All posts by University Communications Team

The University of the Highlands and Islands Communications team run a blog with guest contributors from staff and students.

Responding to the pandemic – insights from an infection prevention and control graduate

Sofie French, a senior infection prevention and control nurse who graduated from our infection prevention and control MSc in 2018, talks about responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the benefits of online study.

Tell us about your experience of studying infection prevention and control

I completed the infection prevention and control MSc online whilst in full-time employment as an infection prevention and control specialist nurse.

The course linked directly with all aspects of my clinical practice. It gave me a deeper theoretical knowledge and understanding of infection prevention and control and allowed me to apply this to my daily practice e.g. when managing incidents or outbreaks in healthcare facilities.

Through completing this course, I have not only gained promoted posts in my field, but I have had the opportunity to present at national and international conferences.

When I started studying with the university, I was working as an infection prevention and control audit and surveillance nurse. I am currently a senior infection prevention and control nurse, working at a national level within the Antimicrobial Resistance and Healthcare Associated Infection Scotland team.

What does your job involve?

My role is incredibly diverse. One day I can be filming educational videos, the next I’ll be providing specialist advice and support to Health Boards on outbreak management. I manage a planned programme of work, which includes the ongoing development and maintenance of the National Infection Prevention and Control Manual, a resource to support board-level infection prevention and control across NHS Scotland.

Within infection prevention and control, my passion is delivering education. I enjoy developing educational materials and this was the focus for my dissertation. Throughout my career I have gained extensive experience in face to face teaching and have also had the opportunity to develop educational content for NHS Education for Scotland.

Some of our work is also reactive in nature, such as supporting the national COVID-19 pandemic response. The pandemic has completely changed the way we work, as the situation is continually evolving, meaning we need to react swiftly. I was also deployed to the NHS Louisa Jordan Nightingale Hospital to assist with the operational phase of opening. This was a once in a lifetime experience that will stay with me forever.

How have you been involved in the COVID-19 response?

I’ve been at the forefront of the COVID-19 response, providing support and guidance, reviewing outbreak and incident data and working closely with stakeholders such as NHS Boards and the Scottish Government. Antimicrobial Resistance and Healthcare Associated Infection Scotland is leading the national agenda for infection prevention and control in Scotland.

I continue to work and collaborate with NHS Education for Scotland as part of my role and we have recently developed COVID-19 supporting educational materials.

How did you find studying online?

Distance learning can often be perceived as challenging, but if the recent lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that it can be done! Throughout my time at the university I felt that all of the tutors and lecturers were fantastic. They were available to provide guidance and support throughout the modules and kept the momentum of the module going through ongoing engagement on the university’s virtual learning environment.

The benefit of distance learning is that you have the opportunity to engage with individuals from all over the world, virtually. There were people from many different countries on my course and we all participated in discussions. It was interesting to understand the infection prevention and control challenges that colleagues faced in other countries, such as extensive antimicrobial resistance.

It also gave us the ability to share and discuss how we would manage issues within in our own areas. This is a level of discussion that other students may not experience in a face to face learning environment and I feel that it was beneficial and allowed me to reflect on my own clinical practice.

You can find out more about the University of the Highlands and Islands Infection Prevention and Control MSc atwww.uhi.ac.uk/en/courses/msc-infection-prevention-and-control

Satellites, artificial intelligence and COVID – How University of the Highlands and Islands researchers are advancing our understanding of diabetes

To mark World Diabetes Day on Saturday 14 November, Professor Sandra MacRury and Professor Ian Megson from our School of Health, Social Care and Life Science highlight some of the projects our researchers are undertaking to further our understanding of diabetes and its treatment. 

Diabetes and COVID-19

Professor Ian Megson

One of the most puzzling aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is the wide range of outcomes for infected people: some experience no symptoms at all, while others are admitted to hospital, can require artifical ventilation or can die as a result of the disease. Amongst the factors that we now know to increase the liklihood of severe symptoms is pre-existing disease in infected people. Diabetes is understood to be one such disease.

At the outset of the pandemic, one of our students switched his project to investigate the link between pre-existing diabetes and severe symptoms in COVID-19. Jacob Roberts is investigating how the virus can trigger changes to cells that constitute the capillaries in our lungs to cause them to become leaky and inflamed, leading to breathing diffiulties. The team believes that these cells in patients with diabetes are particularly prone to such harmful changes, which might contribute to the severe symptoms experienced in COVID-19. Mr Roberts is funded through the Eastern Corridor Engineering Centre, supported by the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body.

Links between diabetes and cardiovascular disease

By far the biggest impact of diabetes is on the heart and blood vessels, markedly increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, visual impairment and problems associated with the lower legs and feet. However, the underlying mechanism by which diabetes drives blood vessel disease is not yet fully understood.

In a recently completed PhD project funded by the European Social Fund, Maria Luisa Fiorello found that high sugar caused the cells that line all our blood vessels to stop producing substances that protect against cardiovascular disease and blood clots. The work has been published in the journal Scientific Reports. Dr Fiorello went on to show that a particular type of sugar (fructose) found in fruit and soft drinks has a very profound effect on these cells. These findings have important implications with respect to limiting our intake of refined sugar in our diet.

Remote monitoring of diabetes

Professor Sandra MacRury

The usual test for monitoring overall diabetes control requires regular blood samples. In rural areas this can involve considerable travel. Our research has shown that a method of carrying out this test using dried blood from a finger stab sample which can be carried out in the person’s home and posted to the local laboratory gives comparable results to conventional methods. This has considerable benefits not just for people living in remote or rural areas, but for the wider population of people living with diabetes in the post-COVID environment. Further trials are planned to explore integration of this method into routine practice at scale.

