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The FBS International Doctoral Student Engagement Fund Awardees are Announced!

By b.isibor, on 7 December 2022

The inaugural Faculty of Brain Sciences (FBS) International Doctoral Student Engagement Funds (IDSEF) support FBS academics supervising doctoral students with collaborators based in other countries. Doctoral students are often the engines of research, facilitating international collaboration with their thesis projects. This fund supports such international collaboration at UCL. This year, the IDSEF supported three students:

Mateo Gende

Mateo Gende was born in Spain in 1995. He received his BSc. in Computer Engineering in 2018, and his MSc. in Bioinformatics in 2021 from the University of La Coruña, Spain, where he is currently pursuing the Ph.D. in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. Since 2018, he has been working as a researcher within the Centre for Research in Information and Communication Technologies (CITIC) in Spain. His main research interests include computer vision, medical image analysis, pattern recognition, and machine learning. His project will focus on longitudinal analysis of multimodal ophthalmic images through deep learning, and he will be supervised by Prof. Pearse Keane from the Institute of Opthamology.

Musambo Kapapa

Musambo Kapapa is an ICGNMD PhD Fellow and a highly qualified physiotherapist at University Teaching Hospital (UTH), Lusaka. Ms Kapapa has broad interests across NMDs and physiotherapy. Her PhD is titled: The development of an evidence-based genetic neuromuscular diseases management protocol for physiotherapists focused on physiotherapy practices, patients, and family experiences in Zambia. Her project will focus on developing physiotherapy clinical practice and clinical trial readiness for functional assessment for people living with genetic neuromuscular diseases in Zambia, and she will be supervised by Dr. Gita Ramdharry from the Institute of Neurology.

Mafalda Mascarenhas

Mafalda Mascarenhas is a PhD candidate in LiSP – Lisbon Doctoral Program in Social Psychology with a studentship from the Portuguese Foundation of Science and Technology (FCT). Her research aims to understand the sociopsychological factors that influence teachers’ recommendations for professional education (vs. scientific-humanistic high-school diplomas) for Black students, namely the role that behavior in the classroom and achievement have on those recommendations. Her project will focus on the impact of teachers’ perceptions of students’ agency on school paths, and she will be supervised by Prof. Lasana Harris from the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences.

Meet our New Faculty Race Equity Lead

By b.isibor, on 7 December 2022

The Faculty of Brain Sciences is delighted to announce the appointment of our new Race Equity Lead, Bilal Malik.

Bilal says upon appointment:

It is a real pleasure to take on the role of Faculty Race Equity Lead. I am delighted to be given this opportunity and hopefully, I can carry on the good work performed by the previous leads.

I work in the Department of Neuromuscular Diseases at the Queen Square Institute of Neurology (IoN). At the Institute I am involved with the Equity Diversity and Inclusion action groups. Through this role, I wish to support students and staff from ethnic minorities in order for them to achieve success in their studies and careers whilst at UCL. I hope I can provide help in closing the BAME attainment gap, remove racial inequalities and promote UCL as an inclusive diverse place of learning.

If you are interested in joining the Faculty’s Race Equity Team to progress meaningful change with Bilal, please contact the Brain Sciences EDI Team at: FBS.EDI@ucl.ac.uk.

Welcoming our new Disability Equity Lead

By b.isibor, on 8 November 2022

The Faculty of Brain Sciences is delighted to announce the appointment of our new Disability Equity Lead, Indie Beedie. 

Indie introduces themself upon appointment:

I am the Executive Officer of the Deafness, Cognition, and Language Research Centre (DCAL). I joined UCL in 2011 and have had a variety of roles in both academia and professional services.

Also, I am a British Sign Language user who also uses speech and it’s my intersectional experiences of disability and identity as an ethnic minority woman which shape everything I do and my commitment to inclusivity.

I am really looking forward to working with the Faculty Equity Leadership team and creating an equitable and inclusive environment“.

If you are interested in joining the Faculty’s Disability Equity Team to progress meaningful change with Indie, please contact the Brain Sciences EDI Team at: FBS.EDI@ucl.ac.uk.

