RSSPress Feed 23 May 2023 00:00:00 Inspiring HIV activist named Change Maker of the Year

Ant Babajee Middlesex University

A HIV activist at Middlesex University who has campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness about the virus has recognised for his incredible efforts by a leading LGBTQi+ charity.

Ant Babajee, a CRM Manager and co-chair of the LGBT+ Network at the University, has been named  a Change Maker of the Year in this year’s Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.

The Change Maker of the Year recognition goes to individuals who are doing inspiring work within their institutions and beyond to ensure there are inclusive working environments and a welcoming community for us all.

Ant, a former BBC journalist, was diagnosed with HIV in 2007.

Over the past decade, Ant has collaborated with institutions and charities to raise awareness about HIV as well as volunteering in numerous roles, including as a peer mentor at Positively UK.

Ant has recently joined the NHS England LGBTI+ Sounding Board and the London HIV Clinical Forum as a community representative.

Ant Babajee Middlesex University

Trained as an MDX Mental Health First Aider, Ant has played a significant role in supporting our community ever since joining the University in 2016. Throughout the pandemic, he continued to facilitate regular online events for the LGBT+ Network and contributed substantially to a more comprehensive presence for the LGBT+ Network across our staff intranet.

Ant said the following about this prestigious achievement:

“First and foremost, I am proud of myself for bringing all of the parts of my identity to work. I have not always felt able to be so open at work, but I am so glad to have got to a place in my own journey where I can be unashamedly and unapologetically myself.

"A lot of what I do as a Change Maker happens outside of my workplace, and I am incredibly thankful to Middlesex for supporting all of my LGBT+ and HIV advocacy and activism.

"When I joined Middlesex in 2016, I was so heartened that there was an active and thriving LGBT+ Network for staff, which had been set up by two colleagues: John Soper – our Director of Inclusion and Wellbeing – and David Williams – our former Director of Corporate Engagement.

"In my subsequent four years as co-chair of the LGBT+ Network, I have been overwhelmed by the support I have received from colleagues – right from the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor and throughout the University.

"We have grown and shaped our understanding of what we need to do as a network and in our University inclusion work more generally. We need to continue to highlight and stand alongside the more marginalised members of our community, both inside and outside Middlesex University in London as well as around the world.

"It might take one person to stand up and start change, but ultimately all of my colleagues who have been supportive have played their part. Thank you so much for your support.”

This well-deserved recognition follows recent news that Middlesex University has been awarded Gold and has secured a place in the Top 100 list for leading LGBTQ+ inclusive employers in this year’s national Index recognising institutions that do significant work towards supporting their LGBTQ+ employees.

If you would like to find out more about our LGBT+ Network please email

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24 Mar 2023 00:00:00 MDX Deputy Vice-Chancellor Sean Wellington among new WorldSkills UK trustees

Sean Wellington

Professor Sean Wellington, Middlesex University's Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Provost with responsibility for leadership of education, research and knowledge exchange, has been appointed to the board of World Skills UK

He also oversees the development and implementation of academic strategies at the University. Starting his career as an apprentice in the engineering industry, Sean has taught engineering and computing for more than 30 years and held teaching, research and leadership positions at three universities.

World Skills hold popular championships for vocational skills every two years which students in the UK and around the globe compete in.

Speaking about the appointment, Prof Wellington said the competition-based training programmes run by WorldSkills UK "give young people a real opportunity to boost their skills and their career prospects".

Prof Wellington said: "I am delighted to have been appointed a trustee of WorldSkills UK, an organisation that does so much to champion future skills and give more young people the chance to reach their potential.

"Middlesex University has worked with WorldSkills UK for many years and we have a shared commitment to inspire and enable learners from all backgrounds, allowing them to flourish in society and the world of work. Additionally, both organisations are embedded in global networks and this connectivity is used to make a transformative difference for learners."

Prof Wellington is among four new World Skills UK trustees along with Audrey Nelson, Justin Rix and Mark Farrar.

WorldSkills UK Chair Marion Plant said: “I am delighted to announce the appointment of the new trustees to the WorldSkills UK Board.

"It is exciting to be able to welcome strong advocates for education and skills with such considerable experience and expertise to the team. I look forward to working with them all."

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24 Mar 2023 00:00:00 MDX research highlights alarming issues facing working students

Kate Bade workplace

Thousands of university students in the workplace could be regularly facing discrimination, unpaid hours, threats of dismissal and jobs changing at short notice on a regular basis, based on new Middlesex University research.

Many students are unsure over their employment rights and fail to realise they could qualify for maternity leave, the study found.

Academics Dr Janroj Keles, Dr Claudio Morrison and Dr Parisa Dashtipour obtained funding from the Enhancing Education Awards and surveyed students at the University to explore their work status, learn about any difficulties and knowledge of employment rights.

The research team’s findings revealed:

  • 68% state that their work schedule is changed at short notice, 28.5% do not always or ever see a payslip, 22.5% of respondents complain about unpaid extra work; 17.34% claim some of their wages are paid cash in hand to avoid taxation.
  • In total 50% believe they are not entitled to paid maternity leave.
  • Almost 30% claim experiencing discrimination at work (almost 10% do so frequently), and 24% reported bullying.
  • 22% are subjected to threats of dismissal and 12% to disciplinary action
  • 20% reported accidents and injuries at work.
  • Third of students work precarious jobs, zero hours, freelance and in the informal sector (14%).
  • Lack of knowledge of employment rights is one of the main reasons for the difficult relationships with employers and the precariousness of students in the workplace.
  • Study sample included females (61.4%), students living at home (34%), international/overseas students (44%), British (32%) and EU-settled residents (18%).
  • In the sample, 90% of the students reported “not having enough money to live on without working”.

The academic fear these workplace issues could impact students’ performance as highlighted in recent Sutton Trust polling on the cost of living crises.

Dr Morrison, the project’s Principal Investigator and a Senior Research Fellow at MDX Business School, said: “The study discovered that student jobs are psychologically and physically taxing, as such immediately interfering with their ability to benefit from learning.

“Such experiences also lower their labour market expectations. The causes appear to lie in their lack of control over the conditions of their work and their poor knowledge of employment rights. Precarious employment and exploitative business models make such problems a structural feature of these jobs.

“We advocate changes in the employing sectors and in university funding to reduce students’ reliance on low pay/low skills jobs. Universities, Unions, and civil society, however, could improve student’s decision-making and bargaining power by raising their labour rights knowledge and awareness of workplace collective rights.”

Co-investigator Dr Keles, a Senior Research Fellow, said: “Our research shows that overseas students and students from low-income households typically work under unfavourable conditions, such as long hours—up to 30 per week—low pay and usually unsocial hours.

“Moreover, a significant number of students, particularly overseas students state that they have experienced bullying and undervaluing at the workplace. In addition to increasing students' vulnerability and mental health issues, these precarious employment situations also lead to a number of other problems during their studies, including poor academic performance, low attendance, missing deadlines, requesting extensions, and even failing to turn in their assessments on time at the university.

“While universities constantly and rightly encourage students to gain work experience to increase their employability for social mobility, universities should also support the working students by including employment rights as part of the taught curriculum, providing employment rights advice service and the well-being team should offer additional support to those working students who are experiencing multiple problems at work.”

MDX students do have extensive resources on employment rights via the ‘employment’ section of the Uni Hub website.

The launch of the project’s preliminary findings reportLearning from Labour: Critical pedagogy for working students - will take place this Monday (March 27) at MDX’s campus in Hendon in the Vice-Chancellor room 9 to 14.

Find out more details about the event.

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20 Mar 2023 12:23:18 Cost-of-living crisis has highlighted the importance of communicating economic inequality in the media

MDX Senior Lecturer in Journalism Dr Sophie Knowles will speak at the House of Commons on March 28 about how economic inequality is portrayed in the media.

The event, which will also launch research from a book Dr Knowles co-edited, will be an important platform to debate policy recommendations created following a roundtable held at MDX last summer. A diverse range of experts discussed media reporting on the day-to-day economy, and its shortcomings in reflecting the experiences of and communicating effectively with ordinary people.

Dr Knowles has spent the last decade researching how economic inequality and economic policy is framed by news media. She has looked at the impact of communication since the pandemic and how in the context of the cost-of-living-crisis, inequalities continue to grow due to the public’s low financial and economic literacy.

For instance, half of the public cannot choose the right definition for the government’s budget deficit from a multiple-choice question, meaning that when journalists use terms like inflation, GDP, or deficit, they are alienating around 50 per cent of the public.

Dr Knowles says the event will focus on the need to report economic policy in a way the broad public can understand.

