Ho, ho mo leannan (My child)
Ho mo leannan bhoidheach. (My beautiful child)
(Loch Lomond, Runrig))
The last song at this year’s Institute Christmas Party was the Scottish folksong Loch Lomond. The Runrig version is now the traditional party finishing song (although the tradition also includes chanting “One more song” until DJ Tony relents and plays another!!) Yon Bonnie Banks marks the end of my time on the SIPBS Social Committee: one of my first work roles to formally stop. I expect the next few days will see many of the people and projects that make up the academic community of SIPBS carry on down one path as I change course and “take the high road”.
SIPBS social committee
The SIPBS Social Committee was a collection of enthusiastic volunteers who got together 2 years ago to organize parties in SIPBS. It was an exciting mix of folks: academics, researchers, admin staff, technicians and PhDs, from the UK, Europe and further afield. We devised and ran a program of events for as many of the SIPBS community as we could reach. Budgets were small so we just ran off clever ideas, talent, sweat, enthusiasm….and adrenaline too. Most of it worked really well (although a couple of ideas flopped). I was lucky enough to ‘chair’ (what ever that actually means) this group of smart and passionate volunteers.
We soon learned lessons on the challenges of organizing a party! Any ‘gathering’ needs folks to come along, so that’s promotion; food and drink, so we need catering and budgets; somewhere to meet, make sure you have room bookings, setup, security, occupancy numbers and even licensing laws sorted; if you want some activities find the DJ, games/quizmaster, MC, PA or video systems. And then, since it’s a work party in work buildings, risk assessment and alcohol policy compliance! Oh, and after it’s all finished, make sure the place is left clean and tidy so that’s the domestic teams aren’t dumped with a trashed room to sort out the next morning!
As we planned our early events we discussed how we could actively include the different sub-groups in the Institute. These sub-groups might be based on any common factor: research field, lab building, nationality, gender, working hours, belief, culture etc. We moved beyond just organizing parties, to something approaching social entrepreneurship: our goals were not making money, but to make community.
The thing about community is that it can’t be bought, or directed, or outsourced it to the cheapest provider. You need to build it: you need plan, prepare the ground, dig foundations and place brick upon brick. You can’t build community remotely, you need to walk and talk and invite people to the next event with a smile. We quickly figured out that a paragraph at then bottom of the Institutes weekly newsletter will inform, but won’t motivate.
International = Intercultural
Last year I did a quick survey of the nationalities of the postgrad students and postdoctoral researchers. Just above half of that group originates in the UK. The next two biggest groups coming from the Middle East and the EU (at about 15% each). The research community in SIPBS is global, and an international community is an intercultural community.
Multiculturalism is hard work: it’s like wearing someone else shoes that are two sizes too big, it’ll take while before you can dance properly in them! Crossing cultural boundaries takes time, skill, patience and a listening ear. I’ve been so fortunate in SIPBS to have friends and colleagues from other countries, cultures and faiths who have those qualities. Doubly fortunate, because the Social Committee showed these qualities too.
Companies are crying out for employees with transferable skills. In 2010 a survey of Scottish Life science employers showed the most important factor in recruiting graduates were, in order of importance: positive attitude, employability skills (team working etc), work experience, degree result, degree subject, University attended, foreign language skills and lastly personality (See table 18 in Scottish Life Sciences Employer Skills Survey). I was amazed when I first saw this: that all that work in the ’80 and ‘90’s I done to get me a good degree in a good subject from a good University wasn’t as important as the transferable skills we didn’t get taught.
Roll on 25 years and its a different story. The uncertainties of my future are not quite so daunting because in the last two years I’ve started to learn and use these ‘soft’ skills as part of the Social Commitee. I understand power of team, the importance of networks, smiles and face-to-face invites, the nerves of the unknown, the elation of running successful events, and the head scratching after failed ones. Nobody on the committee was paid extra salary for their activities, but after two years I’ve left with something more valuable that just a few extra quid.
The High Road.
And the plane takes off in a clear blue sky
Life’s a long lost list of last goodbyes
(The Cutter, Runrig)
Runrig were one of the first bands playing Celtic rock (as it became called). Most of the band originated from Scotland’s Western Isles and they sung both Scots Gaelic and English lyrics with the distinctive ‘isles’ accent. They were pretty popular in Scotland after their album ‘The Cutter and the Clan’ (from which the lyrics above are taken), but in 1987 they were still wee enough to play the Glasgow Uni Freshers week gig at the Queen Margaret Union. I went to see them as a new student, just arrived in the big, ‘no-mean’ city, pint in hand, trying to look ‘cool’, and wondering where my University studies would take me. It makes me smile that nearly 30 years later, still in the big city, water now in hand, and trying to help build a community, this chapter of my University career comes to a close and it’s Runrig that play the last song of the night.