Posts By / Julie Northam

Launch of the revised Academic Study Leave Policy

For some staff, research activity has understandably taken a back seat over the past 12 months due to the change in education models, adaptation to online teaching and focus on supporting students during this difficult time. The BU Academic Study Leave Policy has been revised and relaunched to provide opportunities for staff to engage actively and intensely in research activities that enable research performance in line with BU2025. Study leave is an important part of BU’s plans to recover from the impact of the pandemic and could be used, for example, to re-establish strategically important research activities from 2021/22 onwards, particularly those that lead in increased research income, outputs and/or impact.

The three main changes are:

  • In line with the BU2025 Research Principles, the purpose of the Academic Study Leave Policy has been updated from one which provided leave for education, professional practice or research to one which grants leave for research only. This proposed change is in response to the BU2025 challenge to build significant research capability across the University.
  • The priority list for academic study leave has been expanded to include ECRs and professional & support staff undertaking doctorates.
  • Changes to the application and approval process.

The revised Policy is available on the Staff Intranet here: It is being launched now to tie in with planning for appraisals, with a view to any study leave beginning from academic year 2021/22 onwards. Applications should be discussed with appraisers as part of the appraisal round this summer.

Reminder about the BU Bridging Fund

In summer 2015, we launched the BU Bridging Fund Scheme which aims to provide additional stability to fixed-term researchers who are often employed on short term contacts linked to external funding. This situation may impact on continuity of employment due to breaks in employment, job security and can result in a costly loss of researcher talent for the institution.

The Scheme aims to mitigate these circumstances through early career planning, forward research project planning, redeployment where possible, or where feasible, by providing ‘bridging funding’ for the continuation of employment for a short-term (usually up to three months, but up to six months can be considered in exceptional situations) between research grants. It is intended to permit the temporary employment, in certain circumstances, of researchers between fixed-term contracts at BU, for whom no other source of funding is available, in order to:

(a) encourage the retention of experienced and skilled staff, and sustain research teams and expertise;

(b) avoid the break in employment and career which might otherwise be faced by such staff;

(c) maximise the opportunity for such staff to produce high-quality outputs and/or research impact at the end of funded contracts/grants.

The Scheme was updated in 2020 to:

  1. Update the process to link the funding model with the conditions at the point of application:
    1. Sufficient external funding has been secured to retain the researcher but there is an unavoidable gap between funding (usually up to three months, but up to six months can be considered). If these conditions are met at the point of application and the application is approved then the central budget will cover 100 per cent of the salary and employers’ on-costs during the bridging period.
    2. The researcher is named on a submitted application for research funding and the decision is pending with an outcome expected before the end of the bridging period. If these conditions are met at the point of application and the application is approved then the central budget will cover 50 per cent of the salary costs during the bridging period. The Faculty will be required to meet the remaining 50 per cent of the salary and employers’ on-costs during the bridging period.
  2. Employment legislation updates.
  3. Add an additional financial approval to the application process.

To find out more about the scheme, including how to apply for bridging funding, see the scheme guidelines.


The Bridging Fund Scheme is an action from our Athena Swan action plan (which aims to create a more gender inclusive culture at BU) and our HR Excellence in Research Award (which aims to increase BU’s alignment with the national Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers).

BU submits to REF2021!

We are delighted to announce that BU has made a submission to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021. The REF is hugely important to the University in terms of both funding and reputation.

The submission represents a significant achievement, involving many staff across the University over the past seven years. Congratulations to all colleagues who have worked so hard and contributed to our REF2021 submission.

Since the last submission to REF2014, BU’s research capacity has grown substantially. We submitted 29% of eligible staff to REF2014 and are proud to have submitted 76% of eligible staff to REF2021. This represents the growth in volume and quality of research across the University as well as the inclusive nature of our approach. During this time, we have also grown the breadth of our research, making submissions to 13 units of assessment in REF2021, compared to 8 units of assessment in REF2014, with new submissions including English Language & Literature, Law and Social Work & Social Policy. The submission represents a substantial increase in research volume and excellence being undertaken at BU since REF2014 and is an incredible achievement for all.

The submission comprises 1,209 research outputs, 47 impact case studies and 14 environment statements!

