I’ve been asked to provide a profile, a description of who I am and what I do, and rather than just writing out a bit of a list I thought it would be interesting to describe my week. This isn’t a typical week, as I don’t have a typical week, but hopefully it illustrates my interests and activities, including research, administrative, teaching and some leisure time as well. Oh, my name is David Foxcroft and I’m Professor of Community Psychology and Public Health at Oxford Brookes University.
Head off to the sailing club, but no sailing today as the lake is frozen over. This doesn’t stop one brave soul though: Stanley swims every day of the year and there he is breaking the ice as he takes his morning swim. And he is smiling! I head back home and spend the afternoon reading MSc Public Health dissertation drafts. The submission deadline is looming and students are sending drafts for last minute comments and checking. There’s some nice work, but also some confusion that I try and give useful feedback about, even at this late stage.
The day starts with a conference call for the International Cochrane Collaboration Drugs and Alcohol Group (I’m an Editor with the Group). It’s an international group, and on this call are psychiatrist and psychologist colleagues from Australia, China and Italy. We talk about an initiative to establish a Cochrane Mental Health Satellite, and how to prioritise systematic reviews for the next year. After the call I cycle to the railway station to take a train to Stoke-on-Trent, from where I cycle up to Manchester for my meetings the next day. I go through the papers for the meetings on the train, and reflect during the ride on missed opportunities. One of the meetings is a NIHR trial for a school-based good behaviour programme that we piloted in Oxfordshire, but then I failed to get local ethics committee approval for the practicalities of the main trial. Manchester University were happy to take the lead though, and the Principal Investigator is Professor Neil Humphrey, a psychologist with a strong track record of running trials in schools, so the work is in good hands. In the evening I work on a paper from an evaluation of a digital drug prevention resource that my research group recently completed. The lead author is now at the University of Otago and is keen to submit soon, and the other co-authors have already provided their comments; hopefully I’m not very late with mine.
My first meeting is with Professor Rachel Callam, another Manchester University academic psychologist. Rachel has just been awarded a large grant from the Medical Research Council for a trial of the Strengthening Families Programme, a teenage parenting programme, with colleagues in Panama. It’s great to see the impact our research group’s work is having: we first identified this parenting programme as a promising evidence based programme over ten years ago in scientific work funded by the World Health Organisation. Since then, the programme has been taken up in many different countries; the version in Panama is sponsored by the United Nations. Rachel has asked me to chair the Study Steering Committee for the trial – an independent committee to advise and guide the conduct of the trial – and we discuss issues and the agenda for the upcoming meeting of the full Steering Committee. Then it’s on to the meeting with Neil Humphrey and the trial team. I get there early and Neil is talking about challenges he is facing with IT support; he has been without email access for a couple of days and even though he is Head of Department he can’t get anyone to fix it quickly. This reminds me that the grass isn’t always greener: I’ve always found IT support at Brookes to be excellent. During the meeting we talk about plans for running and managing this large study, which kicks off in April, as well as ideas for additional data collection and analyses that we might be able to fit in. I’m confident this study will lead to some good 3 and 4 star papers. After the meeting I cycle back to Stoke, where I hole up for the night in a cheap but comfortable hotel. Manage to get in an hour working through some of the day’s emails.
The plan today is to cycle from Stoke to Oxford. I’m a keen cyclist, over longer distances, and as the weather forecast was reasonable I had decided to go for it. It’s a bit cold but I soon warm up, and the route takes me along some quiet and pretty canal towpaths. The canal is frozen over in places, but I’m keeping warm. I see three herons, though they lumber off before I get close enough to take a photo, and I’m reminded of Paul Farley’s excellent poem (it’s called “The Heron”; google it – it’s great). Another cyclist on a fast bike tucks in behind me, so I lift the pace for a few miles (my competitive instinct!) but I have to give up after a while and ease off as he flows past me. I tell myself that I need to take it easy as I have a long way to go, though as a psychologist I know the technical term for this sort of thinking: “external attribution for failure” (in other words, it wasn’t my fault I couldn’t keep up!). Cycling is a good time for thinking and reflecting, and during the ride I start to bring together some ideas for this “My week” piece that I have agreed to put together at short notice; in fact, I probably compose a good part of it in my head whilst I’m trundling along. I also reflect on an email from the interim Faculty Leadership team – I’ve been struggling to achieve a clear understanding of the recent plans for Departmental restructuring which seem to have been rushed through, and the email has been helpful, but there are still some questions and I wonder if I have the energy and resolve to keep pushing for answers.
