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October 30, 2015

Outreach activities in the School of Life Sciences


Dr Leanne Williams is a Senior Teaching Fellow in our School of Life Sciences. As well as teaching across a broad range of subjects, Leanne is involved in the School's outreach activities, which have reached over 2,000 children from more than 100 schools in the last year alone. She tells us what she loves about working with young people in today's 50@50.

How did you come to work at Warwick?

After graduating from Wolverhampton University in ‘96 I started my science career working at the Sanger Institute on the Human Genome Project. I stayed for quite a number of years - it was such a fun and inspirational place to work at that time. I then decided to pursue an interest in teaching and moved to Nottingham to gain a teaching qualification. I landed my very first teaching job in an inner city FE College in Nottingham. This was the hardest but most rewarding experience.

Upon this I built the foundations of my teaching philosophy and realised my passion for widening participation and second change education. After about five years I left this to pursue my own educational challenge and studied for a PhD in reproductive physiology, specifically ovarian follicle development. Following a short postdoc position I applied for a teaching fellow position here in the School of Life Sciences…and here I am.

What does your current role involve?

As a Senior Teaching Fellow I teach across a very broad range of subjects. I also get involved in teaching and learning innovation projects, such as Digichamps, Students as Producers and transitional skills development. I’m also a personal tutor; I take this role very seriously and work closely with senior tutors and student support services to ensure that we provide the very best support for our students.

I work in close association with Dr Kevin Moffat to coordinate and provide outreach and widening participation activities - check out our new webpage. We also organise and deliver the British Biology Olympiad finals every year and have worked hard with The Royal Society of Biology and Warwick conferences to secure the contract to host the 2017 International Biology Olympiad here. It’s an amazing opportunity for the School and for Warwick!

What’s your favourite thing about working at Warwick?

The thing I love most about working at Warwick is the beautiful campus. As a biologist I love Tocil Woods, the lakes and the wildlife it attracts. I commute from Loughborough every day so I aim to get here early about 7-7:30am to beat the traffic. In the summer I’ll go for a walk first thing and often see Muntjak deer - I get just as excited as I did when I was a little girl!

I also love the progressive nature of Warwick as an institution, particularly with regard to teaching and learning innovation. I’m excited to see how the WIHEA (Warwick International Higher Education Academy) influences us as practitioners and hope to get involved where I can.

Tell us a bit about outreach activities in Life Sciences at Warwick.

Over the last year we have delivered outreach sessions to over 2,000 students from over 100 schools across the country. We now offer more than 22 activities from reception year children even through to professional development sessions for teachers.

Have there been any particularly successful events this year?

I organised a biology training day for our CPE trainee teachers, on their early years PGCE. The aim was to develop their confidence in teaching biology. We then had a second day where over 40 KS1 (Year2) and 35 KS2 (Year 5&6) children came to SLS so the trainees could take the reins. We were mini beast hunting and tracking animals in the woods, pond dipping, measuring reaction rates and making oxygen with plants - we even had an interactive live animal display!

It was amazing, chaotic and tiring but the kids were just so enthusiastic and excited and the trainees were fabulous. Some of the kids had never been into a wood before to look under a log or into a pond. All you have to do is open their eyes to even the tiniest of marvels and you’ve got them completely hooked. That’s what I love about working with young people. That innate curiosity is easy to tap into and then you just have to give them the time and space to run with it. It’s the time to inspire and influence, for sure. And that’s how we’ll get more young people to study life sciences, by getting out there getting involved and giving them positive experiences and opportunities. I love my job.

October 01, 2015

Simple Scoff: A Warwick community cookbook

Rebecca EarleBack in 1972, we published a cookbook full of recipes submitted by our students and staff, called Simple Scoff. To celebrate our 50th anniversary, we're releasing a new version of the book, featuring cheap, simple recipes and cooking tips from around the University.

What can we expect in the new book and what does it tell us about how our eating habits have changed over the last 40 years? Professor Rebecca Earle from our School of Comparative American Studies has been coordinating the project and tells us more about it in today's 50@50.

What was Simple Scoff and why did you decide to get involved in publishing the new version?

I didn’t know anything about it until Sarah Shalgowsky, the curator at the Mead Gallery, told me about it. It’s a small paperback with recipes contributed by Warwick students and a miscellaneous handful of other people (including, mysteriously, someone from the Oslo Music Conservatory!) It’s very chatty in tone, and is peppered with food-themed cartoons from ‘Cosgrove’, who in reality was Ian Stewart, then a lecturer in the Maths Institute. As soon as I saw it I knew we had to make a new version.

