“Write for 5 minutes without stopping”, she said, and the
stopwatch started. Easy-peasy, I thought. I can certainly talk for 5 minutes without stopping.
The paper began to fill with my ramblings, but as the minutes ticked on my
wrist started to ache and my brain began to freeze. I glanced around the table
at the other workshop participants, each lost in his or her own thoughts and
writing. They were a diverse group, in age, race and gender, brought together by
one woman’s words.
We were all taking part in a poetry workshop for Black
History Month, inspired by and celebrating the life of Maya Angelou, whose
death earlier this year was a sad loss to literature. While many people know
her best from her autobiographies, her poetry encapsulates her spirit in a very
direct and powerful way, so a poetry workshop and performance seemed a fitting
way of paying our respects.
Shirley May from Young Identity (Young Identity Website),
who was leading the workshop, had begun by talking about the influence that
Maya Angelou had had on her own writing, and her sharing of personal experience
made it easier for us to open up, even those who were new to poetry workshops.
It was inspiring and encouraging to learn that Shirley had only begun writing
in her thirties.
We looked at three of Maya’s best-known poems during the
course of the workshop - ‘Caged Bird’, ‘Still I Rise’, and the poem from which
the workshop had taken its name, ‘Phenomenal Woman’. The words inspired us, and
there was an electricity in the room:
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth
The swing in my waist
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
In the spirit of Maya Angelou we each wrote about important
people in our lives and the way in which they too were phenomenal – a parent, a
teacher, an aunt, or even ourselves. Some people were a little shy about
sharing their work, but all the participants were supportive of each other, and
poems were met with applause and appreciative finger clicking.
We were all having such a good time that the workshop ran
over its allotted time, and we had to rush from the quiet, book-lined
surroundings of the Chief Librarian’s office to the library’s performance space
to set up for the open mic session - a chance for people to share their own
poetry, their favourite Maya Angelou poems or poems by other writers they admired
and found inspirational.
One poem stuck in my mind which summed up the mood of the
evening – ‘Ailey, Baldwin, Floyd, Killens, and Mayfield’ (Full Poem). Maya Angelou tells of how the death of ‘great
souls’ affects us, and ends by saying:
Our senses, restored, never
to be the
same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and
better. For they existed.
Maya Angelou, thank you for existing.
-Written by Angela
Development Officer at the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre
Black History Month UK was put
into October to empower students to start the academic year as they wish to end
it – successfully. Unfortunately, many institutions fail to directly engage
students during this vital month. It is an opportunity to reach out to those
students whose ancestry does not lie in the UK and demonstrate the success of
their culture. Similarly, it is an opportunity to teach their peers to
appreciate the diverse world we live in and just how closely connected we all
are – whether that be sharing resources, cultural practices or swapping cooking
tips. Where one has the resources and ability to do so, we should reach out to
the student community and work to bring it together to empower, enlighten and
celebrate the Black cultures. As BME Student Officer, this is what I have been
working towards – cohesion among the BME communities in Manchester.
There is often confusion when
we use the term Black, BME and even BAME in our daily lives – which is
politically correct? Which do you fit into? If you do not self define as
Caucasian, then you fit into them all as they are all used interchangeably
across different organisations. This then leaves the question of what does this
make of Black History Month which traditionally works around the history of
African and Caribbean cultures; that choice is left down to you. There is no
right or wrong answer. This year with Black History Month, I used it as an
opportunity to unite as many different cultures across Manchester as possible
under the theme of empowering, enlightening and celebrating. Working with a
number of supportive students, we were able to employ the plan that has led to
a month of celebration and education for staff, students and local community
There are some individuals such
as Morgan Freeman, who believe that Black history should not be confined to one
month but incorporated into the mainstream archives. Although I understand his
purpose, I disagree. Within the current way of the world we are living in, we
need a period of time to focus attention on BME history. All cultures,
including the English, have contributed to the world in their own way and no
matter where you are in the world, this should be recognised. Black history
(and BME history), will not be confined into one month forever, but for the
time being we need to utilise it and educate ourselves as well as those around
us in order to move forward, together into a future of diversity and equal
Written by Tanisha Douglas.
My name is Ben Stutchbury and I am a second year cell
biology PhD student, looking at how cells sense and respond to the environment
around them. I did my undergraduate degree in molecular biology, which I also
did at the University of Manchester.
