Dear Research…

Giada Alessandroni has recently completed a a funded PhD in French Studies. Her research explores literary representations of female homosociality in female-authored fiction of the Belle Epoque (1880-1914).






Exeter, Saturday 24th November 2018

Dear Research,

When I first met you, you were only a timid idea, barely formed in my head. Look at you now: you’ve grown into a full manuscript, you’ve been submitted and you’re in the hands of some incredibly bright professors. I know what you’re thinking, but you don’t need to be scared; I’m sure that they will like you too, and I’ll remain by your side no matter what they say.

We’ve known each other for about three years now. During this period, you’ve seen me through some of the most exciting times of my life: when I bought my first house; when I got my first (and last) tattoo; when I started overcoming my fear of driving on (the wrong side of) the road.

Thanks to you, many good things have happened to me, like meeting extraordinary people and spending time in Paris, reading and strolling by the Seine like a real flâneur.

Remember when we found that signed first edition in a library and I got all emotional? You always say that I cry too much. What about that day when I introduced you to a room full of people and we finally went public? I thought my heart would burst during those long twenty minutes.

I knew that we were right for each other from the moment that someone gave us money so that we could move in together and start sharing our lives. Sure, things haven’t always been perfect, and we had a few bumps along the road, but all couples do. For example, you can be very possessive, and you never bore the thought of being apart. You’ve kept me from my family and country, and sometimes you got under my skin. In fact, some people say that our relationship is toxic. However, I never doubted our love. You’ve changed my life for the better and for that I will always be grateful.

I am writing to tell you that I cannot marry you after all. You know how much you mean to me, but the truth is that you belong to academia and I… well, I don’t know where I belong yet, but if I figured you out, then I’m sure that I can figure the rest of my life out too.

I hope that one day you will turn yourself into a best-selling academic book. But if you’d rather stay on the shelves of a library, collect some dust and wait to be picked up by chance, that’s ok too. Either way, know that you’re important to me and I will always remember you.

Truly yours,


Written By: Giada Alessandroni, PhD Researcher in French Studies.

Wellbeing Discussion Forum

Daisy Curtis is an ESRC (1+3) funded Geography PhD student exploring the Digital Geographies of 5G technology. She undertook her BA Geography degree at Exeter, and during this time became involved in wellbeing and inclusivity work within the College of Life and Environmental Sciences (CLES), which she has continued during her Masters course and now as she starts her PhD. Daisy has helped to found and develop the Wellbeing Discussion Forum.

Around campus you may have noticed some of these flyers for the Wellbeing Discussion Forum. This is an initiative developed by the current, and previous VP Welfare and Diversities, the Head of Wellbeing (Mark Sawyer), and me. As the flyer explains the Wellbeing Discussion Forum is an opportunity to provide your perspective on the University’s Wellbeing Services, and also to engage with the development of future initiatives. Ultimately, this group acts as an opportunity for students and the Head of Wellbeing to meet and constructively discuss the Wellbeing Services so that it continues to support as many students as possible.First a bit of background – where did this initiative come from?

Back in 2017, just before the Easter holiday, the Guild was publicising an opportunity for students to participate in focus groups ‘Wellbeing on Campus: we want to know your thoughts’. This was part of a review being undertaken regarding the wellbeing support available to students. The publicity material for these focus groups signposted any interested students to contact the then VP Welfare and Diversity, Alec James. As someone engaged with wellbeing work within CLES, and having heard a lot about friends’ experiences of the Wellbeing Services, I was curious about the focus groups – why were they being held? Who could participate? And why were they organised to occur during the Easter holiday? So I contacted Alec, and he explained that the focus groups were acting as part of a broader review about wellbeing, and that questionnaires would also be used at a later date to gain further insights into student perspectives. What transpired was a discussion about whether there was anything that could be developed to gain feedback on the Wellbeing Services at the university in a more regular and structured format. Alec invited me to one of his meetings with the Head of Wellbeing, Mark Sawyer, to discuss this further, and this is when our ideas started to develop.

During our meeting, Mark expressed a keen interest in establishing a forum where students could voice their views, and the Wellbeing Services could ask for student perspectives about new projects they were developing. We realised that there was a need for a forum which would connect students to the Wellbeing Services, so that both groups could positively engage with one another. We concluded that this would develop over the long term, but that this was the moment to set our ideas in motion. We stayed in contact and met a few more times, and also discussed our ideas with staff within the University Inclusivity group. Fast forward to the next academic year (2017-18), and Kat Karamani had become the new VP Welfare and Diversity. Mark, Kat and I made a plan to make the first few meetings pilot meetings to identify whether this was a format that could work in practice. At the end of Term 1 we held our first meeting of our wellbeing group, provisionally called the Wellbeing Board, which brought together undergrads, PGTs, PGRs, the Guild, and the Wellbeing Services.

During Term 2 we continued to hold pilot meetings, testing different formats and expanding the membership of the group to also include people such as Residence Life Mentors. Now in the 2018-19 academic year we are working to further develop this initiative and have renamed the group the Wellbeing Discussion Forum to help make its purpose clearer and more accessible for students.

Who can be involved?