Another new approach to monitoring glucose levels in diabetes is the use of flash monitoring of glucose sensors applied to the arm which can provide a continuous stream of glucose levels over 24 hours. There is mounting evidence for benefits in people living with type 1 diabetes in the community. People with diabetes tend to spend longer in hospital than those without and our rural health and wellbeing research team are working with partners in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to lead a European Interreg project to explore the feasibility of using these sensors for people with diabetes in a hospital setting and to determine if they can help to reduce time spent in hospital.

This is part of a wider project around unscheduled care in diabetes and the team recently published an article on the role of ambulance staff across Scotland in transporting people with diabetes-related problems to hospital. Further analysis is taking place to examine differences in remote and rural communities.

Supporting foot health with satellites and artifical intelligence

‘Reducing amputations in diabetes’ is a technology-enabled project which has developed and evaluated a new service pathway for people living with diabetes-related foot ulceration in rural Highland areas. The trial uses satellite technology in remote primary care settings to improve connectivity and allow remote consultation for patients and community staff with the specialist diabetes foot team in Inverness. The study, supported by an Innovate UK and European Space Agency grant, involves a consortium of academic, NHS and commercial partners.

Highland has also been selected for exploring the use of artifical intelligence with large health datasets for the prediction of diabetes-related foot problems. If successful, the technology could aid earlier prevention and intervention strategies to reduce ulceration and amputations.The project is funded by the Small Business Research Institute and is being run in conjuction with NHS Highland.

Screening is also an important aspect of prevention in diabetes foot disease. One of the early manifestations of diabetes foot problems is a change in foot pressure which can been an indicator of potential ulceration. As foot pressure measurement is not routinely included in the foot screening process, we have been exploring the use of a Footscan mat to assess pressure measurements in people with diabetes with a view to conducting further trials as part of foot screening in a rural community setting.

Lifestyle and type 2 diabetes

Lifestyle is an important factor in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes. 

Being overweight or obese can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes and, with the increasing prevalence of these problems nationally, the prevention of diabetes has become an important strategy in Scotland. The use of very low calorie diets has proven to be effective in reversing type 2 diabetes in overweight individuals. We are conducting a study in conjunction with NHS Highland of a very low calorie diet in the prevention of type 2 diabetes for people who have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes.

We are also undertaking a study with High Life Highland which involves exercise trainers supporting a programme to increase physical activity for people with type 2 diabetes in the Highland region.

To find out more about research at the University of the Highlands and Islands, visit www.uhi.ac.uk/en/research-enterprise

Revealing the ‘spirit of the highlands’

 

Head shot of Prof David Worthington smiling
Prof David Worthington

Professor David Worthington is the Head of the Centre for History at the University of the Highlands and Islands.  He shares his delight in the seeing the spirit of the highlands project come to life and explains how to get involved.   

It was a bright, sunny Saturday morning in September when I saw the vibrant red hoardings around Inverness Castle for the first time. I took my time to absorb the drawings, photographs and text which combine  to tell the story of the Castle Hill area, and detail the inventive plans for the conversion of the former courthouse and prison into a modern visitor attraction over the next four years.

Despite many projects having halted due to the impact of COVID-19, this Highland Council initiative managed by High Life Highland – a delivery organisation which provides cultural, leisure and learning services on behalf of the Council – continues to advance. It is entitled ‘Inverness Castle – Spirit of the Highlands’ -and is the biggest single heritage development in the Highland region of the last century. 

It was exciting to see the hoardings – for which myself and a colleague at the University of the Highlands and Islands, Professor Hugh Cheape, were text advisors – in place. I was also proud to see references on them to the university’s innovative approach to education and research, as “encouraging new ways of living, working and learning in the region”.

Writing and images on a large permenent exhibition with Inverness Castle building in the background
A view of a part of the ‘Spirit of the Highlands’ hoardings

The university is a proud project partner, with aligned aims to support economic growth in the region, and we are an active contributor towards ensuring the creation of a sustainable, viable and ‘must-see’ attraction that will show the spirit of the Highland past, present and future, including its creativity, culture, and natural environment.

After centuries of being marginalised, the communities that the university serves in the Highlands and Islands, Moray and Perthshire, while still experiencing some massive social and economic challenges, have begun to see signs of cultural renewal.

Towards this end, the university signed a memorandum of understanding in 2016 with High Life Highland and we’ve now worked together on several significant projects.   

For the Dornoch-based Centre for History, where I work, this has involved a range of collaborations and co-productions on public history projects of various types. To highlight a few: a collaborative PhD with Highland Folk Museum; our part in the inspirational ‘Inverness Rare Books’ project; public exhibitions at the Highland Archive Centre, and several other book launches, lectures and joint events held at High Life Highland museums, libraries and archives.

It is immensely gratifying that one of the outcomes of our research and teaching collaborations with them is to show the agency – the resilience and, sometimes against all odds, vitality – of Highland communities, and to help inspire the ‘Spirit of the Highlands’ concept.

A view of a part of the ‘Spirit of the Highlands’ hoardings

Ultimately, the ‘Inverness Castle – Spirit of the Highlands’ development, is one of the largest cultural projects to be undertaken in the Highlands, and our staff, students, graduates and communities have a unique opportunity to engage with it from now until 2024 and beyond.

Many of our students have had the opportunity to work on this ‘live’ project in some shape or form already. We’ve seen architectural technology students based at Inverness College UHI presenting digital and true-to-scale physical models of their initial concepts for the Castle Hill area, a student studying BA (Hons) art and contemporary practice on placement with the Creative Director of the Castle Hill Project, Bryan Beattie and a BA (Hons) contemporary film making in the highlands and islands student supporting the ‘call for stories’ promotional video, which is narrated by Julie Fowlis, the university’s alumnus of the year in 2013.


Myself and Katie Masheter, Curriculum Development Employer Engagement Officer and many others at the university are fortunate to be working with, and learning much from, the dedicated Castle Hill transformation project team.  Together we continue to nurture a range of new and exciting plans that we trust will see this link strengthen further.

