Students Staff

27 July 2018

Get unrestricted access to Times Higher Education

Filed under: Latest news — Communications, CER @ 2:40 pm

We are now one of 70 institutions enjoying unrestricted access to Times Higher Education (THE) content online.

As the voice of global higher education and your trusted source of the latest UK HE policy news for five decades, THE is an invaluable resource for all staff and students. THE has grown from a weekly magazine into a 24/7 digital hub for HE, with new content published daily.

Take a look at how to get set-up.

The subscription includes access for all staff and students to:

  • Daily global insight and intelligence
  • Subscriber-only Rankings insight
  • Regular newsletter updates
  • Weekly digital editions of THE magazine
  • Unrestricted access to THE online and via our app

There will also be a handful of print copies of THE to be delivered on a weekly basis to the Library.

Anyone that has an individual subscription should not renew and make use of the institutional subscription, as the University will not pay for these.

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Social Interaction and Well-Being: The Surprising Power of Weak Ties.

Filed under: Latest news, People pages, Research impact — Communications, CER @ 11:23 am

“Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.”  Benjamin Franklin.

Gillian Sandstrom 200x300

Dr Gillian Sandstrom

In her fascinating study “Social Interaction and Well-Being: The Surprising Power of Weak Ties.” Dr Gillian Sandstrom found that even brief everyday social interactions, from a quick chat with your barista to saying hello to someone you pass by everyday – can have surprising effects on our happiness and wellbeing. Here she tells us more about her work and how we can all benefit from “weak ties”.

  • Can you tell us about your study and its findings – in a nut shell?

I did a postgraduate degree in Psychology after having spent 10 years in the workforce as a computer programmer. I had a strong case of imposter syndrome when I first arrived on campus, since I was 10 years older than the other students, and I didn’t have the same background training that they did (my undergraduate degree was in computer science, and I had only taken three psychology modules). There was quite a distance between the research lab and my supervisor’s office, and that walk took me past a hot dog stand. Somehow I developed a “relationship” with the lady who worked at the hot dog stand; I would smile at her and say hi whenever I walked past. I realized that this always made me feel a bit better, like I belonged on campus. I ended up studying this phenomenon for my PhD.

I asked people to keep track of all of their social interactions – any time they said hi to someone that they recognized (i.e., anyone except a complete stranger) – for six days. They carried around two small tally counters, and clicked one every time they interacted with a strong tie (i.e., a close friend or family member), and another one every time they interacted with a weak tie (i.e., an acquaintance). I found that people who had, on average, more daily interactions with weak ties than other people were, on average, a little bit happier. Also, on days when people had more interactions with weak ties than they usually did, they tended to be a bit happier than they usually were.

I’ve been at Essex for two years now, and almost every time I walk across campus now, I see someone I know. It makes me feel at home here.

  • What can staff do to build these weak ties with students?

Just say hi! I ran a study last year in my statistics module. The students break into three groups for their computer lab sessions, and I did something different for each group. For one group, I stood at the door and greeted students as they arrived. Another group wrote their names on name boards, which were displayed on their desks. The third was a control group, which received no greeting and no nameboards. Students in both of the experimental groups reported higher interest/enjoyment than students in the control group. This is something simple, that any instructor can do. Just make sure it’s genuine; if the students think your heart isn’t in it, it probably won’t be effective.

It’s not just academic staff that can build these connections with students. During my PhD, I stood on the pavement outside of Starbucks, and bribed people to help with my research, by giving them Starbucks cards, which they had to use right away to buy a coffee. I asked some people to be as efficient as possible: have their money ready and avoid unnecessary conversation. I told them that this would be helpful to the barista, who just wants to get through their shift. I asked other people to have a genuine social interaction: smile, make contact, and have a brief conversation. When people emerged from the store with their coffee, I asked them to fill out a brief survey. I found that people who had a minimal social interaction were in a better mood, enjoyed their Starbucks experience more, and felt more connected to other people. This means everyone can make a difference, whether you’re in food services, cleaning services, security, or anything else.

  • How do the students react?

When I greet my students outside of the classroom, at the beginning of the year they seem kind of embarrassed – sometimes they giggle, or look away, as if they can’t quite believe it. But they get used to it, and seem to enjoy saying hi back.  When I did my greeting/name board study, I asked students whether they had ever talked to me, whether I would recognize them if I saw them on campus, and whether I knew their name. Two students who were filling in the survey came up to me and straight out asked me if I knew their names. One of them literally jumped up and down and seemed quite delighted when I told her that I knew her name.