For a long time, the way that cells sense and respond to the
environment around them was thought to be only due to chemical signals. Cells
produce different chemicals and proteins that attach to other cells,
transmitting a message and triggering a response, just like sending and
receiving a text message. However, recently it has been seen that cells are
also able to sense and respond to mechanical signals, rather than just chemical
signals. I am trying to figure out how cells are able to do this, and the
important role that these mechanical signals play in the cell.
The mechanical properties of different tissue types vary all
over the body. Brain is extremely soft, muscle a bit stiffer and bone the most
rigid. Studies have shown that these different mechanical properties can affect
several different aspects of cell behaviour such as how fast they grow, how
quickly they move or even affect what type of cell they become.
Now imagine you are a cell, how do you know where you are? Cells don’t have a
sense of sight, smell or hearing, but… they do have an extremely sensitive
sense of touch.
Hundreds of proteins come together in a defined and
intricate order to form streak-like structures known as focal adhesions (shown in green in the picture). These form at the
edge of the cell, and reach outside, literally grabbing onto the surrounding
environment. Basically acting like a cell’s tiny hands. Using these hands, the
cell then blindly pulls and probes on the external environment, feeling its
mechanical properties and the forces acting on the cell. Now, as I said before,
as well as feeling their environment, cells will also respond it. If the
environment around it changes, for example becomes softer or stiffer, then the
forces acting on the cell will change. The cell, via its focal adhesion hands,
is able to feel and respond to these changes. They are quite literally using
the force! This signalling is extremely important for the cell to function
correctly and can go wrong in a number of diseases such as cancer and heart
So we know that cells are responding to physical changes to
their environment. But, we don’t know exactly how the cell is able to feel
these mechanical signals and convert them into a response. My work is to try to
determine the exact molecular events that are involved in sensing, and
responding to, these mechanical signals. I am trying to work out HOW the cells
use the force. This could lead to a better understanding, and treatment of, a
number of associated diseases.
I particularly enjoy studying this topic because it is a
very ‘new’ area of biology. For years biologists focussed on the chemical side
of cell signalling; however, now we are just beginning to see the importance of
this more physical-based signal interpretation. This means there is still a lot
to be discovered, which makes it a very exciting field to work in. We work a
lot with various biomaterials, in order to manipulate the ‘stiffness’ of the
artificial environment that the cells are growing in. This uses aspects of
physics and engineering and really highlights the importance of
cross-collaboration between these different areas in order to fully understand
the complexity of our bodies.
I also write a blog about science that we come across in our
everyday lives, but is often ignored. Please check it out here: http://thatsinteresting.scienceblog.com/
As I mentioned, this is a relatively young field, so there
aren’t a huge number of websites with further information that aren’t boring
research papers! Here are some that I could find.
Our lab group: http://ballestremlab.com/
For general info about cell signalling: http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/cell-signaling-14047077
The mechanobiology institute in Singapore has some pretty
cool videos on their YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDXgKXsx2cK-662Ta6wvtEQ
My name is Dan and I am in the third year of a four year PhD
in Cognitive Psychology. Cognitive
Psychology involves developing and testing ideas about the processes that take
place in the brain. I work with people with autism in my research.
My route to the PhD
I took a gap year after finishing my A levels in which I volunteered
as a teacher in South Africa. I then
went to the University of Leicester to study Psychology with Sociology. During
my undergraduate degree I developed an interest in working with people with
autism after doing some voluntary work for the National Autistic Society. On
finishing my undergraduate degree I worked for a charity which offered
supported living to people with autism and learning disabilities. I then worked
in a mental health ward as a health care assistant before beginning my PhD.
What is autism?
Autism is a developmental condition which affects people
throughout their life. It impacts on how a person interacts with others and
understands social situations. Sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste can all
be experienced in different ways by people with autism (more on that below). People with autism can also experience
problems with movement and may be very clumsy.
Autism exists on a spectrum: some people may have a learning
disability and require daily support, while others can live independent lives
and reach high ranking professions. It is a relatively common condition, affecting
about 1% of the population. However, we currently know very little about
autism, its causes and the exact way it affects people.
