Staff Case Studies

Prof Helen Griffiths

Professor Helen R. Griffiths: Helen is Professor in Biomedical Sciences and from 2009-2014 was the Executive Dean of the School of Life & Health Sciences. Helen was one of the first academics at Aston to benefit from a change in the University Statutes that allowed academics to work part-time. Helen reports that “part-time work generally involved attending four  five days a week, with an early finish for the school pick-up. This arrangement was by mutual agreement and gave me the flexibility I needed to build my research laboratory and pursue grant funding”. Once her children were in junior school, Helen returned to full-time work. In 2004, she was awarded the first Catherine Pasquier Prize from the European Society for Free Radical Research. And in 2009, Helen received the Aston Excellence Award for Outstanding Researcher of the Year. Having a family herself, Helen’s high profile within the University has helped to raise awareness of the benefits of part-time work and Athena Swan activities in general.

Wayne Fleary

Wayne Fleary: I started at Aston University in January 1980 as a Trainee Laboratory Technician on a Government works experience trainee course in conjunction with Aston University - it included the setting up of practical classes for undergraduate students.  A position became available in the Biomedical Facility as an Auxiliary/Lab assistant due to the building of the new Cancer Research Laboratories which opened in 1982 which lead to my position as Biomedical Technician. My duties included the screening of novel drugs for Anti cancer, diabetes and other diseases. The most recent Temozolomide, I also worked with PHD students training  them in experimental techniques for   Licence work. In 2008 the Biomed went through a restructure where I was put on 2.5 time setting up of undergraduate practical classes for Pharmacy and the other 2.5 technical support in the Biomed. In April 2011 the Biomedical Facility Manager retired so I took over the day to day running of the facility and have been in charge since then.

Steve Russell

Dr Steven Russell: Steven is a Teaching Fellow in Biology and Biomedical Sciences and from 2011 to present was previously a postdoctoral fellow in the Pharmacy department after completion of a PhD at Aston in 2002. Steven received the Aston Excellence Award for community engagement in 2011 for his STEM work with primary and secondary children and in particular his work at the Vine Walsall a charity that try’s to reintegrate students back into mainstream education. Steven has carried on this work with Walsall College as an Ambassador engaging with BTEC applied science students to encourage their entry into university education. During his postdoctoral time at Aston under Professor Tisdale and then Professor Pitt; Steven was able, along with his wife, to apply for adoption of two children. The university allowed Steven to have flexible working hours while he dealt with the courses and interviews involved and supported him in a number of ways including the use of the university counselling service. Once they were approved and match at very short notice Steven was able to take two months adoption leave which was invaluable in settling the children into their new environment and was a major contribution to the panel’s decision in match them with their children. Steven as also been allowed by the department and school to take his PG Cert to become a member of the HEA and has also been trained I health and safety with help to gain his NEBOSH general certificate. Steven has always felt supported at Aston and as part of a technical team that continue to support each other, covering when someone has to do the school run and all the other things required when you have children. 

Vivian Wang

Dr Zhuo (Vivian) Wang: Dr Wang successfully completed her medical training at undergraduate (Clinical Medicine, Tianjin Medical University) and master’s level (Clinical Immunology, Tianjin Medical University) in China. In 2006, she pursued her interest in research by carrying on her PhD research at Aston University under the supervision of Prof Martin Griffin. Subsequently, she undertook the role as Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Aston University investigating the physiological and pathological roles of Tissue Transglutaminase (TG2) in various biological systems. She identified the heparan sulphate binding site within the molecule and revealed the importance of this binding site in regulating TG2 externalization, which is essential for its physiological role in regulating angiogenesis and required for its pathological functions during fibrosis and cancer. Her research covers the most popular research subject areas, including cancer stem cells (majorly colon and breast cancer), angiogenesis and fibrotic diseases (e.g. kidney, cardiac, lung fibrosis and cystic fibrosis looking at the mechanisms involved in Epithelial Mesenchymal and Endothelial Mesenchymal Transition). She has also been actively involved in research in the biomaterials area trying to identify novel biomaterials based on collagen for bone regeneration. Recently her research interest has extended to investigate TG2 and its crosslinking products as biomarkers for fibrotic disease (such as chronic kidney disease). Dr Wang has a strong track record in research with 14 peer-reviewed research articles (plus two more under revision), 1 patent and 2 invited reviews. She has been working closely with junior group members (postdocs, PhD, Master and placement students) as their co-supervisor. She has been actively involved in grant writing including RCUK grants, EC Marie Curie proposals and grant applications to various charities. Dr Wang’s contribution to Aston University’s Research was warmly acknowledged and led to her award of the Aston Excellence Award for Early Career Research Fellows in 2013. She was chosen to represent Aston University to join the Females only Aurora Training Programme for Female Leader development in Higher Education by the Leadership Foundation. She has completed her Level 3 Award for Management and Leadership by Institution of Leadership and Management (ILM). She is an active member of the institution, taking a leading role in the Aston Early Career Researcher Forum committee and Aston University Bioethics Committee. 