Uncovering your story

Talking with Bryan Beattie, Creative Director, he sums up why it is so important :

“The whole project is intended to reflect the Spirit of the Highlands, a fantastic challenge that ranges from intangibles like the warmth of the welcome or beauty of a landscape, to specifics like the type of food and drink from the area. Story will bind all aspects together – not a conventional history but a crowd-sourced one, using the authentic voices and lived experience of contemporary Highlanders and those who’ve chosen to make the area their home.

Personal story is a direct way of connecting the visitor with the local, finding your own experience reflected in the life of another. It’s a typically bold Highland statement – looking for the connection with friends, neighbours and visitors, and then exploring those links in an entertaining way in a special environment.

The geographic location of the Castle – a striking red sandstone Victorian building overlooking the river – make it a natural magnet for visitors. This development will build on that and create something that locals will also use regularly. A venue has to earn that type of loyalty from its community, but by trusting them to provide the stories that are interpreted within it the `Spirit of the Highlands’ project is making a clear statement of intent.”

Your turn. How do I get involved?
Everyone has a story to share. What kind of stories? Stories about people you might have heard at a ceilidh: the uncle or aunt who worked on the hydro schemes from afar and decided to stay; the sibling that set up the local fèis, the neighbour that kayaked the Great Glen in record time…
The stories of each community too, large and small: the local events that shaped it;  how it has become involved or entangled in global histories; about its singing sands or Viking graffiti, the things that give it a distinctive fingerprint.


Material collected will become an ‘Autobiography of the Highlands’, a unique collection of stories held in a digital archive, all told by the people who live, work and visit here. If you have any ideas you feel could help, or questions about the project do contact the dedicated team at info@spiritofthehighlands.com

You can also follow and share the projects advancement through social media channels, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.   With thanks to the Inverness and the Highlands City Region Deal and The Highland Council for their support of the Inverness Castle redevelopment and to Creative Scotland for the Spirit:360 project.

Prof David Worthington is a University of the Highlands and Islands representative on the Inverness Castle Project Delivery Group and chairs the separate University of the Highland and Islands and High Life Highland advisory group to the project.


Halloween, the time of witches, is upon us yet again

As coronavirus restrictions impact many modern day traditions on 31 October this year, like ‘guising’, costume parties and ‘apple bobbing’, we can still tell spooky tales at home, visit haunted attractions (online) and remember a time when witchcraft had deadly consequences for many!

Dr Ragnhild Ljosland a researcher of Orkney’s culture and heritage at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Sigurd Towrie, marketing manager at the institute, share a few witches tales from Orkney.

Halloween is a special time of year that is particularly magical and sinister

On the Orkney Islands, between 1594-1708, islanders tried and found guilty of witchcraft were put to death at an execution site on Clay Loan, Kirkwall.  In March 2019, as part of a research project commissioned by the by the Orkney Heritage Society with the University of the Highlands and Islands a memorial to the victims was placed at their Kirkwall execution site to commemorate the victims.  

Memorial site, Kirkwall, Orkney

Who were Jonet Rendall and Janet Forsyth, two of the 80 victims of the Orkney witchcraft trials?

Jonet Rendall was an Orkney woman tried for witchcraft in 1629. She was poor and relied on ‘alms’, food or money given to poor people from others, for her survival. When someone refused to give her food or a bed for the night, she showed her disappointment by mumbling. People thought she was mumbling spells to harm them and that she was responsible for their cows producing thin milk.

Surely it was the Devil himself who had taught her to do this? And to do it on Halloween to make it more effective?

It was believed that that witches met with the Devil on certain nights, including Halloween, in specially chosen locations. In her confession, Jonet Rendall said she met with the Devil on a hilltop in the parish of Rendall on the Orkney Mainland. Or perhaps she never thought of him as the Devil, perhaps only her accusers made that connection.

Jonet said she had met a man in white clothes, with a white head and white beard, whom she called Walliman. He taught her to heal, so that people would give her food, and to harm those who refused her.

She might have thought he was a fairy – one of the “hill-folk” well known in Orkney folklore. In her trial, she points to Walliman as the originator of the various crimes she was accused of committing by witchcraft. Walliman caused cattle and horses to die. Walliman caused illness and death to people in the parish.

Victorian folklore

A similar name for the Devil was used in a spell written down by the Victorian folklore collector Walter Traill Dennison in the 1880s.

Dennison, from the Orkney island of Sanday, says that to become a witch, and pledge yourself to the powers of darkness, first wait for a full moon, then go alone to the beach, turn three times against the sun and lie down between the high and low water marks. Place stones around your body and over your heart.

Then recite a spell which Dennison recounts, in Scots, where the would-be witch implores the “Mester King o’ a’ that’s ill” to come and “tak me noo” in the name of “de muckle black Wallowa!” Then rise up, taking care to turn to the left, and throw the stones, one by one, into the sea.

Like many others, Dennison was familiar with the widespread belief that witchcraft was particularly rife in the north. When visiting a port on the Scottish mainland, the young Dennison was asked by one of the sailors where he was from. Upon replying “Orkney”, the man “shrank back” muttering: “Oh, my lad, you hail from that lubber land where so many witches dwell.”

The Westray Storm Witch

Another Orkney witch accused of practicing witchcraft on Halloween was Janet Forsyth, better known as the Westray Storm Witch. Forsyth was believed to be able to save a ship in storm, and for generations afterwards was regarded as someone who could take sailors’ lives in her own hands.

Today, the story of the Westray Storm Witch is told and retold in Orkney.

In the folk story, Janet warns her sweetheart, Ben Garrioch, not to go fishing on a certain day because she has dreamt he will perish. Garrioch ignores the warning and goes anyway, never to be seen again. Janet becomes a recluse and her reputation grows for having the ability to control the wind and the fog.

Two years later, she is taken to Kirkwall to be tried for witchcraft. But on the day of her verdict, as she looks out at the assembled crowd she spots a familiar face and cries out: “Save me, Ben!” before being dragged off to be kept overnight in a cell in St Magnus Cathedral.