She added: “To put it simply, there is little public and journalistic synergy about some economic terms, which can have drastic consequences for the way the current crisis is being framed, and the anxiety it can cause our most vulnerable members of society.”

The event has been sponsored by the MP for Hammersmith and Shadow Solicitor General Andy Slaughter, and brings together a range of perspectives.

Guests will include MPs, members of the House of Lords, charities including Nuffield and Economy, journalists from the Financial Times and Independent, think tanks and policy institutes such as the Centre for Progressive Policy. The Director of the International Institute of Inequalities at the London Stock Exchange and MDX Professors of Journalism, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Kurt Barling will also be in attendance.

Community organisations including lnclusive London and CommUNITY Barnet will offer the voices of people with lived experience. Dr Knowles said: “Without them our theory and research will never be relevant or brought to life. They offer the most authentic version of peer-review. They were an invaluable asset to my research last summer, and the only way to ensure we develop a discourse that is truly inclusive.

“I'm always aware that big complex issues and questions require interdisciplinary work, so a lot of my research endeavours try to cross disciplines and break down silos. This event is doing exactly the same thing - bringing together a range of perspectives to bridge sectors and generate a productive discussion that is relevant for practice and public policy.”

Julie Pal, CEO at CommUNITY Barnet, emphasised the importance of the public having confidence in their understanding of economic information presented by the media.

“The work we are doing in partnership with the University will be instrumental in making information more accessible which will empower people to make proactive financial decisions,” she said.

Steve Schifferes, visiting Professor in journalism at MDX, and co-editor of the book, said: “Our research has shown that there has been a significant shift in the public mood since the Covid pandemic, with more concern over inequality and more support for measures to tackle unequal wealth and income.

“We urgently need a better dialogue between journalists, campaigners and ordinary citizens in order to improve their understanding and engagement with this key issue.”

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20 Mar 2023 09:17:39 Future of Storytelling explored as MDX hosts StoryFest 2023

A wide range of guest speakers, panel debates and practical workshops are on offer both online and at the Hendon campus from March 20-22 as MDX hosts StoryFest 2023.

Formerly named the North London Literary Festival, which has offered a showcase for storytelling in all formats since 1996, previous speakers include Dame Professor Carol Ann Duffy, David Nicholls, Al Kennedy, Lynton Kwesi Johnson, Andrew Motion, and Fay Weldon.

MDX BA Creative Writing & Journalism students formed an organising committee to arrange the schedule and guests. Branding and social media of the festival has been managed by MDX BA Advertising, PR and Branding students and all sessions are hosted by undergraduate and postgraduates.

Creative Writing and Journalism students from MDX Dubai campus are also taking part.

This year’s theme will evaluate how storytelling is being redefined for an ‘always-on’ world.

Mobile technology is already transforming how audiences consume media, from retail shopping, to VR and sporting events so will storytelling in the future exist. The question ‘is the novel dead?’ will be debated.

Dr Adam Dalton, MDX Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing, said: “Social media art-scientists are pushing the boundaries of our world, outwards and upwards, and increasing the ways in which stories can be told – moving us away from the linear narratives of yesteryear to a multimodal, multi-sensory experience of story.

“Is it liberating, simple evolution, or simply too much? Isn’t a story still just a story?”

The packed schedule includes Writing graphic novels and comics’, with graphic novelist John Dunning and comic writer R J Collins, creator of ARKS; ‘Story in games’, with MDX Senior Lecturer in Games Design Penda Tomlinson and ‘Generational trauma’, with Nadege Rene, winner of the London Writers Award.

Vincent Ryan, Training Manager of Google NewsLab will give a presentation on ‘New tech tools for storytelling’ and ‘Political story writing’, will be discussed with MDX Professor Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, MDX Professor Kurt Barling and Russell Smith.

The finale is at 7pm on March 22 when poet Kel Duckhouse, Gangs of London actor Lucian Msamati, children’s author Gabriela Houston, MDX Academic Dean James Martin Charlton, and MDX Head of Media Helen Bendon will make up The future of storytelling panel.

Helen said: "StoryFest is huge part of our identity in the faculty of Arts and Creative Industries, bringing together different disciplines in what is essential to all of our practice - strong, engaging storytelling.

"Attending StoryFest is always thought-provoking and creatively stimulating, but most impressive is seeing our students work with professional writers and creatives."

Lead student organisers Lillian Cadwallader and Lauren Ferraro have worked with MDX Senior Lecturer James Kenworth to pull the event together.

Lillian, an MDX BA Creative Writing and Journalism student, said: “We have worked hard to get the guest list that we have around the future of storytelling and I am really excited, particularly to hear Gabriela Houston who writes young adult fiction and her take on the future and her audience.

“I think at heart people love a book or a script, it’s the tangible. Whatever the future holds I think and hope there will always be that element.”

For more information go to: North London Story Festival | Middlesex University

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18 Mar 2023 09:28:00 "Keep going, stay curious, and keep learning" - Vice-Chancellor hails new MDX Dubai graduates at campus's largest Graduation event to date

A group photo of MDX senior leaders and academics, male and female, and Honorary Doctor His Excellency Khalfan Juma Belhoul, in black and scarlet academic robes in front of a sign reading Congratulations Class of 2023Middlesex University Dubai, the city’s largest UK institution for total student enrolment, held its largest ever series of graduation ceremonies on Saturday 11 March and Sunday 12 March. More than 1,000 graduates collected their degrees over the course of four ceremonies at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

Awards were presented and special recognition given to Top Graduates and Valedictorians in different disciplines.

Maleeha Murad Muhammad was this year's top MDX Dubai graduate in BSc Information Technology and Business Information Systems programmes.

A young South Asian woman with glasses and in a blue, silver-flecked top sits turned half-away from the camera. Her face is looking at the camera and she is smiling Together with Business Information Systems coursemate Neha Naveed and BSc Information Technology graduates Khristine Sagum and Sadaf Khan, Maleeha designed an innovative charitable giving platform called DonatingBee.

The four, all motivated by a desire to help and give back to the community, came up with the idea during their UX Design class.

Maleeha, who had FinTech experience from working on a Dubai real estate investment App called SmartCrowd during her first and second year at university, says she taken with two different ideas: a platform developing financial literacy and allowing students to make transactions more easily, and a charitable venture.

DonatingBee, developed so far to prototype stage, lets people donate digitally, "either through the application itself, or through pick-up services," Maleeha explains. "There are diverse ways of donating to not limit the user to just monetary donations: including clothes, food and donation through rewards earned from previous donations".

It was deemed such a success that the team has been chosen to represent MDX on the Dubai Future Foundation’s University Entrepreneurship Program (UEP).

"Working with a team requires understanding, compromises and most of all, putting the user first" says Maleeha. "We had to push our egos aside and take feedback to really finesse our design".

Maleeha's final year project on her programme was to create a tool for the MDX Dubai careers department. Taking as a starting point her own experiences struggling to find internships and job opportunities, "I began researching around this to understand if other students experienced the same issues," she says. "I designed and tested it and currently it's at a high-fidelity prototype level".

Maleeha, who studied at Dubai’s Al Diyafah High School, says a strength of MDX is the number of practitioner-academics, who “bring a wealth of knowledge and unique nuggets of practical experience to the classroom, which can significantly enhance the learning experience of students”.

With their “passion for their respective fields of study [and] willingness to go above and beyond… I think the entire Computer Engineering and Informatics Department faculty has left an impact on me in one way or the other,” she says. “No idea was too big, and we were never judged for what we wanted to pursue, as long as it was physically doable”.

Now working as a UX designer at company Horizontal Design, in 10 years’ time she hopes to have her own product, or “become a product manager for a product I am truly passionate about developing”. She also hopes to be a leader and mentor, “because I know what it is like to be in that place and seek help. I don’t ever want to forget where I came from - a young mind hoping to get guidance and learn from others around me”.

MSc Corporate and Marketing Communications top graduate Mamata Gopinathan was picked for The Adecco Group's CEO for One Month leadership and young talent development programme, for which she shadowed Adecco's regional CEO, and subsequently met the global CEO in Zurich. She was also chosen as a MDX Dubai student hero, featuring in social media ads.

A highlight project for her was working with Dubai's Hilton Garden Inn Hotel, through her Strategic Brand Management class. "It enabled us to work with industry experts and gave us hands-on experience devising and implementing marketing solutions in the Middle Eastern market,"  she says.

A young man wearing glasses with dark hair and a slight beard, dressed in a grey suit and silvery grey tie smiles at the cameraBSc Finance and Management Valedictorian Jason Miranda disagrees with those who call finance boring, finding his learning experience were enlivened by his teachers' real-life examples. One lecturer was "very approachable and supportive" - her feedback "helped me grow academically and personally,"  he says.