Equality, diversity and inclusivity have been a key driver for the REF preparations, shaping and influencing decisions at every stage. We are delighted that the equality profile of the submission is much more representative of our academic community than in REF2014. Of particular note, the gap between the number of men and women submitted has decreased from 15% in REF2014 to 5.6% in REF2021, with women being only slightly less likely to be submitted. Compared to REF2014, the number of men submitted to REF2021 increased by 174%, whilst the number of women submitted increased by 325%.

Preparation for submission has been a substantial team effort, spanning the whole University. However, particular note should be given to the UOA Leadership Teams consisting of UOA Leads, Impact and Output Champions and the Research Development and Support (RDS) REF Team who brought the submission together and ensured adherence to our BU REF2021 Code of Practice.

Of course, contributions go much further than this. Each member of staff who has contributed to an impact case study, produced a research output, mentored a colleague, supervised a doctoral student, led a research project, and/or taken on additional duties to enable a colleague to undertake research, has contributed to the submission. In addition, numerous colleagues from Professional Services have been involved in checking and preparing data for the submission, sourcing outputs, and advising on guidance and content.

The REF results will be available in spring 2022. However, results aside, this submission provides for a moment of reflection and recognition for our collective achievements in growing research activity and excellence across the whole University, which will have positive benefits for years to come in terms of inspiring learning, advancing knowledge and enriching society.

Happy 10th birthday, BU Research Blog!

It is exactly ten years since the BU Research Blog was launched at Bournemouth University!

Our first post was on the excellent RNLI slipways research undertaken by Prof Mark Hadfield and Dr Ben Thomas (read the story here). Over the past ten years, 10,263 posts have been added to the Blog, many of which were posted by academic colleagues from across BU. In 2012, the BU Research Blog won a Gold HEIST Award in the Best Internal Communications Campaign category in recognition of its role is strengthening research culture across the University and providing a platform for colleagues to share information.

The analytics data only goes back to April 2016; however, there have been 888,126 page views since then. The most popular page is, unsurprisingly, the home page (with 111,374 views), followed by the research ethics pages (with 50,213 views), and then the REF page (with 16,847 views). The ten most popular posts have been:

  1. Thoughts on writing recommendations for a research thesis (15,957 views)
  2. Referencing Dutch, Flemish & German names in the Harvard system (8,751 views)
  3. Want to gain a Marie Curie Fellowship? Our four times winner shares his experience (6,739 views)
  4. How to write a 4* article (5,101 views)
  5. Training preparation in rural Nepal – BF poster (4,165 views)
  6. Writing a lay summary is easy, right? (3,323 views)
  7. BU Sports Management student succeeds in FC Bayern Munich and Procter & Gamble business case competition (1,778 views)
  8. Public lecture afternoon (1,731 views)
  9. Student Research Assistants – awarded projects (1,638 views)
  10. REF Week – environment statement (1,451 views)

Congratulations to Professor Edwin van Teijlingen who authored 3 of the 10 most popular posts.

Most people reading the Blog are based in the UK; however, people read the Blog from all over the world. The ten countries that access the Blog the most are:

  1. UK
  2. USA
  3. India
  4. Philippines
  5. Australia
  6. Germany
  7. Netherlands
  8. Ireland
  9. France
  10. Canada

The map below shows the locations of the people who have access the Blog since April 2016, demonstrating it has a world-wide readership.


Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the Research Blog over the past decade and made it a success. The Blog is owned by everyone at BU. If you would like access to add posts, contact Rhyannan Hurst who will set this up for you.

Mentoring week: Research mentoring in FHSS

Professor Vanora Hundley is Deputy Dean for Research and Professional Practice in the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences (HSS). As Professor of Midwifery and an experienced midwifery researcher, Vanora has led a range of studies in the reproductive health field both in the UK and internationally. In this blog post, Vanora discusses the support available in FHSS to support mentoring.

In HSS we have introduce a number of strategies to offer greater opportunities and promote a positive research culture for all. These have included an open culture of sharing and support, mentoring and career sessions, academic mentors, targeted research bidding and writing support, and a review of funding, such as QR, to ensure equitable support particularly to early career researchers.

For example: The Department of Rehabilitation and Sport Sciences have looked at ways to encourage research mentorship that is inclusive and productive. Two years ago, we asked senior staff to include ECRs in their PhD supervision teams where possible. This provided a number of new supervisors who joined supervision teams to gain experience. Last year we asked colleagues to join with mentors or invite mentors into writing groups and this resulted in a few papers. This year with the aid of QR funding we have asked ECRs to put a bid together and work with a mentor when applying for QR research funding. All three applications were of good quality, well considered and awardable.