The following morning, however, when the executioner went to fetch her, Janet Forsyth was gone. Her sweetheart, as the story goes, had not died at sea but had been kidnapped by the Press Gang to serve in the navy. He had returned at just the right moment to spirit his beloved away. The happy couple were never again seen in Orkney but lived a happy life together in England to the end of their days.

Sadly, the true story does not have a happy ending and Janet Forsyth’s court record paints a very different picture. In November 1629, she was brought to trial accused of slaying four pigs, which subsequently caused illness in a woman who ate the pork. She also faced accusations that she bewitched two men – making them ill and then healing them; magically taking the fat from the milk of other people’s cows and the food out of their grain, and putting curses on those who refused to give her food or drink when asking for alms. She also allegedly bewitched a man to fall ill while at sea before healing him again the same evening by washing him in salt water.

Janet Forsyth was sentenced to have her hands tied and be taken to the Kirkwall execution site, where she was to be fastened to a stake, strangled, and burned.

International collaboration

Dr Ragnhild Ljosland’s witchcraft project included contributions from researchers from as far afield as Finnmark in the extreme north of Norway, Warwick in England and Perth in Australia.

The University of the Highlands and Islands has a strong research and knowledge exchange collaboration culture, which together with the technical resources available to staff and students has enabled continued interaction locally, regionally and internationally with the academic community during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Visit the Archaeology Institute to find out more about current research projects and the range of undergraduate, postgraduate and research courses available.

Dr Ragnhild Ljosland is a co-editor of a new publication ‘New Orkney Antiquarian Journal Vol9: Commemorating the Victims of the Orkney Witchcraft Trials’, with James Irvine at the Orkney Heritage Society.  Readers can find the stories of many others who were also tried for witchcraft in Orkney, explored and analysed in their historical, political and folkloric context. Sigurd Towrie, an alumni of the University of the Highlands and Islands, also works at the Ness of Brodgar.  

Five top tips for writing your personal statement

1. Have a clear beginning, middle and end

There is no set way to write a personal statement, but having a clear beginning, middle and end will help your personal statement to flow naturally.

Beginning

Get straight to the point and begin with an opening sentence that will capture the reader’s attention. Course selectors are looking for someone who sounds interested in their subject and they want to hear why you are interested in it too. Clearly explain your reasons for wanting to study the course. If you are applying for an academic degree, such as geography for example, think about why you want to spend a long time studying this subject in detail and write about what you’ve enjoyed so far and what you want to learn more about.

Middle

Focus on your academic studies, work experience and extra-curricular activities here to show how you meet the selection criteria. This will also allow you to demonstrate your transferrable skills to show your suitability for the course. Consider what topics you have studied at school and how they relate to the course you are applying for. If you are applying for a history degree, for example, you could talk about specific topics within this subject area or demonstrate how you have gone above and beyond the curriculum by highlighting books you’ve read or taster sessions you’ve attended.

If you are applying for a vocational course such as nursing, you may find you focus more time talking about work-related experiences which demonstrate the skills and abilities you have which are relevant to the course. These experiences will enable you to write confidently about what you like about the profession and why you think it would be the right career for you.

Universities want to see that you are committed to university study. Show them that you are prepared to work hard. If you are interested in a vocational course, such as teaching, they will want to see that you have undertaken work experience in an appropriate setting. Having classroom experience allows you to decide on the year groups you would like to teach and will help you to write confidently about your observations in the classroom.

Universities are also keen on hearing about your transferrable skills from work experience or from extra-curricular activities: time management, coping under pressure, interpersonal skills, decision making and team working. To help you write about your transferrable skills in depth you can use the ABC model (action, benefit, course). This model allows you to describe an activity or role (A), detail the transferrable skills that you gained (B) and how these relate to the course (C).

For example, playing a sport requires dedication, determination and focus. These skills are useful for university when working towards varying deadlines and studying for exams each semester. Another benefit from playing a group sport is the teamwork skills that you will develop. Teamwork teaches you to communicate effectively and to be a good listener. These are important skills for participating in groupwork, for example, on a social sciences degree, as you will already have the skills to express ideas and opinions confidently during groupwork.

End

The end of your personal statement should summarise all the key points and talk about what you expect of yourself when you finish the course. If you have a specific career aspiration, tell the reader all about this and how your course will help you to reach that goal.

2. Consider your course choices carefully

You can only submit one personal statement for all courses so you should consider your choices carefully. When applicants apply for different courses which are specific to different vocations, such as nursing and teaching, it shows admissions staff that they may not be committed to either subject. This could harm an application, especially for competitive courses, and your place could be given to someone else who shows more commitment and passion to one subject.

3. Set a schedule

Many students worry about writing their personal statement because it could be the first time that they have had to write something personal about themselves. Writing something that shows your personality and enthusiasm for the course may take longer than you think. Don’t worry about the word count on your first draft. By setting yourself a schedule, you are giving yourself time to tease out what you want to display centre stage.

4. Ask for feedback

Ask people you trust to read through what you have written. They may think of something important to include which you may have overlooked.

5. Remember you have a lot to offer!

You just need to communicate what sets you apart from the competition by selling all the skills and experience that you have.

Kathleen Moran, Schools Recruitment Officer

For more information about courses at the University of the Highlands and Islands, visit www.uhi.ac.uk/courses

Nature and nurture: Why being outdoors is helping us through lockdown

With many of our usual pastimes affected by Coronavirus restrictions, people across the country have been finding solace in nature to help them through these challenging times.

Students and staff from some of our outdoor-related courses explain why they feel being in nature and looking after our environment is important for both our physical and mental wellbeing.

Dr Raeanne Miller – Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI

“This is where we live!” exclaimed a close friend and colleague many years ago, expressing the joy of living and working in a beautiful place, with endless opportunities to run in the hills, swim in the sea, cycle anywhere and everywhere, and pursue many other outdoor activities. It is a saying that stuck with me, shouted from the top of a mountain climbed after work or shivered between shaking teeth after a butter-smooth swim in the sea on a sparkling winter day.