Jason also feels himself fortunate to have been "part of a diverse and talented group of students who challenged and inspired me". Extra-curricular activities with a wide range of students helped him develop his communications skills and broaden his perspective.

Nicholas Mendoza (BSc Graphic Design top graduate) said he was drawn to MDX Dubai "as it was really 'out there' especially in social media," and that he appreciated lessons from his lecturer, Eddy Ryan, on how to approach each design project.

Degrees awarded to MDX Dubai’s Class of 2022 covered over 70 diverse programmes including Business, Marketing, Accounting and Finance, Law, Education, Fashion Design and Psychology.

Reflecting the university’s commitment to equip the UAE’s future leaders with the expertise they need, Sama Yousif Mohamed Ahmed Alzaabi (BSc Psychology with Counselling Skills) received the Top Emirati Undergraduate Student Award, while MSc Data Science graduate Amna Mohammad Hassan Ibrahim Alblooshi won the prize for Top Emirati Postgraduate Student.

His Excellency Khalfan Juma Belhoul, Chief Executive Officer of the Dubai Future Foundation, was awarded a prestigious Doctorate of the University, in recognition of his commitment to empower a culture of technological innovation and entrepreneurship across the UAE.

In an address to students, he spoke of Dubai’s adaptability and acknowledged “the potential that each and every one of you has to shape – and revolutionise – the future of our world.”

“Education is infinite, and we all still have more to learn” Belhoul said. “And so, we must also be prepared to face a range of challenges and opportunities that we cannot yet fully comprehend.

“But in the midst of all this change, I am filled with a very realistic hope. Humans always come first, in the past, in the present and in the future. It is you who could be working on the next AI-powered chatbot, announcing a significant breakthrough in quantum computing… or even inventing an intricate robot that could revolutionise a doctor’s toughest surgeries”.

Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University Professor Nic Beech said: “Middlesex University Dubai is an exemplary place to study, and we are very proud of what our students achieve in their studies, in their careers, and of their contribution to society.

“The Dubai campus continues to go from strength to strength, having been recognised as a 5-Star institution in two consecutive KHDA Higher Education Classifications. This recognises the University’s outstanding performance in teaching, employability, internationalisation, research, arts and culture, as well as student happiness and well-being”.

“To the Class of 2022, my message is to keep going, stay curious, and keep learning”.

For more information on MDX Dubai Class of 2022 Graduation, please click here

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15 Mar 2023 00:00:00 MDX academic calls for fitness workers to have training on transgender issues

LGBTQ flag

A Middlesex University alumni and academic is calling for gym and fitness centre staff to have training around transgender issues to increase the participation of gender diverse people in physical activity and exercise.

Dr Hannah Newman, an academic in Sport and Exercise Psychology , has been researching the barriers facing the gender diverse community in non-competitive sports, exercise, and physical activity.

A recent research paper which she has co-written - Challenges accessing physical activity from a transgender perspective: A systematic review – highlights how a health survey conducted by the National LGB&T Partnership in 2015 found that 58 per cent of LGBTQI+ people did not meet the minimum physical activity levels to maintain good health, compared to 41 per cent in the general population.

"Gyms are incredibly gendered in the way they are set up and marketed and we know how women face barriers just entering weight rooms because of their unspoken gendered nature. There is a lot of work required on breaking down the culture in these space."  Dr Hannah Newman, an academic in Sport and Exercise Psychology.

Exercise and physical activity can improve mental health and be associated with higher levels of body image and self-esteem, according to the paper.

Challenges facing access to physical activity for gender-diverse people revolve around the idea of ‘gender binary’ systems and spaces, which result in “exclusionary policies, gendered clothing and problems with changing facilities”, the paper argued.

In particular, the academics claim gyms have been found to reinforce normalised ideals of sexual orientation and gendered body ideals of masculinity related to strength and thinness as feminine which “pose barriers for gender-diverse people”.

Dr Newman said: “What academic literature is out there and the ongoing debates largely focus on competitive athletes and how they should be categorised in elite sport and less of the attention has been on a non-athlete general population and participation in physical activity and exercise.

“In terms of how to increase physical activity among the gender diverse community, a lot of this comes down to the fitness and leisure industries being the biggest provider of those spaces so the question must be what can we do within those environments?

“There has been very little attention paid to this kind of activity from a research perspective in the fitness industry.

“There’s got to be greater education and awareness for people working in those spaces.

“Gyms are incredibly gendered in the way they are set up and marketed and we know how women face barriers just entering weight rooms because of their unspoken gendered nature.

“There is a lot of work required on breaking down the culture in these spaces, and there’s no quick fix, but one obvious first step would be training people within the industry around working with transgender and gender diverse people, so they could understand what the different considerations may be to ensure people feel welcome within those spaces – because that’s currently not the case.”

Another solution could be creating LGBTQI+ spaces in gyms and leisure centres, but this is not a permanent fix, added Dr Newman.

“LGBT+ spaces can be helpful in the short term because there are so many barriers and having spaces people can feel comfortable in is important and necessary, but in the long term there shouldn’t be a need to be comfortable only in a designated LGBT+ environment,” she said.

The new research paper, co-authored by Dr Emily Pattinson from Newcastle University and sport and exercise psychologist Dr Laura Kiemle-Gabbay, has been peer reviewed and published in the British Psychological Society’s Sport & Exercise Psychology Review journal.

Dr Newman is planning further research on transgender inclusion in fitness industry, gym and personal trainer courses.

She will also be co-leading a new MSc in Sport and Exercise Psychology starting at Middlesex University in September at the impressive new Sports Science facilities in the West Stand of Saracens’ Stone X Stadium.

Find out more about the course.

Photo by Raphael Renter on Unsplash

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14 Mar 2023 00:00:00 MDX academics will support two major government funded projects tackling drug use

Thoughts Catalog cannabis

Two projects designed to reduce drug use among young people which will work with Middlesex University academics have been given a government cash boost.

The National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR) Innovation Fund has now awarded significant funding to five projects across the country aimed at reducing demand for illicit substances, including the two involving experts from MDX’s Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.

These schemes were awarded £734,000 from the first allocation of a £5 million grant, with the remaining funding available across two further phases.

“We are delighted that the Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at Middlesex University is part of two of the funded projects from the first phase of this NIHR Innovation Fund to reduce drug use. This gives us the opportunity to work with service provider partners to develop and evaluate what works to reduce drug demand and drug-related harm for young people. This builds on our past research on prevention of polydrug use among young people in the criminal justice system.” Karen Duke, a Professor of Criminology at Middlesex University.

MDX researchers will work with the South East-based Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation, a charity which delivers drug education programmes in UK secondary schools.

The research will help to develop and refine various components of the existing programme including Theatre in Education, student workshops, teacher training, drug education lessons, workshops for parents and carers, and Youth Ambassadors.

The MDX team includes Professor Betsy Thom, Professor Karen Duke, Dr Camille Alexis-Garsee and Dr Rachel Herring working in partnership with Fiona Spargo-Mabbs and Caz Heath from the DSM Foundation and Nicci Parish from Billy and Beyond.

In another project, MDX will work in partnership with Change, Grow, Live, a national health and social care charity.

The research will help to develop their outreach service for young people and young adults aged 16-25 in Derbyshire. This unique programme includes several elements – responsive outreach, education programmes, a van and pop-up pod at festivals/events, digital interventions and training for staff in the night-time economy.

Zoë Welch, Head of Research, at Change Grow Live said the charity in partnership with Middlesex University was “delighted to have the support of the NIHR Innovation Fund”.

MDX academics involved are Prof Karen Duke, Prof Betsy Thom, and Dr Arun Sondhi working with Zoe Welch, Lauren Stewart, Alex Melaugh and Katy Hughes from Change Grow Live.

The Department of Health and Social Care and the Home Office based Joint Combating Drugs Unit selected the NIHR to lead the research bidding process.

The other projects also awarded funding by NIHR in the first phase are based in Huddersfield, Manchester, and Dorset. Health Minister Neil O’Brien said “stopping drug use in its tracks is essential to protecting people and the community from the harms caused by addiction, which has devastating impacts”.

He said the projects will lead the way for new research into preventing drug addiction. For more information about the funding visit the UK Gov website.

Find out more about the Middlesex University Drugs and Alcohol Research Centre:

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

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13 Mar 2023 08:00:00 Using craft making to rebuild lives in conflict regions

On 14 March, Middlesex academic, Dr Neelam Raina, will be representing Middlesex and the Gender, Justice and Security Hub (GCRF) at an event being held by the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women event (CSW67) to discuss how communities of women are using traditional crafts and skills to rebuild their lives after conflict.

