Happy gene research puts Elaine in the spotlight
Imagine receiving a call from American TV producers asking if you would
mind genetically testing the well known actor Michael J Fox to see whether
he has a gene that will make him optimistic or pessimistic.
That is exactly what happened to Professor Elaine Fox, whose ‘happy
gene’ research, hailed as a breakthrough in understanding why some people
are highly resilient to stress, while others are susceptible to the
negative impact of stressful life events, has generated major media
interest worldwide in the last two months.
Professor Elaine Fox
Among the dozens of press, radio and television interviews conducted by
Professor Fox in recent weeks, she was also flown to New York to take part
in an ABC TV programme called Adventures of an Incurable Optimist, in
which Michael J Fox visits people across the globe to explore the nature
of optimism and its transformative power.
As part of the programme Professor Fox was asked to test the actor,
renowned for maintaining an optimistic outlook despite a long-term battle
with Parkinson’s Disease, to see whether he had the so-called ‘happy gene’
identified by the research.
Professor Fox said: ‘It was fantastic to take part in the programme
which attracted 10.6 million viewers and did indeed show that Michael had
the variation of the gene which we have shown is linked to a tendency to
look on the bright side of life. The interest from the media and the wider
public in this work has been fantastic as I think it’s crucial to try to
use these opportunities to communicate research as widely as possible.’
And things are far from quietening down with invitations to take part
in two major BBC television programmes in the coming weeks. Professor Fox
is also hoping to attract funding for further research which she believes
in the long term has the potential to help medical professionals tailor
make therapies and interventions for those people who suffer from
depression or anxiety.
On your bike
University staff are being urged to ditch their cars for the day as
part of National Bike Week, which runs until June 21.
To entice people to opt for two wheels instead of four on Bike To Work
Day on 16 June, all cyclists will get a free coffee and muffin and a
discount breakfast voucher. Those arriving by bike for the first time this
year will get a free breakfast.
There will also be a challenge to see which University department can
boast the most staff who cycle to work that day.
Compared to other major employers in the Colchester area, the
University has a good track record for the amount of staff and students
who cycle. However, the University’s Transport Policy Co-ordinator Jo
Leyland said the figures could be better.
‘Cycling to work means you save money, it is good for your health and
good for the environment,’ she said. ‘Cycling just once or twice a week
and making it part of you routine can make quite a difference to your
wellbeing and your pocket.’
The university will also have a display in Colchester town centre on 18
June for the Tour Series Colchester event - when the town centre will be
closed to traffic for a dramatic road cycling race.
The University’s events for National Bike Week culminate on Sunday 21
June with a treasure hunt and bring-your-own barbecue on the Colchester
The University already has a number of initiatives to encourage more
staff and students to cycle including bike sales every term and weekly Dr
Bike sessions on Friday outside the library.
Other University green transport schemes include the Estate Management
Section joining up with Wombat Car Club to have a car club vehicle based
at Colchester Campus. This may be rolled out to other sections/departments
in the future.
Essex celebrates its internationalism
It is a well-known fact that Essex is the UK’s most internationally
diverse campus university, with students drawn from 130 countries. But
little thought has been given to the international diversity of its staff.
This is all about to change thanks to a new project as part of Essex
Futures - the vice-chancellor’s leadership programme.
Dr Nicolas Geeraert, from the Department of Psychology, who is helping
lead the project, said: ‘We want to celebrate the international diversity
of our staff and also help people from overseas who are starting to work
Currently 24 per cent of the University’s 2,000 staff are non-British
and come from 76 nations. Whilst there are many support services for
overseas students, there is little support for overseas staff.
The project will include producing a light-hearted guide to British
culture for new overseas staff and a website offering a wealth of
practical information about living in the UK.
‘We are a very international campus but very British in the whole way
we operate,’ explained Belgium-born Dr Geeraert.
Other ideas in the pipeline include a buddy/mentor scheme where members
of staff or a host family has regular contact with a new member of staff.
On Monday 22 June a social event for all staff is planned at the Mondo
restaurant at the Colchester Campus from 5pm to celebrate the
international diversity of the University’s staff. Staff will be invited
to show where they are from by putting a mark on a world map, and a prize
will be given to the person who has travelled the furthest.
‘It is all about recognising that people come from afar to work at the
University,’ added Dr Geeraert.
There are also plans for a more permanent reminder of the University’s
international diversity with three colour-coded maps to be displayed on
one of the campus’s squares.
Also in the printed June edition of Wyvern:
- Doctor magic
- Lord Puttnam speaks to Essex futures
- Campus improvements take shape
- Hotel school plan for Wivenhoe House
- Conference discusses girls and human rights
- Foraging offers unusual free food for lunch
- Honours for University's sporting heroes