LMS Biology of Sexes seminar series

By FBS.EDI, on 7 October 2022

The four UCL Life and Medical Sciences faculties, bring you a seminar series on the ‘Biology of sexes’. We invite you to attend the inaugural lecture of the series, by Lucy Cooke the author of BITCH, on October 28th, 4-5pm, at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre Lecture Theatre followed by a social event (5-7pm).

Registration: Participation is free and open to all staff and students; however, registration is required, and spaces are limited so please register early to avoid missing out:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/biology-of-sexes-tickets-432466026527 

Our aim: The phrase “biological sex” has been thrown about like confetti, yet no one has bothered to ask us, biologists, what we think. We are therefore organising a new seminar series to give staff and students at UCL the opportunity to deepen their knowledge and broaden their understanding of the Biology of Sexes. Our speakers will challenge the preconceptions of biological sex and sex in biology, revel in the diversity of the animal kingdom to raise important scientific and societal questions to prevent biology being mis-used to fuel discrimination.

About the speaker: Lucy is a New York Times best-selling author, award-winning documentary filmmaker and broadcaster. Her recent book BITCH: A Revolutionary Guide to Sex, Evolution and the Female Animal challenges how we think about sex, sexual identity, and the patriarchal view of sexual selection. You will also be able to purchase a signed copy of Lucy’s book and enjoy a drink at the reception.

We are looking forward to seeing you at the inaugural UCL LMS lecture of the ‘Biology of sexes’ series.

Best wishes,

The Vice Deans EDI and organising committee.

We acknowledge that the date (half term) and time (4-7pm) are not inclusive and we apologise for this. We have made every effort to avoid this, but in this instance were unable to. We will continue to make every effort to keep upcoming events within 10am-4pm and outside of school holidays.

A new academic year for LGBTQ+ Equity in the Faculty of Brain Sciences

By FBS.EDI, on 5 October 2022

As another academic year begins, we want to welcome new staff and students to UCL’s Faculty of Brain Sciences, and let you know about LGBTQ+ equity groups and activities in the Faculty and beyond – see below for a list.

We’re also looking forward to hosting our first Faculty of Brain Sciences LGBTQ+ Equity event this term – on the evening of Tuesday 8thNovember we’ll be hosting a free event with UCL PALS researcher Dr Julia Shaw, who will be talking about her book, “Bi: The hidden culture, history, and science of bisexuality”. Event details can be found here.

Faculty of Brain Sciences LGBTQ+ Equity group

Our Faculty of Brain Sciences LGBTQ+ Equity committee meets at least once a term and is open to staff and research students in the Faculty who identify as LGBTQ+ or who have a significant interest/experience in LGBTQ+ equity. We are currently inviting new members, and would particularly like to increase representation of trans and non-binary colleagues and those with intersectional LGBTQ+ identities. Please email c.mgettigan@ucl.ac.uk for more information and to submit a short expression of interest.

Join our Faculty LGBTQ+ groups on Teams:

  • FBSLGBTQ+: For information and updates on our LGBTQ+ events and projects within the Faculty. A public group open to LGBTQ+ staff and research students, plus allies!
  • Out@BrainSciences:A space to connect with LGBTQ+ colleagues across the Faculty of Brain Sciences. Once inside the group, membership is not anonymous, so please request to join if/when you feel comfortable. A private group for LGBTQ+ staff and research students.

Other LGBTQ+ groups at UCL:

Wrapping up a year of progress within FBS

By b.isibor, on 13 July 2022

Throughout the past academic year, staff across the Faculty of Brain Sciences have delivered numerous initiatives to address inequality and exclusionary cultures. Broadening and strengthening EDI across the Faculty is a result of passion and commitment at all levels, with a continuous aim for steady and sustainable progression of EDI work.  

The initiatives and work illustrated below provide a brief insight into the work being carried out across the Faculty over the 2021/22 academic year: 

Pioneering EDI Research: 

An EDI Research Centre and Hub is being established to bring researchers within the Faculty into one network, provide them with common resources and other facilitations and to encourage research into EDI related topics. The center will officially launch in September 2022. 