Co-Hosted with the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations and the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), the event focuses on how women in remote locations within fragile and conflict affected regions can use traditional craft making and skills to earn money and sustain livelihoods.

Speakers, including Dr Raina, will discuss the links between peace building, empowerment, and livelihood generation. Dr Raina believes that human agency is key to resolving global challenges, and women’s access to resources and opportunities for generating incomes is key to building just and peaceful societies in line with the ambitions of UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.

Commenting on the project, Dr Raina said:

“By supporting women to use traditional skills and craft making, often from within the safety of their home environment, has long standing benefits. It enables them to work and earn a living, support themselves and their families. If we can support them to design, make and sell we are supporting them to earn, eat and live.”

The UKRI-GCRF research Hub was formed in 2019 and based at the London School of Economics. Middlesex is one of the partners and Dr Raina, also Associate Professor of Design and International Development, leads the project across four countries in South Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan).

"If we can support them to design, make and sell we are supporting them to earn, eat and live." Dr Neelam Raina, Middlesex University

Dr Raina’s project on Culture and Conflict is part of the Hub’s transformation and empowerment work stream, which is a collaboration between academic partners in the UK, civil society organisations in South Asia, and a UK based creative business.

It approaches peace building from the perspective of agency and empowerment. Connecting the vital role of sustainable income and livelihoods to the rebuilding of communities impacted by conflict and violence.

An exhibition at CSW67 on 14 March will showcase the work of crafts women who come from conflict affected areas of the four countries. This will include landscapes within which women practice craft making, tools and stories, songs and raw materials as well as actual products they have made through this five-year project. These products will be on sale. The exhibition, sale and talks contextualise how women use their skills to build bridges across conflict lines as peace builders while contributing to their communities.

The dramatic changes in Afghanistan in 2021 demonstrate how the projects need to adapt quickly to world events. After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban and the departure of NATO forces Dr Raina and her team reorganised the project in relation to the security situation and changing attitudes towards women and work, health and education. Women in Afghanistan are now not allowed in public spaces or work. This has plunged a large section of the population, in what is being called ‘gender apartheid’, into abject poverty.

The work of Dr Raina’s team, of making handmade goods continues to take place from the confines of the homes of the women in Kabul, Kandahar and Mazar-e Sharif.

Women are making crafts and will send their products for sale to the UK in the coming months allowing incomes to be generated from within the safety of their own homes. It is hoped that selling of these goods in the UK and in Pakistan, will allow a sustainable supply of income to reach Afghan women.

Find out more about the Gender, Justice and Security Hub project at Middlesex University which has also carried out a major study on displaced people in Sri Lanka.

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13 Mar 2023 00:00:00 MDX research reveals urgent need for increased ovarian cancer awareness

couple clasping hands

More than a third of people do not know any symptoms of ovarian cancer highlighting the need for increased awareness about the condition which is often confused with cervical cancer, based on new research by Middlesex University.

Academics surveyed 449 people aged between 18 and 75-years-old on their knowledge of ovarian cancer.

As the world marks Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, the findings reveal: -

  • 36.7% of participants could not recall any correct ovarian cancer symptoms -
  • 57.9% of participants incorrectly believed there was an NHS ovarian cancer screening programme indicating confusion between cervical and ovarian cancer
  • Confidence in recognising an ovarian cancer symptom was low with only 1.4% very confident and 22.6% fairly confident
  • The least frequently recognised ovarian cancer symptoms were difficulty eating (39.4%) and feeling full persistently (38.7%)

Fiona Robb, a retired health professional from Perthshire in Scotland was diagnosed more than two years after her first symptoms. She suffered from post-menopausal bleeding in 2017 but was not officially given an ovarian cancer diagnosis until August 2019 after a recurrence of pelvic pain.

Since then Fiona is now in remission having undergone chemotherapy and a treatment of ‘PARP inhibitors’, a targeted cancer drug which can prevent the spread of cancer by stopping a protein called PARP from performing its usual job of helping damaged cells repair themselves.

Welcoming the new research from Middlesex University, Fiona (pictured below) said: “The study shows the lack of awareness around ovarian cancer which is such a massive concern because we need to pick up this condition as soon as possible to save lives.

“This awareness needs to targeted not just at the general population but also health practitioners because GPs in particular might not be so accustomed to spotting the signs.

Fiona Robb

“It is so easy to confuse the symptoms with other conditions as I’ve experienced first-hand after it took two years until my diagnosis. This became incredibly stressful as the conditions worsened.

“After being given reassurance about my initial symptoms, I dismissed further minor symptoms until they became more problematic, which that was the wrong thing to do. “I would urge all women, including those who are not over 50 or post-menopausal, to seek medical advice for persistent issues even if they may seem trivial such as stomach pain.”

There are around 7,500 new cases of ovarian cancer in the UK each year but symptoms such as bloating are often associated with various health issues.

Women aged over 50 and post-menopausal are described as at most risk, but it is often poorly misunderstood how ovarian cancer can also affect younger women.

The CA-125 blood test as well as an ultrasound of the abdomen and pelvis is used to diagnose ovarian cancer in women experiencing symptoms.

Dr Britta Stordal, a cancer researcher and Senior Lecturer in Medical Sciences who led the study, said: “People often do not understand being vaccinated and going for smear tests for cervical cancer does not give you any protection for other gynaecological cancers, including ovarian.

“Symptoms can be vague and the main ones are bloating, pelvic and abdominal pain which could relate to dozens of other conditions.

“So in many cases GPs do not make an instant connection and may test for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and gluten intolerance, and several other health issues, before they look at the cancer spectrum.

“The speed of diagnosis is a massive problem and ovarian cancer is typically diagnosed at quite a late stage when survival outcomes are much worse.”

Dr Sharon Tate, Head of Primary Care Development at Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “We are passionate about supporting GPs in diagnosing ovarian cancer at the earliest possible stage.

“Currently, two thirds of cases are diagnosed late and one in seven women die within two months of receiving a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. If diagnosed at the earliest stage, the easier the cancer is to treat. This is why it’s vital to see improvements in awareness of ovarian cancer, alongside GP education, investment in research and much more."

Dr Tate said that there are a few things women can do to help your GP if they are concerned about ovarian cancer:

  • If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms that aren’t normal for you, contact your GP and tell them that you are concerned about cancer  - persistent bloating, abdominal pain, feeling full quickly and needed to wee more often
  • Think about your family history – have two or more members of your family had ovarian or breast cancer on either your father or mother’s side? If so, tell your GP
  • Download the Target Ovarian Cancer symptom diary to take notes of how frequent your symptoms are and take this with you to your appointment

The research paper -  Awareness of ovarian cancer symptoms and risk factors in a
young ethnically diverse British population -
has been peer reviewed and published in the journal Cancer Medicine.

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Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

12 Mar 2023 19:54:50 “You grieve for the person that you thought you could become” - MDX alumnus puts shock of late autism diagnosis behind him to achieve Penguin Prize nomination for debut novel

MDX graduate Mike Ranson has been nominated for a Penguin Undiscovered Writers' Prize in the Crime & Thriller category, which he hopes will propel his writing career.

But the 43-year-old says the achievement has only been possible since he came to terms with his autism diagnosis five years ago. He describes the enlightening process of writing a crime novel after years of feeling like society was gaslighting him.

“It’s very late to discover why everything that has gone before has gone the way it has gone,” he said.

“The diagnosis was quite a shock and it took me many years to get over. They say that post diagnosis you grieve for the person that you thought you could become.

“Autism is a very limiting situation both socially and intellectually because I do not think as fluidly as other people tend to. I have to take a step back to be able to connect the dots. Other people can sometimes think that I am a bit slow.

“There have been occasions where my autistic tendencies have played against me getting ahead. One example is networking, that’s just Greek to me, I have not got a clue. Everything I have learnt has been through long, hard studying.”

After years of trying to get published Mike felt he needed a major change and applied to Middlesex to develop his writing. He graduated from MDX last year after completing the MA in Novel Writing as a distance learning student.

Mike said that he found online learning difficult at times and was grateful for the support of tutors. “You do not have the body language or silent communication elements which makes things harder, especially for me,” he said.

“But it was good to see my confidence grow and the course lived up to expectations.”

Arch Angel, which features a number of hard-hitting themes, is set in a city of the same name in Northern Russia. The novel is a crime noir set against a dystopian backdrop.

‘Archangel’ is a crime noir set in the city of Arkhangelsk in northern Russia. On the last full dawn before the long dark of the Arctic winter, Detective Sergeant Viktor Razgonov interrupts three fellow detectives beating up a homeless man. Viktor intervenes, but the three transform into demons and attack him.