Finding the time in busy diaries is always a challenges. Departments have introduced drop-in lunch sessions (rapid 30 minute discussions) and research is discussed at each department meeting. Each member of academic staff has a research mentor who can sign post them to appropriate opportunities and provide support to achieve their research goals.

Mentoring week: Dr Alla Yankouskaya shares her experience of mentoring

Dr Alla Yankouskaya is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology in the Faculty of Science and Technology. Her research focuses on social cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging and she investigates the cognitive and brain mechanisms of human perceptions and attention. In this blog post, she discusses her experience of mentorship at Bournemouth University.

Having a wealth of experience to draw from in terms of prior mentor-mentee relationships at the current stage of my career, I looked for a more senior mentor who has a wealth of experience and could reflect on where I am in my research career. When I met Hana, I felt straight away that she is the person who could guide me through the forest of different research pathways. It’s hard not to impose your own ideas and what you think would be right for yourself onto the situation, but Hana has the ability to listening to my thoughts and tailor my goals and objectives to my current situation. In my opinion, being an active listener is the first step of creating trust and openness between people. And this is what Hana did at the very first meeting.

The second important thing that Hana did is making herself accessible and available for me to talk. After a couple of meetings, I had the feeling that Hana grasped my potential strengths and limitations as a researcher without me explicitly telling that. This was a great starting point in our mentor-mentee relationship, as I felt comfortable talking to her about my research plans and professional development. Hana created ‘the safe environment’ in our meetings. Her advice, guidance, encouragement and examples from her research career put my mind in the right way – how to avoid mistakes, where to spend time and resources on things that matter instead of trying to do everything, helping to have balance and moving on.

Reflecting on the impact Hana had on my research career so far, I have got more precise ideas of the next step in my progression, how to use research resources, and how to make my strengths work for me. The benefits that I gained by having Hana as my mentor are difficult to overestimate. But as a small example, Hana’s comments about focusing on brain networks instead of localising brain areas of specific functions helped me change the main point of my study. The results were amazing – my paper was published in a high impact journal, and I plan my next study.

Mentoring week: Research mentoring in FST

Professor Tiantian Zhang is Deputy Dean of Research and Professional Practice in the Faculty of Science and Technology (FST) at Bournemouth University. She is a leading figure internationally in research on cryopreservation of gametes and embryos of fish species and her research interests have been in the areas of cryopreservation of reproductive cells and the effect of cryopreservation on genome integrity and cellular metabolism with applications in biomedicine, conservation and aquaculture. In this blog post, Tiantian discusses the support available in FST to support mentoring.

In supporting the delivery of BU2025 and career development of academic staff, FST introduced a faculty wide mentoring programme to academic staff in 2019 building on from the good practice of mentoring in the faculty. The Faculty formally recognised two types of mentoring: one for staff on probation and one for all staff. The mentoring programme initially covered all aspects of Fusion and we have further enhanced the programme so staff can also have a research focused mentor where appropriate. The mentoring support was initially focused on ECRs and this has been further developed for MCRs and other staff. The uptake of research mentoring by ECRs have been high (eg 100% for Psychology department). Mentoring has also been offered to senior staff including professors and mentors from both BU and outside were used. Some department such as Psychology has a mentoring lead/facilitator and gender balance of mentors/mentees have also been monitored as part of the Athena SWAN activities (eg Depts of Psychology, Life and Environmental Science and  Archaeology and Anthropology).

In addition to the formal mentoring arrangements, there are also a range of informal mentoring activities taking place in FST, these include research mentoring via research institute and research centre activities,  collective mentoring via research groups, mentoring on individual research plan development and the use of visiting professors for targeted support eg income generation.

Mentoring week: Dr Parisa Gilani discusses her experience of mentoring

Dr Parisa Gilani is a Senior Lecturer in the Bournemouth University Business School. Her research focuses on leadership development and she has a particular interest in gender and leadership. In this blog post, she discusses her experience of mentorship at Bournemouth University.

Having a research mentor has proven to be the most valuable learning and development experience that I have been fortunate to have in my career so far. In January 2018, I found myself in a position whereby I was nearing the end of my three-year tenure as a Programme Coordinator for a very large degree within the Business School. I felt that I made some form of difference and impact within the educational sphere and had learnt a lot along the way, but three since having completed my PhD at Exeter University, I still had no research track record to speak of. As I had allowed my research to slip, I lost all confidence in my writing ability and did not know where to start in developing papers for publication. As this felt quite a lonely and overwhelming process, I requested a research mentor.