I manage to write up the first part of this piece before riding into work; it doesn’t take long as I have the main content in mind from yesterday. Then a full day of meetings. The first one is with a PhD student who is nearing completion. We celebrate that an article about her work has just come out in a special issue of a journal, which is a great achievement. Then we work through one of her final draft chapters, one which is proving quite tricky to maintain that important “golden thread” in a PhD thesis. We make good progress and I’m optimistic that this work will be finished soon and will be an excellent thesis. Then it’s on to my interim Personal Development and Review (PDR) meeting with my interim Head of Department. I pick up an email with my PDR report from last Summer, and read it through to remind myself what I’m supposed to be doing. Luckily, it seems we had listed the things I was going to be doing anyway – very smart! So there were no surprises and the meeting went well. I do manage to get across my standard moan (every year now for the past seven) about lack of administrative support for senior staff; I’ve never appreciated why only management at Brookes is privileged with administrative support. The need is greater than ever: at the last count there are getting on for 50 different IT systems and processes I’m expected to remember how to use; no wonder it can take up to an hour each time I need to find out how to do something like booking a meeting room or organising a parking space.
A sandwich for lunch whilst going through emails is followed by a supervision meeting with a Masters student, a meeting with my colleague Dr Lesley Smith to discuss finishing off a research project, and another Masters student supervision meeting. Time for a few emails before heading home. In the evening I finalise the agenda for a Board meeting of the European Society for Prevention Research which is scheduled for the following Monday. I’m currently the President of this Society, and we are in the process of relocating the organisational base from Poland to Spain, so there are lots of administrative issues to cover in the meeting.
Teaching for the new Semester begins next week, so I spend a couple of hours going through my notes and slides for the first session on Tuesday. I’ve already done a lot of work getting the “Evidence Based Prevention” module set up on Moodle, so this morning I spend time just on the content and making sure it’s all up-to-date and ready to go. Next, as the marks from last semester’s teaching have been published this week, I field a few emails from students wanting information and feedback, and I take another look at the marking criteria. I’ve agreed to lead a review of the marking criteria for the MSc Public Health Programme, and have pulled together a brief report setting out our criteria alongside the criteria used in other institutions. There are some useful aspects in the other sets of criteria, and working with the Programme Lead we set out a process of review through which we can consult and possibly improve on the criteria we currently use. After lunch, I turn to the MSc dissertations that have been submitted for marking. The deadline is 12 noon today and I can access the submitted work immediately on Moodle, which is great. I begin the marking process: my approach is to read through the submitted work fairly quickly as an initial “go through”, making notes about any main points that are immediately apparent. After this, I’ll go through each dissertation more carefully, and make full notes that can be used for student feedback. I finish the day working on addressing points raised by referees on a Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) grant application. Working with colleagues including Dr Jo Brett and Dr Emma Davies, we have recently been successful with one CRC bid to study the use of e-cigarettes as a prevention approach with cancer patients, and we’re optimistic about this second bid. I’m pleased with these developments, as they fit neatly with some behavioural health and prevention advisory work I’ve been doing over the past two years with psychologists at the French National Cancer Institute.
More dissertation marking – making good progress but eventually my mind starts to wander and I find myself reading the same paragraphs over and over again. Time to stop. My mind turns to preparations for a dinner with friends that evening. We’re hosting a Burns Night supper, so there’s haggis, poems and whisky to get ready. I think again about Paul Farley’s poem, and dig out my copy to read at supper. I’ll start off with this poem – I’ve used it before and I know it’s a good ice breaker.
David Foxcroft, January 2017