He then uncovers a secretive world where corruption leads to both profit for some and salvation for others and discovers that some of the worst people in the city are, in fact, serving a greater cause.

Mike says he initially had mixed views about the Penguin Prize nomination, due to the criteria that you must come from an under-represented background.

He said: “When I was submitted for this prize I was unsure about ticking the box because there is still a lot of prejudice out there. I didn’t feel like I had the mental and physical energy to deal with that attention. It was the first time that I have had to think about whether I want to wave a flag to say who I am or do I want to carry on skulking in the shadows.

“My whole life I feel like society has gaslighted me. I have tried to fit in, follow the social script and do this and that but found it was wrong because I didn’t understand the nuances of body language or various different references that were being made so it has been very difficult. I always thought there was something wrong.”

Mike hopes that his novel will be published by Penguin. The prize also includes a £10,000 advance and a private editor who works with the author to complete the manuscript and publish it.

Mike’s MDX MA supervisor, Dr Adam Dalton, said: “Mike's work is undoubtedly of commercial standard. Beyond that, it demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the disrupted and disrupting nature of crime noir, particularly relevant in this post-truth era. The novel is set in Russia, with themes of gaslighting, the monstrous and dispossession.”

Neurodiversity Celebration Week is a worldwide initiative that challenges stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences. It aims to transform how neurodivergent individuals are perceived and supported.

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08 Mar 2023 14:30:23 Middlesex Arts students and alumni are making a big impact across the UK

The work of students and alumni from the Arts and Creative Industries faculty at MDX has appeared in national newspapers and on billboards across the UK. Here we showcase three talents:

Fashion Textiles and Design graduate Kieran Pruett’s work is devoted to “their younger self, their community and those who have ever felt alienated or rejected by society”.

It features playful and colourful pieces which focus on euphoria and joyful self-expression through the medium of self-portraiture.

Kieran’s graduate collection Deformed Beauty takes inspiration from Francis Bacon, who used distorted portraits.

Kieran said: “I love the idea of taking something perceived as ugly and turning it into something beautiful so adore creating vivid prints that showcase my self-portraiture.

“I am a proud non-binary, deformed individual who as an artist and designer wishes to eradicate my insecurities and use them as inspiration for my work.”

Kieran’s work uses excessive ruffles and bold silhouettes to make people feel “like their most unapologetic selves”.

“I wished to change the narrative of how I feel about myself by romanticising my pain regarding my deformity and my transness,” they said.

“Through my print work I have created artistic and personal designs that possess a euphoric energy.

“My brand name being Queen Quieeran, I want my work to consistently exude a sense of luxury, regality, and extravagance.”

Kieran was named Graduate Talent of the Year by Fashion Crossover London and featured in The Times’ Global Talent of the Year category.

They said: “It feels wonderful to recognised for my design work. My collection is something I’m so incredibly proud of as it is such an encapsulation of me as a person and as a designer, specifically as a trans designer as my community is repeatedly being misrepresented and frankly disparaged in the media.”

Kieran’s wish is for more trans representation in the fashion industry and they are proud to be part of the slow change whereby marginalised communities are being showcased.

Kieran thanked the MDX fashion department for ensuring that “nothing is ever off limits or too outrageous to try out.”

They said: “I’m so grateful to the team for pushing me to create more than I ever thought I was capable of. When I was at school, I was often underestimated therefore I feel lucky to have had a university experience that truly developed my skills.

“It was really liberating to be in a space where my growth as a designer and as a person was encouraged and welcomed. I felt truly safe to be who I am.”

Shifah Wajid, who graduated with a Fashion Design degree in 2022, tackled the world of menswear and urban streetwear in her final collection Cold Theories.

Shifah Wajid and Mohammad Bahri

Focussing on versatility and interchangeability, she created pieces that could be worn in multiple ways – from reversible and layered, to gathered and cinched – while expressing her identity as a working-class Muslim woman.

The collection was recognised in the Global Talent of the Year category in The Times.

“In a way I never allowed myself to dream big, so the fact that I was chosen to be a part of such an established and respected newspaper really took me by surprise,” Shifah said.

“Knowing that thousands of people within the fashion industry read this paper really excited me, I would never have thought that would happen to me.”

Shifah said the themes of inclusivity and the personal journey of an individual are paramount to her work.

“The clothes we wear everyday are a personal and creative choice,” she added.

“If my brand Shifah’s Studio could be someone’s first step in helping them find themselves, their fashion style, or even a creative spark, that would mean more to me than anything else.”

The 23-year-old is undertaking an internship in womenswear and freelancing for a fashion brand in London; helping with concept building, research and designing.

Her work has also featured in French Fashion Magazine Fienfh.

Shifah said: “Being at MDX felt like people believed in me for the first time.

“I learnt to not wait around waiting for someone to save the day and I learnt a lot about myself as person, as a creative, about the world, about the industry and I hope to never stop learning.”

Nigerian 3D artist Rasheed Gbadamosi, who is also known as Z4, believes everyone deserves a place where they truly feel the same.

His work, which focusses on placing characters who can create safe spaces of their own, was selected for Google’s Black History exhibition, All Shades of Black.

Rasheed was also awarded a grant of £500 in conjunction with ClearChannel UK & Shutterstock.

He said: “I try to create emotional reactions with my work, I try to capture feeling as best as I can.”

The MDX Masters student, who will graduate this year, said it was a brilliant but surreal feeling knowing that his work was on billboards around the UK after Pocc, an organisation that champions change through creativity, activism and non-traditional means, used his submission Self Equity.

“That came from a personal space, I had just come to London and I was really struggling to handle everything,” Rasheed said.

“I knew I needed to take care of myself for a second. It is not selfish to love yourself, if you feel good about yourself nobody can make you feel less than you are.”

Rasheed takes inspiration from Pinterest, but is also inspired by everyday objects.

His dream is to be a digital artist making, exhibiting and selling his own art.

Click here to find out more about studying Design courses at MDX.

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07 Mar 2023 10:33:34 MDX playwright screens prison reform film to inmates on International Women’s Day

A film adaption of MDX Senior Lecturer James Kenworth's play will be shown at Downview Prison in Banstead, Surrey, today (March 8), to mark International Women's Day.

Angel of the Prisons is based on British Quaker philanthropist and prison reformer Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845), a major driving force behind legislation to make the treatment of prisoners more humane after visiting Newgate Prison in 1813 and observing women and children in terrible conditions.

She was supported in her efforts by the reigning monarch George III and campaigned for segregation of the sexes, female matrons for female prisoners, education and employment and religious instruction.

In 1817 Fry created the Association for the Improvement of Female Prisoners and along with a group of 12 other women lobbied ferociously until prison reform legislation was finally introduced in Parliament in 1823.

James’s play puts Fry’s work, which earned her the nickname ‘Angel of the Prisons’ in the context of today’s criminal justice and penal system and explores the question, what is prison for, and does it work?

James said: “Elizabeth Fry was a formidable, extraordinary woman who dared to go into Newgate prison and insist that prisoners be treated humanely when in Victorian times she was up against a wealth of men who thought she should be at home looking after the children.

“I don’t want the plays to be museum pieces. Elizabeth Fry was around 100 years ago so people think prisons must be miles better now, but my research suggests this is not always the case.”

James describes the play as a “bit of a mash-up” as he combines historical accuracy and a contemporary vibe.

Fry does not appear as a character in her own right, the story is told from the point of view of three prisoners that she knew in Newgate Prison.

“I don’t want an audience to disassociate because it was a long time ago,” James said.

“Forty-five minutes of the play is history, only in the last 15 minutes do I bring it in to contemporary society, so historical purists may quake at the knees at that point.”

Angel of the Prisons is supported by Royal Docks Trust Main Programme Funding 2021/22 and Middlesex University Media Department Faculty Knowledge Exchange Fund.

The film was made by MDX BA Film graduates, produced by MDX Senior Graduate Academic Assistant Nayomi Roshini and directed by MDX Interim Academic Dean Dr James Charlton.

It offers hybrid casting, using professional actors and young people from the Newham area who are just starting out in their acting careers.

The screening at Downview, a prison for women aged 18 and over, came about with help from Howard League for Penal Reform charity.

James said: “When I started writing for the film last year I started contacting the prison reform charities and I really pushed for the screening.

“I am so proud and thrilled to bits that this is happening and the fact it falls on International Women’s Day is perfect- this is about the life and work of an extraordinary woman that doesn’t have the same widespread awareness as Florence Nightingale, and she should, so it is just fantastic.”

James will take part in a Q & A following the screening.

“I am a bit nervous as my audience will have lived experience of prisons, it is the real thing,” he said.

Angel of the Prisons is the fifth in the series of Newham Plays, all rooted in Newham’s history, culture and people.

