Professor Camille Cronin welcomed all those meeting F2F at the annual School of Health and Social Care Staff and Student research conference (SSRC) on Monday 6th June 2022 and everyone online via zoom. It is one of the school’s first larger gatherings since COVID-19 and as the school moves forward we have embraced a hybrid approach to conferencing providing flexibility for all our participants.
This is an annual conference to celebrate research but also to provide a safe environment for our presenters, and for our students to share their work, to get involved in discussion and grow in their research journeys. Students are vital to the growth of the school from when they start choosing Essex, when they choose a programme and particularly when we welcome our PGR students who are vital to the growth of the school, to the research activity and ethos.
Our Research Strategy was approved in December by the university and provides a 5-year plan to grow the Schools’ research both in staff, PGR students and research activities. We want to grow clinical research partners and build a stronger research culture for all in the school both students and staff.
We have four research groups and in the new year appointed four research group leads and everyone – staff and PGR students have self-allocated to one or two of the groups. Participants embraced these groups, and the contributions and attendance certainly will contribute and shape the groups and activities as they develop.
An important research activity the University works to is the Research Excellence Framework. The REF was first carried out in 2014, replacing the previous Research Assessment Exercise. The REF is undertaken by the four UK higher education funding bodies in England, Wales, Scotland, and North Ireland with the aim of the research assessment to secure the continuation of a world-class, dynamic, and responsive research base across the full academic spectrum within UK higher education.
The REF 2021 results were released 12th May, and research from staff members were entered across four Units of Assessments (UoA), two being completely new for the University: Public Health, Health Services and Primary Care and Sports and Exercise Sciences, Leisure, and Tourism. Much of our school research was submitted to UoA 2, which is the Public Health unit, and we should all be very proud of the result, at the first submission, with 80% of our public health research output, impact and environment rated world-leading or internationally excellent.
Sociology was another UoA which saw submission of several staff’s research, and the results here were fantastic, with Essex ranked 7th overall in the UK, with the top 6 being Oxford, Cambridge, York, Manchester, City and Lancaster. This UoA was ranked 1st for research environment, 2nd for research power and 9th for research impact – a truly amazing result! For Modern Language and Linguistics, we were rated 3rd overall in the UK, 2nd for research impact and 6th for research environment, and for Sports and Exercise Sciences, Leisure, and Tourism, again on first submission, over 80% of our research output, impact and environment were rated world-leading or internationally excellent.
Again, here today we need to recognise the hard work involved in helping to making REF 2021 a success. Thanks goes to Vikki-Jo Scott, who was Dean of the School during this time, Prof. Ewen Speed, who was Director of Research managing our REF submission, and Prof Susan McPherson who led on the Impact Case Studies submission.
Going forward, the school research strategy proposes a new Unit of Assessment, UoA 3, Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy, and with the existing strong research foundations we believe we can build our research in the School to produce a significant and impactful submission to this new unit.
I was invited to offer some opening remarks in my capacity as Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Lead for the SHSC. I used the opportunity to highlight the potential that research has to improve our understanding of the challenges faced by people from minoritised groups, the impacts that social exclusion and discrimination has on our health and wellbeing, and how research can be used to amplify the voices of people excluded from conversations about health and social care systems.
Research alone is insufficient in addressing structural and social inequalities and inequities, as Immanuel Kant said, “Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play.” I also acknowledge that research does not always serve the needs and promote the rights of all groups. My own discipline of psychology has a troubled history and present developing methods for categorisation of people based on unscientific racial differences, the stigmatising of people with disabilities through the promotion of IQ research, and the development of punitive welfare policies through research in behavioural economics.
Those substantive caveats aside, I do want to highlight some of the socially inclusive research being undertaken within the school. Yusuf Mustapha’s research looking into the experiences of disabled people in Northwest Nigeria utilises creative methodologies to capture narratives of the barriers this group faces in everyday life. Sarita Panday’s research using participatory methodologies to engage with women in Rural Nepal highlighted the use of video methods to explore the impacts that child marriage has on health and wellbeing.
