During the ongoing COVID pandemic the technical staff have been crucial in making the Faculty safe for everyone. As external restrictions are relaxed, they are continuing manage the extremely difficult balance between productive working on-site and preventing the spread of COVID-19: ie the maintenance of safe working practices in the context of an ever-changing environment. They have my warmest congratulations on their efforts. 

Simultaneously, one of the more recent major changes within the Faculty has been the review of technical staff. This has been important, not only to reorganise the technical staff, but also allow their career development. Unsurprisingly these types of changes lead to anxieties, as change can be difficult and it is important that this is a win-win situation for staff and Faculty alike. It is therefore important that all technical staff are given opportunities following this structural change, and I think that this can readily be achieved.

The pandemic has had a polarising effect on research with perceptions of “winners and losers”, especially given that it has been a national and international priority to focus on COVID research. This has been evident in the rapid response UKRI calls, with several successes within The Faculty, but also in local research prioritisation, such that individuals working on COVID-19 projects have had greater opportunities for on-site working. However, it is notable that research on topics other than COVID have been on-going, albeit at a slower pace, during the lockdown and it is important that these activities are fully rebooted as restrictions lift and we are back to the new steady-state on-site occupancy. These projects sustained Faculty research in the pre-COVID era, and are going to play an important part in building sustainability as we move forward in what looks increasingly likely to be a “living with COVID” era. One thing I learnt from being a panel member on a UKRI COVID-vaccine panel was that the quality of research into this disease is truly amazing and a particular strength was the ability to draw together large teams of experts to tackle critical questions.

Following the relaxation of restrictions one thing I am continuing to look forward to is meeting colleagues, some of whom I have not seen in person for over a year, and also to meeting new starters for the first time.  Some of these I have corresponded with via Teams or e-mail, but have never met in person.  Close working relationships are key to the success of The University and I think that it has been especially challenging to maintain social relationships and build networks over the internet. This has strained our abilities to resolve conflicts and minor issues, which can be magnified during periods of relative social isolation.  So, whilst our technical teams are doing a fantastic job on looking after the workplace infrastructure, we now have a much better opportunity for all of us to look after our social wellbeing.

The polarising effect of COVID-19 by Professor Salim Khakoo

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