When Chaplin Met Gandhi, Revolution Farm, A Splotch of Red: Keir Hardie in West Ham and Alice in Canning Town all offer unique collaboration between professional theatre artists and young people in Newham.

International Women's Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women's equality.

There is also a Women in STEM – Coffee Networking Event on campus.

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28 Feb 2023 11:10:23 Scholarship to study sport at MDX while playing for Saracens is dream come true for aspiring rugby star

MDX student Katie Johnson is on the path to a dream career after receiving a sponsorship to study Sports Science while lining up for the Saracens Women’s Academy at Oaklands College.

The 19-year-old is one of three students that has been in training with the North London club’s women team since beginning her degree programme in September 2022.

Katie has devoted much of her life to rugby after being taken along to watch her older brother play as a young child.

“I was only about four or five so really young,” she said.

“I was watching and I thought I want to do that, why can my brother do it and I can’t so my Dad said I could have a go. I enjoyed myself and I never stopped going from there.”

Katie started playing regularly from the age of seven, playing tag rugby in a mixed group.

By the age of 14 she had to make a choice between rugby, cricket and swimming, for which she was training up to ten hours per week.

She said: “I enjoyed rugby the most. There is so much to it and lots going on.

“It isn’t a repetitive sport and in a game situation there’s lots of different opportunities to do lots of things such as kick, pass, tackle if you are in defence, there are multiple set ups and techniques.

“In training there are lots of different drills to perfect so there is never a chance for it to get boring.”

Her talent apparent, Katie played at Enfield before progressing to college at Oaklands joining the full time Rugby Sports Academies overseen by Saracens Women, which is where the link was ignited.

“I wanted to go further so was looking for the next path and how to combine education and rugby. The opportunity was there so I thought why not try and push for it.

“I liked the idea of strength and conditioning as I had been finding that I loved all the stuff I was doing in the gym off the pitch. It sounded very promising to be studying alongside playing a sport I love- what else could I want.”

Action shots: Matt Impey – Wired Photos

Katie said she was “so happy and relieved” when she learnt she had received the scholarship.

She was invited to the women’s pre-season training at Saracens, where the focus is on fitness and tactics. Despite recovering from a knee ligament injury, Katie immersed herself in the new challenge.

“I was a bit scared, especially as the tear had knocked me back a bit but it was really good when I got in there and started training, the standard was so high.

“It was a massive step up from what I had been doing so it was daunting. The others had played at such a high level so you feel worried that if you make a mistake you are setting back the team a bit.

“Once I started to settle in though it felt less scary. I was also made to feel very welcome, the other players were lovely which helped a lot.”

As the youngest player there, Katie says she learnt so much from the set up and her teammates put her mind at ease whenever she made a mistake.

“They kept saying keep going, put it behind you and you will do better next time,” she added.

“I am fly-half so number 10 but it does not matter where you play, as long as you show that you are willing to try, you can go anywhere.”

Katie, who is specialising in Strength and Conditioning, is enjoying her course so far and relishing the chance to be learning in the new West Stand facilities.

She made her debut for Saracens Women in the Premier15s at the start of the season, when the opportunity arose with international players away on duty.

As a Senior Academy player, the training schedule is intense; three days rugby training then gym work three to four times each week. Game day is at the weekend and Katie, as a dual registered player, can also be found representing Championship team Old Albanians to enhance her senior rugby development.

With another Premiership Cup block on the horizon with many international players away, and a break in the Premier15s competition, Kaite hopes to line-up for Saracen’s first team again.

She said: “It’s a very different environment and standard and on my debut two months ago against Loughborough I was so nervous and scared.

“It was the day after my 19th birthday. I was so happy but really wanted to show why they had given me that shirt and show why I deserved it on that day. I know that’s a lot of pressure but wanted to play well.

“I was so chuffed to be playing and I remember every detail- the adrenaline got to me, once I was on the pitch you forget everything else. It was so good.”

Katie’s other career highlight to date is representing England at under 18s level in a match against Scotland, made even more special when she scored the opening try.

The dream now is to become a starting women’s player for the Saracens and be an international player which she says would “be amazing”.

Katie would also like to use her MDX degree to become a coach.

“I can’t think of anything better,” she said.

“I love talking to people and helping them out so it’s a perfect role. What I am learning combined with being in and around an elite environment is definitely helping- I am implementing how the strength and conditioning coaches are with me in to my course.”

Katie was inspired by the kicking ability and training mentality of England player Johnny Wilkinson as a child.

Then when at Oaklands College she was coached by ex-international and Saracens women's player Rocky Clark.

Katie said: “She inspired and pushed me further and made me realise my full potential, she never gave up on me, I always look up to her and she's always willing to help.

“I admire her vast achievements and I hope to make positive changes like she has on the girls’ rugby community.

“Stereotypes are frustrating and I struggled with it a lot when I was younger. Some people couldn’t understand why I was playing rugby and I couldn’t understand why that was a problem.”

Katie’s wish is for rugby to be given more of a presence in schools so younger girls are more likely to engage with the sport.

“Everyone says the game is for all shapes and sizes but it is true, there is something for everyone, whatever you want there is space on the pitch for you and rugby brings people together,” she said.

With women’s rugby breaking new boundaries every year and the increased demand in professionalism within the Premier 15s, Saracens Assistant Coach and Performance Pathway Manager Lewis Sones said that allowing young Saracens players to have the opportunity to develop their on-pitch potential while keeping a focus on their education and career after rugby was “hugely important” to the club.

“With the shared state of the art high performance facility in the new West Stand at StoneX stadium, our scholarship players are able to easily manage their studies alongside elite rugby commitments with access to Saracens performance staff and the Middlesex tutors all under one roof,” he said.

MDX Director of Programmes Chris Bishop said The London Sport Institute was “delighted” to be partnering with Saracens, adding: “We are pleased to be able to support player development from an educational perspective, which will continue to build on our existing, long-standing relationship.”

To find out more about studying Sport at MDX click here.

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24 Feb 2023 00:00:00 MDX-backed network for female academics boasts hundreds of members

A unique network for female academics co-founded by a Middlesex University Professor now has hundreds of members across the globe.

Anne-Wil Harzing, Professor of International Management in the Business School, helped set up the CYGNA network seven years ago which aims to provide a forum for learning and support for women in academia.

Since its inception in June 2014, the network has expanded from around 15 members to more than 300 academics from 100 plus universities and more than 30 different countries.

It aims to be a “friendly, kind, inclusive, and supportive community, providing a safe space/place to exchange ideas, share experiences, provide advice, inspire, and learn”.

During Covid, the group’s international community continued to meet online and provide each other with support.

The name CYGNA derives from the female version of the Greek word for SWAN, which in turn stands for Supporting Women in Academia Network.

Prof Harzing, a Fellow of the Academy of International Business, was inspired to start up the network after working in Australia for 13 years.

“We established this network because the London area has so many universities and a lot of female academics felt quite isolated because they were one of only two people in their department or school focusing on a particular research area and they felt very much on their own and not supported,” added Prof Harzing.

 CYGNA members

The network was co-founded by Argyro Avgoustaki, a Professor of Management at the ESCP Business School, and Ling Eleanor Zhang, an Associate Professor in Management at the same institution. The organizing team was joined by Shasha Zhao, an Associate Professor at the University of Surrey a few years later.

Various CYGNA members have praised the network, which is free of charge and includes a mailing list for sharing ideas and collaborations.

One said: “It’s a super supportive, welcoming and generous community; a safe space to exchange ideas, learn with each other; a group of enthusiastic women eager to share their experiences for the benefit of others; a brilliant environment encouraging to pause and reflect.”

Another said: “A kind and understanding network/community of colleagues and friends, from which I draw much comfort and inspiration. I always look forward to meetings and feel energised and re-spirited afterwards.”

A third member added: “As someone who finds diversity of views rewarding, I was always apprehensive when invited to attend groups that reinforced certain identities, gender included. I did understand the value of such groups, but I never fully clicked. Two year and counting with CYGNA and the only times I feel anxious is when I know I cannot make a meeting or cannot stay to the end.”

Prof Harzing was recently honoured with a Positive Leadership Award having been selected from 11,688 nominations from 22 countries across six continents for helping teams, people and organisations thrive.

One of her colleagues in a testimonial described how Prof Harzing’s work in ensuring academia is positive, inclusive and full of co-operation was “unparalleled and deserves recognition”.

Find out more about Middlesex University Business School.

Further information regarding CYGNA is available via Prof Harzing's website.