Like many environmental scientists, I love to be outdoors (even when it’s wet). I could say that this is because I can see in nature the very principles that I study in my work or that because of my training I see greater detail in the plants, animals and landscapes around me. Or perhaps, at the intersection of working in environmental science and loving the outdoors, is a deep-rooted fascination and curiosity about the natural world. The latter is probably the most accurate statement, but in reality, it just feels really, really good to exercise outside in the wonderful highland landscape right on our doorstep.

In normal times I would be one of a handful of people washing away a stressful morning with a swim in the sea at lunch, looking out for local seals that following our progress. Or I would pound away a day’s ruminations while running up a local hill after work, leaning into the incline, feeling the wind on my skin and laughing as I sink a foot into a deep bog. During lockdown, our worlds suddenly become squeezed by the added stresses of uncertainty and homeworking, combined with a government-mandated travel restriction. We could no longer escape to the office for a change of scenery and we could no longer escape from the office to the sea or to the hills to clear our heads.

In my case, I know that outdoor swimming, running and cycling are essential to my wellbeing. In the final year of my PhD thesis I signed up for a challenging triathlon, which provided a different focus away from the stresses of work. The expansive views from mountain summits, on the other hand, are where I find seek comfort when the world feels like it is spinning – this was particularly true after my father died in 2013. But in lockdown, it felt different. Suddenly the small things mattered more.

Since March, I’ve watched frogspawn turn to wriggling tadpoles, the gorse flower and die back, jellyfish bloom in the nearby sea loch, and the bracken shoot up across the mountains.

I’ve discovered countless new paths, leading to intriguing ruins, waterfalls or hidden oak groves in the middle of plantation forest.

I’ve explored the five mile radius of my village more deeply than ever before and, after every excursion, I come back with some new finding, some treasure that makes me smile – a welcome relief from so many hours spent working in the home.

With lockdown easing, it has become clear to me that the mental health benefits of outdoor exercise don’t come from aching muscles and burning lungs (although for some people that helps!) Perhaps it is the scientist in me or maybe it’s mindfulness, but I think noticing the detail and richness of what is around you, from vast landscapes to the tiniest of garden insects, can help us to feel happier, more relaxed and grounded in our surroundings.

Anne Marie McPhilemy – BA (Hons) equine business management, North Highland College UHI

Living with someone who is shielded in these strange times is a worry, but we are very fortunate to have horses.

Horses do not judge – you can tell them anything and they always understand.

Once you are in the saddle and on the move, worries melt away, even pulling ragwort and clearing the field of dung for their welfare is therapeutic in itself with the sounds of nature singing in your ears. Grooming and caring for these gentle beings is an absolute joy for which we are thankful and grateful for every day.

Dr Euan Bowditch – Researcher, the Scottish School of Forestry, Inverness College UHI

Trees are always around us, working away, communicating, forming numerous relationships and living.

I am lucky enough that one of my passions and my professional life intersects. As a forestry researcher and former practitioner, I have had the fortune of visiting and working in some beautiful biodiverse-rich places, including jungles, rainforests, virgin forests and mountain forests, which introduced me to a new world each time and scale of life unseen before. I have learnt the names and characteristics of thousands of tree species, many of which I have forgotten and constantly need to become reacquainted with. In my mind, I am constantly planning tree trips around the world or ethnobotanical expeditions to seek out new species of oak. However, one thing about trees and forests strikes me above all others, the fact that they are, to me, time machines or organisms that navigate time, very differently from us.

I walk in forests at least twice a day as I have a young dog that needs to run and run and run – it never gets old. I have purposely planted up my garden with around 11 different species of trees, not counting the ones inside the house. When I enter a forest, I am always struck by the majesty and diversity of the forest environment, and how different it can be from day to day. Right now, fungi are blooming all over the place, some bloom and deteriorate within a single day.

For me, it’s not only the sight, the aromas, the texture to hand and underfoot that grabs me – it is the fact I can look at both the whole forest ecosystem and the individual trees, and see them grow 50 or 100 years into the future. I also find myself winding back the clock on a tree to a seedling and tracing the influences that have shaped its growth. They are guardians of memory, recording climatic events and personal traumas, stored within and throughout their woody body.

Walking in a forest or messing about in the soil never ceases to elevate my mood or enable me to work through a problem.

My muscles and mind are stretched, and wandering with my feet mirrors the wandering of my mind, thoughts meander easily and I stumble upon small epiphanies and somehow my posture improves and my eyes adjust to the pleasing palette of colours. Forests, trees and the living environment they enrich are always a source of solace and stimulation, and my ability to access this resource on a daily basis is indispensable to not only the continued maintenance of my health, but also enables me to thrive and gain much needed perspective.

Marie Stonehouse – BSc (Hons) sustainable development, Argyll College UHI

My journey with the University of the Highlands and Islands began with the hope that it would lead to exciting new challenges. Having a background in business, I eagerly sought a career change that would have a positive socio-environmental impact. In reflection, my time studying sustainable development was a fantastic experience.

The modules highlight the fact that humanity is in crisis, faced with a rapidly changing world. Changes due to issues such as anthropogenic climate change, species extinction and deforestation. Zoonotic diseases, such as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), have emerged in the last 100 years because of our encroachment on nature.

The sum total is global ecological collapse which will continue to impact economic stability, causing socio-political unrest and increase social inequality. These and many other global stressors demonstrate the need for global cooperation and sustainable solutions, now more than ever. The modules offered a holistic approach to understanding the colossal problems we face today, following the UN Sustainable Development goals, helping to equip students with the knowhow to move society forward.