Supporting parents and carers: 

The Carers Fund was created to financially support staff with parental and caring responsibilities to attend meetings, conferences, workshops, and events outside normal working patterns. The fund which was established during the 2020/21 academic year has expanded the eligibility criteria by including academics, research assistants, teaching fellows, professional services, and technical staff and PhD and Professional Doctoral students within the Faculty of Brain Sciences. The fund aims to continue its efforts in tackling barriers to progression faced by those with caring responsibilities in the next academic year. 

Developing Intercultural Competence and Practice: 

To address issues of intercultural communication and engagement and those seeking to improve their communication skills – particularly with their international students – Anouchka Sterling (Faculty Religion and Belief Equity Lead) created and developed a series of workshops exploring issues of intercultural communication and inclusion, with Stephen James, a cross-cultural communications consultant. The workshops considered two primary needs: psychosocial safety, and intercultural competence and practice, then participants ended the session by making pledges to apply new skills to their roles and general working experience.  

Listening to our staff and students: 

‘The Experiences of Disabled and Neurodivergent Staff and Students at The Faculty of Brain Sciences’ Focus Group Report: Manjula Patrick (Faculty Disability Equity Lead) and Nick Anim conducted a research project through a series of online focus group sessions that aimed to examine how disabilities, visible and invisible, shape working and social experiences at the university, for both staff and students. The full report is available online. 

Ethnic Minority Experiences in Brain Sciences: Roopal Desai, Lasana Harris (Faculty Race Equity Lead 19/20-20/21), and Linda Ali Brown (Faculty Race Equity Lead 21/22) led a project that conducted focus groups with ethnic minority staff to better understand their experiences working in the Faculty. The report revealed common themes that affect ethnic minorities within the Faculty and provided recommendations on how to tackle these concerning issues. The full report is available online.  

Addressing the ethnic minority awarding gap: 

The Faculty has undertaken a number of projects to address the awarding gap between white and ethnic minority students. This included piloting ‘Teachly’, a digital teaching support system that aims to improve inclusivity in lectures and seminars by providing lecturers with feedback and advice on how to improve their interactions with students (project led by Vitor Zimmerer). ‘Decolonising the curriculum’ workshops will be held later in July, so teaching staff can go into the new academic year with a refreshed understanding of the main ideas of decolonisation and the latest debates in decolonising science.  If you like to attend ‘Decolonising the curriculum’ workshop, please email fbs.edi@ucl.ac.uk.

Effective leadership and governance of EDI: 

Directors of EDI and Inclusion Leads in each of our departments have been ensuring local engagement and progression of EDI initiatives. Highlights include the IoN publishing the first departmental EDI report, DoP leadership committing to a number of EDI pledges, and EDI hangouts in PaLS sparking conversations on how to improve our workplace culture. At Faculty-level, Equity Leads have championed their area of focus (disability, gender, LGBTQ+, race, religion and belief) working towards a comprehensive action plan to support intersectional EDI work.  EDI Professional Services based within departments across the Faculty are fundamental to driving forward the EDI work on the ground; Seema Duggal in DoP, Avili Feese in IoO, Ana De Sousa e Faro in IoN, and Beverley Isibor in IoPD, EI and PaLS. 

Innovative career development support for PS&T staff: 

The Faculty staff survey 2021 showed that Professional Services and Technical staff feel that they have insufficient career development opportunities. To address this, the Faculty have put a concerted effort into listening to and supporting PS&T staff. The FBS PS&T mentoring scheme successfully matched over 20 mentors and mentees with comprehensive training to ensure these mentoring relationships lead to tangible career development. The Faculty held its inaugural Professional Services and Technical Staff Away Day in June 2022, sparking numerous conversations about the various options for career development, and promoting the initiatives, networks and opportunities available. The momentum built throughout the day will carry through to the next academic year as we will build upon this year’s progress to develop further initiatives for these often overlooked staff groups. 

Athena SWAN success: 

The Institute of Prion Diseases successfully achieved a Bronze Athena SWAN Award, and the Division of Psychiatry have submitted their Silver application, joining PaLS, IoO and QSIoN in working towards their Silver action plan. Ear Institute has been working towards their Silver application and are expected to submit later this summer.  

Thank you to everyone for contributing towards culture change within the Faculty. We’re looking forward to continuing this work in the next academic year, with renewed vigour after the summer break. 

