Conference Preparations and the Fear of “Networking”

It’s that time of year again. I’m getting ready to pack a small suitcase, (hopefully) board a train (or maybe a replacement bus service…) and head off to a conference, armed with a precious memory stick containing my all-important PowerPoint presentation.

I’m very likely to lose the memory stick en route (which is OK, because I’ll already have sent a copy to the conference organisers by email, and they tend to be less flaky than I am) and will arrive full of coffee and nerves, trying to persuade my reluctant brain to come up with useful opening conversational gambits to use during the dreaded “networking” sessions.

You may be one of those blessed with natural social ability, but for me the early stages of networking are always painful. The only way to get through them is to keep reminding myself just how useful they can be. This year, I am heading to London for my 3rd Valuing Nature conference, and while looking at the conference programme on their website I stumbled across a blog post I wrote about my first Valuing Nature event, which also took place in London – the Business Impact School in 2017.

In it I wrote that “perhaps the most valuable resource of all those provided by the Business Impact School was contact with other researchers, working in areas which were similar, but also in many ways very different to my own. I met people researching epigenetics, space weather and virtual reality, to name but a few, but the common thread was a desire to care for our planet and its people. Thank you all for a truly positive experience.”

It’s true. In many ways I fear networking at conferences, but once the initial awkward stages are over and I’ve begun to actually talk to people, I realise how lucky I am to be able to meet a diverse range of people with interests which differ from, yet overlap with my own. Bring on Valuing Nature 2019, and I’ll try very hard not to lose my memory stick.

Is your conceptual model robust?

Once again today, I’m not sure whether to be grateful to Twitter for pointing me toward an incredibly useful resource, or irritated with myself due to the apparent ease with which I can be sidetracked from what I am supposed to be doing.

Either way, a Tweet pointed me towards a paper [Low, J. (2019) A Pragmatic Definition of the Concept of Theoretical Saturation. Sociological Focus 52:2, 131-139. doi: 10.1080/00380237.2018.1544514] this morning. It has some excellent advice for anyone undertaking to construct theory through qualitative inquiry. More specifically, it’s very useful for those of us interested in Grounded Theory Method.

So impressed was I by the  paper, that I felt compelled to spend a large chunk of my day creating a figure which summarises the questions Low asks in her conclusion, where she suggests that we can establish whether theoretical saturation has been reached by interrogating the robustness of the conceptual model produced. She infers that we have reached theoretical saturation if the conceptual model is shown to be robust.

I think Low provides a comprehensive set of questions, which any qualitative researcher might productively ask of their analysis, model or theory.  If my summary is of any use to anyone else, it will make me feel a lot better about having spent such a lot of time on it!


Citations used in the figure are referenced below:

Corbin, J.M. and Strauss, A.L. (1990) Grounded Theory Research: Procedures, Canons, and Evaluative Criteria. Qualitative Sociology 13 (1):3–21. doi: 10.1007/BF00988593

Glaser, B.G. (2001) The Grounded Theory Perspective: Conceptualization Contrasted with Description. Mill Valley, CA: The Sociology Press

Silverman, D. (1998) The Quality of Qualitative Health Research: The Open-Ended Interview and Its Alternative. Social Sciences in Health 4 (2):104–18.

Strauss, A.and Corbin, J.(1990) Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Williams, M. (2000) Interpretivism and Generalisation. Sociology 34 (2):209–24. doi: 10.1177/S0038038500000146

What’s climate change got to do with frog ebola?

Latest research from my Masters supervisor, Dr. Price. Interesting analysis of the inter-relationships between climate change, infectious disease and biodiversity.

Going viral - a world of infections

For ten years I’ve been working on a viral disease of amphibians (and sometimes reptiles and fish) caused by ranaviruses. We’ve just published some new research showing how changes to the climate have been facilitating the spread of this disease and leading to some very serious outcomes for UK frogs. This blog post briefly covers the background to this important wildlife disease and the findings of this latest research.

  • ranavirus disease (ranavirosis) is a pretty nasty viral disease in frogs, typified by systemic haemorrhaging
    • what that means is the frogs bleed throughout their bodies, something akin to what can be seen in the human disease caused by ebola virus.
  • Diseased animals usually die.
  • The disease is already widespread in England, where it kills the adult frogs, and has been shown to have caused population numbers to decline by more than 80% in ponds in south-east England…

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Health in Wellbeing and Wellbeing in Health

yin-and-yang-152420_1280I recently attended a research showcase at my university, where I heard about the achievements of a diverse range of research groups from across the institute. There were reports about studies into the origins of our universe, human trafficking and musical cultures. Of particular interest to me were the presentations from research groups looking at aspects of health and/or wellbeing. One researcher mentioned the parodox involved in talking about health and wellbeing, as if they are two separate entities. In her opinion, health is part of wellbeing. I completely agree.

The Office for National Statistics in the UK assesses your personal wellbeing by estimating:

  • Life satisfaction
  • The extent to which you feel the things you do in life are worthwhile
  • Happiness
  • Anxiety

Your satisfaction with life depends on your feelings about the condition of your health, relationships, work and environment, amongst other things. So the condition of your health contributes to your personal wellbeing.