Gina Rippon
Gina Rippon

Professor Gina Rippon: Gina is Professor of Cognitive NeuroImaging in the Aston Brain Centre at Aston University. Previously at the University of Warwick, she has been at Aston since 2000. She was Deputy Director of the  Neurosciences Research Institute (2001-2005), Head of Psychology (2003-2005), Deputy Head of School of Life and Health Sciences (2005-2007) , Associate Dean, Postgraduate Taught Programmes and International Relations (2007-2010). And Pro-Vice Chancellor (International) from 2012-2015. She was promoted to Professor in 2008. A cognitive neuroscientist, she has a background in psychology and physiology (studying at Bedford College and at Birkbeck College, University of London) and uses brain imaging techniques : Magnetoencephalography (MEG), functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG),  to investigate the relationship between patterns of brain activation and human sensory, cognitive and affective processes.  Most recently her work has been in the field of developmental disorders such as autism.  She has served as President of the British Psychophysiology Society (now the British Association of Cognitive Neuroscience) and has recently been made an Honorary Fellow of the British Science Association. She also writes and speaks on the use (or misuse) of neuroimaging techniques In the study of sex/gender differences, recently featured in the BBC Horizon programme “Is your Brain Male or Female?”. She has spoken on this topic at a range of venues, including the South Bank’s Women of the World festival, the Trouble Club in London, Oxford’s Skeptics in the Pub, as well as taking part in debates at the LSE and the Institute of Art and Ideas' HowTheLightGetsIn festival at Hay-on-Wye. Additionally, she is involved in campaigns to correct the under-representation of women in STEM subjects and is a member of WISESciencegrrl and Speakers4schools. Additionally Gina has two daughters, Anna (born 1983) and Eleanor (1986), Part-time working was not an effective option when they were small so it was necessary to construct a support network comprising child-minders, ultra-flexible nurseries and as many after-school and holiday camps as were affordable. Both at the time and in retrospect this was not a great solution and a greater awareness of family needs and the availability of flexible working would have made life much easier for all concerned. So Gina applauds Aston’s acknowledgment of this and feels it really important that parents should make the fullest possible use of the support on offer. 

Qasim Rafiq

Dr Qasim Rafiq: Qasim is a Lecturer in Bioprocess Engineering having joined Aston University in February 2015 from Loughborough University where he was an EPSRC E-TERM Landscape Fellow. In his first 10 months at Aston, with the support of senior staff in the School of Life & Health Science, Qasim established and now leads a new, multidisciplinary research theme within the School focusing on biomanufacture and cell-based therapy production. Since joining, Qasim has been awarded 5 research grants (Principal Investigator on 4 of them) with a total award value of > £900K from a variety of funding sources including RCUK, InnovateUK, EU Horizon2020 and direct commercial funding. During this period, he has also published 8 peer-reviewed research articles and was invited to present his research at key cell therapy and biomanufacturing conferences in Singapore, Sweden and The Netherlands. He was also appointed to the national committee of ESACT-UK, the UK Society for Cell Culture Biotechnology where he has assumed the role of General Secretary. He attributes much of this success to the mentoring he received from key individuals within the School and the encouragement and flexibility afforded to new academics to focus on developing a world-class, international research focus. Qasim commented that “the support and infrastructure provided by the School instilled in me a level of confidence that ensured that I was able to successfully embed within the School and deliver on both the teaching and research from the outset. The advice and experience of senior colleagues and academic support staff has had a profound impact on my own development”. As part of the School’s focus on undergraduate and postgraduate employability, Qasim is organising a targeted Life & Health Science careers workshop which will involve industrial and academic collaborators detailing their career trajectories and supporting Aston students. Qasim himself has benefitted from the Staff Professional Development training opportunities provided by the School and has enrolled on the Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education which confers Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (HEA). Following successful completion of the PGCert, Qasim intends to complete both the Postgraduate Diploma and Masters in Education which are offered to members of staff keen to develop and enhance their teaching skills. Qasim noted that “the commitment to staff professional development in research, teaching and enterprise is praiseworthy and will no doubt help to establish Aston University as one of the leading institutions, not just nationally, but globally. 

Photo of Derek J Hartley

Derek Hartley: Derek started working at Aston as a trainee lab technician on October 10th 2000 on a 2 year training contract. He has gone from being a junior lab technician to the sole technician for the Audiology department, to his current role as e-learning coordinator for the school. On a day-to-day basis, Derek provides support and advice to academic staff and students on the use of electronic learning tools and the virtual learning environment on Blackboard. This includes helping staff create teaching material for online courses, especially those taught to distance students. In his previous role as a lab technician, Derek’s work schedule was very much dictated by the constraints of the teaching timetable but is now afforded a lot more freedom in his time management due to the introduction of flexible working hours. Being here for 15 years, Derek says that “the campus is almost unrecognisable from how I remember it when I started - with the new accommodation buildings, extensions to the Business School, Library and many more developments. However, what hasn’t changed is the positive working environment that makes it enjoyable to work in – that’s why I’m still here after 15 years”.  