The original Simple Scoff is utterly charming: the voices of the editors come through so clearly, and the recipes are so redolent of the early 1970s. I think the dish called ‘vegetable splog’ sums things up, but there are also lots of really tasty dishes—the stuffed herrings are absolutely worth making, for instance. Anyway, I spend far too much time reading cookbooks, and I work on the history of food, so it was perhaps inevitable that sooner or later I’d try to put together a cookbook.

Tell us a bit about the new book. Who has contributed to it?

It’s a ‘community cookbook’: the recipes were contributed by people from across the university community, from undergraduates in the English Department to postgraduates in Engineering, and from adminstrative officers in the History Department to the head of Catering. Most recipes have a little introduction from the contributor that explains how the recipe was invented, or what its particular features are, etc. So each recipe is very personal. There are about 150 recipes, from breakfast dishes to puddings. There are also several complete menus, including an ‘Immune Defense Menu’ to ward off freshers' flu, and lots of little snacks and nibbles. There are lots of vegan and vegetarian recipes, too.

The recipes were submitted online along with, in many cases, photos of the dish, and sometimes even step-by-step photos showing the different stages of preparation. I was astonished at how adept students are in food photography. I guess it’s the effect of Instagram.


Do you have a favourite recipe in the book?

Hmm. I really like the onion bhajis - they just work perfectly. I’ll be making those a lot. Also the Indian carrot pudding recipe is really excellent. Also the ‘cardaffron cake’, which combines cardamom and saffron. There are so many tasty recipes...

Are there any surprising recipes in the book?

I didn’t expect as many ‘raw’ food recipes. There are clearly quite a few students equipped with spiralisers. There’s a really imaginative breakfast dish where you make a sort of spicy eggy bread but using a crumpet instead of bread. And then there’s the triple-layer brownie recipe... a layer of chocolate chip cookie dough, a layer of oreos drizzled with dulce de leche, and a layer of brownie dough, all topped off with fleur de sel. My younger son was sceptical at first (‘what is the point?’, he asked) but once he tasted them he pronounced them the best brownies he’d ever eaten.

Does the new version demonstrate how students’ eating habits have changed over time?

Student eating habits have changed enormously! For instance, there were so many recipes for curries, dhals and other Indian dishes that the new cookbook has an entire section on curries and the like. The old cookbook had, I think, one recipe for curry. Nearly half the new recipes are vegetarian or vegan. The old cookbook had a rather unenthusiastic section of vegetarianism saying it wasn’t really such a great idea but that if you absolutely didn’t want to eat meat there were a few suitable recipes on such and such pages.

The new recipes employ a much broader range of seasonings and spices, too - from fresh coriander and za’atar to Sriracha and fresh chillies. Also, the recipes not only come from all sorts of different culinary traditions—from Korea and Hungary to Paraguay and Sweden— but they have also been contributed from students from all over the world, which reflects the really diverse, international community. I think the recipes reflect the University in a very nice way.

How can we get hold of a copy?

The book will be on sale (for £4.99) in the Warwick Bookshop, and online here. All proceeds will be used to support the University’s Warwick in Africa and Warwick in India programmes. And freshers will be given a free copy in their welcome packs when they arrive next week!

Based on the differences between the old and the new book, do you have any predictions about how students’ eating habits will change over the next 50 years?

I would like to be able to say that students will be eating much more fresh, locally-grown, sustainable food, but I think that’s very unlikely. Supermarkets, where the great majority of people in the UK get their food, are part of a global food system that offers great variety and choice, but at a cost. Students, like many people, are often unsure where their food came from and don’t have a clear sense of what’s in season right here, in the Midlands, right now. This makes it hard to be an informed eater. It would be great if in 50 years students could be eating tasty food grown - let’s dream a little! - right here on the campus!

Buy your copy of Simple Scoff on the Bookstore's website >>

Simple Scoff at the Festival of the Imagination

Want to find out more about Simple Scoff and student cookery? Come along to our Festival of the Imagination on Saturday 17 October to hear from members of the University, including former BBC media correspondent and Warwick alumnus Torin Douglas, author of Simple Scoff Serena Macbeth, University Development Chef Graham Crump, Professor Rebecca Earle and Warwick Students' Union President Isaac Leigh as they take a look at student cookery then and now. Book your tickets >>


August 27, 2015

A Warwick Journey


Robert O'Toole grew up in Coventry and first came to the University in the 1980s via the Open Studies programme (now the Centre for Lifelong Learning). He now specialises in learning technology and learning design in the ITS team. Robert tells us all about his Warwick journey in this week's 50@50.