However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined health, since 1948, as,

a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Doesn’t this also suggest that wellbeing contributes to your health?

Of course it does. Health and wellbeing are intertwined and interdependent. Wellbeing has the broader definition, however, encompassing elusive concepts such as happiness, which are not always included in traditional estimations of health. It might be useful to think about wellbeing as a dynamic state, while imagining health as a resource, not unlike the number of lives you might have left in a video game.

So, while your state of wellbeing will influence your store of health (or the number of lives you have left), it is simultaneously affected by that same store of health.

The Otters’ Children

I’m sharing this beautiful story, which speaks of so many things, I can’t begin to explain them. So I’ll shut up and let you read it.

the sustainable academic

Earlier this year, there was a call about a story competition. I needed a break, having been caught up in reading pretty dry academic text, and this sounded like fun. I was working on a story about a worm whisperer (no surprises there!) telling the tale of a woman who was able to communicate with worms and helped improve composting. My brain was in story mode and I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

Then I had two dreams, one night after the other. The first night, I dreamt of a small, squat tower in a green land and watched as red rivers bubbled up from the four corners of the tower. The second night, I dreamt of otter women going out into the land and communicating in their varied ways. Both dreams were vivid and stayed with me through the days that followed. I’m not sure what these dreams say about my…

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Jill and the NHS Funding Maze


Within the next month or so, a panel of three North East Lincolnshire GPs will decide whether one of my closest friends will receive care, which her hospital doctors have recommended, at a specialist centre. Till that decision is made, she will remain in the stroke unit at her local hospital.

This post is a slight departure from my usual subject as although it concerns health, it’s really about human health, without an obvious link to animal health or wildlife. Still, you might forgive me if I tell you that the human whose health is under discusssion is a dedicated veterinary nurse.

Jill’s Story

First, let’s be clear. My friend (let’s call her “Jill”) did not have a stroke. She suffered a brain haemorrhage in March this year. She was driving home from her job as a nurse manager at a busy charity veterinary hospital when it happened, very suddenly and with no warning. She managed to stop the car at the side of the road, where she was found by another friend and then transferred to hospital.

After considerable delay, while she was assessed and then waited for ambulance transfer, she was transferred to a second hospital, where she received life-saving brain surgery. Jill’s husband is devoted to her, and was shocked by the suddenness of her injury, the cause of which is unknown. However, he, I, and all her other friends were beyond delighted when Jill began to make a slow but steady recovery. We are all incredibly grateful to the amazing team who performed her brain surgery and immediate after-care. Then Jill was transferred to the stroke unit at a third hospital, her local one, for ongoing care.

On her arrival at her third and current hospital, we were advised that the plan was likely to be to move her again, to a dedicated neuro-rehabilitation centre, as soon as a bed became available. This was 3 months ago. Just over 4 weeks ago, Jill’s husband (Jill is lucid, but has a tracheotomy tube in situ and cannot communicate easily, so her husband is the main point of communication with the hospital staff caring for her) was told that there was categorically no funding available for patients from the stroke unit to receive care at the Neuro-rehabilitation centre. We questioned this.

Neuro-rehab funding

The NHS funding Maze

On putting this question to representatives of a number of NHS organisations, we discovered that an individual funding request (IFR) was required. This needed to be sent to the North East Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group (NELincs CCG). Although the Neuro-rehabilitation Centre in question is part of the same NHS Foundation Trust as the hospital where Jill is currently a patient, the Clinical Commissioning Group for her area (NELincs CCG) only commissions activity at the centre on a patient specific basis.

Therefore, the consultant responsible for my friend’s care in her local hospital (Diana, Princess of Wales Hospital, Grimsby) needed to make an IFR before a referral could be made. Unfortunately, it seems that my friend’s consultant was initially unaware of this requirement. This is perhaps understandable, given the dynamic complexity of the NHS funding maze.

UK Health system organisation

We helped the hospital to make the request (Jill’s husband actually sat in front of the computer with a junior doctor at the hospital, to help fill out the online form) ten days ago, but the delays resulting from a lack of awareness about the requirement for an IFR mean that Jill had already been in the stroke unit for more than 2 months before the request was even submitted. NELincs CCG states that a decision in response to an IFR “will usually be provided within 40 working days of receipt of the request where all relevant information required is available”.

Through no fault of her own, the submission of Jill’s funding request has been delayed, and it could be another month or more before we find out if funding will be allocated for her to receive the care of which she has been in desperate need for 3 months already, and which doctors at her hospital and the neuro-rehabilitation centre are in full agreement that she requires.

Meanwhile, Jill remains in a stroke unit, which is far from the ideal environment to promote her recovery. Until her brain injury, Jill was not only a wonderful wife and friend, but a vital, productive member of society. We want her to have the best possible chance of recovering that vitality. Unfortunately, funding procedures are delaying Jill’s access to appropriate care. If funding is refused by the panel of three GPs in whose hands the decision rests, none of whom I believe have ever met Jill or specialise in neuro-rehabilitation following a brain injury, she may even be prohibited from receiving that care at all. We have no idea what happens then.

