A message from the Vice-Chancellor about wellbeing, testing data and Cambridge research on the impact of coronavirus

I am grateful for the efforts made by staff and students across the collegiate University to ensure that our teaching, learning and research carry on despite the current and continuing uncertainties. Student representatives have been particularly active in ensuring the success of the numerous Freshers’ events, and in welcoming a new cohort of peers.  

Testing

I am especially grateful to our students for their willingness to take part in the University’s asymptomatic screening programme. It offers us the best opportunity to interrupt the transmission of the virus between households, and to protect the collegiate community as well as the wider Cambridge community. 

Results from our asymptomatic screening programme, and from the symptomatic testing hubs, are published on a weekly basis. The recent increase in the number of positive cases is consistent with the national picture, and is a reminder that – even though infection rates are still lower in Cambridge than in some other parts of the country – they are rising and we cannot be complacent. 

We know that social interactions remain by far the likeliest means of transmission for the virus. Our behaviour in the weeks ahead will be crucial to our ability to stop it from spreading further, and I urge all of us to continue to follow the public health guidance carefully. 

Student wellbeing 

My thoughts are with students and staff who are self-isolating to help prevent further transmission within the University and wider community. I recognise how challenging this will be, particularly for students who find themselves living away from home, and who may be feeling cut off. 

The University and the Colleges will continue to do all they can to ensure that all our students are supported, and do not feel alone. I urge any students feeling overwhelmed to contact their college tutors, or to reach out to the University’s student counselling services. The University’s Student Wellbeing pages have valuable advice on mental health and self-care. Please know that, alongside the available digital resources, there are many colleagues across the University and the Colleges that are able to help. 

Staff wellbeing 

With the academic year in full swing, many of us are having to deal with our ordinary working duties on top of the countless new (and often pressing) tasks that have emerged as a result of the pandemic. Across the University there are real concerns about people’s workloads.  

Not all work can – or should – be paused, but I ask that leaders and their teams reflect carefully on what specific tasks or projects need to be given precedence. Not everything we do is urgent, and some things may have to be prioritised over others. Our workloads, and those of our colleagues, can be improved if we think ahead. I have asked my own team to identify strands of work that we can slow down or pause for now. In particular, when asking colleagues to do something we must be mindful of their time, their priorities, and any other constraints they may be under. When conveying a sense of urgency, we should ask ourselves if it is really justified. 

Although I know that many of us are fed up with life in front of screens, I do want to point you to the University’s Staff Wellbeing pages, which offer some helpful resources for anyone currently feeling under pressure from work. LinkedIn Learning, available to all University and College staff and students, has useful guidance on practical subjects like how to manage your time when working from home – as well as fun and informative mini-courses on a wide range of non-work-related topics. 

Keep moving 

We all know that regular physical activity – an important part of everyone’s wellbeing –requires more effort as the days get shorter. To help us all keep moving, the University’s Sports division has launched new activities aimed at helping us all maintain our physical and mental fitness. These include a “Couch to 5 Km” programme for novice runners, and a daily 15 minute drop-in online meditation session run by the University’s Mindfulness team.  

Buildings   

We have now completed the process of checking and reopening the nearly 400 buildings that make up the University estate. This has been possible thanks to the hard work and patience of many colleagues over the past several months. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you –Heads of Institution, Departmental administrators and managers, colleagues in our Estates division – for helping to ensure that our buildings are as safe and secure as possible, and for helping to protect the health and wellbeing of people in your institutions.  

Should you require any additional buildings-related assistance or advice, please contact the University’s Safe Space Team.  

Tackling COVID-19 

Our scholars and researchers continue to offer essential insights into the pandemic and its impact. Professor Sarah Jayne-Blakemore’s work on social isolation in children and adolescents feels especially important at the moment. It was fascinating to read about the launch of a new online game, developed in partnership between the University of Cambridge and the UK government, which aims to “inoculate” players against the fake news and conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19.    

And finally… 

I finish this update by drawing attention to the opening, this weekend, of a new exhibition at Kettle’s Yard. “Alfred Wallis Rediscovered” brings together over sixty rarely shown drawings and paintings by the Cornish fisherman and self-taught artist. Not only does it emphasise Wallis’ role in the development of British modern art, but it also reminds us that many of his expressive works were created as a way to cope with spells of isolation and loneliness. 

This exceptional exhibition, instigated by the rediscovery of three of Wallis’ sketchbooks, was not part of Kettle’s Yard’s planned calendar of activities, so the gallery is fundraising to support it. I hope many of you can visit. 

With best wishes,

Stephen

Professor Stephen J Toope
Vice-Chancellor