back in Britain meant that the Beagle’s crew would have to be quarantined for 12 days before they could disembark.  Captain FitzRoy was not prepared to do this and so the Beagle moved on.

I recount this story to my University of Northampton students each April when we visit Tenerife for our annual field course.  Referring to it as “Darwin’s Unrequited Isle”, I point out how fortunate they are to live at a time when a short plane flight can take them from the UK to such a fascinating natural laboratory of in situ evolution and biogeographical processes (Figure 1).  We’ve been going to the island since 2003 and we’re certainly not the only European university to do so, I know of at least five others in the UK alone.

To ecologists and those interested in natural history the Canary Islands are a fascinating mixture of the exotic and the banal.  Endemic succulent spurges (Eurphorbia spp.) grow with non-native prickly pear cacti (Opuntia spp.), traditional cafes serving tapas and local wines butt up against sports bars providing a full English breakfast with a pint of Carlsberg for less than five Euros.  The rapid development of tourism on the islands means that there are enormous pressures on land for building apartment complexes, as well as on water resources, energy generation and wastes management.  The islands are a laboratory for sustainable development as much as they are for evolution.

The literature on Canary Island ecology, biogeography and conservation has grown quickly, much of it fuelled by the education opportunities afforded by the islands.  As the authors of Vegetation of the Canary Islands note, the book is both “a synthesis of numerous publications….[and data and experience].…from many years of teaching and research…at the University of La Laguna”.  This fieldwork-focused, dusty boots approach to understanding the Canary Islands flora is apparent throughout the volume which has clearly been a labour of love for the highly knowledgeable authors.

The book is divided into eight chapters, plus appendices. Chapter 1 entitled Geographic Framework gives a summary of the physical geographical and geological context of the islands in relation to the rest of Macaronesia, and explains something of the human history of indigenous peoples (collectively termed the Guanches) and the later European colonisers.  The population of the islands (estimated to be 2.1 million in 2016) swells by an order of magnitude with close to 15 million tourists visiting that same year.  One of the attractions for north Europeans is dealt with in Chapter 2 Canary Climate   Although categorised as subtropical, the weather can be hugely variable, especially on the more mountainous islands; we have experienced blistering heat, torrential rain and snow storms in April in the higher reaches of Tenerife (which at 3,718 m is the second highest island in the world).  Irregular and geographically sporadic rainfall is a particular feature. This leads neatly into Chapter 3 on Bioclimatology that relates this climatic variability to the plant communities of the islands.  A sense of how complex this is can be gauged from Table 3.4 that lists 57 different bioclimatic combinations and their associated vegetation types, many of which overlap.

Chapter 4 on Biogeography considers how the islands have been colonised over a time scale that goes back more than 65 million years, including islands that no longer exist, having eroded and become submerged, but which in the past acted as stepping stones for colonisation of species from the continent and between archipelagos.  This includes some fascinating speculation regarding the role of much earlier island groups to the south west of the Canary Islands that may have allowed exchange of plants between Africa and the Americas, and that could explain some intriguing disjunctions in current distributions.  There is also a very useful summary of endemic genera.

Chapter 5 Other Floristic Considerations initially looks at the non-vascular flora of algae, fungi, lichens and bryophytes, which is rich (5508 species compared to 2091 vascular plants) though the rate of endemism is not so high.  There is then more comparison of diversity and endemism between plant families and islands, followed by a summary of molecular taxonomic findings.  Given how short it is I think that this chapter could easily have been incorporated into the previous one, though that’s a minor criticism.

The bulk of the book (from pages 83 to 308) is taken up by Chapter 6 Vegetation of the Canary Islands which provides a very detailed arrangement of the flora in the classical Braun-Blanquet form using names adapted from the species that are characteristic of that community (“Nerio-Tamaricetea”, “Morello fayae-Pinetum canariensis”, etc.).  To ecologists not trained in this tradition, and more used to the National Vegetation Classification (NVC) scheme familiar to us in Britain, this terminology can seem a little daunting.  Fortunately the introductory section provides a broader classification of the vegetation into categories such as “Euphorbia scrub and shrublands”, “Laurel forest”, etc.  This is a good stepping off point for anyone interested in understanding the vegetation further, before plunging into the subsequent sections that examine these communities in great detail.  The later coloured maps of the potential natural vegetation of the islands, without anthropogenic interference, are especially useful for teaching.

This leads us into Chapter 7 which deals with Changes in the Natural Landscape Through Human Influence.  As the authors point out, people have influenced the vegetation since the earliest period of human settlement on the islands, about 1000 BCE, as these arrivals brought with them livestock such as goats, sheep and pigs, as well as useful plants.  However this process was hugely accelerated from the 15th century onwards as Europeans rapidly conquered the islands and cleared large areas of forest, as well as introducing many more invasive species.  The chapter ends with a very thought provoking section on climate change and its likely effects.