Many thanks, 

Anna Cox (Vice Dean, EDI) 

Ciara Wright (EDI Manager) 

Beverley Isibor (EDI Coordinator) 

Congratulations to those shortlisted for UCL Inclusion Awards!

By FBS.EDI, on 13 July 2022

UCL Inclusion Awards recognise work or contributions that individuals or teams make to progressing equality, diversity or inclusion practice within the institution. We’re delighted that a number of staff and students in the Faculty have been shortlisted for these awards.

Congratulations to all the nominees that were shortlisted, listed below:

  • Cassandra Hugill – UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
  • Rashmi Mathew and Christin Henein – UCL Institute of Ophthalmology
  • Scott Tytheridge and Ricky Kemp, UCL Ear Institute
  • Javier Sanchez Bautista, Department of Neuromuscular Diseases

Each of these shortlisted nominees have taken a dedicated and innovative approach to driving forward positive changes at UCL, and their contributions have been rightfully recognised by colleagues across the Faculty and wider UCL.

The award winners will be announced at an in person ceremony on 13 July, from 5pm onwards. Good luck to all of these impressive nominees from the Faculty of Brain Sciences!

Disability equity in FBS: enough is not enough!

By FBS.EDI, on 28 June 2022

A blog based on ‘The Experiences of Disabled and Neurodivergent Staff and Students at The Faculty of Brain Sciences’ Focus Group Reportby Manjula Patrick and Nick Anim

Within the broader context of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) at UCL’s Faculty of Brain Sciences (FBS), this is the first piece of research carried out to explore the question “What are the experiences of disabled staff and students?”

Against the backdrop of the recent Covid-19 pandemic and the associated disruption to the conventional campus experience, the research was conducted through a series of online focus group sessions that aimed to examine how disabilities, visible and non-visible, shape working and social experiences at the university, for both staff and students.

In total, five focus group sessions were conducted, two for staff, and three for students. The number of attendees involved were eight staff, and twelve students. For both staff and students, the research question was disaggregated into the following five sections: (1) Staff/students experience, (2) Equity (3) Belonging (4) Ableism and discrimination, and (5) Recommendations. The related sub-questions are presented in the appendices of the full report. 

Key Findings

Due to the nature of voluntary engagement of this research method, this report is presented as a representation of some, not all, experiences. That is to say, there may be additional issues not captured by the research. Given that participants presented a very broad spectrum of physical, mental and neurodivergent disabilities, we can say with a fairly high degree of confidence that the experiences shared, offer a significant starting point for the FBS to better understand and hence improve the environment for all disability groups.

Awareness raising and training

Whilst there was recognition and appreciation of some good individual efforts in the FBS, as well as praise for the disability and dyslexia service and Occupational Health services, most participants expressed being very or fairly concerned that there is insufficient awareness and training on many different aspects of disability and the necessary processes to foster an equitable and inclusive environment for disabled people both within the FBS and UCL in general.

“Each HR person should know in and out the Equality Act and what it entails. I am gobsmacked that UCL has not faced any litigation”.

“They had no clue how to deal with a disabled person, so all they could think was ‘access to work’”

The tyranny of protocol

Many negative experiences expressed by staff were also linked to issues of inflexibility in implementing top-down protocols ‘by the letter’. Such approaches cannot, by definition and application, accommodate the variety of individual needs. In that context, for most disabled staff participants, expressions of dissatisfaction were often about their line-manager’s strict adherence or interpretation of blanket Human Resources (HR) edicts and processes that failed to take into account the specific requirements of a particular category of disability, or indeed related concerns raised by the individual member of staff.

“My manager has tightened up doing anything outside the box. It is HR writing off my situation in terms of them asking me to do something. HR is also one of the main barriers.”

For most student participants, the ‘tyranny of protocol’ is apparent in experiences such as long-winded processes of trying to get support, for example, to do with extensions to deadlines, and being “referred from pillar to post” without any clear signposts. For students with AD(H)D, the relative lack of understanding of the condition within UCL mental health services in general, and more specifically the FBS support structures, adds yet another layer of complications. In most cases, similar to staff experiences, the support available was a broad approach that did not address the specific needs of the individual.