Finally, Sharon-Lin Harwood and Tamara Sancho are co-conducting an evaluation of a mentoring scheme designed to support clinical psychology doctorate students from racialized backgrounds. This research aims to address a long-standing structural inequality in clinical psychology training, so we can better understand how to create a more inclusive profession.
These are only three examples of a range of research displayed on the day that addressed issues of equality, diversity and inclusion in health and social care. This area of research and scholarship is important in addressing inequalities of access and outcome in health care settings, as well as how we can create inclusive environments for our staff and students.
It was great to see the many presentations and posters from staff and students addressing a varied range of topics across all the professional disciplines across the school’s 4 research groups.
This was our first school conference in a long while and it evoked a lot of reflections from our staff.
"It was lovely to meet staff old and new, visiting Colchester campus, grabbing a coffee, and walking with colleagues, chatting, and catching up. And since I was last on campus needing to download the parking APP to pay. I really have missed the F2F interactions, the non-verbal, shaking hands, discussing research, chat, debate, listening, learning, and networking. Just being present!" - Professor Camille Cronin.
"The annual staff student research conference was a celebration of the excellent research our staff and students are doing. I was particularly impressed with the wide and varied methodologies shared which aligned beautifully with the ethos of health and social care. This conference would not have been possible without the dedicated support from Rebecca Hindle who expertly navigated the hybrid approach used. Also, a big thank you to Nikki Kearns who helped us with Moodle and all IT related aspect of our conference. Extended thanks to Camille and all our Chairs" - Professor Winifred Eboh.
"This is the first time I have been involved in the research conference and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A lot of behind-the-scenes work is involved in bringing everything together, especially as a Hybrid event, but I am pleased to say it went extremely well. It was so lovely meeting students for the first time in person, hearing their research interests and generally being around colleagues I haven’t seen for a long time. I would like to thank all the students and staff for being a part of this amazing day, but especially to Winifred for all of her support." - Becky Hindle, PGR Administrator.
On the day there was a remarkable change in vocabulary and common themes. Researchers were co-designing with “others” and co-producing their research showing evidence of strong participatory practice in so many different settings however collaboration does have its challenges.
The research was participatory, inclusive, critical, and exploring experiences. Research was dealing with health accessibility, disability, exercise, vulnerable groups, and care versus control.
Researchers themselves discussed different terminologies to describe activities and information such as “the researcher’s backpack” which was about a collection of information for sharing with educators. Researchers were also excited about returning to the field describing “research parties” and the feeling of being excited to be back conducting face-to-face research. And has the pandemic made us “resilient researchers”?
Researchers discussed lots around different methodologies and some this stayed with me when describing narrative research using story telling method, “A long story about a bunch of stories”. There was some great presentations and discussion around whether "you are in or outside your research?" The insider/outside dilemma in qualitative research. And where is the research taking place? In our university, community, locally, nationally, and internationally.
The conference included a poster session, the prizes went to:
1st - Sadia Riya
2nd - Laura Brady & Blessing Bakare
3rd - Leah Simmons & Sarah Osunsanya
Thanks to our professional services staff, of which the success of these events depends upon.
Thanks goes to Becky Hindle and Prof. Winifred Eboh for organising the conference, the online submissions process, the programme, Moodle conference site and communications.
Thanks goes to our chairs for each of the sessions: Dr Aaron Wyllie, Prof. Pauline Milne, Dr Nestor Asiamah, Dr Andrew Bateman, Prof. Reza Majdzadeh, Dr Caroline Barratt, and Prof. Camille Cronin who kept the timing of the day and managed both the F2F/zoom interactions in our hybrid conference.
Thank you to all our wonderful presenters, our students, and staff, all the amazing posters and of course you the audience.