Chapter 8 considers the Conservation Status of the Canarian Flora and Vegetation, providing a history of how protected areas were set up, including the designation of seven UNESCO Biosphere Reserves and two Natural World Heritage Sites. Lists of protected plant species and their various designations are also provided and there’s a short summary of invasive species.

The four appendices give: (1) an over view of the phytosociological scheme for understanding the communities; (2) a short history of botanical exploration of the islands,  which emphasises just how many botanists and ecologists the archipelago has attracted over the years; (3) notes on the ethnobotany of the islands; (4) and a long list of relevant literature, extending over 18 pages.  A weakness of the book is that the literature is not cited within the text, presumably for reasons of readability.  This does make it much more difficult to track specific sources of information back to its origin, however. The text concludes with two indices, one phytosociological and one taxonomic.

The book is well illustrated with both colour and black and white photographs and figures, though the quality of some of these in the e-book version that I was provided with for this review were not as sharp as they could have been.  I hope that the print version is better quality.

Vegetation of the Canary Islands will appeal to anyone interested in the ecology of this most fascinating of archipelagos, though at £119.99 for the hardback it is expensive.  It should certainly be bought by any library of a university that carries out teaching and research on the islands.  The earlier and later chapters will be of most use for students and their teachers; the central sections on phytosociology really require more specialist knowledge, though there’s a lot of fascinating ecology in there for the patient reader.  One thing that did surprise me about the book is that the role of fire in determining the type of vegetation in an area is hardly considered, except as it relates to the negative consequences of large wild fires.  Yet many of these habitats must have burned naturally before people arrived on the islands, as evidenced by the amazing ability of Pinus canariensis to re-sprout after it has burned (Figure 2).

During our field course in Tenerife the students and staff spend a week exploring the different plant communities of the island, as well as bird and bee behaviour, and half a day of sea mammal observation.  I’ve used it as an opportunity to conduct long term data collection that otherwise would never get funded (see Figure 1), and some of this research has already been published.  Two other books that I’ve found useful and which should be on the bookshelves of anyone wishing to learn more about Darwin’s Unrequited Isle are: Natural History of Tenerife by Philip and Myrtle Ashmole (2016) and Tenerife Nature Walks by Sally Lamdin-Whymark (2013).  Both are available on Amazon.

Figure titles:

Figure 1:  University of Northampton students surveying a population of Aeonium urbicum, Santiago del Teide, Tenerife, 2008.  This monocarpic species is the subject of long-term data collection to assess what triggers flowering.

Figure 2:  Post-fire regeneration of Canary Island Pine (Pinus canariensis) on Tenerife 2008-2017.  Most species of pines are killed by fire; P. canariensis is one of the few that can re-sprout following a burn.

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“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread” – Why scientists need to learn to say “no” to themselves

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Earlier this week I had to write an email to some potential collaborators that I really wasn’t looking forward to sending.  I’ve been doing some hard thinking since Christmas and had decided not to go ahead with a grant submission for a project that was my idea, that I had initiated.  I was now pulling back from that and feeling as though I was letting people down.

The fundamental reason is lack of time, of being really over-stretched at the moment.  Just before the Christmas break I received word that two grants that I’m involved with, one funded by NERC, the other by the Australian Research Council (ARC), were both successful. This is on top of four existing projects, funded by NERC, BBSRC, Heritage Lottery Fund and Butterfly Conservation. Plus the non-funded work I’m doing.  One of my tasks this week was to add a Current Projects and Collaborations page to this blog, so I can keep track of what I’m doing as much as anything!  Although I’m a minor partner in many of these projects, it’s still a lot of work to keep on top of everything, plus teaching,  the Research Excellence Framework for which I’m departmental lead, etc.  I’m also trying to complete a book which I’ve promised to deliver to the publisher soon.  And blogging of course….

There’s a line in the Lord of Rings in which Bilbo tells Gandalf that “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Intellectually that’s how I’m feeling at the moment.

It’s my own fault, I say “yes” to things too readily, something which a lot of academics do and which is being widely discussed on Twitter and in other blogs.  Most of this discussion focuses on saying “no” to other people, to manuscript and grant reviews, to offers of collaborations, and so forth.

But I think it’s just as important that we learn to say “no” to ourselves.  We need to realise that, however great an idea that we’ve had is or however enthusiastic we are about a project or a paper or a book or organising a conference, if we don’t have the time and energy to follow through and do it properly, we are selling ourselves and our collaborators short.

