It is no news that 2020 was a very difficult year. Across the world, many struggled with the Covid-19 pandemic, loss of jobs, bereavements, and drastic changes to their ways of working and living. What many did not expect was that 2021 would in many respects be similar, and that going into 2022, the world would still be battling with the Covid-19 pandemic, new variants, and renewed restrictions. Staff and students at The University of St Andrews have not been exempt from the physical loss and mental toll the pandemic has taken. This was why Dr Laura Aitken proposed to have a Wellbeing event for the School of Biology and School of Medicine. Laura is a Research Fellow in the School of Biology and is very active in both research communities. “I felt that the University has such a wealth of support available, and staff and PGR students needed to know how to access that support if they need to”, she said. For her, the inability for members of both schools to socialise physically as before the pandemic was one of the biggest challenges. Laura reached out to Caroline Forbes who is currently PGT Coordinator and Assessment Administrator at the School of Medicine and newly appointed Wellbeing Officer for the School of Medicine. Caroline was excited for both schools to partner in hosting this event, saying: “I was glad when Laura reached out to set this up because there are such strong links between the two schools.”. Laura and Caroline both echoed that it had been particularly hard getting to know new colleagues who joined, and while the university has leveraged on technology to make work and collaboration easier, spontaneity in interacting with colleagues in the hallway or over coffee and the physical sense of community has been impacted.
The Wellbeing event was held on the 6th of December 2021 at the Booth Lecture Theatre, Medical and Biological Sciences Building. It was jointly hosted by the School of Medicine and the School of Biology with support from the Acting head of staff wellbeing Avery Hawkins, and the Occupational Health team, who have recently expanded with a new cognitive behavioural psychotherapist, in addition to offering counselling and general health services. The event showcased many of the services and support available to staff and students at both schools and emphasized that these services are also available to PGR students. Caroline noted that the best place to access information on these services is the wellbeing pages on the university’s website or to contact Caroline via email on: firstname.lastname@example.org. She shared that there a wide range of information broken down into different categories, both from the University sources of support and approved external organisations.
Following the success of the event, many are looking forward to the next edition. While the organisers would have loved to make this a regular catch-up held at least once a semester, uncertainty around the pandemic makes it hard to commit. One can only hope the end of Covid-19 is on the horizon as we continue to stay safe. Regular updates and tips will continue to be shared on the University’s website.