One of the key aims of the group is to gain an insight into the diversity of student experience. So, anyone who is interested in the wellbeing support provided at the university is welcome to join us. If you currently are, or have previously been, using the services provided by the University’s Wellbeing Services your perspective on this is vital. However, this forum is not only for those who have direct experience of the University’s Wellbeing Services. If you have never accessed wellbeing support, but are interested in attending a meeting, we highly encourage that you email expressing your interest. A number of the students who attended the pilot meetings last year, had not accessed the services themselves, but knew someone who had. The Wellbeing Discussion Forum, therefore, also provides a place for you to voice your thoughts as someone who may be supporting another person at university. There may be a number of you who are interested in attending who haven’t directly accessed support from Exeter’s Wellbeing Services, but may have accessed support from a different university, and your views are equally valued within the group. Also, as this blog is part of the Doctoral College, you may be interested in attending the group because it relates to your research area, if this is the case, please do contact us and we can discuss this further.

One meeting which we held last year was focused explicitly on postgraduate student experiences of wellbeing. This meeting proved to be incredibly productive, and the conclusion was that although there are certain systems in place for postgraduates, there is a lot which can be further developed and that having conversations with postgraduates via the Wellbeing Discussion Forum is vital.

So what is discussed?

The short answer to this question is student experiences of the Wellbeing Services, however, this is quite a vague answer. A better way to provide an indication of what topics are covered during the Wellbeing Discussion Forum meetings is to identify some of the themes we discussed during the pilot meetings last year, and the agenda items which were covered in the first Wellbeing Discussion Forum meeting of this academic year. A common topic that has been discussed is the process of communicating and accessing wellbeing support – are there any myths about access? Is the wellbeing website clear and understandable? Is wellbeing support provision communicated clearly at St Lukes? Was the signposting of wellbeing support during the recent industrial action sufficient? Although the forum is not a place to discuss details of specific experiences, there have been discussions where students have chosen to reflect upon their general experiences of the Wellbeing Services such as the process of booking wellbeing appointments, or their experiences of Telephone Referral Appointments (TRAs). There are a range of topics which have been raised within these meetings, and actions are identified during these discussions so that the wellbeing support is continually developing in-line with the requirements of students. The important point to convey is that the meetings are spaces where everyone’s views are respected and valued, and that any minutes which are taken during the meetings are done so so that the person is not identifiable.

The Forum is also a platform for the Wellbeing Services to ask questions about projects they are developing and gain student perspectives. An example of this is the Resilience Toolkit which the Wellbeing Services was developing last year to help (new) students develop resilience to help them manage their mental health. During the meetings last year the Wellbeing Services asked for feedback on the project and suggestions of similar projects which could be beneficial for students. Ultimately, within each meeting there is variation in the topics of discussion and actions identified, as these are determined by what students attending these meetings wish to raise and discuss.

If you wish to attend and talk about a topic during one of the Wellbeing Discussion Forum meetings, or if you have any questions, please contact

Written By: Daisy Curtis, PhD Researcher in Geography. You can find out more about Daisy and her Research by following her on twitter @derc201

Lottie Tour 2018

Beth McGill is a 3rd year PhD researcher in the Biomedical Physics Group. Her research investigates the mechanical properties and biochemical signalling of the human red blood cell and how these are affected by certain diseases, like diabetes mellitus.

November 5th – 9th marked Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, a week dedicated to highlighting the opportunities available to young people in the Engineering and wider STEMM fields. Numerous outreach projects are run throughout the week and this year I found myself involved with one run by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES). I found their project whilst scrolling through my Twitter timeline and decided that it was perfect to get involved in!

The project #LottieTour is in its third year and I was tasked with bringing a small doll to work with me and creating a picture diary of what we got up to for a week, which baffled my supervisor! The diary would then be shared over social media during Tomorrow’s Engineers Week. By placing the realistically proportioned Lottie Dolls in actual STEMM settings, the aim is to capture the imagination of young girls and boys and expose them to the variety of careers available in the field.

Lottie joined my research group in mid-October and as with any new starter, a lab induction is the first thing that needs to be ticked off the list. She was given a tour of the Biophysics wet lab, seeing where we prepare our samples and the equipment we use to do so. 

On day 2, Lottie performed an experiment to see how much ATP is released from red blood cells (RBCs) as they are squeezed through the narrow blood vessels. ATP is an important signalling molecule in the microcirculation that aids the RBC in controlling local blood flow. It can be measured using the enzyme luciferase, found in fireflies, that catalyses a reaction to produce light. Lottie can be seen with our shearing device, a syringe pump used to push blood though a narrow cannula, mimicking blood flow through our blood vessels.

My working day on Wednesday is usually filled with data analysis and group meetings – not very exciting for our guest – but in the evening Lottie joined my Brownies (aged 7 – 10 years old), to talk about her Tour. They were all very excited to hear that Lottie had travelled to the International Space Station with Astronaut Time Peake in 2015!

The penultimate day of Lottie’s tour saw her investigating how toxins interact with the cell membrane, using a Langmuir Trough (as pictured), and on the final day, Lottie experienced work of the wider Biophysics group. She first spent the morning investigating Natural Photonics, looking at how structure can give rise to colour using insects for inspiration, and the afternoon learning all about how Super Resolution Microscopy can be used to image protein structures within our cardiac muscle tissue.

Lottie’s Exeter time is now available to see on Twitter (@BethMMcGill) and you can use the hashtag #LottieTour across all social media platforms to see the full extent of her tour. If you would like to get involved next year, please contact WES and let them know!