The senses in autism
People with autism may show increased sensitivity in how
their senses work. For example, they may have problems with bright lighting,
particular sounds or the way things feel. Alternatively, people with autism may be under
sensitive. They might not notice extremes of temperature or have a very high
tolerance to pain. These differences can have a great impact on a person’s day
to day life and make the world a less accessible place. However, sometimes
differences in how the senses work can actually create positive experiences for
people with autism. For instance, some people may find the feeling of rocking
back and forth relaxing.
What do I investigate?
Understanding all of these differences in how the senses
work is very complicated. In my research I am focusing on the processes that
take place in the brain to combine information from the different senses to help
us understand the world. Think about crossing a busy road: we must combine the
sound of a passing cars engine with the sight of the car moving when crossing
the road safely. Generally the brain is very effective at bringing this
information together. However, it may be that this process does not work as
effectively in autism, which may lead to differences in how the senses work. To
test this idea I run a number of experiments in which we present adults with
autism with things like simple light flashes and vibrations. We then compare
how people with autism respond with a group of adults that do not have autism.
We hope that improving our understanding of how the senses work differently in
autism may lead to the development of treatments that will help people with
autism to interact with the world around them.
The website for the lab I work in at Manchester: http://beamlab.lab.ls.manchester.ac.uk/
The National Autistic Society website http://www.autism.org.uk/
which includes a lot of information about autism
A short clip from a recent BBC documentary on autism: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01w8hyy
A post on one of the processes by which information from the
different senses work together http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Crossmodal_attention
An illusion involving the automatic combination of
information from the different senses including an explanation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-lN8vWm3m0
Neuroskeptic a blog on neuroscience, psychology and
scientific criticism http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/#.U5NPr_ldUuc
My name is
Aimee Harragan and I am just coming to the end of my first year of a PhD in
Sociology. My research focuses on young people aged 16 – 30 years and what
politics means to them. There is no right or wrong answer to this, instead my
work aims to talk to young people and understand if and how politics affects
their day-to-day lives. I am particularly interested in the role media (TV,
Radio, Papers and News Apps) plays in young people’s daily routine.
A PhD is like
an extended project and allows students to spend 3 years focused on one piece
of research. Sociology is the study of human societies and the way they work. I
became interested in young people and politics through my experience of
citizenship classes at school. The government had just made these compulsory,
and despite being at a good school, these classes were a boring hour of
box-ticking! Citizenship classes were supposed to be a chance to explore
current issues, have debates and understand ways that we can challenge the
government on the decisions which impact everything we experience everyday;
from the price of milk to the length of the school day. The media also likes to
highlight examples of young people seeming uninterested in politics – like
voting, young people are the least likely group to vote in government
elections. But if I was not being taught how to understand politics, and other
people don’t vote in political elections, how does everyone else come to
understand and take part in politics?
I decided to follow this trail of
understanding politics and decision-making through my A-Levels, my Undergrad
Degree and Master’s Degree in Sociology and finally here, my PhD. I hope that my work will help to clear up
what we mean by politics and the ways young people can influence decisions,
maybe this will be through education but also through broader organisation in
the community. I hope to show people
that young people are interested in current issues and the decisions that
affect their lives; this is overlooked by politicians and other authorities. I
really enjoy this research because I meet lots of interesting young people who
are the future decision makers!
Find out more and get involved with some of
these great organisations dedicated to the views and opinion of young people:
Bite the Ballot: is
a not for profit organisation that empowers young people to speak up and act,
to make their votes and opinions count. http://bitetheballot.co.uk/
Youth Parliament: Run by young
people, the UK Youth Parliament provides opportunities for 11-18 year-olds to
use their voice in creative ways to bring about social change. http://www.ukyouthparliament.org.uk/
Youth Council: empowers young people across the UK to have a say locally,
nationally and internationally. http://www.byc.org.uk/
Foundation: The Citizenship Foundation inspires young people to take part
in society as equal members. http://www.citizenshipfoundation.org.uk/index.php
Project: is a leadership
and mentoring project based in Manchester. The project empowers young people
across the North West to make positive changes in their communities and to find
inner strength and self belief. http://www.reclaimproject.org.uk/
Click here: http://www.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/sociology/ to find out
more about Sociology at the University of Manchester, or about other research
taking place in the Social Sciences: http://www.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/sociology/postgraduate-research/phd-students/