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Professor Dorothy Newbury-Birch

The Coronavirus outbreak has had a profound impact on our university community and has seen sweeping changes to the way we live our lives. We are proud of how Team Teesside has responded and it is heartening to see the University community come together and support one another during these uncertain times. Here we speak to Professor Dorothy Newbury-Birch about her role in keeping staff and students supported and motivated.

Professor of Alcohol and Public Health Research

School of Social Sciences, Humanities & Law

I'm very proud of how staff and students have rose to the challenge and are doing so much for the community. Members of Team Alpha and Teesside University are helping the most vulnerable in our communities in many ways and that makes me proud.

Briefly outline your role at the University

I am Professor of Alcohol and Public Health Research in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities & Law. I lead a group of around 20 students and staff in work around alcohol and public health issues.

How has the Coronavirus altered the way you work?

Skype calls, so many skype calls. I am starting later in the day and working fewer hours but over more days - just so there is something to do at weekends. I haven't worn 'work clothes' since this started and like most people its shorts or leggings from the waist down, which is great.

What does a typical day look like now?

Most days, I get up a bit later because I don't have the commute and I'm lucky as my husband makes me breakfast in bed. I usually have at least three skype calls a day with project staff, university groups or students. I have lunch with my husband every day and we are eating healthier.

Some days though are really tough and I feel like I am on the verge of a panic attack - I do suffer from anxiety. This is where the various WhatsApp groups, including the teamalpha one, are really helpful. We are all being really honest with each other and helping each other when we can. I am trying to make some 'me time' during each day to read, do jigsaws or just watch Netflix.

What is the single most important element of your job at the moment?

My team, we have set up a WhatsApp group where we chat every day and talk about work things and personal things. The support we are giving each other through this is phenomenal. We also have a skype lunch on a Monday where we don't talk about work but just chat about daily things.

How are you managing personally during the current situation?

To be honest, some days are rough and you can't predict which days these will be. I am trying to be kind to myself and if I need time out for a coffee or a bubble bath I am giving myself time to do that. I miss my kids and grandchildren so much. We are keeping in touch via WhatsApp, but it is not the same.

What does it mean to you to be part of Team Teesside?

I've always been proud to be part of Team Teesside and Team Alpha. I honestly believe this has helped through this crisis – that feeling that you belong to something bigger. I'm very proud of how staff and students have rose to the challenge and are doing so much for the community. Members of Team Alpha and Teesside University are helping the most vulnerable in our communities in many ways and that makes me proud.

What is the biggest challenge you and your team have faced since the coronavirus outbreak began?

The biggest challenge is revisiting projects, both funded and PhD students. A few of my students have had to dramatically change their PhDs to fit in with the challenges of not being able to do face to face recruitment for projects and that has taken us some time to sort out. We are lucky that two of our funded projects had finished recruiting – one of them (NIHR PHR) literally finished the local recruitment the Friday before lock down.

What do you think the response to the current situation says about the resilience and commitment of the Teesside University community? I am in awe at how people have adapted. How staff have changed to teaching online, with kids and dogs on the screen, on top of home schooling children and looking after loved ones is phenomenal. How we have changed to administrative staff working from home is also awesome. I always knew we are a resilient lot and I am so proud to be part of Team Teesside and Team Alpha.

How has your team pulled together under difficult circumstances?

The current Team Alpha are the most resilient group I have worked with in my academic career. We have a WhatsApp group which includes students, staff and academics I mentor so all in all there is about 20 of us. If someone is struggling either work wise or with dealing with the lockdown everyone helps out and pulls each other up. We have a weekly lunch time group where we try not to talk about work but just talk about how we are feeling. To be honest, we all agree we are closer as a team now and we will definitely keep these things going after lockdown.

What has pleased you most about how your students have responded to the changes?

Students are up and down like the rest of us. I have a number of PhD students who have been absolutely marvellous. One of our students from India just joined us last week and is working remotely and the team have been so great helping her with things. I think they have recognised just how much they know and it is amazing to share the journey with them.

Any advice for your fellow staff and students?

Take it one day at a time, make a list for today and include one thing that you will definitely finish, but don't worry if you're not as productive as you can be. For those delivering lectures, don't worry about the kids and/or cats/dogs coming into view – students will love it and we're all in this together.

What are you looking forward to most once we are able to resume to some sense of normality?

Oh definitely seeing people face to face instead of by skype. Having coffee and cake with the team in person will be fantastic. Giving my kids and grandkids a big squeeze. Like others, I am really looking forward to getting my hair cut and my nails done.