This background knowledge and my desire to help make a difference at the local level, inspired my stewardship at Coves Local Nature Reserve. My volunteer work began in autumn 2017. Students were asked to create a pamphlet representing a local designated site, my choice was Coves Local Nature Reserve. While researching this site, I noticed that The Conservation Volunteers were responsible for land maintenance. I contacted the organisation and began to volunteer with the group. A long story short, The Conservation Volunteers funding for work at the reserve came to an end in December 2018 and, by March 2019, the friends of Coves group was constituted.

As Chair, I have led our group following the principles of sustainability, emphasising that our conservation work is an inclusive experience, seeking to empower the community, disseminate and advocate for this urban green space for long term resilience. It also follows the ethos of ecosystem services which identifies that healthy ecosystems equal healthier societies. Cost-effective economic benefits will be gained through clean air, water and improved food provision whilst reducing health care costs.

Caring for nature and giving it it’s place, improves human health, wellbeing and improves economic outcomes.

I organise weekly land maintenance events, monthly litter picks, safety inspections, plan special events, manage the social media platform, maintain equipment, fundraising and funding applications, plan meetings and liaison with the council, third sector and other organisations. As a group, we are part of Inverclyde Reforestation Project in which we have been planting trees since November 2019 and seek to become more involved in schools and with social prescribing.

Since the lockdown, volunteers have slowly begun to re-emerge onto the scene.  Although we are an outdoor group, restrictions still apply and social distancing measure are observed.

Now more than ever, my work sourcing help with path widening is needed, as visitor numbers have increased by approximately 400%.

A large part of what I do is to engage with outside agencies and organisations to ensure continued and long-term resilience of this urban green space.  

Kirstie Cownie BA (Hons) equine business management, North Highland College UHI

Over the last few months of lockdown, I could not have been more grateful to have had my ponies to keep me healthy, both physically and mentally.

The lockdown meant I had gone from being an active, outdoor person who was barely in the house to being inside most of the time.

Being able to go outside and ensure my horses were still safe and well was essential for my wellbeing. I enjoyed the peace and quiet, this was a place to forget about everything which was going on across the world.

I found myself in a lucky situation as my ponies are in a secluded field next to my parents’ house which meant they had to be managed daily. I heard stories from several friends who have horses stabled at livery yards and weren’t allowed to see them for weeks on end, I really felt for them.

I often took my two year old daughter out to the ponies with me as I felt it was important for her to also get out of the house and have a change of scenery, be able to spend time with the ponies and interact with them.

I generally find my ponies to be a place where I can de-stress and, through this awful situation, they have been a blessing in disguise. I feel these last few months have allowed me to appreciate them much more than I perhaps have in the past.

To find out more about the University of the Highlands and Islands’ courses, visit www.uhi.ac.uk/courses

My First Graduate Job In Lockdown

Graduating was an exciting time of celebration with my friends and family, finally letting out a breath of relief and reflecting on all my hard work over the past four years. For me, this also meant it was time to start thinking about my career path and searching for my first graduate job, whether it was in my field of study or something completely new.

Applying for jobs

WHAT IF I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO NOW THAT I’VE GRADUATED? I was uncertain which career path I wanted to take upon graduating. I knew gaining experience, rather than saying ‘here’s my degree’, would be key for my CV to stand out to employers so I decided to apply for internships at first. This allowed me to experiment in different career fields, gain knowledgeable insight, create contacts for the future, collect reference letters when applying to jobs, meet like-minded people and most of all – have some fun. I used my university’s careers service resources for their advice on cover letter writing and their CV templates. To search for positions, I used Indeed, Erasmus opportunities, word-of-mouth, attended career fairs, looked at adverts on social media and asked event organisers if there was any way I could get involved in volunteering. My internship positions varied from an English teacher in Spain to an interviewer with Scottish Hockey in Glasgow.

Working from home

MY FIRST GRADUATE JOB. It felt absolutely fantastic after 6 months of daily job searching, CV updating, travelling to interviews, cover letter writing, and working part-time to build up funds to get a call back confirmed I had got a job as a Digital Marketing Assistant with the University of the Highlands and Islands! I was delighted to get my first ‘adult’ job. No matter how many rejection letters you receive, you will often find they are a blessing in disguise. Although they are disappointing, it’s important to keep your hopes up and the right opportunity will find you with perseverance and hard work. Although I studied history at university, my research, analysis, writing and technological skills were transferrable to this new role.

AND THEN CAME LOCKDOWN. Two months into navigating a new full-time job, lockdown was announced due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Thankfully, I had a work laptop with all my work resources easily accessible online, allowing me to work from the comfort and safety of my home. My employer also ensured I had materials needed to carry out daily tasks. I use a range of communication tools to keep in touch daily with colleagues including Skype for business, Cisco Webex Teams and Meetings, Microsoft Teams and email.

Small herb garden

HOW TO STAY MOTIVATED. I have found it a smooth transition moving to working from home and without the usual office company. I know it is important to maintain a routine and to always get dressed for ‘the office’, I also give myself at least one goal a day to stay motivated. For example, going for a new walk route at lunchtime, cycling, baking, meeting up with a friend at a social distance, calling my family, Zoom calling my grandparents, online gaming, woodworking, embroidery, growing a herb garden, attending online Gaelic lessons, online shopping just to have something to look forward to in the post, book swapping and making plans as lockdown restrictions continue to relax. A break from an office environment has been good and allowed for a relaxed, comfortable work zone at home. I have also had more time for activities I’ve always wanted to try and don’t have to travel to work, turning my attention towards better relationships with friends and family.

Hutch constructed in lockdown

SUPPORT. A support system is key. It can be easy to feel lonely or isolated in lockdown. It helps to talk to family and friends when looking for career advice or try to find a mentor who can offer advice on the next steps in your career. If you are a current student of the University of the Highlands and Islands, you also have access to the Careers Team via the FutureMe service. Graduates can also take advantage of the Graduates for Life offer and join our Alumni benefits.

Sophie Macfarlane

Digital Marketing Assistant

Is Clearing for me?