In order to identify a potential mentor, I looked beyond my own immediate research area and approached Julie Robson, an Associate Professor who I knew demonstrated an inclusive and supportive approach to working with Early Career Researchers – as well as being knowledgeable in qualitative approaches, writing papers and developing bids. Thankfully she agreed to embark on a mentoring relationship with me – something for which I am very grateful.

Julie met with me on a regular basis and helped to set challenging, but realistic goals. Having someone else to be accountable to (rather than just myself) pushed me to meet targets and go beyond my comfort zone. She built up my confidence by reading paper drafts and providing constructive and encouraging feedback, which persuaded me to bite the bullet and submit papers that I had been holding on to. Research can feel like a very personal process and allowing someone to read my work (beyond my PhD supervisors and examiners) felt like a big step. However, Julie was approachable, supportive and someone that I very quickly developed a trusting mentoring relationship with.

Julie also enabled me to access a host of other research related opportunities such as assessing PhD Transfer vivas, reviewing papers on a Special Issue she was editing and involving me in a large research project she was developing with the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjustors. Her reach has extended beyond research and she encouraged me and provided guidance in applying for promotion to Grade 8 in 2019. I had applied unsuccessfully two years previously, and she helped me to identify areas whereby I was ‘underselling’ and not articulating impact clearly enough.

Three years on and my confidence has increased – as has my research momentum. I have submitted papers and published and have been promoted to Senior Academic. I’m also working on two large research projects – which have the potential to be future impact case studies. Whilst I recognise, that I have a long way to go in developing my research profile, I cannot speak highly enough of my mentoring experience. This past year has been tough on everyone as we try to juggle multiple responsibilities and demands. However, Julie has proven to be a voice of reason – when I am being hard on myself and focusing on my own perceived lack of progress and has reminded me of my achievements and that we’re only human. She has been there to celebrate my successes as well as being a source of reassurance when things have not quite gone to plan.

I really recommend finding a research mentor who shares the same values as you, is knowledgeable and supportive, who demonstrates a collaborative and inclusive approach and who essentially you feel comfortable with and can get on with! These qualities, in my opinion are arguably more important than sharing exactly the same research interests. However, you may be surprised – and find that your interests overlap more than you think. I would like to thank Julie for all the time and energy she has invested in supporting and enabling my development – something I will always be very grateful for.

Mentoring week: Dr Jeffery Bray discusses mentoring

Based in the Bournemouth University Business School (BUBS), Dr Jeff Bray is a Consumer Behaviour researcher and educator focused on the societal challenges of sustainable consumption both from an environmental perspective and a personal (health) perspective. In this blog post, Jeff discusses his experience of mentoring and how it has helped and supported him throughout his career.

For me, mentoring started during my doctoral studies, building close working relationships with my supervisors. On completion, (though it has never been said & they might be surprised to read it here!) one of my supervisors seamlessly transitioned from supervisor to mentor. They initially invited me to join one of their funded research projects which proved to be an invaluable learning experience providing crucial exposure to the funded research landscape. Over the years we developed a number of bids and papers together, and the informal mentorship that has been implicit in this has helped me to gain confidence, knowledge and crucially the networks necessary to develop my own research leadership.

Being an academic can be really tough, juggling teaching commitments, supervision, administration alongside advancing research projects. A few wise or encouraging words from a mentor who has been through the same experiences can be so helpful. An effective mentor/mentee relationship relies on being open about concerns and thoughts and being willing to both give and receive honest feedback! Certainty the forthright feedback from my mentor has helped me develop my research skills considerable and I now find supporting colleagues with their research development really rewarding, perhaps I have becoe one of the informal mentors 🙂

Mentoring week: Prof Heather Hartwell – Let’s give back

Professor Heather Hartwell is a UK-registered nutritionist and Professor in the Bournemouth University Business School. She has led many research projects, including the EC FP7 project VeggieEAT, the EC Horizon 2020 project FoodSMART and the British Council / Newton Fund project Veg+. In this blog post, Heather shares her experience of being a mentor at Bournemouth University and her thoughts on the mentoring role and relationship.

