Dr Ashok Patnaik is a Post-Doctoral Researcher in Sport and Physical Activity and Business School representative on the Research Staff Association. He shares his experience of the research culture and support available at BU.
"In my research, I investigate how physical activity and movement influence young children’s mental health and wellbeing. Doing research with young children presents a number of challenges, notably, adapting the research to their cognitive capabilities and navigating the ethical issues sensitively. The research is made more difficult by the context in which it is done – in the high-pressure environment of schools, with teachers whose heavy workloads necessitate highly streamlined and efficient research processes. Despite these challenging circumstances, I have been able to conduct my research fairly smoothly and enjoyably due to the excellent support I have received at Bournemouth University.
BU’s research environment is best described as one infused by a set of values – kindness, generosity, inclusiveness, excellence, and egalitarianism. These values shine through in the behaviour of colleagues across the university. It is not ordinary courtesy however, but exceptional helpfulness, the kind that makes you sit up and take notice. Many is the time I have phoned a new colleague, a complete stranger in a different faculty or department, to request some help with my project and have been left pleasantly surprised by their generosity and helpfulness. This is not an infrequent occurrence; rather, it is the norm at BU.
The research culture at BU is marked by a passionate dedication to these values and a commitment to living them. It starts at the top. Our Executive Dean, Dr. Lois Farquharson, leads the way by living the values herself and building concrete mechanisms to embed them into the fabric of the culture, e.g. the ‘Kindness Initiative’ and the ‘Making a Difference’ awards.
Two notable examples of the blend of rigour and supportiveness that characterises the conduct of colleagues at BU come from the Social Sciences & Humanities (SSH) Research Ethics Panel and the Research Funding Facilitators. The SSH Research Ethics Panel has been very understanding and sympathetic to the challenges of doing research in schools, especially during the pandemic. They have ensured the integrity of the research while also being flexible and pragmatic.
Research funding facilitators Dr. Sarah Thomas, Nicolette Barsdorf-Liebchen and Ehren Milner are exemplars of the value of combining rigour and supportiveness. When I first approached them, I was very new to the process of applying for research funding. Given the demands on their time, and the big projects they normally work with, they could have easily, and with good reason, turned me away. Instead, they have been most generous with their time and advice. They have gently and patiently guided me, offering hard-headed advice about the realities of applying for funding, and helped me learn the ropes. Thanks to their support, my NIHR funding application has come a long way.
Dr Ashok Patnaik
"BU’s research environment is best described as one infused by a set of values – kindness, generosity, inclusiveness, excellence, and egalitarianism. These values shine through in the behaviour of colleagues across the university."
The research culture at BU is highly egalitarian. Many times, I have requested meetings with, or help from, senior colleagues - Professors and Heads of Department - and have been pleasantly taken aback by how receptive, open-minded and helpful they have been. Busy professors and eminent researchers like Professor Welham, Professor Gatzidis, Professor Zhang, and Professor Hemingway have given me the opportunity to present my work to them and have given me valuable feedback.
Although there have been some individuals who stand out by the sheer weight of their contributions, e.g. my line manager, Professor Michael Silk, or my senior academic colleagues, Dr. Daniel Lock and Dr. Carly Stewart, there have also been numerous other colleagues who have played small but key roles at crucial junctures and facilitated my research in important ways. These are the unsung heroes, and it is worth recognising them and acknowledging their role in making my research possible.
From a colleague in the School Liaisons Team, Sarah Dobie, selflessly reviewing my study materials and offering helpful advice; to a finance administrator, Adele Van Staden, using her MS Word skills to format a recruitment letter, or Artur Gebka helping me find a suitable room in which to deliver my presentation; to a statistics advisor, Steve Smith, helping me out in a pinch; to an Operations Manager, Louise Hanlon-Brooks, who granted me dedicated office space to work, which made a huge difference to my well-being and productivity; to the inclusiveness of a Public Engagement Officer, Adam Morris, who invited me, a junior researcher, to present at a prestigious forum like BU Cafe Scientifique or a research programme manager, Rebecca Edwards who gave me the privilege of taking part in a new, innovative programme of transformative inter-disciplinary research (the Crucible); to a colleague at SportBU, Rosie Merrison, who permitted me to volunteer in one of her outreach programmes, and thereby gain valuable research-enchancing experiences; to a colleague, Dr. Andy Callaway, moving one of his classes so that the Sports Lab could be freed up to host a workshop I was trying to organise; to receiving both encouragement and very helpful advice from my brilliant Research Staff Association colleagues; to admin staff, across faculties, who have been most helpful in signposting and assisting in various ways; to receiving recognition for my work via pay progression; the examples of colleagues routinely taking the time and trouble to help others are many.
Going out of one’s way to help colleagues selflessly is a way of life at BU. It feels like teamwork in the most meaningful sense of the word, as if other colleagues are rooting for me. And it has been this way from the very beginning. From the start of my role, my senior academic colleagues Professor Michael Silk, Dr. Carly Stewart and Dr. Daniel Lock have been most helpful. One gets the impression that at BU, kindness matters.
Ultimately, it is not about the effort of any one individual; it is more about the collective effort, the ecosystem. If we think of the research environment as consisting of several inter-locking parts, it is the alignment of these parts and the synergy between them, e.g. the fact that colleagues across the university share these values and practice them everyday, that has produced stellar experiences such as mine.
The research culture at BU, which was already very good, has got even better in the last two years. It is clear that services across the university have taken feedback from researchers on board and significantly improved their processes, as is evident in the improved outcomes.
The Careers Service has enchanced its offer for academic staff and now provides an excellent suite of resources. The service from HR is a lot more responsive; the timescale for responses has come down noticeably. Colleagues in RDS and OD have been receptive to feedback and have shown this by introducing new programmes such as a course on ‘research leadership’. The Doctoral Training College, which already ran an excellent series of workshops on research methodology, has increased the number, and the range, of courses on offer. BU librarians, especially the faculty librarian, have been marvellous in accepting recommendations for helpful texts, and have been prompt in adding resources to the library which would support my research.
As a researcher, I feel that I have come a long way in increasing my knowledge of my field and how to conduct research in a demanding context (with children and teachers in schools). The enjoyable experience I have had and the massive amount of learning and professional development I have enjoyed would not have been possible without the brilliant and extremely supportive research infrastructure at BU.
This infrastructure has grown by leaps and bounds within the short space of the last year and a half, despite the challenging circumstances of working during the pandemic. The generosity of my colleagues across the university has been, without exaggeration, staggering. Busy colleagues have regularly given their time and advice generously to help me and to further my work. Such a spirit of camaraderie and esprit de corps would not be possible without sustained and committed support from the faculty and the university leadership who not only espouse the values of kindness but also live them."