You don’t need protocol knocking on your doorstep, saying the same thing every year or so, knowing that your condition is permanent. And that is now starting to happen again as we come out of the pandemic and lockdown.”

Signposting

In many cases, although lecturers and line managers were sympathetic to requests from disabled students and staff, they often did not know how to initiate or implement the necessary remedial procedures. Additionally, support infrastructures such as websites often fall short in providing adequate information; even basic information such as signposting to Occupational Health services. One notable effect of such shortcomings is to discourage people from talking about their situation and needs. Overall, many of the participants in the study thought issues of signposting are rather chaotic within the FBS.

Fear of overreaction and stigmatisation

The decision by any person to reveal or share information about their particular disability is often mediated by the environment within which they are located and operate. For some disabled members of staff, that decision is based on experiences either within society at large, or previous places of employment. In many cases, the constant fear of overreaction and stigmatisation prevent people from sharing information about their disability, even at the point of applying for particular academic courses or employment positions. Relatedly, many of the staff expressed a surprise that UCL does not appear to be a disability confident employer. As a result, people are choosing not to share information about their disability.

“I wouldn’t want UCL to know [about my disability] in any formal capacity. At the back of my mind, I still think what if you think less of me? What if some decision down the line, could influence negatively on me because they think maybe I can’t do certain things?”

 Why am I disclosing something when no one is reaching out to me to see how they can help me?”

The fear of overreaction and stigmatisation for students with disabilities is felt across all levels, from undergraduate to doctoral studies. Many students with non-visible disabilities described experiences of fellow students and lecturers being ‘freaked out’ when they shared information about their disability, leading many to conclude that it is perhaps better not to tell others. Despite periodic events and campaigns, there remains a general lack of awareness and understanding, particularly about neurodivergent conditions such as AD(H)D.

Personal and career development
Across both academic and professional services staff, participants expressed a frustration at what they described as very limited chances of progression. Perhaps most disturbingly, some participants highlighted incidents of being used to access groups or communities related to their particular disability for research purposes, without thinking much about how to encourage or help the personal and career development of the staff themselves. Such experiences left many staff despondent and feeling they cannot progress at UCL.

“I don’t fit in because there’s a distinction between those who are disabled, and senior members of staff and I feel like long term I cannot stay there because I will never grow and I will never progress in that department.”

Questions of personal development for student participants in the study were more difficult to gauge due to the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic and remote learning. Whilst some neurodivergent participants felt they benefitted greatly from the switch to online learning, others felt their personal development was stifled because many courses took on more students than normal, and therefore lecturers could not give sufficient attention to their specific needs. In that respect, many students have felt very challenged and overwhelmed by the lack of recognition and attention.

Solutions and recommendations
Both staff and student participants in the study were, in the first instance, very grateful for the opportunity to engage and share their experiences and opinions in this study. All participants expressed a wish for the study to just be the beginning of a process that will periodically invite them to share their experiences, not only online but where people could meet in person.

“You should not have to seek out your own support, it should be there for you. It should just be there, treating everybody equally in that sense without it feeling, well, it always feels a bit secretive to me.”

Beyond that, there were three main recommendations put forward by the participants, which we believe can be set in motion immediately.

First, the FBS should set up a framework for disability support; a substantive post at faculty level with disability leads/reasonable adjustment coordinators at department/institute level who work in partnership with the Disability Equity Lead to provide expert guidance to the FBS leadership, identify and lead key projects.

“I have been told that since I am a PhD student, reasonable adjustments cannot be forced on professors because it is between me and them whether they can give me it… Basically, it is a lottery whether they follow the reasonable adjustment or not. So, there is a bit of a question mark on how they [the faculty] prevent this from happening.”

Second, FBS and all its departments/institutes must go beyond the formal responsibilities, standard operating procedures, and inflexible protocols of accessibility and support, to provide all staff and students with clear guidelines. Obligatory annual training to improve disability literacy is needed to ensure a fair and inclusive environment throughout the Faculty. The training should be delivered in flexible learning formats by/with disabled people, and in association with a framework of accountability such as action planning at department/Faculty level, with proactive contributions to EDI assessed in annual appraisals for all staff and reported to the faculty.