In July this year I graduated with a PhD in Arts Education from Warwick, 21 years after I graduated with a first in Philosophy from Warwick, and following a long career developing our repertoire of academic technology services and practices. The title of my thesis was:

“Fit, stick, spread and grow: transdisciplinary studies of Design Thinking for the [re]making of Higher Education”

My research was originally inspired by the many great teachers, students and innovators that I worked with during my time as Arts Faculty E-learning Advisor. But once I got going on the PhD, I realised that there are designerly people like that all across the University. We just need to find better ways to facilitate design innovation and the spread of good practice. So that’s what I did – a synthesis of research and state-of-the-art professional design and innovation practices adapted to fit the needs, styles and capabilities of the University – so as to fit, stick, spread and grow.

But where did this all come from?

My story is perhaps unusual, but in a very Warwick kind of way.

I was born in 1971 in what was Walsgrave Hospital, but which is now itself affiliated to the University. My mother was a home help and my father worked for Ford’s, in the foundry and later at their distribution centre in Daventry. I grew up in the Coventry of George Shaw’s imagination – back streets of the city transfigured onto his canvases in green, grey and brown paint. We have some of his works in the University art collection. There is an uncanny everyday strangeness about them. Shaw famously works with Humbrol paints – the same textures and colours used by children to decorate model airplanes. Camouflage. Avoiding contact. Hiding our powers away. Stillness. Going nowhere fast. That was very much the Coventry of the 70s and 80s.

I went to a comprehensive school in Coventry. I’ll not name it. The school has since been completely rebuilt and revitalized. But for me it was just a brutal and grey monstrosity. There was a constant threat and occasional reality of serious violence. The Coventry Blitz had made a lasting impression on the psychogeography of the city. So I needed to find a hiding place. A shelter. Eventually I stopped going to school and found two welcoming homes: Coventry’s central library, and the Wedge socialist bookshop and café – the sandwiches used to be sold off at special solidarity prices at the end of the day. And then I started to listen to interesting music and to read philosophy.

How then did I end up at Warwick? And why did this experience eventually lead to my PhD?

Meanwhile, I watched from a philosophical distance as Coventry’s car industry was devastated. I can remember at some point, perhaps around 1984, having cycled to Warwick University with my friends. It was another world. And I had to be part of it. There were also, it seemed, many attractive and definitely quite clever girls. I really did have to be part of it. Later, I married one of those girls – attractive and clever. But first I went back to college. A-Levels of some distinction: Sociology, Psychology, Communication Studies – but not Philosophy, it was nowhere to be found. Warwick’s Open Studies programme (now the Centre for Lifelong Learning) offered an alternative route. I signed up for evening classes taught by PhD students. They were great. And finally I made contact with the Philosophy Department.

I can remember a meeting with Martin Warner, or was it an interview? Martin was so welcoming that it certainly didn’t feel like an interview. In an instant I went from being an outsider with no knowledge of being a university student, to becoming part of academia. The Philosophy Department has a wonderful inclusive culture – perhaps because philosophers can often feel like outsiders themselves, they welcome people in. I had a superb three years as an undergraduate – very much at the heart of the department. For two years I ran the Philosophy Society, hosting visiting speakers from other universities, helped by some great academics who seemed more like colleagues – David Miller and Angie Hobbs.

Working on post-Kantian European philosophy I got interested in the philosophical problems and possibilities encountered in architecture. That developed into a dissertation on Deleuze and Guattari. Their “assemblages” approach is a great way of thinking about how things get constructed by accident and by design, composed from entirely different materials and systems that co-exist in a kind of disequilibrium. My dissertation work evolved into a chapter for a book edited by Warwick’s Keith Ansell Pearson – an example of the now fashionable “student as producer” ethic.

And then over time I got into artificial intelligence, cognitive science, computing and teaching – all of which converged at Oxford, and then Warwick, into a career in learning technology. After ten years of that, in 2008 I won a Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence and a National Teaching Fellowship. Nice titles to have, but also a handy £15,000 to reinvest in the University, and specifically, to buy equipment for my student friends. I developed a team of students, the E-Squad, who did amazing work helping academics to develop digital resources and activities. The Re-performing Performance website is one that I am especially proud of. It was created by Catherine Allen and Pesala Bandara of the E-Squad, with Jonny Heron of the CAPITAL Centre (now IATL). Catherine has since become one of my best friends, and gone on to a glittering career in educational and academic app development.

