A few weeks ago my colleagues and I published a paper in the BMJ Open on mode of delivery at birth and the metabolic syndrome in adulthood. Like many research papers, a bigger research story lies behind the 3500 words of the classic ‘scientific’ paper.
Initially we were interested in the works that were showing links between: a) mode of delivery and obesity; b) microbiota in the gut and obesity; c) mode of delivery and microbiota in the gut. These three associations have been linked into a biologically plausible hypothesis explaining the exponential rise in obesity and metabolic diseases in countries with elevated rates of caesarean births.
The research story here is that vaginal births expose babies to the vaginal flora, which initiates the bacterial colonization of their gut. This, by consequence favours the development of their immune/ inflammatory systems for their given environment. Babies who are born by caesarean section and therefore who are not exposed to the vaginal flora are likely to have a delayed/ different development of their immune/ inflammatory systems which has been linked with higher rates of obesity. Read More…
Not long ago in a research meeting, there was some discussion around how to define phases of life to facilitate quantitative analyses. As far as the medical and biological researchers were concerned, this was a no-brainer. To them, terms like infancy – early childhood – adolescence were obviously determined by biologically defined developmental phases. You won’t be surprised to hear that the social scientists did not agree.
The subject of childhood, and the nature of relationships between adults and children have struck me as particularly galvanizing cultural notions. The unquestioned assumptions created by these cultural constructs affect how research is carried out, the hypotheses scientists are willing and likely to explore, and public policies set in place.
One example I have observed relates to the different assumptions about early child education in France and Britain. In France, there is a strong emphasis on infants and very young children being sent as early as possible to a child care setting, like a crèche or childminder. Furthermore, the French education system has a well developed nationwide public kindergarten program, where children start school at the age of three, and sometimes even earlier. In conversation, certainly among the white middle class, exposing children to these institutions is considered to be of great benefit to their socialisation and important for optimal child development. By contrast, in the UK, the idea of sending a three year old to school and then to after-school care from 8am till 6pm (completely ‘normal’ in France) is greeted with horror by the white middle class. Instead, the home and the nurturing familial contact with a parent (inevitably a mother) is seen as the best environment for small children, and for as long as possible. It seems important to start involving children in group activities but just a little at a time. These differences are highlighted by the policies in each country. In France, child care is heavily subsidised, with a network of crèches and childminders endorsed and supervised by the local authority, and a school curriculum from the age of three. In the UK, nurseries are often privately run, with some subsidies, and many children will have only attended part-time child care until school starts at around four to five years of age. Read More…
Post By Jess Day
Originally posted on Chwarae Teg Blog:
Guest blog by Jess Day, Let Toys Be Toys campaign:
Gender stereotyping starts young. So if you want to challenge it, where better to start than toys?
I took and tweeted this photo in Next, Cardiff, in December 2012, infuriated to find that every single toy, from plastic jungle animals to dinosaurs, torches to pocket fans, was prominently labelled ‘Boys’ Stuff’. On the box.
The opposite unit was loaded with pink toiletries.
It turned out I wasn’t the only parent that Christmas who’d finally had enough of the tired old stereotypes being pushed at my kids by the toy industry. The Let Toys Be Toys campaign came together online, and grew quickly, tapping into a growing sense of frustration among many parents and educators at the casual sexism of labelling toys as ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’.
Toys – what’s the big deal?
These labels, and the assumptions they…
View original 1,326 more words
“Why do you blog?” a question I hear often since I started up. The bottom line answer to that is quite simple: because I can.
If a caged-bird finds the door of its cage left open, why would it not fly out? There are many reasons to explain why the bird may not fly free and another obvious reason why it would: because it can.
Writing offers freedom. Freedom of thought, of expression, of connection. Posting your writing on a blog gives that freedom increased potential. It’s about taking that offer of freedom and flying out the open door. Suddenly your possibilities are vast, you have a voice, and you can go where ever you chose, and say whatever you want. Read More…
Happy New Year to all visitors and followers!
I’m having a break from posting this week. Instead, here’s a list of the top ten most visited posts since starting out in 2013 (I won’t share the stats to avoid embarrassment in the blogging world!):
I would love to have some more guest bloggers in 2014. If you have something to say related to research, science or academia in 500-1 000 words then get in touch!
When I talk about interdisciplinary research to people who are not accustomed to it, I like to borrow the story David Foster Wallace opened his commencement speech with in 2005 to Kenyon College:
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
[T]he real value of a real education [has] almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: ‘This is water.’ ‘This is water.’
If you have not heard his speech I urge you to do that now, it is brilliant, and unmissable . The speech is about life, about how we chose to think and live. It is about being aware of the things around us that disappear into daily mundanities. It is about choosing how to think, react and behave.
So, why use it in reference to interdisciplinary research? Because I think interdisciplinary research is a micro-metaphor for life. We need to step into interdisciplinary work prepared to embrace difference, and most importantly, with an awareness of the disciplinary waters we swim in every day. We need to be aware of our own inherent assumptions and driving concepts, and be prepared to pause that background noise long enough to hear other disciplines. In the end, that same prerequisite is needed to enjoy happy relationships and lead a peaceful and interesting life. Read More…
Academia seems like an oppressive place at the moment.
Astronomical tuition fees exclude many from university studies, or impose decades of debt. Working conditions for staff are increasingly abysmal, permanent jobs are an endangered species. The profit-making neoliberal framework behind these changes has lead to the stealth privatisation of UK universities, impoverished contracts and pay for academics over the last 14 years.
But in the last few weeks a few more astonishing events surrounding our learned institutions have sprung into the news.