Still considering your study options for September 2020? Clearing could be open to you…read on to find out more.

What is Clearing?

Clearing is a service where universities and colleges (like us) fill any places they still have on their courses for the next academic year.

From July 2020, you can apply for a course using Clearing if you’re not already holding an offer from a university or college, and the course still has places.

Do I need to use the Clearing system?

The Clearing system is your route to find a suitable course at university or college if:

  • you are not holding any offers from universities or colleges you have applied to
  • you didn’t meet the conditions of your offer
  • you are applying after 30 June. While Clearing is usually associated with school leavers looking for a place after exam results, from the end of June, it is the pathway into university for everyone including mature and late applicants.

Clearing is not necessary if you have used the UCAS application system to apply before the 30 June; have been made an active offer from a university or college and have met the conditions made in the offer and you wish to accept it. Remember to check the acceptance process to make sure that your place is secured.

Want more information? Speak to one of our dedicated Course Information Line team on 01463 279190 or message us.

UCAS also offer a Clearing advice line to candidates: 0371 368 0468 (UK callers) or +44 330 333 0230 (if you are calling from outside the UK).

How do I find out which courses have places available?

Whether you know exactly what you’d like to do or you’re still unsure, there is help available to support you to find the right course.

Do some research. Find courses that interest you.

You can:

  • use the UCAS search tool to find live vacancies
  • view our courses at the University of the Highland and Islands
  • talk to universities and colleges directly to find out if they have places and if they will make you an offer
  • find out about open days. Come and see us
  • ask for help and information about which of our courses are available and what qualifications are needed for entry. Contact our dedicated Course Information Line Team on 01463 279190 or send us a message
  • read more about Clearing on our ‘What is Clearing’ guide.

More info about us:

The University of the Highlands and Islands, the only university within our region with our partnership of colleges and research institutions, want to let you know WE’RE HERE FOR YOU and we are ready to help you find your own unique learner journey.

We continue to offer a full range of courses for school leavers right through to adult learners, whatever your entry point. You can start where you need to and pause or exit with a qualification when the time is right for you.

By putting you in control of your journey and enabling you to study from wherever you are, you can fit learning around other interests and commitments. Whether you can join us on campus, online or a combination of both, you won’t feel alone as our staff will support you every step of the way.

Our students are at the heart of all we do. Our blended learning approach has connected our student community here and across the world for over 20 years, and we can connect you to fellow students, lecturers, and support services through our:

  • video conferencing and online technologies
  • face-to-face teaching and support (when and where it is safe to do so)

Visit our website for more information.

Why mentoring and building relationships could be more important than ever?

By Alana MacLeod, Curriculum Development and Employer Engagement Officer
University of the Highlands and Islands

So…what is mentoring, and what are the benefits?

The term has ancient Greek origin! However, it has been adopted by the English language as the term for someone who imparts Alana MacLeodwisdom and shares knowledge to aid another’s development.  Finding ways to stay connected and supported is essential, especially in times like these when faced with uncertainty and change, from the way we study and the nature of employment, to the way we socialise and interact.

We all need champions, role models, and a supportive network to motivate us and to provide opportunities for further growth and development – these are valuable, positive, and powerful influences that can boost confidence, mental well-being and help prepare for future paths.

Why choose to join a business mentoring programme?

Iain Eisner, Careers Manager at the university, shares his view on what makes mentoring programmes so valuable to students.

From a career development perspective, one of the biggest benefits our students receive from mentoring is the sense of encouragement.  Often, we can find ourselves stuck and unsure how to move forward. This can often be a confidence issue.

Having a mentor can help to advise on options to remove barriers, providing personalised support, encouragement, advice and can offer a different perspective. All of this makes confident decision making a lot easier and less daunting.

The benefits gained can be wide-ranging for students (and business mentors) that take part in mentoring arrangements and programmes, including:

  • access to in-depth information on trends, developments, and visibility of current or emerging jobs in the sector you want to work in
  • advice on how to transition from university to the workplace and gain valuable CV and interview advice, hints, and tips
  • exploring how to find employment, gain work experience, or get a placement in your sector of interest
  • enhancing and developing transferrable skills, whilst building a professional network
  • increasing your confidence and self-esteem – giving you a real sense of personal development

mentoring picture 2

The first mentoring class of 2020

Despite the onset of Covid-19 challenges, students and business mentors completed this year’s three-month programme in April. Dr Iain Morrison, Dean of Students reflects on its success.

The group adapted remarkably and have emerged positively from the challenges that were presented by the introduction of lockdown half-way through the programme.

Our programme attracts employers and industry leaders from across the region from a range of very different organisations and sectors.  Everyone found it a beneficial experience, both as a mentee and a mentor, remarking on how much they had learned and that it had been a powerful development experience.

Most significantly, students had gained further developed personal confidence to recognise their skills, had structured opportunities for personal reflection and growth to become clearer about what they want from their post-degree careers, and imagine their future no matter what hurdles are presented.

What did the student mentees say?

“This experience has allowed me to see that careers are not always linear and that every experience is valuable and can add to your career. In addition, I have gained valuable guidance on how to apply my skills in the third sector, as well as obtaining key contacts within the industry.”  Natalie Dunbar, BA (Hons) Business Management with Marketing

“By being part of the programme, I now have more confidence and it made me feel comfortable and at ease in approaching people for advice.  Being able to talk to and learn from an expert in the events industry was really valuable, as I know I am being guided in the right direction, by a person who already works in the sector I want to be in.” Kelly Muffet, BA (Hons) Event Management

“Listening to my mentor discussing his career path and how he got to where he is, was hugely impactful. I also gained new knowledge and specific information about the third sector, including practical signposts and resources on how to find employment opportunities.” BA (Hons) Business Management student

Buisness mentoring programme 3

Why employers are helping to shape their skills pipeline?