Liz moores

Dr Liz Moores: Liz was appointed as a lecturer in Psychology at Aston University in 2001 and promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2008 and Reader in 2015. She has published widely on her research interests in the fields of dyslexia, visual selective attention and working memory and was Programme Director for Psychology from 2005 to 2009, leading a significant improvement in National Student Survey score during that time. In 2011 she took on the role of Associate Dean of Taught Programmes and developed three new Joint Honours programmes for psychology. In May 2012, Liz left to go on maternity leave for twelve months, but reports “I really appreciated the opportunity to use KIT (keeping-in touch) days whilst on maternity leave so that coming back to work was not so daunting”. Liz returned in May 2013, but “… appreciated being allowed to use the holiday time I’d built up whilst on maternity leave to work only three days per week (on full pay) for a few months upon my return. Knowing that my son was just minutes away in the Aston Nursery was also extremely helpful – it’s an excellent facility that I was able to use via Aston’s salary sacrifice scheme”. Soon after returning to work, Liz was “flattered to be asked to attend the senior management advance in Cambridge” and “delighted to be asked to attend the Aurora Leadership in Higher Education course”. She has since been supported to attend a Westminster Briefing on student numbers, which has “helped develop my knowledge and leadership ability as Associate Dean and empowered me to seek more senior roles within the university”. In 2016, Liz took on the temporary post of Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor of Teaching and Learning, working on a number of strategic projects with Prof Helen Higson. Liz says “I have worked at Aston for fourteen years now, and from day one I have been surrounded by excellent female role models – I can’t imagine it any other way! ”. More recently, Liz has volunteered to be on the Athena Swan self-assessment team and says: “There is always room for improvement and I have a few ideas from my own experiences. I strongly believe that encouraging men to take a greater or more equal share in ‘home and childcare’ duties is the best way towards true equality. I am also keen that the school should have a policy to advertise as many posts as possible as ‘part time or full time’ when vacancies arise. At the moment, people are often forced into applying for full time jobs, then asking for a post to be made part-time. I think there is a wealth of untapped talent amongst people with other responsibilities at home, which we should try to unleash.” 

Naroo, Shehzad

Dr Shehzad Naroo: Unsure of which degree to pursue I took a year off after my A’levels and worked as an operation theatre orderly in a large university teaching hospital. It was an awakening into the real world and I decided I wanted to study a healthcare subject. An anaesthetist advised me to study Optometry not Medicine, a subject I knew nothing about as I had never even had an eye examination. I studied Optometry at Aston University but only had ambitions of fast cars and travel. In my hospital placement in Manchester during my pre-registration year I met an ophthalmologist Dr Stephen Doyle who fuelled my interest in research and I ended up studying for a Master’s at Manchester University, with a research project looking at some of his keratoconus patients using the emerging technology of corneal topography. At this time I was doing some locum work in a new laser refractive surgery clinic and I had a chance encounter with Professor Neil Charman. Neil was often labelled as the star of the department by other university colleagues in Manchester. He stopped me in the corridor and asked me if I knew if anyone had investigated the back of the cornea and how it changes since laser surgery is applied to the front surface. I said I am sure it doesn’t change (I was wrong and he was right of course!). I ran down the corridor to see Dr Phil Morgan, my MSc supervisor, and blurted out ‘Neil Charman knows my name!’ I was so excited that this genius of a man (note - genius in its true sense and not in the pop culture sense of today!) knew my name and so much about my work. Phil suggested I go back to Neil and say I would like to pursue a PhD with him around this topic. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to work with him that I even self-funded my studies. It was more the desire to work an ‘apprenticeship’ with Neil that lead me to a PhD, but it was a topic that was novel in an emerging field and something that I was very interested in so it worked out well. During my PhD another colleague (Sunil Shah) took up a Consultant Ophthalmology post in Birmingham mentioned to me that Aston University were looking for a new lecturer with a refractive surgery background. I accepted the job at Aston but had already planned to take a 6 week vacation to Australia and Aston were happy for me to take the first month as vacation and report for duties after the August Bank Holiday. In fact I remember waking up in tent in Arnhem Lands on 1st August 2001 in the outback of the Northern Territories and telling others in the camp-site that from today I was a university lecturer. Fast forward 15 years and I am still here! The passion for sports cars and travel remains, and I am very fortunate that my role allows me to visit other universities or attend scientific conferences in some great places. In the last 12 months I have been to the USA, Korea, Lebanon, Columbia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Italy. That side of the job is nice of course, but nowadays it’s tough to leave my family, especially with two young daughters. The university lifestyle does fit in well with my family life because there are not rigid working hours and this means that I can do the school run or attend a school assembly as required. The university has allowed me to bring in new ideas and incorporate these into new and existing programmes. I was the inaugural Programme Director for the Doctorate of Optometry and helped develop that programme. Similarly I set up the Optometry and Clinical Practice BSc and am the inaugural director of that programme too. I set up the Optometry Summer School which has become part of the Optometry and Clinical Practice BSc. My research has continued along the themes that I started with in my MSc and PhD but I have had the opportunity to grow my profile and work in areas like Sports Vision, Optometry Practice Management Strategies and Public Health around eye care. I have proudly become an optometry nerd. I have additional professional roles such as Editor in Chief of Contact Lens and Anterior Eye Journal and Global President of the International Association of Contact Lens Educators. Since around 2003 I have voluntarily helped improve and set up new optometry training programmes in many parts of the world. I have gained a lot from being an optometrist and see it as part of my role to share information and best practice. In the summer of 2015 I was very proud to be given the International Optometrist Award by the World Council of Optometry at their first World Congress. 