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21 Feb 2023 08:00:00 MDX academic supports Samaritans’ latest Small Talk Saves Lives campaign

A new Samaritans survey shows only half of the nation feel confident approaching someone they are concerned about in public.  So, to boost public confidence, the rail industry has teamed up with Samaritans volunteers for the latest Small Talk Saves Lives campaign.

MDX Theme Director and Associate Professor in Psychology, Dr Lisa Marzano, is supporting and advising the campaign and the charity.

The new campaign comes after new research from Samaritans revealed that only 50% of UK adults said they would feel confident approaching and speaking to someone they were concerned about in public. The survey also found that we’re in danger of losing our personal touch as a nation, as people would much prefer chatting to someone they don’t know on the phone (33%) or by email (18%), compared to face-to-face (9%).

“In our latest research we spoke to those who had made and received interventions themselves and they really echoed the main Small Talk Saves Lives message. We heard how powerful it can be to use small talk or to ask simple questions, in a calm manner. We also found reassuring results around teamwork and the fact that you don’t have to manage this alone – you could speak to a member of staff or call 999 in an emergency too.” Associate Professor in Psychology, Lisa Marzano, Middlesex University

The top reasons holding the nation back were "worrying the person wouldn’t welcome their approach" (44%) and ‘worrying they’d make things worse’ (29%), whilst a quarter said "not knowing what to say" was also a concern.

So, Samaritans is relaunching its Small Talk Saves Lives campaign today, in partnership with Network Rail, British Transport Police and the wider rail industry, to empower the public to trust their instincts and start a conversation if they think someone needs help on the railways or in other public settings. The campaign reassures the public that a little small talk like ‘where can I get a coffee?’ can be all it takes to interrupt someone’s suicidal thoughts and help set them on a path to recovery.

Launched in 2017, Small Talk Saves Lives was developed after research showed the positive part the public could play in suicide prevention. The campaign is backed by our suicide prevention expert Dr Lisa Marzano.

She said: “In our latest research we spoke to those who had made and received interventions themselves and they really echoed the main Small Talk Saves Lives message. We heard how powerful it can be to use small talk or to ask simple questions, in a calm manner. We also found reassuring results around teamwork and the fact that you don’t have to manage this alone – you could speak to a member of staff or call 999 in an emergency too.”

Julie Bentley, Samaritans CEO Samaritans said: “It’s normal to feel anxious about starting a conversation with someone you don’t know in person, but at Samaritans we know first-hand how life-changing that conversation could be. Suicidal thoughts are often temporary and there’s no evidence to suggest that you will make the situation worse – it’s about trusting your instincts, starting a conversation, and showing you care. We know it’s been a really challenging time for people’s mental health over the last few years, so we hope the Small Talk Saves Lives campaign to build that confidence and remind the public of the difference they can make. Let’s continue to look out for one another – it could save a life.”

About the research:

The research was conducted by Censuswide with 2,004 Nationally Representative UK General Consumers (16+) between 03.01.2023 - 05.01.2023. Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles and are members of The British Polling Council.

Samaritans and Small Talk Saves Lives:

  • A brand-new campaign film launches today (21 February) across digital and social media, showing the difference people could make if they listen to their instincts and overcome initial worries that may come to mind if they see someone who needs help.
  • Due to the proven link between certain types of media reporting of suicide and increases in suicide rates, please be mindful of Samaritans’ Media Guidelines for Reporting Suicide and Rail Suicide.
  • In partnership with Network Rail, Samaritans has trained over 27,000 rail staff and British Transport Police in suicide prevention, enabling them to identify and support vulnerable people to safety. This is part of the charity’s long-standing partnership with the rail industry to reduce suicides and support those affected by them.
  • Anyone can contact Samaritans FREE any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can visit

Find out more about studying Psychology at Middlesex

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15 Feb 2023 11:45:02 MDX recognised for LGBTQ+ work with Gold Award from Stonewall

Stonewall, Europe’s largest charity for LGBTQ+ rights, has today published its annual list recognising institutions that do significant work towards supporting their LGBTQ+ employees. Middlesex University has been awarded Gold and has secured a place in the Top 100 list for leading LGBTQ+ inclusive employers in this year’s national Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.

MDX has secured 58th place out of 268 in the overall ranking and 8th out of the 30 Higher Education Institutions placed in the Index this year. This is a significant achievement for the University and community, substantially building upon the Bronze status previously awarded and climbing up 45 places from last year’s ranking.

The Workplace Equality Index is a benchmarking tool for employers to measure their progress on LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace.

Professor Nic Beech, the Vice-Chancellor, said: “I am proud that Middlesex University has been included in Stonewall’s Top 100 Employers List 2023 and the work that our LGBT+ community and university staff have undertaken to ensure that Middlesex is a truly inclusive working environment and a welcoming community.

“This Gold award is recognition of the positive steps we have taken to support colleagues within the university and we will continue to work to ensure LGBT+ staff and students can be their full selves and that we continue to create an environment that celebrates and values diversity.”

Ant Babajee (he/him), Customer Relationship Manager at the University and LGBT+ Network Co-Chair, added: “When I joined Middlesex in 2016, I was so heartened that there was an active and thriving LGBT+ Network for staff.

“In my subsequent four years as co-chair of the LGBT+ Network, I have been overwhelmed by the support we have received from colleagues. We have grown and shaped our understanding of what we need to do as a network and in our University inclusion work more generally.”

Ant said there was a continued need to highlight and stand alongside the more marginalised members of our community, both inside and outside of MDX and around the world.

“While there is much we collectively still need to do to support all my LGBT+ colleagues and all my fellow LGBT+ students to feel comfortable in bringing their whole selves to campus, today is a day of celebration for all of us in #TeamMDX,” he said.

For more information about Stonewall click here.

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14 Feb 2023 12:56:29 MDX senior lecturer says voices of journalists working in social media era must be heard

Dr Maja Šimunjak was invited by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) to co-develop an e-learning course for online safety and enhancing resilience, based on her own research and forthcoming textbook 'Managing Emotions in Journalism'.

The free course takes two hours to complete and is for both working journalists and journalism students. It aims to raise awareness and provide essential guidance to support journalists if they face difficult situations as a direct result of their job.

Online safety and protection, managing difficult situations while reporting, knowing your rights, managing distressing stories, resilience in the newsroom and mental health and wellbeing are all covered.

Dr Šimunjak, a senior lecturer in journalism at MDX, has extensive experience in various media outlets, including the positions of an editor and news anchor at a national television station, subeditor in daily newspapers and a radio journalist and anchor.

She says there are multiple reasons why journalists’ emotional labour – ie management of emotion which comes as an inevitable part of the job – calls for immediate attention.

“I have been dealing with digital media audiences and social media furore for almost 20 years now so I am familiar with the issues involved,” Dr Šimunjak said.

“The aspect of the course I’ve created is based on experiences and strategies that British journalists shared with me as part of my AHRC project ‘Journalists’ emotional labour in the social media era.’ It is their voices I’m trying to represent and amplify.

“If you ask the journalists, they’ll say that the profession has significantly changed in the last decade. The core of journalists’ work and role remains the same, but with digital transformations we’ve seen the continuing trend of journalists’ workloads expanding, meaning they are asked to do more and more year on year, which contributes to stress and burnout."

According to a study from Worlds of Journalism, 98% of journalists in the UK said social media has influenced their work.

Dr Šimunjak said: “While there are positives to it, particularly in terms of easier and quicker information gathering, journalists also associate social media with abuse and harassment that is aimed at them, as well as difficulties in disconnecting from work.

“Journalists I spoke to often described social media as hostile environment for which they are not trained, nor supported in trying to safeguard themselves from abuse and burnout.

“My textbook, and the contribution to the NCTJ course, outlines practical strategies that can be employed when working with social media, learned from journalists who I’ve interviewed. These include actions such as turning off notifications, muting conversations, using TweetDeck to manage the content that is being seen, not having social media apps on smartphones etc.

“Yet, as I’m arguing there, and in my other work, journalists’ online safety and well-being should not be journalists’ sole responsibility. There should also be systems of organisational and social support in place to help journalists mitigate negative consequences of working in digital spaces.”

Dr Šimunjak’s textbook 'Managing Emotions in Journalism' is a great fit with the NCTJ e-learning course. It will cover a wide range of situations that require emotional labour in journalists’ work and aims to enhance journalists’ resilience in managing these aspects of their labour.

“Online safety, particularly in terms of working with social media, features prominently in the textbook and is high on the agenda of British journalists I’ve spoken to,” she said.

“There is hardly a journalist who isn’t working in digital spaces, and we now have plenty of evidence that this comes with serious consequences for their safety, well-being, and in the end, the quality of work they produce.

