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My Stirling Crucible: interaction and creation

“Crucible – A situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new.”

TonyBlogImage1w Walking into a room with other research academics (either known to each other or complete strangers), one can never be sure if it’ll be a “severe trial” or a motivating and exciting experience “leading to the creation of something new”. In many situations it’s more a case of ‘and’ rather than ‘or’, with the typical academic social awkwardness (faces buried in phones) being mixed with work pressures (faces buried in phones) that make many of us go into our shells at the start of such events. When we are given time and support though, we can usually generate some exciting ideas.

So in April 2016, the Stirling Crucible kicked off with 19 research academics consisting of a mix of postdoctoral researchers, lecturers and senior lecturers. The key idea was for the Crucible to be a space for researchers from across the University to come together to talk, learn and share ideas.

What made this event different to most was the time investment required, with three two-day ‘labs’ spread over 3 months and it being residential, with people staying overnight at the venue and indulging in some organised evening entertainment [insert poor health behaviours here]. Each lab focused on a different topic hosted by three excellent facilitators: Saskia Walcott on impact; Sara Shinton on collaboration; and John Willshire on innovation and leadership.

While the details of what happens during the Crucible need to remain a closely guarded secret (what happens at the Crucible, stays at the Crucible – but check #StirlingCrucible for a few sneak peeks), I can reveal that it was a success, bringing together people from contrasting disciplines to begin thinking about how to collaborate and some people starting to initiate research ideas.

Research collaborations cannot be forced and it does not always work throwing people together in the hope that something sticks. However, the Crucible succeeded in setting up a safe, unhindered and honest environment for sharing ideas and letting people take the time and space to simply make friends first, before expecting anything concrete in terms of collaborations and the future research outputs and impact.

The pressures faced by many academics mean that having this kind of protected time to think and engage with other people, especially those from different disciplines, with no forced expectations, is severely limited and often not given the respect and support it deserves. This process has also been supported by a small research seed fund available to attendees of the Crucible to apply for money to support interdisciplinary pilot projects that can lead to further collaborations and more substantial grant applications. A little cash incentive always helps!

Since finishing the formal Crucible events, I have teamed up with colleagues in the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport and Education Studies within the Faculty of Social Sciences to apply for funding to support a small research project. This project would use focus groups to look at the barriers and facilitators to career development and progression for women studying part-time for a research doctorate within the Faculty of Health Sciences & Sport. The money provided by the Crucible would help generate positive policy change within the University (largely through the Athena SWAN initiative), but then also lead to further funding applications to explore this topic across disciplines, as well as across institutional and national boundaries.

Amongst the 2016 Crucibilists, there are sure to be plenty of exciting projects to emerge that are hopefully just the start of several years of successful partnership. There may be some severe trials that the Crucibilists face in their careers going forward, but hopefully we’ll continue to be able to face these as colleagues and friends who support each other through these challenges.

For more information about the Stirling Crucible you can email or check out the website.

© Tony Robertson, 1 July 2016
Tony Robertson is a Lecturer in Public Health in the Faculty of Health Sciences & Sport at the University of  Stirling
Email: and on Twitter @tonyrobertson82

Women in leadership in health and university sectors: Are there actually enough to celebrate?

Photo of Professor Jayne Donaldson

Professor Jayne Donaldson

On 8th March 2015 we celebrated the achievements of women for International Women’s Day – but should we celebrate?


Being a man or a woman has a significant impact on an individual’s health: for example, women face increased vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.  The health of women is of particular significance and concern because, in many societies, they are disadvantaged by sociocultural discrimination. Some of the sociocultural factors that prevent women benefit from quality health services and health outcomes include:

  • unequal power relationships between men and women;
  • social norms that decrease education and paid employment opportunities;
  • an exclusive focus on women’s reproductive roles; and
  • experience of physical, sexual and emotional violence.

However there has been progress on improving health issues for women.  For example improvement in maternal health has taken place in some countries but there remain significant mortality rates worldwide.  Also more countries are implementing HPV vaccinations for teenage girls but there remains reluctance in others despite the evidence base for its role in the prevention of cervical cancer in women.


The Institute for Women’s Policy Research stated that in 2013, female full-time workers made only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 22%. Women, on average, earn less than men in virtually every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women to calculate an earnings ratio.  Professor Sharon Bolton argues this week that, according to the ILO, it will take 200 years before women achieve parity with men at management level globally:  Why there are so many women managers, but so few women CEOs


Data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (2014) shows the very low proportion of women in the parliaments of different countries’ governments. The UK is ranked 74th. Rwanda is ranked first, followed by Andorra, Cuba and Sweden. Four countries in the ranking have no women in their lower or single house, while 39 have fewer than 10% women – including two European countries (Hungary and Ukraine).

Role models

Women through the past and present continue to inspire me through role modelling behaviours, such as leadership and innovation, as well as knowing their professional and personal values and strengths.  When I read statistics about women’s health and wealth, and political representation of women, I am shocked that gender issues exist in our modern world.

Women in leadership

As a female Professor of Healthcare, a Head of School of Health Sciences and a Registered Nurse, I am still disappointed by the progress society has made in achieving fairness and equality for women in leadership roles in any sector, but particularly in Health and Higher Education (HE).   Reports from Higher Education state that only 12% of chairs of university boards, 17% of vice-chancellors, and 19% of professors are women. While within the UK’s NHS, around 75% of the workforce are women, only 37% of NHS Directors are women, and even fewer work at Chief Executive level.

Many research reports, blogs and other commentaries state reasons such as child care, lack of networking opportunities and other reasons.  Leadership programmes such as Aurora and Leadership Foundation do give me inspiration and hope that we are developing and strengthening women in HE to attain their career aspirations and personal goals.  There is also an array of programmes within the NHS Leadership Academy.

But how do we attract and retain women onto these leadership development programmes and into leadership roles?  So programmes exist both in the NHS and within HE sector but how do we encourage women to make the most of these opportunities?  We have a lot to do to ensure equity of opportunity for women.

© Text copyright Jayne Donaldson, 11 March 2015
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