My primary goal in undertaking the mentoring programme facilitated by Organisational Development in 2009 was to use my experience and help staff who would like to enhance their own personal development and assist colleagues in realising their full aspirations. It was to give back to a community which had been totally supportive to me during my time in HE.

While there are theoretical models such as GROW (please see below) and much academic debate, mentoring to me is more fluid, less structured and more dependent on the mentor/mentee relationship.



Identify goal to be achieved
Reality Acknowledge the current situation and raise self-awareness


Identify alternative courses of action
Will Identify what will need to be done to make decisions on how to proceed.

The way forward

Table 1 – The GROW model (Whitmore 2002)

Respect for each other and commitment to action are crucial in a successful mentoring relationship where both are in tune and harmony. Notwithstanding, the nature of the mentor/mentee rapport changes with time; initially the focus may be on helping the member of staff settle into their new role, providing information and support on practical issues. The dynamics will then change to be more symbiotic and two way street.

Academic staff mentoring new academic colleagues may:

  • Review education and assessment strategies
  • Give support on exam question setting and assignment marking
  • Share education expertise and resources
  • Observe learning and teaching sessions and offer supportive formative feedback
  • Invite mentee to observe them
  • Offer guidance on university quality procedures and systems
  • Motivate and encourage innovative approaches to teaching
  • Support the mentee in submitting bids for grants and funding, providing guidance, feedback and opportunities for peer review
  • Support the mentee in writing for publication, identifying appropriate journals and providing guidance, feedback and opportunities for peer review
  • Identify with the mentee to engage in research, enterprise, professional practice
  • Identify opportunities with the mentee to disseminate research, enterprise, educational and professional practice
  • Introduce them to appropriate networks of support and collaboration


 What type of person makes an Effective Mentor?

 Clutterbuck (2004) suggests that a good mentor is someone who has:

  • An interest in developing others
  • An interest in continuing to develop themselves
  • Reasonably good explaining skills
  • Good listening ability
  • A broader perspective than the mentee’s
  • Generally good behavioural skills
  • Integrity
  • A sense of humour (absolutely essential in the eyes of mentees!)

I thoroughly enjoy the role and get great pleasure in the success of those who I support.

I hope that I am inspirational, enthusiastic and empathetic, although we must ask my mentees! The role takes my work to a new level within BU and provides a resource that hopefully will benefit not just individuals but the organisation as a whole.



CLUTTERBUCK, D., 2004. Everyone Needs a Mentor. London: Institute of Personnel Management

Talbot Campus Ref: 658.407124

WHITMORE, J., 2002. Coaching for Performance: GROWing people, performance and purpose. London: Nicholas Brealey

Talbot Campus Ref: 658.312404

Mentoring week: Research mentoring in BUBS

Professor Michael Silk is Deputy Dean for Research and Professional Practice in the Bournemouth University Business School (BUBS). His current research focusses on urban renewal, social inequalities and disability. He has received funding from the British Council, the ESRC, the AHRC, the British Academy and Sport England, amongst others.  In this blog post, Michael discusses the support available in BUBS to support mentoring.

In 2020, and coinciding with the launch of BUBS, the School began restructuring research into defined Dept. based concentrations (Professorial Led Research Groups); these supplement interdisciplinary Research Centres that serve as the public face of excellent research. Predicated on alignment of activities with emergent Departmental and institutional strategic narratives, as well as other internal and external drivers–BU2025 core and strategic investment areas, UN Sustainable Development Goals, accrediting bodies, and UK Research Councils—these research groups are designed to balance the development of quality with a focus on development, focussing on short-term achievements (e.g. increasing the number of staff that are publishing and the quality of publications from those already published), medium term goals (higher quality larger bids and stronger external networks), and longer-term strategizing (enhance the interdisciplinary research culture, invest significantly in ECRs and evolve established research networks).

Based on research which suggests informal mentoring is often more effective than formal mentoring (e.g. Cotton & Raggins, 1999; Inzer, 2005) these groups provide a space for career development, role modelling, social interaction, as well as developing more focussed areas of research strength / capacity and thereby feeding into the wider BUBS narrative. Whilst the development of these groups has in part been impacted by the pandemic and will benefit from physical interaction, there have been a number of activities developed within these groups over the last few months (e.g. writing & bidding workshops). Furthermore, the School has put in place a new research infrastructure in each Department (a Postgraduate Research Lead, a Research Environment Lead, and a Strategic Research Lead) who work closely with the Head of Department (HoD) and Deputy Dean (Research and Professional Practice) who provide a more formal structure for inclusion, performance and environment in our research activities (including mentoring). To further maximise support (and indeed, compliment informal mentoring with formal mentoring given that a mix of styles is likely the best approach), we will be developing a formal mentoring programme across Fusion utilising an online platform / software.