“They were just completely freaked out by it [my impairment] … maybe it’s better to not tell people still. That is so hard because there’s been so many campaigns on normalising mental health and having mental health difficulties.”

Third, there should be a concerted and consistent effort within the FBS, to raise awareness and provide information about various disabilities, seen and unseen, from the social model perspective. In other words, an understanding of disability that steps away from the medical (deficit) model and viewing disability as homogenous. We must celebrate and give platform to the unique contributions of disabled people in our community. Relatedly, as put forward by the participants, the FBS “should adopt a broad approach that assumes everyone has a disability they are not sharing” so take anticipatory action, placing accessibility and inclusion at the core of all activities.

“It always feels like they are saying ‘these are the rules, and we are agreed that you [as a disabled person] are an exception’. But I do not want to be an exception, yet that is the way it is.”

“I think we have a long way to go, and I wish I had a community that would celebrate the differences I experience, but I don’t feel that at the moment”.

It is our hope this study provides some valuable insights into how disabled staff and students at the FBS understand and formulate their own experiences of the barriers that they encounter within the Faculty (and UCL in general) and that co-produced recommendations will be taken forward by the Faculty leadership.

Alan Thompson, Dean, Faculty of Brain Sciences responded to the report: “This report lays bare the challenging reality experienced by staff and students with disabilities in the Faculty. These findings are a much needed first step towards improving disability equity, and meaningful action needs to follow. As Dean, I will work with the Director of EDI and Vice-Dean EDI to consider the recommendations to strategically and systematically improve the way the Faculty and UCL operates, and dismantle the barriers impeding staff and students with disabilities. It is important we raise awareness of the issues staff and students are facing across UCL, educate those in key roles (e.g. line managers, personal tutors and programme directors) and put in place appropriate support for all members of our community; particularly the most marginalised. I am committed to working with colleagues within the Faculty and across UCL to make change happen.”

A warm thanks to all the staff and students who participated in this study for their generosity and openness in sharing sometimes painful experiences in the spirit of helping us work towards an equitable and kind community that values all and enables everyone to be the best they can. The credit for this work goes to them.

Project team:
Nick Anim (Project Researcher, The Bartlett).
Elise Crayton (Psychology and Language Sciences)
Jason Davies (UCL Arena)
Manjula Patrick (Principal Investigator and FBS Disability Equity Lead)
Nicola Ridgway (Ear Institute)

Note: Our full report can be found here.

EDI Leadership opportunities

By FBS.EDI, on 6 June 2022

Are you interested in driving forward change as an EDI leader at UCL?

Equality, diversity, and inclusion is increasingly important for Higher Education Institutions. As the sector is working towards a more positive working culture, ensuring all of our staff are supported is essential. This requires the identification and enablement of actions to ensure real change.

Equity Leads are a critical driver of this meaningful change within the Faculty of Brain Sciences. Two of these leadership roles are currently open for applications: Race Equity Lead and Disability Equity Lead.

Equity Leads work with a number of EDI colleagues and networks to oversee the development and implementation of EDI work in their specific area. These roles are half-day leadership commitments that can be combined as part of a member of staff’s existing role, and contribute towards rebanding and senior promotions.

The closing date for applications is Friday 9th September 2022.

For further information, including the full role descriptions, please contact fbs.edi@ucl.ac.uk

Job Descriptions for Equity Lead roles at Faculty-level:

Disability Equity Lead JD

Race Equity Lead JD

UCL EDI Conference 2022

By FBS.EDI, on 1 June 2022

The Central UCL EDI team has organised a series of workshops and presentations taking place over Monday 20th-Friday 24th June, exploring relevant EDI issues impacting staff and students across the institution. The team is delighted the invite staff throughout the Faculty of Brain Sciences to attend any of the following sessions. Please note that numbers have been capped for three workshops and will be allocated on a first come first served basis, however the vast majority are unrestricted.

Please click links below for further information on each session, and to register. Some colleagues have experienced issues opening the links – if this happens, please right click on the link, and click ‘Open Hyperlink’.

The registration deadline is Tuesday 14th June 2022.

Please contact EDI Training Manager, Lacara Barnes-Rowe (Lacara.rowe@ucl.ac.uk) with any questions.