Since arriving at Essex, I’ve run a study at the Tate Modern art gallery, which is similar to, but the reverse of the one I did at Starbucks. I trained volunteers to approach gallery visitors and start a conversation about a particular exhibit in the Turbine Hall. The volunteers were a bit nervous about it – they usually wait for visitors to approach them, and didn’t want to intrude. However, when we surveyed visitors, those who had been spoken to by a volunteer (vs. those who hadn’t talked to a volunteer) were in a better mood, and felt more connected to the exhibit and to other people. This suggests that both the person initiating the conversation (as in the Starbucks study), and also the person being talked to (as in the Tate study), enjoy these kinds of interactions.

  • What challenges are there to developing these kinds of relationships with students?

Some people are bad at remembering names (because it’s really hard!), and others are bad at remembering faces. In some departments, we do team teaching; we only see a group of students for a few weeks, then someone else takes over. Not to mention that class sizes can be really large, and we have hundreds of new students every year. The whole idea of learning names can seem hopeless, and even pointless. The students do seem to really appreciate it, and I personally think all academic staff should know at least a handful of students by name, but I’m really happy that my research suggests that there are benefits to simply greeting students. Anyone can do that!

  • What are the benefits to weak ties – apart from wellbeing? Are there any downsides?

Besides making both parties feel good, weak ties can provide a sense of belonging. For her capstone project, one of my undergraduate students ran a survey assessing students’ campus involvement, use of support services, and social relationships, and how these were related to interest/enjoyment and belonging. Students who reported that more staff greeted them on campus also reported greater interest/enjoyment and a greater sense of belonging. This is crucial, because research shows that students who feel a stronger sense of belonging are more likely to complete their degree, and demonstrate higher achievement in their studies.

As far as downsides go, I do get asked to write an exorbitant number of reference letters, and it can take me a really long time to get anywhere on campus because I keep running into people. Which is funny, because when I was a kid, a trip to the grocery store with my Dad would take hours, because he always ran into someone he knew. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…

  • What advice can you give someone who feels awkward or self conscious?

One of the things that makes it scary to talk to a stranger is that you don’t know if they will reject you. But both my personal experience and my research find that rejection is very, very uncommon. I have had lots of nice chats after approaching someone who looked lost and helping them find their way. I’m convinced that both of us have left those interactions with a smile on our face. Know, however, that sometimes people don’t want help – they want to figure things out on their own. Don’t take it personally if someone turns down your offer – just try again with the next person, who will probably be more than happy to accept your help.



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20 July 2018

Become a Harassment Support Worker in Southend

Filed under: Latest news — Heather Leathley @ 2:35 pm

To underline our zero tolerance to harassment and bullying we want to appoint an additional Harassment Support Worker (HSW) at Southend Campus.

Elaine Beattie

At Essex, we celebrate diversity, challenge inequality and are committed to establishing an environment that is free from any form of harassment or bullying. All employees, workers, contractors, students and visitors are expected to be treated, and to treat each other, with dignity and respect.

We spoke to Elaine Beattie, from Essex Business School, who took on the role of HSW at Southend five years ago, to gain an insight into what this voluntary role entails.

What does this work involve?

The role of HSWs is to listen and offer advice and support to staff, students and visitors experiencing any form of harassment or bullying and to support the University’s zero tolerance approach to sexual violence, harassment and hate crime.

Why did you want to be an HSW?

Initially I thought it would be a good way to meet people around the University. I had worked as a manager in banking for 32 years and I had a lot of experience and expertise which could be put to good use.

Clients can report something anonymously through our report and support system or choose to meet an HSW face to face or by telephone. The HSW’s role is not to investigate, it is bit like triage, we signpost the channels you can pursue.

What have you learnt in this role?

As an HSW you get lots of training and draw from your life skills.  The role has taught me a lot about the relationships between people and has made me more aware of my own behaviour.

How much time does it take?

HSWs take cases at a time to suit them and their workload – that could be lunchtime but it could equally be during normal working hours. We expect that because this is a voluntary role that contributes to developing the inclusive culture the University aspires to it shouldn’t be considered as needing to be done in someone’s ‘spare time’.

Who should people contact if they are interested in a HSW role?

They should email They will then be sent an application form to complete.

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19 July 2018

Welcome to our new Southend Campus Librarian

Filed under: Latest news — Heather Leathley @ 11:01 am

Hello, can you introduce yourself please?

My name is Sian Downes and I started in this role two weeks ago!

Where did you work before?