Dr Frank Eperjesi
Dr Frank Eperjesi: Dr Eperjesi completed a degree in Geology at the University of Birmingham in the mid-1980s and worked on the assessing the strength of the ground in preparation for the construction of London City Airport, the Dome and Canary Wharf. He then went into oil exploration mainly in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea but had excursions to the UK sector, the Med and also onshore UK at Pontefract. In the early 1990s he completed his Optometry degree at Aston University and worked for 5 years at the Birmingham and Midland Eye Hospital specialising in paediatric and geriatric eye care. After completing a PhD in 2000 Dr Eperjesi joined the academic staff at Aston as a lecturer and took on a series roles as first year, second year and third year tutor followed by Programme Director and in 2009 became head of Aston Optometry and an associate professor in 2014. His research interests lie in reading rehabilitation, the effects of diet on long term eye health and the effects of portable electronic devices on sleep. He was past-President of the British Chapter of the American Academy of Optometry and past-leader of the Birmingham Local Optical Committee.

Hannah Bartlett
Dr Hannah Bartlett: Following a successful post-doctoral research fellowship at Aston University, Dr Hannah Bartlett was encouraged by senior staff in the School of Life & Health Sciences to apply for an academic post in the School. Her application was successful and Hannah was appointed as a Lecturer in Optometry in September 2007. She quickly proved to be a popular teacher with both students and staff, and received the Aston Award for Teaching (Highly Commended) in 2008. To help Hannah gain experience and demonstrate leadership, she was encouraged by her line manager to develop the department’s much needed roles of Careers Tutor and International Tutor. Hannah’s ideas were met with enthusiasm by her line manager, fellow academics and technical staff, and she went on to develop other teaching innovations, including mock interviews for second year students. Soon after her appointment, Hannah was given the opportunity to attend the annual Grant Writing Retreat at Aston to develop further her research and grant writing skills. Hannah reports that “the retreat helped paved the way for my career progression by providing me with the confidence and necessary skills to secure grant funding”. Hannah took a period of maternity leave from August 2010 for twelve months. She reports that “the regular performance development reviews offered by the School were invaluable in preparing me for a year-long maternity leave. The guidance and sensitive support I received helped me to maximise my research output during the periods before and after my leave. Most importantly, it was clear to me that my maternity leave would not create any obstacle to career progression. Indeed, I was encouraged to apply for and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in Optometry whilst on maternity leave”. The School’s Athena Swan activities also benefited Hannah on her return from maternity leave. The School recognises that the opportunity to work part-time may be a valuable practice for some individuals, and moreover that flexible arrangements for part-time work are necessary to enable, for example, flexible child-care arrangements. Hannah reports that “my request for part time work (0.5 FTE) was met positively by my line manager and the Executive Dean, and I was given sufficient flexibility in this to fulfil my teaching and research commitments with minimal impact on family life”. While working part-time, Hannah’s representation on administrative committees was limited by her line manager to ensure adequate time would be available to concentrate on her research and teaching duties, thus allowing continued career progression within science and the University. Nonetheless, following Athena Swan principles, Hannah continued to maintain an active role in all departmental decisions through her position as a senior member of staff on the Subject Group (Optometry) Committee. Following her second period of maternity leave, which covered the 2013-14 academic year, Hannah returned to work as Admissions Tutor for Optometry, a role which she had been given the opportunity to shadow previously. Hannah had the opportunity to develop her leadership skills by being sponsored by the university to attend the Aurora Women’s Leadership programme. Subsequently she was invited to be the Programme Director for a Collaborative Partnership programme.