Winning the WATE and NTF awards also encouraged me to revisit my research. One of the great things about Warwick is that top people like Carol Rutter and David Morley (both NTFs) just tell people like me that we can do great things. So I listened to them, and many other great people, and I just did it. Five years on and I’m an expert on how universities get assembled, by accident and by design, as complex non-linear systems in constant disequilibrium – and how we can do it better using Design Thinking methods.

I’m now working on applying this to the strategies that we use in the Academic Technology team – you might have seen some this appearing in the guise of the Extended Classroom initiative, and a development of the E-Squad approach called the Student Champions scheme.

Robert is pictured on the right receiving his WATE in 2008.

July 03, 2015

The founding of the Warwick Politics Department

Wyn Grant

As part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, Professor Wyn Grant from Politics and International Studies has written a booklet about the early years of the department. He gives us an overview in today's 50@50.

What was it like to establish a new academic department at Warwick when the University was founded, particularly in a relatively new discipline like politics? This was the task that faced Professor Wilfrid Harrison who at the age of 56 had come to the University from being head of department at Liverpool, having previously been at Oxford. He also had the heavy responsibility of being the University’s sole pro-vice-chancellor.

The Illustrated London News reported in October 1965 that ‘For the last year Wilfrid Harrison has been organising his courses in politics from the rosy-wallpapered master bedroom at No.12 Gibbet Hill Road – a small, detached house used as temporary offices until the university buildings are completed.’ Harrison was described as a ‘small, detached Scot’ who was determined ‘to keep politics in its place.’

Much of the debate that took place in the department was about issues of curriculum design. Research was very much seen as an autonomous activity for individuals and it was largely left to each academic to decide what they did and how they did it. There was relatively little pressure by contemporary standards to secure research grants or publish in highly rated journals.


Malcolm Anderson, later to succeed Wilfrid Harrison as head of department, was an early appointment from Manchester. The first intake in 1965 was administered by him making trips from Paris where he had a research fellowship. Graham Webster-Gardiner recalls making a ‘foggy and wet journey to the East Site mud campus of the “White Tiles”.’ He thought that Oxford rejects were being targeted.

Another early appointment from the strong department at Manchester was Jim Bulpitt who had already established a reputation with his Party Politics in English Local Government.His later book on Territory and Power was reprinted by the European Consortium for Political Research and a number of contemporary academics claim to be influenced by his work.

An early student Paul Smith recalled, ‘The department was very friendly. I never felt patronised. I never felt put down because of my young left-wing politics.’ He was inspired by the teaching of another early appointment, also from Manchester, John Halliday: ‘I found him inspiring despite totally different political views. His seminars reminded me in a good sense of A level poetry.’

A priority was the establishment of a single honours degree in Politics. Malcolm Anderson recalled, ‘I realised that the department could not grow without it. It would have been a little fish in a sea of sharks. Departments soon developed pretty tribal attitudes which created difficulties for joint degrees.’ However, Anderson did succeed in establishing a jointly taught Making of Economic Policy course for the Economics and Politics degree which survives to this day.

A MA in Politics was established in 1968, but a major contrast with the department today was the relative insignificance of the graduate programme. This grew substantially after Politics merged with the smaller International Studies department in 1990.

You can read more about the history of the department up to 1979 in Wyn Grant, The Founding of a Politics Department, which can be obtained free of charge from

April 24, 2015

Voices of the University – an Oral History of the University of Warwick

In this week’s 50@50 blog post we meet Dr Grace Huxford, Research Fellow in Oral History,who manages the university’s oral history project ‘Voices of the University’. Commissioned by the Institute ofAdvanced Study (IAS), the Voices of the University collection comprises of over 200interviews with current and former staff, students and local residents and reveals the history of the University of Warwick through their voices. Grace describes the project in more detail.

I first joined the university as a history undergraduate in 2007, staying on to study for my Masters in 2010 and for my PhD in 2011. I have long been interested in oral history as a methodology in my research and was therefore very excited to hear that the IAS was producing an oral history of Warwick. I joined the IAS as Research Fellow in Oral History in September 2014 and manage the day-to-day running of the ‘Voices of the University’ project.