Of course this is easy to say but not so easy to put into practice.  There are a lot of external pressures on academics to write more grant proposals and papers, to do more work on the impact of their research, to take on tasks within and without their institutions, and thus spread themselves too thin.  Being a scientist and teacher in a university is a great job and I feel very fortunate to be doing what I do.  But in the long term we’re doing no one any favours, not least our employers and our families, if we burn out early.

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Should we stop using the term “PhD students”?

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Back in the early 1990s when I was doing my PhD there was one main way in which to achieve a doctorate in the UK.  That was to carry out original research as a “PhD student” for three or four years, write it up as a thesis, and then have an oral examination (viva).  Even then the idea of being a “PhD student” was problematical because I was funded as a Postgraduate Teaching Assistant and to a large extent treated as a member of staff, with office space, a contributory pension scheme, etc.  Was I a “student” or a member of staff or something in between?

Nowadays the ways in which one can obtain a Level 8 qualification have increased greatly.  At the University of Northampton one can register for a traditional PhD, carry out a Practice-based PhD in the Arts (involving a body of creative work and a smaller thesis), or submit an existing set of publications for a PhD by Means of Published Works (“PhD by Publication”).  There are also a couple of Professional Doctorates (“Prof Docs”): Doctor of Professional Practice in Health and Social Care (D Prof Prac) and Doctor of Business Administration (DBA).  Other subject areas are looking at developing these types of degrees, for example in Education.

Some of the “PhD students” who are registered on these degrees fit the mould of the relatively young academic, fresh from a first degree or a Master’s programme.  But many are older, especially on the Prof Docs (which attracts senior staff from business or the public sector), or might be members of staff at the university who teach and do research in areas where PhDs were not traditionally awarded.  And then there are those who are studying for an MPhil, also a Level 8 research degree.

The University of Northampton is not alone in this regard and over the past 20 years the range of doctorates and other research degrees has broadened enormously.  Those studying for a research degree even within the same Faculty may hardly be aware of one another, and some may be long-standing members of staff rather than “students” per se.  It’s important, therefore, to note that there is no single postgraduate community within an institution.  Rather we must recognise that there are communities of postgraduate researchers.

Not only that, but even those on a “traditional” PhD, who are not members of staff,  interact with the university in ways such as involvement in teaching, staff-style email addresses and security cards, etc., that reflects a status that is beyond “student”.  Members of academic staff who are registered for PhDs might certainly resent the idea of being called a “student”.

So for all of these reasons I’m going to try and stop referring to “PhD students” and instead use the term “Postgraduate Researchers” (PGRs).  Because that’s what they are.

As always, I’m happy to receive your comments and views on this.

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How can academics help students with anxiety issues?

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This is a guest post from Karin Blak, a therapist with over 15 years of training and experience in helping people overcome issues such as anxiety, including running training workshops for young people and those with pastoral care responsibilities such as teachers.  Regular readers of the blog will also know that Karin is my wife, and I may be biased, but I think she’s written a really useful and informative piece on an issue that’s concerning many academics and their universities at the moment.  If you want to get in touch with Karin to ask about training workshops that she offers, or to follow up on any of this, click on that link to her web site or drop me a line.


 

Listening to and reading about the issues students in higher education have, anxiety seems to be on the rise.  I do wonder whether it is more likely that, with developments in psychology and therapy, we are better able to accept that there is such a condition as “anxiety” and are aware of how to spot it, rather than blaming shyness or laziness.  But whatever the source of this rise, we need to consider how academics can help students with anxiety.

Anxiety is not a disability, but it is a dis-abler.  It is a fear based condition that increases if it is treated with too much empathy.  For example, if we allow students to not participate in group activities because of anxiety, we are being too empathic and instead of helping the student, as was our intention, we empower the condition.  So if too much empathy is a bad thing, what can we do to help?  To answer this question we need to understand what anxiety actually is.

Anxiety stems from our prehistoric ancestors who had an innate strategy to detect and survive threats to their lives.  With the help of adrenaline certain abilities would be strengthened, such as strength, speed or numbness.  Their bodies would shut down all but the most important functions they needed for these actions.  This is also known as fight, flight freeze, or fall (pretend to be dead).  Once the danger was over, the body would return to normal.

We still innately possess this ability to detect danger and our bodies tend to react in the same way.  This is still important for our survival, though at times it can stop us from achieving our potential.  If this ability is activated in situations that do not threaten our lives, but where we feel uncomfortable or lack confidence, we will feel like running away, lose our words, our pulse will increase, we might begin to sweat, and ultimately we will enter into a state of panic.