Student are the workforce of the future. Our business mentors are passionate and actively get involved in the programme, giving their mentees an opportunity to openly discuss career aspirations, employability prospects and opportunities, and developments or trends in their areas of interest.

Mentors can often help you to re-imagine the roles and opportunities awaiting and help to identify work experience or employment opportunities.  They can give you insights into their career path and experiences – how they got to where they are today and how to navigate through unexpected challenges.

One of this year’s mentors, David Bryan Hub Manager for the Highlands and Islands Social Enterprise Academy is one of the many businesses that recognise the importance of mentoring.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to provide some mentoring support to the university’s students over the last few months. I have been in this sector for a few decades now, but not that long that I can’t remember how utterly ‘stuck’ I was on completing university.

“How to get that first job? Where to be looking? Who to be speaking to? What to expect?  Nothing like this was around 30 years ago. I hope I was able to share my own learning, as well as my commitment to a sector that is capable of changing the world.

How can I apply for a place on the University of the Highlands and Islands business mentoring programme?

Our students are at the heart of what we do. This means making sure that they have the tools and support needed to complete their qualifications and helping them to make plans to start, or continue, their education in the autumn, when we start the next academic year as planned.

The Business Mentoring Programme aligns with the university’s mission and the reasons for which we were established – yes, we provide international-class education and research, but we are also focused on meeting the needs of employers in our region and helping our students develop the knowledge, skills and attributes they need to build successful careers.

Applications for the 2020 business mentoring programme for mentors and mentees will open towards the end of the year – so keep an eye on the website and follow us (@UHICareers) more information. For help with your application, you can contact careers@uhi.ac.uk or schedule an appointment using FutureMe.

The economic situation surrounding Covid-19 and the path to recovery will create a whole new set of opportunities in many sectors and industries. As a result, the nature of employment may change, but the university partnership stands ready to play a vital role in supporting the recovery of our region.  We will continue to combine academic excellence with vocational training to equip our students with the skills that employers are looking for.

This programme is just one of the ways that we can encourage committed, passionate, and motivated students that can learn from employers, make important contacts, and find their opportunity to thrive in a 21st century workplace, with the confidence to excel.

Alana MacLeod is part of the Curriculum Development Employer Engagement team at the University of the Highlands and Islands and works closely with the employers and businesses across region.  You can find out more about studying at the university by visiting the website.

Buisness mentoring programme 4

 

Being human is more important than ever: my experience of delivering learning and teaching remotely for the past 15 years

Alice_MongielloAs colleges and universities across the UK braced themselves for the suspension of face to face teaching due to the Covid-19 pandemic, at Inverness College UHI we knew we were in a better position than most to adapt to this ‘new’ normal. After all, it is just what we do. Our staff have been delivering higher education courses to students across the University of the Highlands and Islands partnership through a blended approach to teaching for over 20 years, connecting learners across a vast geographical area though a combination of video conferencing, remote learning technologies and face to face teaching. This innovative approach to learning and teaching is engrained in our culture and a key part of what makes our tertiary partnership of 13 colleges and research institutions so unique.

As programme leader for the BA (Hons) Childhood Practice and Graduate Apprenticeship in Early Learning and Childcare, my ‘old’ normal is the ‘new’ normal for so many educators as both courses are, and have always been, offered fully online.  I am also responsible for delivering a Master’s module on the Theory and Practice of eLearning – my doctoral research and more recent projects focus on the experience of online learning and the nature of online authentic practice.  I have also written and presented numerous papers on the subject of online learning and teaching across the world.

Distance learning onlineOver the past 15 years, I have often found myself in discussion with colleagues who believe they need to develop a new skillset to deliver learning and teaching remotely.  However, from my experience, the technology is not the master that determines our success but rather it is the human connection within the online space and how we interact with our learners that matters. Often what is actually required is a change of mindset: the online context is just a different classroom space.  Yes, of course, we do need to have an understanding of technology and the tools available, but our focus should be on creating a space that fosters connections and enables positive learning experiences.

I have coined the phrases ‘humanising the machine’ and ‘becoming more human’.  Ultimately the key for delivering successfully online lies in an educator’s ability to build relationships and make connections: skills that lie at the heart of the learning and teaching process regardless of the context.  It is human connections rather than the technology that promotes potential transformative learning experiences; the technology merely offers the platform in which these experiences take place.

Fort William Cityheart Living Accommodation, February 2018More recently I have been considering the concept of ‘love-led practice’: where educators value their learners as fellow human beings, with their own unique characteristics, their own challenges and their own lives.  Each learner comes with their own lived biographies.  Our role as online educators is to acknowledge this and recognise the ways in which this affects the overall learning process for our students.  It is therefore important that educators present a human online persona that aligns with who they are.  This fosters an environment which is based on trust, creates a space that is warm, caring, and compassionate, and where learners feel safe to engage, learn and interact.  Whether face-to-face or online, the experience of learning may cause discomfort for our students, it may push them out of their comfort zone.  As an online educator you need support students to embrace the discomfort in an online space where they feel safe and secure to experience new things.

Computer_DogHow you do this in a practical sense is down to you as an individual, but, there are simple things you can do like using your students’ names during your interactions online, getting to know them and regularly checking in – although you are not big brother, your role is not to ‘police’ the online space. Show your own personality – my cat and dogs regularly make an appearance –  make your sessions fun, show humour, create a social environment for students, share content that resonates, ensure you stay connected, and above all, communicate how you feel and what you think. The online space is not a place to hide but rather to be present, open and recognise that as humans we are far from perfect.  Being vulnerable makes us human and helps to break down the barriers students often face when they enter the online space.  As an online educator, you should also never underestimate the impact the written word can have on learners.

In a world where people feel less connected to their friends, families and colleagues, becoming more human online is even more important as we navigate through this crisis.

 

Dr Alice Mongiello

Programme leader for the BA (Hons) Childhood Practice and Graduate Apprenticeship in Early Learning and Childcare

Inverness College UHI

University of the Highlands and Islands