I've made a video this year!
I've made a video this year!
I've made a video this year!
This post has been inspired by a couple of recent posts on the Guardian Higher Education Network website. It represents my thought and experiences. If it helps others I welcome that.
The growing awareness of mental health in academia is to be welcomed. I had my own experience of ‘coming out’ about my depression to myself, my doctor, my family, friends and colleagues. In accordance with stereotypical male behaviour I tried to avoid ‘bothering’ the doctor for at least two or three years. I was worried that I would be labelled ‘a hypochondriac’, or worse still be put on strong medication which would render me unable to function at work and in life generally. I feared a treatment worse than the disease.
Even after starting treatment I didn’t tell anyone what was going on. The only people who knew to start with were my wife and my doctor. After a few months of taking medication (which actually got working quite quickly) I wrote about my depression on my blog. Lots of people supported me and wished me well—family, friends, colleagues, strangers even. Several friends, mostly men my sort of age (late 30s), wrote to me about their own experiences. In many cases they too had hidden it from others.
One thing I’ve learnt in the past couple of years is that we seem to be talking about mental health problems a lot more. This might be due to my experience heightening my awareness, but this particular emphasis on mental health academia intrigues me. In my experience mental health struggles cross barriers of gender, class, religion, ethnicity, sexuality and occupation. Are academics really more prone to mental health problems than lorry drivers, builders, shop assistants, professional footballers, insurance brokers, nurses, unemployed people, elderly people, stay-at-home mums and dads etc.? Or are people with mental health problems somehow attracted to academic careers?
The Guardian Higher Education Network pieces seem to suggest that mental health problems in academia are worse than other professions or that academia is some sort of special case. Perhaps academia attracts people with mental health problems. These questions are beyond my expertise, so I default to my own experience here: As I came to contemplate the possibility of an academic career in the final year of my undergraduate degree I looked to academia as a higher calling. I saw what I believed was a highly ethical occupation where people respected each other, a true meritocracy where the best rose to the top, and nobody resented it. Maybe not the not paid job, certainly not the worst and an opportunity to live the life of the mind. 11 years post-PhD I now see that academia is a real job in the real world. I still regard it a special privilege, but I don’t see it so much as an exalted calling now.
Perhaps we also expect a community of thousands of people committed to critical thought in their respective fields of study to be a more supportive and understanding environment than other workplaces. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.
Some, but not all the reasons behind my own depression related to my previous job. The last two years of that job were turbulent for reasons beyond my own influence or that of any of my immediate colleagues. My full time job become part time but the workload only seemed to increase. I took on more and more in the hope I could work my way out of the situation. I reassured myself that anyone who was not overburdened wasn’t working hard enough. Eventually I began to recognise that a change was necessary if anything was going to change. Having stabilised my health I was able to re-enter the job market and now have a job I am happy in and doing the sorts of things I’ve long wanted to do. It is not a weakness to look for opportunities elsewhere if the present situation isn’t working.
The only regret I have now is not seeing the doctor sooner. I regret visiting the doctor for other ‘physical’ ailments and not telling him/her what was going in my mind. Here’s my only direct piece of advice: Doctors are not mind readers. If you are feeling depressed, anxious, afraid or suicidal you need to tell them. Don’t be too proud to get help. I’m still on the medication – I don’t know how long for – but seeking professional help has brought me to a much better place in every area of my life.
Developer, Financier, Designer: Building Hybrid Projects outside the University documents and reflects on my experiences of building the open access website YazikOpen. The article focuses more on the processes and issues about conducting a project outside the ‘official’ university than the technicalities of building the website, on modern languages or on the open access debate.
I wish to encourage others (in and out of academia) to take a look at the Hybrid Pedagogy online journal. I wanted to write this piece for some time, but was unsure where I could find an outlet to publish it. In my experience traditional journals don’t tend to be good outlet for reflective pieces, so I took to google and found out about Hybrid Pedagogy. Knowing nothing about the journal beyond what I saw on the website I took the plunge and submitted a short piece for consideration.