BU project explores potential power of constructive journalism in Covid-19 aftermath

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the news media have played an instrumental role in providing the latest updates and information. An increasing number of people, however, have sometimes avoided the news, finding negative coverage has a detrimental effect on their mood and wellbeing.

A new collaborative project will explore how constructive journalism – also known as solutions journalism – can increase audience engagement and empower communities to tackle the problems they face in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Constructive journalism breaks from traditional journalism’s focus on reporting social problems to also feature how people respond to problems, in order to help audiences to feel more motivated, inspired and empowered to deal with challenges.

Early evidence shows that this style of journalism also leads to greater engagement, with articles read more deeply and shared more widely.

The project is being undertaken by Bournemouth University (BU) in conjunction with Newsquest, one of the UK’s largest publishers of local and regional newspapers, with training and consultancy provided by the US-based Solutions Journalism Network, and the Association of British Science Writers.

Dr An Nguyen, Associate Professor of Journalism at BU, is leading the project, which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of the UK Research and Innovation’s Covid-19 rapid-response research scheme.

He said: “Traditionally, due to their professional dedication to the watchdog role in monitoring and holding powers to account, journalists focus disproportionately on social problems and pay inadequate attention to the ways to solve problems.

“Over time, it has become a bit too much of ‘doom and gloom’ news, which can lead to many people becoming mentally fatigued, desensitised or feeling helpless or powerless, because they can’t see a way out or don’t know how they could take action.

“Constructive journalism does not shy away from the crucial watchdog function but aims to offer a balance, moving away from focusing on problems to also exploring how problems are tackled and solved.”

Dr Nguyen added that the pandemic offered an opportunity to deploy constructive journalism in a large scale to help the UK’s local and regional communities and investigate the potential of constructive journalism in helping the public to deal with the social issues of our time.

“People will face a lot of problems during the transition out of lockdown and will try to find ways to limit the damages and adapt to the ‘new normal’,” he said.

“There is an increasing recognition among news industry that constructive journalism can be valuable. This project is an opportunity to test this concept in the context of one of the biggest issues the world is facing and see whether journalism can help people.”

Journalists across the UK, including journalism students, will receive training to produce constructive journalism through series of online training webinars. About 50 of them will then be mentored on a one-to-one basis by journalists with experience in constructive journalism to produce solutions-focused news for Newsquest’s local and regional titles.

It is hoped that at least 1,000 pieces of constructive journalism will be produced in relation to Covid-19 recovery during this campaign. A new professional network of UK constructive journalists will also be established and launched at the end of the project.

A research team in BU’s Department of Communication and Journalism will conduct in-depth interviews, surveys and experiments with local news audiences, including community leaders, to investigate how solutions-focused news can affect the mental health and wellbeing of the public, as well as civic engagement.

“We are trying to explore what type of constructive journalism would work, what sort of effects it has on audiences and how it might or might not help them to be more optimistic, motivated, inspired or empowered to take actions,” said Dr Nguyen.

The team will also conduct a detailed analysis of the solutions-focused news output from the campaign as well as interview the mentored journalists and their editors about their experience.

Dr Nguyen said: “We’ll look at the content output and see what sort of reporting techniques are used, what are effective and how they engage people throughout the post-lockdown stage of the pandemic.

“We will feed our research findings back to the participating news outlets so that they are informed of the effect of their campaign and, where necessary, what might be done to improve things.”

BU research explores the use of comic artistry and storytelling in public health information

Research at Bournemouth University is looking at the effectiveness of comic artistry and storytelling in the sharing of public health messaging.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) the project will catalogue and analyse comic-style public health graphics, specifically those created during the Covid-19 pandemic, and seek to make recommendations on how the comic medium can be effective at delivering public health messaging to help drive behaviour change.

The idea for the research began as Dr Anna Feigenbaum, the lead researcher, and her colleagues Alexandra Alberda and William Proctor shared clever comic-style graphics with one another that had been created and shared on social media about Covid-19. These single, sharable, comic-style graphics blend the artistry and storytelling of comics with the Covid-19 messaging we have seen throughout the pandemic.