Project Aims

The ‘Voices of the University’ project was initiated by the IAS in 2013. Its primary aim is to record people’s memories of Warwick– as a place of work or study, as a research and teaching environment, and as a local institution. The project also contributes towards the wider history of higher education, as Warwick was established in 1965 as part of a nationwide investment in universities. Our interviews capture many aspects of social, cultural and economic life since the 1960s – both in Britain and across the world.

Since the oral history project started, our interviews have been carried out by a great team of undergraduate, masters and doctoral students, as well as postdoctoral researchers based at the IAS. To date the team has conducted over 200 oral history interviews and we aim to add to this throughout the anniversary year.


What is ‘oral history’?

Oral history is a historical research method based on interviewing people about their experiences. In the ‘Voices of the University’ collection, interviews follow what is called a life history’ approach, first discussing how interviewees’ early life and how they came to arrive at Warwick. Some participants have been at Warwick since it opened in 1965, whilst other interviewees have been here just a few months. Interviewees include students and academic staff, but also administrative and support staff from across the campus. Overall, the project aims to represent a wide cross-section of the university community over time and to cover not just the history of the university, but also the place of the university in people’s lives.

Oral histories do not always necessarily tell the same story: interviewees have different relationships and recollections of the institution, but that is why it is such a fascinating methodology. In oral history research, we ask not just ‘what happened’, but also try to find out why people tell particular stories (and why interviewers like myself ask particular questions!)

Favourite Extracts

I really enjoy listening to former students describing living away from home for the first time, learning to cook or adapting to university-level study. One of our interviewees even described getting struck by lightning in Rootes Hall! Warwick staff (both academic and non-academic) have also shared their insights on the institution’s development and particular moments in its history, such as the visit of President Bill Clinton in 2000. As a historian, I also find people’s stories about the changing social and economic life of the local area particularly interesting. Many of our interviewees describe the booming car industry in Coventry in the 1960s and the changes that have taken place in the city since.

Getting Involved

Most of our interviews are available online here for you to listen to, through the Library’s online digital collections. A small minority of recordings are not online and only available in the reading room at the Modern Records Centre (which you can arrange to visit).

You can also listen to extracts from the project in our podcast series, which takes a specific theme each month. This is accompanied by a blog post highlighting various aspects of the collection.

If you have a story to share about Warwick, please do get in touch. We are conducting interviews until the start of August this year and would love to speak to as many people as possible before then. If you are interested you can sign up via the Voices of the University website:


February 20, 2015

Imagining the future of language

With Associate Professor Stephanie Schnurr, Centre for Applied Linguistics
For this week's 50@50 post we asked Dr Stephanie Schnurr from our Centre for Applied Linguistics to consider the question, 'What if we all spoke the same language?' Would speaking the same language mean we would all work and do leadership the same way across the world, or would differences remain? Watch Stephanie's answer below.

Would you like to be featured in our 50@50 series or know someone who would? Get in touch at

January 29, 2015

Imagining the future of the internet

With Professor Irene Ng, WMG

The internet has changed the world significantly over the last few decades, but how could it transform our lives further in the future? Could everything be connected to the internet and, if so, what impact would this have?

Following this week’s hugely exciting announcement that Warwick will be one of the five universities leading the Alan Turing Institute for data science, today’s 50 @ 50 post features Professor Irene Ng, whose work focuses on data management. We asked her to consider the question ‘what if everything was connected to the internet?’Watch her answer below.

Would you like to be featured in our 50 @ 50 series or know someone who would? Get in touch at

January 16, 2015

Imagining the future of television

With Dr Helen Wheatley, Film and Television Studies

What if every television programme was available at the push of a button? Would we want this or is there something special about watching programmes like Downton Abbey and the Strictly final at the same time as your friends, family and millions of others?

For this week's 50 @ 50 post we want to imagine the future of television, so we asked Dr Helen Wheatley from our Film and Television Studies department to consider the question 'what if all television was on demand?' Watch her answer below.

50 @ 50 is a special series of blog posts that will run throughout the course of 2015, the University of Warwick's 50th anniversary year. This series of posts will introduce you to 50 different Warwick people, all of whom have something interesting to say as we not only look back at what we’ve achieved in our relatively short time as a University, but also look forward and imagine what our future might look like. You’ll meet academics, students, alumni and administrative staff who will offer you a window on what life is like at the Times and Sunday Times’ University of the Year for 2015.

Stay up to date with our 50th anniversary celebrations by following the 50th anniversary Twitter account, using the hashtag #warwick50 and checking the website.

You can even contribute a post to our 50 @ 50 series – if you’re interested please get in touch at

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