University of Essex

Research impact

6 July 2017

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.

 

 

The University of Essex will moderate comments and there will be a delay before any posts appear.

24 May 2017

Webinars to make the most of data

Filed under: Research impact, What's on — Communications Office @ 11:50 pm

Free webinars on making the most of data

The UK Data Service, based at the University of Essex, is contributing to a series of free one-hour webinars aimed at helping you get the most out of research tools and key national and international surveys, on topics ranging from politics to aging.

The sessions, aimed at beginners, include an introduction to bio-markers: what they are and how they can be used, and an overview on sharing data through the ReShare repository.

For details and bookings, see the links below.

Wednesday 7 June – 2pm

Data in Europe: Political behaviour

https://cessda.net/CESSDA-Services/Resources/Events/Webinar-Data-in-Europe-Political-Behaviour

Tuesday 13 June – 3pm

Guided walk through ReShare

https://ukdataservice.ac.uk/news-and-events/eventsitem/?id=4864

Wednesday 14 June  – 3pm

Data in Europe: Ageing

https://cessda.net/CESSDA-Services/Resources/Events/Webinar-Data-in-Europe-Ageing

Thursday 15 June – 2pm

Introduction to Biomarker data

https://ukdataservice.ac.uk/news-and-events/eventsitem/?id=4918

The University of Essex will moderate comments and there will be a delay before any posts appear.

10 May 2017

A sneak preview of our new website

Filed under: Latest news, Research impact — Communications, CER @ 1:51 pm

The first phase of our new-look Essex website will launch soon.

The new design is much more modern and fully responsive for mobile and tablet users.

The initial launch will include the homepage, Course Finder, news and events, and the top-level sections on studying at Essex, research, business and about the University.

Academic department sites will follow in Autumn Term 2017 and the web team will then work with other teams to bring content into the new site.

None of the current website content will be lost when the new site launches. Pages that aren’t in the initial launch will remain online in their current format. Our digital partner Delete is building the site at the moment.

Here’s a sneak preview of our new look. For more information about the project, contact wedm@essex.ac.uk or check out the project webpage.

web white

Our new look website.

web black

Our new website will be compatible with tablets and smart phones

The University of Essex will moderate comments and there will be a delay before any posts appear.

6 April 2017

Help accelerate our impact – join our new IAA Challenge Labs

Filed under: Research impact — Communications Office @ 1:53 am

A series of Challenge Labs are taking place from this week thanks to support from the University’s ESRC Impact Acceleration Account (IAA).

The IAA Challenge Labs are aiming to respond to the Government’s announcement about the new Industry Strategy Challenge Fund, which will be delivered by UK Research and Innovation – which the Government wants to create to bring together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and the research and knowledge exchange functions of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

We spoke to Dorian Hayes from the Research and Enterprise Office about the the Challenge Labs and why researchers should get involved.

What are Challenge Labs and how do I get involved?

“The Essex IAA programme is holding a programme of themed and facilitated Lab events to bring together researchers, businesses and other organisations to explore key priorities and challenges in particular sectors; to develop innovative solutions based on the application of research in practice; and to create real-world projects to test those solutions.

“You can take part in these events by looking out for invitations (via Heads of Department, Directors of Research, and Impact) and signing up through the IAA email address: iaa@essex.ac.uk.

“After our initial Challenge Lab on the Digital, Creative, and Cultural Industries on Thursday 6 April and Friday 7 April, the next event, focused on Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, will take place on Thursday 20 April and Friday 21 April. The event will involve a range of industry partners working in different aspects of the high-tech industries, and will explore not just the technical, but also the ethical, political, legal, and cultural implications of these new technologies. It is open to researchers from across all of the University’s faculties and departments. This opening pair of events will be followed by Labs later in the summer on Leading Edge Healthcare, and Big Data Analytics, as well as other sectors, to be confirmed.”

Why is the Government’s New Industrial Strategy important to researchers at Essex?

“In support of the publication of the Government’s new Industrial Strategy in a Green Paper in January 2017, a new Challenge Fund will offer a range of new funding opportunities to be delivered through Research Councils. The Industrial Strategy seeks to build on strengths and extend excellence into the future, increase productivity and drive growth across the whole of the UK, making the UK one of the most competitive places to grow a business.

“At Essex we’re responding positively to the Government consultation on the green paper by using new funds made available through our existing IAA to engage with the development of the Challenge Fund, and to work with our regional partners to highlight our strengths and pave the way for research and innovation collaborations. By participating in our Challenge Labs programme, you have a unique opportunity to influence and shape the University’s response to this new landscape of challenge-led funding for research and development, and to enhance the impact of your own research.”

What happens next?

Our first event takes place from Thursday to Friday, so watch this space for updates on the propositions and projects that emerge from this engagement with the digital and cultural sector, which will be supported by new IAA project funding. There is still time to sign up for our second event on 20-21 April by emailing iaa@essex.ac.uk or dphayes@essex.ac.uk

After that stand by for the announcement of the next events in May-June.

The University of Essex will moderate comments and there will be a delay before any posts appear.