“Hence, they should know what to expect when working in digital spaces, and how to protect themselves from harm. Yet, this is just one aspect of support. Journalists’ online safety should also be supported through organisational and social structures.”

Dr Šimunjak says that one of the biggest obstacles to supporting journalists’ online safety is recognising this as an issue.

“I’ve been working on this for the past few years, and it’s heartening to see that the academic research and industry initiatives are moving in that direction," she said.

“When I started working on the issue of online abuse in journalism a few years ago, there was a handful of studies reporting on it. Now, we have evidence from across the world that this is a widespread and serious issue, affecting journalists’ well-being and the quality of their work.”

Last year MDX hosted a public roundtable about journalists’ experiences of online abuse in their work, which one senior broadcaster described as “like a combination of being a lab rat and a punch bag.”

Speakers included former news editor and journalism lecturer Rebecca Whittington, Reach plc’s first Online Safety Editor since October 2021.

Dr Šimunjak added: “Consultations to UNESCO’s Action plan on the safety of journalists, which I’ve participated in, put great emphasis on online safety. This new course of online safety by NCTJ also shows recognition of the issue. So, we’re moving in the right direction.

“Yet, much more needs to be done. Media organisations could do better by investing more in support systems for journalists’ online safety. Journalism schools should talk about it in their curricula. Platforms could offer technical solutions to combat hate speech and harassment on their sites.

“And journalism culture might do with a shift as well – the macho narratives of having ‘thick skin’ and ‘handling it’ seem outdated. It is okay not to be okay if you feel threatened or harassed, and the industry should empower their professionals to recognise this toll and receive support to manage it.”

The free, interactive e-learning course launched by the National Council for the Training of Journalists can be found here.

Click to find out more about studying Journalism at MDX.

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13 Feb 2023 11:00:58 MDX Nursing students meet MP Theresa Villiers as part of National Apprenticeship week

Four MDX BSc Nursing Apprentices and around 30 year 2 students from the Nursing Associate Apprenticeship programme met MP for Chipping Barnet Theresa Villiers during National Apprenticeship Week. In a session in the Boardroom introduced by Director of Programmes Marion Taylor, with Senior Lecturer Carmel Fitzsimons also attending, the apprentices talked about their motivations to choose this approach to study.

Nursing Associate apprentice Jamil Moscatiello was one of a number of students who said the apprenticeship made career progression much more possible for those with families. With other courses and routes, "it would be a lot more difficult to be able to work," he said.

"I wouldn’t have become a nurse if this opportunity wasn’t there, because I can't afford it – I’m a single mum," said Registered Nurse Apprentice Marsha Hynes. Marsha's course mate Daisy Pipkin added that most Trainee Nursing Associates "have worked for the NHS for years and years as healthcare assistants. This course is the only way we could develop ourselves.

"Once you start working and you’ve got bills to pay, rent or a mortgage there’s no way you can go back into education for three years," she said. "We are really grateful to the uni and our workplaces for allowing us to do this".

Between them, the Nursing Associate Apprentices work at three NHS Trusts, two mental health trusts and a GP's surgery within North Central London, while the Registered Nurse Apprentices are all at Barnet Hospital, part of the Royal Free Hospital.

Trainee Nursing Associate Linda Ameyaa said, "The course is very effective and challenging, because the university has a proper plan in place to support students".

"Coming into this programme has enlightened us, given us more knowledge about the evidence that is backing the skill we’re using. So it helps us to work effectively to deliver proper care for our patients," she told Theresa Villers.

Trainee Nursing Associate Nicoleta Ghinea said that after doing mental health, surgical and endoscopy placements, "at the end of my degree I can go forward to work in all those places, because I [have] the basic knowledge to develop further. Our knowledge is more expansive than just our wards".

Registered Nurse Apprentice Wayne Brown, who had supported some of the Trainee Nursing Associates in the room, described the transition process from healthcare assistant to Trainee Nursing Associate to RNA apprentice ; some colleagues initially hadn't understood what nursing associates do, he said, but then "their eyes opened - everyone starts to realise we can contribute". Marion confirmed the Nursing Associate role is still relatively new in England, but the students and our Registered Nursing Associates are fantastic advocates for the role, which is contributing hugely to health and social care services in North Central London.

Daisy Pipkin said an advantage of going through the different apprenticeship stages was "we have so much more experience" than some taking a conventional degree route into nursing.

Marsha Hynes said the apprenticeship helped in terms of developing teamwork - "a wonderful sense of our teammates, why they work a certain way".

"Middlesex has got this phenomenally great reputation for apprenticeships and skills," Theresa Villiers said.

"I am really enthusiastic about apprenticeships. They are brilliant in terms of the competitiveness of our economy because they make us more skilled. But also, I see them as a big engine of social mobility, because they are a way to ensure people can get on in life to get the good jobs that they want, and realise their ambitions and their dreams".

She said she hopes to see NHS Trusts throughout the country support entrance to nursing through the apprenticeship route.

"Thank you for the dedicated work you do within the NHS - we must all value our NHS services because they are so crucial," she told the students.

Marion Taylor said that she and her colleagues were thrilled to be able to keep the apprenticeship cohorts going through the challenges of the pandemic – with one cohort starting a day before lockdown was imposed.

There are over 2000 apprentices studying at MDX, and over 10% of MDX students attached to Hendon campus are apprentices.

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10 Feb 2023 16:55:57 Showcasing MDX's talent on International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2023

International Day of Women and Girls in Science is an annual awareness day adopted by the United Nations and celebrated on February 11, to promote female involvement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

To celebrate the contribution MDX is making to the field, we've spoken to students and staff about their scientific inspirations and ambitions.

Eva Chowdhury from Bangladesh was able to pursue her dream career at MDX thanks to funding from the British Council for women from South Asia to study STEM related subjects.

After studying for a BA in Malaysia, where her major was Network Engineering, Eva came to England to study for a MSc in Computer Science.

She said: “After Covid, my father’s business closed and without this scholarship, I could not continue my studies and fulfil my dreams. It was not just important to me but also equally important and precious to my family.

“In the country I come from, girls are usually seen as inferior to men; however, my family supported me throughout my life and always wanted me to continue my studies. “

Eva said she loves being at MDX.

“The courses I am taking are interesting, and I am learning a lot. My lecturers and the STEM team are very helpful and are always there if I need anything,” she added.

“I have made a lot of international friends and I enjoy learning about their cultures and languages. After returning to my country, I want to encourage women to study STEM courses.

“I want to visit different high schools where I will share my experiences and my journey with them. I will also try to guide them to select courses according to their interests.

“I also want to start an IT firm where only women will be prioritised and will be given a safe office environment.”

Elena Zoretich is a third year Robotics Engineering student from Italy who “always loved tinkering” and enjoyed building remote control cars with her brother as a child.

But it was not until Elena attended the 2018 Middlesex Skill Show that her passion for engineering was re-ignited.

“I observed incredible robots in action and learned about the wonder of programming,” she said.

“A former student showed me a system using an Xbox Kinect to scan users, and 3D print a small copy of their bust in only 30 minutes.

“That day I realised that the career I wanted to pursue was in Robotics Engineering.

"I love how the robotics course at Middlesex combines the teaching of theoretical and practical aspects of engineering, promotes independent study while providing great academic support and I especially love how many tech resources are available to students.

“Nowadays STEM careers are not seen as ‘man-only’ options anymore, and a higher number of female candidates are considering STEM careers.”
Elena believes that gender diversity improves the design process.

She said: “In relation to design engineering practices, where brainstorming and problem-solving are indispensable skills to have, men and women think differently and present distinct problem-solving approaches, having them work together is fundamental to provide better solutions to present-day problems.”

And while there are many career options available as a roboticist, Elena wants her contribution to help improve the life quality of others.

“An option I always consider is to work with medical prosthesis,” she added.

MDX alumna and associate lecturer in Design Engineering Puja Varsani won Inspirational Role Model at skills excellence charity WorldSkills UK’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Heroes Awards last year.

After graduating with a BSc in Product Design and Robotics in 2012 and completing a Masters by Research in Social Robotics, she has worked tirelessly to encourage students to push themselves by competing in international skills competitions and promotes careers in STEM with a particular focus on women, minority groups and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Dr Laura Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Sport Science, played sport from a young age and was on most of the school teams.

“When looking at my University study options, I loved the idea that I could follow a career that would combine my affinity for sport, and my analytical brain,” she said.

“Studying sport science was the perfect path for me.

“My aspiration within the field of Sport Science is to help shape practise moving forward, whether that is through the generation of research, or by educating and inspiring future practitioners.

“I think there is a perception that Sport Science is male orientated, however I do believe that the gaps are beginning to close.”

For information about studying Computer Science and Informatics at MDX, click here

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