Dr Feigenbaum, an Associate Professor within the Faculty of Media and Communication at Bournemouth University, said, “What we saw from these comic graphics was the way that the artistry and storytelling combined to share messages in a more emotive and interesting way. This built on work we were already doing on how public health messaging could utilise this medium to make their own messaging more engaging and even lead to better behavioural outcomes.”

José Blàzquez, the project’s postdoctoral researcher, has started work in collating over 1200 examples of comic-style Covid-19 messaging with the aim of understanding what makes them so compelling, and how this genre of communication could be further used to create what the project’s research illustrator, Alexandra Alberda, calls an “accessible, approachable and relatable” style of messaging when communicating important public health messages. The team aims to build a database that archives these comics, including information about their artistic and storytelling techniques, audience engagement, circulation, and what implications they may have for the sharing of health messaging in the future.

The final outcomes will be shared as a report and an illustrated set of good practice guidelines. Results will also be shared in the team’s edited collection Comics in the Time of COVID-19 and a special journal issue for Comics Grid. It is hoped these guidelines will inform public health communicators, as well as graphic designers and educators.

The team has even created their own Covid-19 web-comics, published by Nightingale on Medium.

Dr Feigenbaum continued, “Data comics are on a real upsurge as people look to make sense of the world through data visualisation, and there are some wonderful examples from amateur artists who have been incredibly clever and creative in taking what are, essentially, public health messages, and turning them into emotive comic-style stories.

“These sharable comic graphics are engaging and informed – there is a lot to learn here about the way we make sense of the world and how this genre could help us to see the communication of important messages in a whole new light. What we’re researching now could be seen as best practice in years to come.”

In addition to the main team of Dr. Feigenbaum, Dr. Blàzquez and Alexandra Alberda, this research will be conducted with Co-investigators Dr. Billy Proctor, Dr. Sam Goodman and Professor Julian McDougall, along with advisory partners Public Health Dorset, the Graphic Medicine Collective, Information Literacy Group and Comics Grid.

More information about the project will soon be available at

Why research matters at BU – now more than ever

On Monday, I added a post about the role of universities throughout history and how they have played a critical role in the creation and advancement of knowledge. The Government’s R&D Roadmap (June 2020) recognises universities as a crucial part of the UK’s R&D infrastructure, particularly in regard to ensuring the knowledge they create gets into the public domain and has social and economic benefits.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has had a damaging effect on research across all universities. Some research projects have been suspended or cancelled, there has been a delay in awards being made by funders, and the start dates for some new awards were postponed. Research requiring access to labs and/or fieldwork was impacted, particularly last summer. Some research may even have been rendered unfeasible due to COVID. Furthermore, the move to different models of educational delivery and pastoral support for students reduced time and capacity for research. COVID-19 also impacted university finances, creating additional uncertainty and a lack of stability, resulting in a reticence to commit to long-term projects and/or those considered to be risky. However, although the research process was impacted by COVID-19, the outputs of research are crucial to post-pandemic recovery, as discussed in Dr Rebecca Edwards’ post on Wednesday. This creates all sorts of exciting new opportunities for colleagues to get involved in research and change the direction of their research. Although challenging, it is important that time is carved out for research, now more than ever.

Research is a priority for Bournemouth University. It is central to our institutional strategy and ethos and it is fundamental to Fusion. Our research capacity has grown considerably over the past few years. More staff are now engaging actively in research, as demonstrated through the proportion of staff submitted to the Research Excellence Framework (REF). This has increased from less than a third of staff (REF 2014) to over three quarters of staff (REF 2021). We have invested in the Strategic Investment Areas and new institutes (such as the Institute for the Modelling of Socio-Environmental Transitions, IMSET and the Institute for Medical Imaging and Visualisation, IMIV) to bring research to life through programmes of research and collaborative, multidisciplinary research teams. Research undertaken by Bournemouth University makes a real, tangible difference within our region as well as nationally and internationally, as demonstrated through our plethora of impact case studies due to be submitted to the REF next month. The world needs research to recover from the impact of COVID-19 and our research can help.

The capacity and responsibility for research are key things that differentiate a university from a college of further education. Research is critical to Bournemouth University’s purpose and it is our research excellence that sets us apart from other universities, giving us our unique identity. It is our research excellence that underpins and influences our educational offering and attracts students to study with us and staff to work with us. Research is fun, exciting and rewarding. It stretches us, challenges our ways of thinking and introduces us to interesting new people. It gives us the power to make a difference in the world.