19 July 2016

Discover new way to map your research and join new ArcGIS user group

Filed under: Latest news, Research impact, Student experience — Communications Office @ 12:13 pm
Map of Essex created with ArcGIS

Map of Essex created with ArcGIS

Essex academics and postgraduate students are being offered the chance to use a powerful suite of software, apps and online tools to map out their research in a new and exciting way.

The University has a license for ArcGIS which allows you to create and share beautiful maps based on your research. An ArcGIS user group has now been setup to share experiences and provide support.

The system is already being used in history, sociology and biological sciences and Dr Leanne Appleby Hepburn, who is promoting ArcGIS thanks to a Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund award, is now looking to create a users’ group to help other people find out more and start using it in their research and teaching.

  • For more information about learning to use ArcGIS and to join the user group email Leanne at: ljheb@essex.ac.uk

Leanne said: “We use the software in both teaching and research and employers specify this skill in many graduate level jobs.  We are inviting anyone across the University who is interested in learning more about this software to get in touch so that we can encourage interest and set up a meeting.

“Our license covers the whole University so we want to make people aware we have this resource available. “

Case studies

Mapping marine and terrestrial habitats

Leanne is using the ArcGIS Collector app to map environments being studied by students. She said: “I’m using ArcGIS apps in the field for practical work by students where we are mapping marine and terrestrial habitats.

“We are also starting a new Oceanography and Marine Conservation field course in Greece this year where student will be using ArcGIS to map the distribution and abundance of protected Poisdonia seagrass beds – which are a vital part of the Mediterranean ecosystem.

“We also use ArcGIS to map the Blackwater estuary native oyster population which was used as important data in the designation of the area as a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ).”

Mapping domestic abuse

Ruth Weir, from the Department of Sociology, who is researching domestic abuse patterns in Essex, added: “I’ve been using ArcGIS to identify predictors of domestic abuse.  I’ve used Geographically Weighted Regression, from the spatial analyst extension, to model predictors and look at how the relationships vary across Essex.

“I also ran a Proficio course for postgraduate students in April and I’m working with Professor Pamela Cox to introduce ArcGIS into teaching for third year undergraduate criminology students and Masters students.”

Helping visualise history of Colchester

Dr Justin Colson from the Department of History is excited about enriching the learning experience for students: “On my new module ‘Mapping History and Heritage in Colchester’ students will be using ArcGIS to interact with historic maps of the town from various eras, as well as information such as the census and trade directories. They’ll use ArcGIS to produce their own projects mapping change in different aspects of Colchester’s shops, industries and culture.

“I’m also working with the same material, as well as data shared by Colchester Borough Council and the Colchester Archaeological Trust, to produce a comprehensive atlas of the town’s development.”

Training opportunities

In 2016-17 staff and postgraduate students will be able to take advantage of Ruth’s course on ArcGIS while Justin will be running additional courses on concepts of mapping and using the online ArcGIS app.

 

The University of Essex will moderate comments and there will be a delay before any posts appear.

5 May 2016

Save the date for Tavistock conference

Filed under: Latest news, Research impact — Communications Office @ 12:07 pm

Image of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust websiteHarvard psychiatrist Professor George Vaillant’s work will be the focus of the second Joint University of Essex and Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust Annual Research Conference in June.

The conference, which is part of the Tavistock Research Week, takes place in London on 24 June.

‘Researching psychodynamic defences: a lifetime’s work’ will offer participants an insight into the issues and challenges of researching the unconscious. Professor Vaillant, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Consultant at the Department of Psychiatry, will highlight the importance of longitudinal cohort studies such as the Harvard Study of Adult Development. He will also talk about his long experience as a teacher and a writer bringing to life the manifestations of psychological defences.

The conference is open to all Essex academics.  Details of how to book your place will be available soon.

 

The University of Essex will moderate comments and there will be a delay before any posts appear.

22 March 2016

Naseem showcases research at House of Commons

Filed under: People pages, Research impact, Student experience — Tags: , — Communications Office @ 2:58 pm
PhD student Naseem Ramli discusses her research with Bernard Jenkin MP.

PhD student Naseem Ramli discusses her research with Bernard Jenkin MP at the House of Commons.

PhD student Naseem Ramli was shortlisted to showcase her research at a special event at the House of Commons.

At the SET for BRITAIN event, Naseem presented a poster demonstrating her research into renewable energy to several MPs, including Harwich and North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin.

Naseem, from the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, said: “It was a prestigious event, with my session being quite competitive. I’m working on renewable energy, but it was a great opportunity to meet those from other engineering disciplines.”

SET for BRITAIN aims to connect researchers with MPs and highlight Parliament’s role in promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. Naseem, who was shortlisted from hundreds of applicants, added: “Not only did the event highlight new technologies, but also it was a great way to showcase renewable energy and how it benefits the planet.”

Naseem’s research focuses on using lithium-ion batteries for low power applications and she would like to be able to gain funding to develop her research further.

With renewable energy being a key interest for Naseem, she praised the University’s Green Impact programme, which helps departments be more sustainable. “It’s a good scheme,” added Naseem, “I can see that the university has made large investments in solar technology.”