I worked at Royal Holloway as the Information Consultant for the Schools of Law, Management and Psychology?

What attracted you to this role?

I am looking forward to doing some teaching and getting to grips with the wider remit of subjects.  Working with colleagues in the public library in The Forum, where our collection is maintained, will be very interesting.

Did you know Southend before you came here?

No, but I really like being based in the middle of a High Street. It is great being able to pop out to the shops at lunchtime and I love walking down to the sea. I did my first degree at Aberystwyth, so it’s good to be back at the coast. 

Have you always worked in libraries?

Whilst I was at University I worked in a lovely ‘old man’ pub and Claire’s Accessories. Then I worked at Waterstones for 18 months before getting my first library job at the British Library when I was 24.

Who is your favourite author?

It may surprise you – Agatha Christie!



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13 July 2018

Making it happen – whatever the score

Filed under: Latest news, Student experience, What's on — Communications, CER @ 11:06 am

Our Make Happen students have been on campus for their residential summer school.

Year 12 students from Essex and beyond cheered for England from their residential summer school on Colchester Campus this week.

Their schedule was changed to allow them the chance to catch the game during their busy week –  living the student life,  staying in halls of residence and checking out what university offers them.

The summer schools are being run by the University of Essex and Make Happen – the collaborative outreach programme aimed at inspiring the young people of Essex to look at higher education as a route to achieving their ambitions.

The focus for some of the students at this week’s Make Happen residential  summer school is sport science – and the young people have been learning about working in elite sports, using movement and exercise to rehabilitate injuries and how to use cutting edge performance analysis techniques in coaching.

The students enjoyed watching the England match as part of their experience of living on campus

Make Happen’s Luke French said  “ It’s the dream of many of our guests to work in elite sport, you never know  we may have the England Football Team coach  or physio for the 2022 World Cup in our midst!”

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12 July 2018

Meet the Web and Digital Media Team

Filed under: Latest news — ckeitch @ 4:00 pm

We spoke to Ed Harris, the Head of Web and Digital Media (WEDM), to find out more about him and the team.

Some of our Web Editing and Digital Media team

Members of WEDM

Can you tell us more about your role?

My role is very varied, but broadly speaking I help to ensure that the external and internal digital presence of the University is as good as it can be, that it maintains our identity, and supports the strategy of the University. This might mean that on one day I am meeting with academics to help overhaul and improve the online experience for Postgraduate Research recruitment (keep your eyes peeled as this is coming soon), but on another day I’m sitting with colleagues in Marketing, Student Recruitment or Communications, discussing creative ideas for how we can make our website more engaging and exciting.

How long have you been in post?

Seven months, but before that I was a Web and Digital Media Officer in the team.

How did you get into this sort of role?

I sort of fell into the web world. I studied History and Philosophy at University, and when I left, my only criteria for a career was to work in the Museum and Heritage sector. Fortunately, I succeeded and started working as a PA to the Director of Communications for a major Art Collection and Heritage organisation in London. I wasn’t exactly the best PA in the world, and when the Director launched a web project I found an interest that I was reluctant to give up. Pretty soon, they realised they required more support in web, and I was lucky to take on the role of Web and Digital Projects Assistant. A few years on down the line I moved to Anglia Ruskin University as their Web Editor, and got a taste for Higher Education. I moved to Brightlingsea some months later, and when I saw the post of Web and Digital Media Officer become available at Essex, I saw a new challenge that I wanted to be involved in. I joined here in July, and nine weeks later I was promoted to Head of WEDM.

How many other people are there in your team?

The team is made up of eight members, including me and the Head of Web Personalisation, six of which report into me. We’ll be joined by three more team members in the coming months, who’ll be working alongside us to support our three faculties in getting information on the web.

Ed with a Common Carp

Ed Harris. What a catch.

Tell me something funny or unique about yourself.

I asked my colleague this, and they said “how small I am” is pretty funny. I am pretty small to be honest. But maybe that’s not what you were looking for. I love fishing. People often find that funny for some reason.

What is the main purpose of your team?

The main purpose of the team is to make sure that the website provides the best possible experience to people both internally and externally. This could either be how it functions, or behaves, or making sure that the right information sits on the right web page. Often people hear ‘web,’ and think ‘IT Services’, but knowledge of IT makes up about 5% of what the team really does. We look at how users get to our website, and how they interact with the site when they are there. This means that we look at both offline and online activity and review the user journey from someone seeing a poster or receiving an email, to someone applying for a course or reading a piece of research. Throughout that journey, we ensure that the content on the page – text, images, videos etc. is engaging and supporting the users needs, and that any functionality on the website is exciting and engaging the target audience. This means that depending on what we are doing, we need to consider a huge amount of factors to ensure that the user can not only find the site, but also that they can easily find the information they need to make their next decision.