Planetary Health

The Lancet has put a new kid on the block. And there are strong similarities with global health, one health and conservation medicine disciplines.  It would appear that a real desire to understand the interdependencies of human health and the health of other biotic and abiotic elements of our world is emerging.

Why worry about frogs?


First off, I should point out that the image shown here is of a toad, not a frog.  The honest truth is that I wasn’t sure what it was when I photographed it.  I was walking with my daughters in a childrens’ play area near a local wildlife reserve when we spotted it hopping across our path. The kids were delighted, and so was I. It was only later on that my learned colleague, Stephen Price, pointed out that it was a toad. You see, I am in no way an expert on amphibians. I just like them, and in the course of some recent research, I happen to have also discovered that they are terribly important to human wellbeing.

In case, like me, you are also not an amphibian expert (and if you are, please feel free to skip to the next paragraph, or perhaps to comment on this post and correct me where necessary – it is highly likely that some corrections are needed!), amphibians include frogs, toads, newts, salamanders and caecilians (which look a bit like large earthworms, and live almost entirely underground or underwater: see Amphibian Ark).  My fascination with amphibians, like that of many people, arose from the astonishment I felt as a child when witnessing the process of metamorphosis taking place, as frogspawn became tadpoles and then froglets, in my own back garden.

This fascination, combined with my veterinary interests, led to my recent publication of an article on the detection and reporting of an important amphibian disease, Ranavirus. I found that there is a need to harmonise methods of testing for and reporting the disease, to improve the collection of data which will help us to understand and perhaps mitigate the effects of the disease.  It’s a difficult task, to gather information from many sources and present it so that it can be utilised and understood.  You may ask, why is it worth the effort?

In the first place, diseases like Ranavirus can drastically affect numbers of amphibians. The Center for Biological Diversity asserts that earth is currently in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event of the past half billion years. The global amphibian assessment of 2004 found that amphibians were more threatened, and were declining more rapidly, than either birds or mammals. Amphibian declines are significant.

In the second place, humans trade in amphibians, and the movement of amphibians in this trade has contributed to the emergence of ranavirus as a threat to amphibian survival. We are culpable in the spread of the disease, and also capable of limiting it.  But again, you could ask why? Why does it matter if there are a few less frogs around? There are so many things to concern us in the world right now.  Do frogs (or toads, newts, whatever) really matter?

Of course, you’ve guessed that I am going to tell you that they do.  But they really, really do. Because to lose species upon species of amphibian is to lose huge amounts of genetic material. This material, the earth’s biodiversity, is our planet’s bank account.  To cope with changes (and there are certainly plenty of those around), the living planet needs to have the genetic capacity to adapt.  Apart from being a genetic resource, amphibians can be sources of food and of medicines. They also perform important functions (or ecosystem services). By eating and competing with mosquitoes, they control numbers of these insects, which transmit diseases such as malaria.   They are involved nutrient cycling, which produces fertile soil, so they assist in food production, even for those of us who don’t eat frogs.

Amphibians are fascinating.  I want my children’s children to see them metamorphosing, just as I did.  So I think they are inherently worth protecting.  But perhaps a bigger motivation is that if we don’t protect these species, our own species will suffer as a consequence.

Read more on the importance of amphibians in my article for The Conversation, on Great Crested Newts.

Valuing nature, valuing people

Ancient oak at Windsor Great ParkI was lucky to be selected attend Valuing Nature’s Business Impact School this year, hosted in the heart of the City of London. We heard from prominent members of the business and public sectors about the importance of valuing nature, with many speakers focusing on the concept of “Natural Capital”.  A highlight for me was a talk from Ruth Barden of Wessex Water, who described a project which funds link workers who liaise with the National Health Service and NGOs to provide natural solutions to health problems.  If a patient is identified as being likely to benefit from time spent in the natural environment, such as working in a park or community garden, they are referred to the link worker, who arranges a placement.  I had heard of such “green prescriptions” while pursuing my own research, but the potential benefit for Wessex Water from this arrangement is a reduction in pharmaceutical residues in river water, due to reduced prescriptions of medicines.  A true win-win arrangement, and an inspiring concept!

On our third and final day together, a visit to Windsor Great Park was arranged, where we were privileged to be shown round by the park’s Conservation Adviser, Ted Green, MBE. Ted’s boundless enthusiasm for trees, soil and vital microorganisms, and his vast and varied experience in nature conservation, made for a truly stimulating and inspiring morning.  He told of his struggle to persuade park managers to preserve old trees and keep non-living wood in situ, rather than tidying it all away.  Ted suggests that the modern human desire to make everything tidy and orderly is at odds with nature’s way of making use of every bit of organic material to enrich soil and support flourishing life. This message resonated with me. Many of us live in towns and cities, and I believe that it’s important to make the most of the somewhat limited green spaces available to us. We all view nature differently, however. Some of us like to see wild things growing, where others would see only weeds.  I think Ted would contend that if we are to take care of our soil, and the hugely important micro-organisms within it, we need to stop trying to kill off “weeds” and start valuing them for their contributions to complex ecosystems.