 

The University of Essex will moderate comments and there will be a delay before any posts appear.

2 February 2016

Partner voted a Bloomberg Business Innovator

Filed under: Latest news, Research impact — Communications Office @ 4:59 pm

Signal teamThe University is delighted that one of our industry partners, media tracking company Signal, has been named among the list of Bloomberg Business Innovators 2016.

The list is made up of companies which have been identified as changing how the UK lives, works and thinks and Bloomberg Business Innovators 2016 aims to create a network of over 50 breakthrough business leaders who epitomize the vibrancy and diversity of the UK business scene, highlighting the firms that are growing or innovating at pace.

Essex has strong links with London-based Signal, which helps organisations around the globe monitor, discover, collaborate and draw insight from 15,000 news sources, 3.5 million blogs and social media.

Our Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Signal recently won Innovate UK’s KTP Best of the Best Awards 2015. Signal’s Chief Technology Officer Wesley Hall is also a Visiting Fellow at the University’s School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering and Essex academics Professor Massimo Poesio and Professor Udo Kruschwitz are scientific advisors for Signal.

The main aim of the KTP with Signal was to develop cutting-edge, highly scalable natural language processing applications that monitor and analyse the world’s news. The innovative intelligence platform developed by Signal can be used in any market, sector or domain to follow industry news, monitor risk and opportunity and track competitors.

 

 

The University of Essex will moderate comments and there will be a delay before any posts appear.

18 December 2015

Sports scientists help Essex stars of the future

Filed under: Latest news, Research impact, Sport — Tags: , — Communications Office @ 3:32 pm

Human Performance UnitBudding sports stars of the future are being supported by our Human Performance Unit (HPU) as part of the Active Essex 2016 Inspired Athletes initiative.

A total of 25 inspiring athletes from across Essex have been successful in their applications for funding from Active Essex, Essex County Council and Southend-on-Sea Borough Council. This funding will be pivotal in helping them to develop and enhance their sporting potential.

Active Essex will be working in partnership with the HPU at our Colchester Campus to ensure the athletes have access to discounted services which can help maximise their sporting potential.

The range of sports covered by the athletes include gymnastics, canoeing, wheelchair racing, athletics, sailing and squash.

The HPU prides itself as a one-stop shop offering a wide and specialist selection of services for athletes of all abilities looking to maximise their performance, including physiological support, performance nutrition, biomechanical and performance psychology support.

HPU manager Chris McManus said: “We want to work with and support the best athletes in the region. We already work with a wide range of sports men and woman and this is a real opportunity for us to work with aspiring athletes of tomorrow and it will help bridge the gap between performance and sports science.

“The wide range of the sports that we can support just goes to show we are able to adapt and provide bespoke services for a wide range of sports.”

 

The University of Essex will moderate comments and there will be a delay before any posts appear.

15 December 2015

Essex big data projects feature in ESRC magazine

Filed under: Research impact — Tags: — Communications Office @ 12:28 pm

Britain in 2016Two big data projects based at Essex have been featured in the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)’s annual flagship magazine.

Britain in 2016 showcases the economic and social research funded by the ESRC, and this year’s includes a feature on how data can help society to work better and businesses to compete.

The article looks at the Administrative Data Research Network, established in 2014 to allow researchers to carry out social and economic research using administrative data, and the Business and Local Government Data Research Centre, set up to help companies, local authorities and academics to use data more effectively.

Dr Melanie Wright is Director of the Administrative Data Service, which co-ordinates the Administrative Data Research Network here at Essex. She told the magazine: “We set out to build a new research infrastructure, which would enable researchers to have access to incredibly rich, important and detailed data – but to do it in a way that is safe, secure, regulated and controlled, and always in the public interest.”

The three-page feature examines how the Network consulted privacy groups to address public concerns about how data are used. “Right from the beginning,” Melanie adds, “we were aware that there’s huge public concern about privacy and how government uses data collected about people – data that’s really not recorded for the purposes of research.”

The article also examines the role of the Business and Local Government Data Research Centre, also established in 2014. Professor Vania Sena, Director of the Centre, based at Essex Business School, says, “There is a layer of companies, especially in our region, which would benefit from being able to analyse big data, but they don’t have the skills or technical knowledge to do this. We focus on SMEs and local government. We collect their data sources and try to merge them with additional sources of data to create a more detailed picture.”

One of the research projects it has undertaken examined what faster broadband means for local businesses – whether transactions are now made electronically, for example, and if businesses are Skyping their suppliers. The Centre also trains businesses in using data to increase productivity and efficiency.

The Administrative Data Research Network, meanwhile, has around 50 projects at various stages of development, including one which will look at the socio-economic impact of Northern Ireland’s ‘peace walls’.

Britain in 2016 is out now, and available at WH Smith, Marks and Spencer, Waitrose and Boots.

You can also order a copy by emailing: enquiries@azonelogistics.com

 

 

The University of Essex will moderate comments and there will be a delay before any posts appear.

 

Older Posts »