Hybrid Pedagogy is not only different in the sorts of article it publishes. Its peer review process is different from other journals I’ve published in. Rather than getting comments from anonymous reviewers, two editors from the journal, Sean Morris and Chris Friend, worked with me to bring the piece up to a publishable standard. They made suggestions, asked questions, asked me to expand certain sections and said what they thought was interesting about the piece and what they thought its shortcomings to be.
Hybrid Pedagogy is not only an open access online journal, but a different method of publication altogether. I would urge those with an interest in pedagogy or pedagogic research to take a serious look at the articles and consider contributing. There is even a section called 'Page Two' for non-peer reviewed contributions.
For the past few months I have been working on a British Academy funded online book to introduce humanities students to statistics. The website is under development and is not public at present. If any readers are interested in providing feedback, please get in touch (j.canning[at]soton.ac.uk) and I can give you an access password in the next few weeks.
Why is this website/ book/ resource is needed?
There are thousands of introductory statistics texts on the market, and I’ve only looked at a small number of them. In my view a majority of them go too far too fast. For some disciplines this may be appropriate, but introducing the normal distribution in Chapter 1 is frightening to students who have not studied mathematics since the age of 16, and many humanities students are in this situation. Just to give an example I have the Second edition of Statistics in Geography by David Ebdon on my desk.* I bought it when I was a geography undergraduate in the mid-1990s, by which time the text was almost 20 years old. I actually think it’s a good book on many levels and I frequently refer to it, but the first chapter introduces data types, probability theory, the normal distribution, hypothesis and significance. As a geographer without an A-level in Maths I found all this a bit much. In the sense of getting good marks I did well in statistics at as an undergraduate, but I can’t claim I really understood what I was doing. For non-mathematicians, especially those in the humanities and social sciences, statistics is very much a ‘hurdle’ to be overcome. Surface learning is the order of the day. With this book I take slower approach whilst hoping to make statistics seem interesting and relevant, but using humanities type examples.
We have become so used to the idea that “everything” is available on the World Wide Web that we take it for granted that anything we want to know is out there online somewhere. Searching for anything to do with statistics leads to seemingly random pages put up to support undergraduate-level statistics courses. Some of these are very useful of course, but on the whole these relate back to a face-to-face course of which we have no knowledge. Some of these websites are among the oldest pages on the World Wide Web. In many cases this is not a problem, but there is no shortage of webpages with references to pre-‘Windows’ versions of Minitab . Wikipedia is useful for many things but statistics really isn’t one of them, as discussion of the statistical tests is highly theory bound. On the plus side there are any good videos elsewhere. As I’ve mentioned before Daniel Judge’s youtube videos are particularly excellent.
Two annoyances (or surprises)
*This 1985 second edition is still in print. Not sure what today's undergraduates would make of the 17 computer programs written in BASIC.
Alun Morgan's sharing of a personal outdoor space (mentioned in my previous post) got me thinking about one of my own. The first one which came to mind was the park on Millham Road, Bishop's Cleeve, Gloucestershire (marked in blue) where I lived from the age of two until I was eight. In constrast to the growth of the rest of Bishop's Cleeve, relatively little has changed in this area over the past 30 years. Crucially the park still borders the fields between Bishop's Cleeve and Gotherington. Millham Road and the nearby Oldacre Drive are Post War (Confirmed by the 1945 OS map below). It is possible to see to the right of the current Ariel photograph what was a disused railway line in my childhood which is now part of the Gloucestershire-Warwickshire Steam Railway. It was possible to climb the steep bank and walk along the railway until the GWR laid the track. The station on Station Road is clearly marked on the 1945 map, but I don't think any evidence of it remains. The railway line forms an imprecise boundary between Bishop's Cleeve and Woodmancote.
I am not entirely sure why I thought of this location in such a way. The field was very uneven and people would walk their dogs on it without cleaning up afterwards. I also have strong memories of the rusty goalposts.