Social encounters, presenting information to groups, taking part in discussions and debates all activate anxiety for someone who has been fine tuned to this strategy.  As part of developing knowledge, experience and maturity students in higher education are encouraged to partake in all of these experiences.

Almost like being possessed, extreme anxiety will effectively shut down any capabilities a student has and replace them with noise and undermining messages.  At the same time if the student is allowed not to participate, the anxiety is likely to get worse and anxiety will be controlling the student.  It is a cycle that the student will probably know really well but perhaps not be completely conscious of.

The tricky thing is that anxious students believe that anxiety is an integral part of who they are.  They have lived with it for most of their lives and many have not had help.  To feel anxiety so intensely will stop the most capable student from succeeding and academic staff will play a role in that failure if anxiety is treated like a disability.

For a student with anxiety, the most supportive action by lecturers would be to enable participation in classes.

Some suggestions for action:

  1. Referring the student to the university’s counselling services is a must. Counsellors have special training in working with anxiety and should be able to provide coping strategies while the underlying reasons are worked with.
  2. Talk with the student one-to-one and decide what they are going to say or do in an upcoming session.  Make it a short spoken sentence or piece of work initially, even if it is only to agree with something that is said in a seminar for instance, or give them a question to ask after a lecture. Let them know that you are there to support them through this.  Rehearsing the words with them will prepare the brain for participation, and if coached to participate it will be the first step in externalising anxiety rather than letting it rule the present and future life of the student.
  3. After the session, follow this up one-to-one with affirmation so the student can see that they are capable, that they did the right thing, and that they coped.
  4. Refer the student to the following two websites:

MIND’s website has reliable information to aid understanding of anxiety and how to help, as well as self-help. While it is important for academic staff to understand a condition that is affecting a growing number of today’s students, it is equally important for the students living with anxiety to be made aware of this free, valuable source of help:

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anxiety-and-panic-attacks/self-care-for-anxiety/#.W9LVNWj0nic

Get-Self-Help is an approved Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) website which is another resource for people living with anxiety and it’s also free:

https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/

It is worth academics  familiarising themselves with the information on here too so that they have a good understanding of the situation and can be of optimum help to students who live with anxiety.

The above advice will not apply to all students with anxiety.  For example, if anxiety is secondary to a primary condition such as bipolar or a personality disorder, then different coping strategies need to be considered and working closely with student support services would be a recommendation.  Likewise, depression is often caused by anxiety as anxiety has a tendency to isolate an individual and destroy self-esteem.  Seeking professional help is again recommended.

We all feel anxious sometimes.  I used to accept invites to social events and as time drew closer I would end up cancelling.  It hasn’t completely gone away, but I know what anxiety is up to and can resist the temptation to dive into the overwhelming feelings it’s presenting me with.

I know of academics with vast experience of presenting their topic to large groups of students and peers, who still feel like running away before they go on stage.  People who have studied their subject in minute detail and still struggle to find the words for what they want to say..…sometimes, only sometimes, not all the time, because they too have stopped listening to the voice of anxiety.

To get to the point of being able to manage anxiety, help is needed.  Training, therapy, self-help, CBT, whatever suits the individual, is a great way of getting to know and control this monster, but most of all it takes support from people around them, including academics.

Ultimately facing the fear and doing it anyway is the only cure, and Susan Jeffers’ book of the same name is still a top seller when it comes to managing an anxious life.  University academics are in the perfect position to help change a student’s life, not just by imparting your knowledge and skills, but in the support you can provide to your anxious students.

 

 

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Hornets are pollinators too!

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This morning I spent a very pleasant couple of hours walking around the farm that’s at the heart of the Warner Edwards Gin Distillery, in Harrington just north of Northampton.  We are setting up some collaborations around conservation and sustainability between the university and Warner Edwards.  The first of these involves surveys of their farm by one of our final year undergraduates, Ellie West, to assess pollinator diversity and abundance, and opportunities for habitat enhancement on the farm.

One of the highlights of this morning’s visit was seeing this gorgeous hornet (Vespa crabro) taking nectar from common ivy (Hedera helix).  I think that she’s a queen stocking up on energy prior to hibernating.  But just look at how much pollen she’s carrying!  There’s every chance that she’s a very effective pollinator of ivy, which is a key nectar resource at this time of year.  It’s such an important plant in other ways too: ivy binds the landscape physically and ecologically, in ways few other native plants do.  Pollination by insects such as hornets (and hundreds of other species) results in berries that are eaten by birds and mammals, whilst the branches and dense, evergreen canopy provides nesting sites for birds and shelter for over wintering insects.

Hornets and ivy: two of my favourite native British species.

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Filed under Biodiversity, Birds, Mammals, Pollination, University of Northampton, Wasps