Bournemouth University researchers are making a difference through their research. Earlier this month we featured some of our global research projects, including:

We’re keen to share more stories about your excellent research and hear about what makes research exciting to you. Email me (Julie Northam) with your thoughts and ideas so we can work together to create a buzz around research at Bournemouth University.

Research and the role of the university…

Research is a priority for Bournemouth University and we are proud of the contribution our research makes to society. Ten years ago, I wrote a blog post on the role of universities in the 21st century and the importance of research, inspired by an article in the Guardian – What are universities for? As the pandemic is changing the very fabric and structure of our lives, it seems timely to revisit this and to reflect on what the role of a university such as BU should be during and after the pandemic and the importance of research in this. There will be a handful of blog posts this week exploring this topic.

The role of a university has been debated since the nineteenth century. In 1852 Cardinal Newman wrote that the sole function of a university was to teach universal knowledge, embodying the idea of ‘the learning university’. Newman believed that knowledge is valuable and important for its own sake and not just for its perceived use to society (this is quite different from the current thinking on the importance of research impact, public accountability and the value of research findings to society at large, issues which I imagine Newman would have thought of as irrelevant!). There was not a great deal in Newman’s work about the importance of research in a university, but research was beginning to play the starring role in mainland Europe where Prussian education minister Wilhelm von Humboldt wrote of the concept of ‘the research university’ and eventually set up the Humboldt University of Berlin. After the Napoleonic Wars, von Humboldt’s view was that the research university was a tool for national rebuilding through the prioritisation of graduate research over undergraduate teaching. This model soon became the blueprint for the rest of Europe, the United States and Japan. Arguably the Russell Group universities are today still structured in a similar way to that envisaged by von Humboldt two hundred years ago.

Moving into the twentieth century and we come across American educationalist Abraham Flexner who wrote of ‘the modern university’. In Flexner’s view universities had a responsibility to pursue excellence, with academic staff being able to seamlessly move from the research lab to the classroom and back again. The pursuit of excellence features in many universities strategies and the union and seamless movement between research and education sounds like an early version of BU’s Fusion strategy.

Taking into consideration the complexity of universities in the twenty first century, all of these views are a little too simplistic. Today’s universities have much broader remits and a much greater role in society. Peter McCaffery notes that universities now regularly encompass four roles:

  • Finishing school (the last stage of general education)
  • Professional school (the training of elite workers)
  • Knowledge factory (the production of science, technology and ideology)
  • Cultural institution (the expression of our individual and collective sense of being)

The Government’s R&D Roadmap (published June 2020) sets out the UK’s vision and ambition for science, research and innovation. It recognises universities as a critical part of the R&D infrastructure, particularly in regard to advancing knowledge and knowledge creation and ensuring that research gets into the public domain and has social and economic benefits. This is a significant remit for universities but makes them exciting places to work.

A quick look at the mission statements of a handful of UK universities indicates a common purpose based on the views of all of the aforementioned scholars:

  • “…to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence” (Cambridge)
  • “[The University] contributes to society through scholarship and research, by developing creative graduates and through its cultural, social, economic and environmental activities” (Bristol)
  • “…to be a world-leading, research-excellent, educationally outstanding university, driven by creativity and curiosity, which fulfils its social, cultural and economic obligations to Cardiff, Wales, the UK and the world” (Cardiff)

The creation and sharing of new knowledge and new ideas has become the principal purpose of many modern universities. In Northern and Western Europe and North America the university has become the key producer of knowledge (through research) and the key sharer of knowledge (through teaching).  Professor Eric Thomas (former Vice-Chancellor at University of Bristol) claimed that universities are the knowledge engines of our society having produced the vast majority of society’s breakthroughs and innovations, such as: the computer, the web, the structure of DNA, Dolly the Sheep, and the fibre optic cable. We can now add the COVID vaccine to that list, as developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca. Where would we be without these breakthroughs and would they have come about so quickly without university research?

Being part of an environment in which knowledge creation thrives creates a unique and amazing learning experience for students, both at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. BU’s focus on the Fusion of research, education and professional practice enables the creation of this type of environment through the continuous and valuable exchange of knowledge.

In Wednesday’s blog post we’ll look at the role of universities post-pandemic recovery.