So, who are the team and what are their roles?

We’ve essentially got two arms to the team. The Content side – Darren David (Web Editor), Ella Dines (Web Content Officer) and Lisa Haynes (Web and Digital Media Assistant) and the Development side – Georgia Chatsiou (Web Developer), Stephen Bewers (Web and Digital Media Officer) and Sophie Ward (Web and Digital Media Assistant). These two arms work together to essentially ensure that everyone who hits the website finds what they need and if they can’t, we fix it.

The team has changed quite a lot over the past year, hasn’t it? Can you tell us a bit about the new roles and responsibilities of the team.

Massively so really. When I joined back in July 2017 there were four of us. A month later Georgia joined, and then the whole team changed around when I took on the role of Head of WEDM. The new roles were really about bedding in the best digital practice. When the new website was launched it gave us a huge amount of opportunity, so we needed individuals who could focus their attentions on building new and exciting methods to captivate our audiences, as well as creating a personal experience online for users. Whilst the team has grown, these roles are there to ensure that we fully utilise the potential of our website. The digital environment has changed so much since the early days of online, and the team now are in the position to support that.

Which project are you most proud of 

One of the things I’m most proud of, although it’s not complete yet, is the PGR online recruitment project. It’s been a huge piece of work, and we’ve worked with colleagues across all academic departments as well as the REO and IT Services. It’s been a great example of how a problem was recognised and the whole University has got together to find a suitable solution. WEDM have worked extremely hard keeping people informed and involved in the solution that’s coming and I’m really looking forward to looking at the results in a couple of months.

What else do you have coming up? 

We’ve got loads coming up.  East 15 are about to get a new website powered by the same content management system as the main Essex site, we’ll be launching the improvements to the online PGR recruitment journey, and we’re about to start work on improving the digital experience for all of our students.

What is your one tip for others working at the University?

Get to know everyone. The University is a big place and there are teams all over the place that can help you. If I’ve learnt one thing since I’ve been here it’s that working collectively with colleagues across the University makes a huge difference.

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Our Green Impact Award winners

Filed under: Latest news — ckeitch @ 9:54 am
Some of our Green Impact Award winners

Some of our Green Impact Award winners

Staff from across the University gathered at Wivenhoe House on Tuesday 10 July  for our annual Green Impact Awards ceremony.  The awards recognise the achievements of staff who have been completing sustainable actions throughout the academic year. Hosted by Daisy Malt from the Sustainability and Grounds Section, the event brought together our Green Impact network and highlighted just how many people are already working hard to lower the impacts their departments are having on the environment.

“It’s always such a pleasure to recognise everyone’s hard work on Green Impact. The community is going from strength to strength and everyone’s effort makes such an important contribution to the University’s sustainability targets,” Daisy said.

Guest speaker, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Jules Pretty, discussed the importance of addressing single use plastic and the University’s current vision for cutting its use and this year we also welcomed contractors Rose Builders to our Green Impact family, for completing a set of specific criteria focused on the environmental commitments of their organisation.

Also speaking was Zoe Arnold, project officer from the National Union of Students, who was able to give an update on our place in the wider Green Impact community, which is made up of 290 organisations in the UK and Europe, ranging from students’ unions to NHS Trusts.

To find out how you can get involved with our own Green Impact community, contact Daisy Malt.

Take a look at the full list of this year’s winners and see all the photos’s from the event on Flickr.

Green Contractor

Rose Builders

Working Towards Bronze



Academic Section

Accommodation South Courts A3

Accommodation North 2


Employability & Careers

Essex Pathways

Language & Linguistics


Occupational Health

Print Essex

Sports Centre

Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Science (SRES)

Southend Campus

UK Data Archive (UKDA)

University Square


Accommodation Operational Office

Albert Sloman Library

Institute for Social and Economics Research (ISER)

Literature, Film and Theatre Studies (LiFTS)

Organisational Development

Talent Development Centre

Vice-Chancellor’s Office


CER Central Team

Essex Food

Estate Management

Event Essex

Faculty of Science and Health

Faculty of Social Sciences


Humanities Faculty Office


Special awards

Luke Nash (Academic Section)

Louise Buxton (Accommodation)

Dilly Meyer (Talent Development Centre)

The Department of Psychology

Organisational Development

School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Science

The Albert Sloman Library

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