Community building with the IMPS Sports Day

IMPS sports day attendees

In this post, Apple Chew looks at the importance and practicalities of building staff-student communities, focusing on a sports day she co-organised with funding from the Student Partnership Agreement. More than 70 members of the IMPS community participated in the fun, morale-boosting event. Apple is a Molecular Plant Science PhD student. This post is part of the Student Partnership Agreement Hot Topic.

The sports day was an inclusive community-building project for all staff and students who work in the Daniel Rutherford building, where the Institute of Molecular Plant Science (IMPS) is housed. This sports day was no ordinary sports day: it included games that required technical skills of a scientist, such as measuring accuracy, speed calculation, and many more. This event was aimed to help integrate new and old students and staff, of all ages and ethnicities, into the community in a fun way that will create memorable experiences and help to (re)create a resilient community, particularly in post Covid-19 times.

Figure 1. Examples of different activities on the sports day. This included pipette tip filling, blindfold measuring, stacking pots, pipette tip javelin ejection.

How did the whole thing start?

The idea started from a casual lunch gathering in the Rutherford kitchen in December 2021. Liat Adler briefly said, “It would be so fun if we (the community) can compete with each other, like a sports day”. This kicked off a stream of conversation about how we can bring something we enjoyed so much in school back to the university and make it just as fun for adults.

Liat and I then recruited Sophie Haupt, the plant facility manager of the IMPS department, who was the only person who could turn this idea into a reality. Sophie has worked in IMPS for more than a decade and has previously organised many events for the department.

Within the span of five days, in the second week of January the organising committee sent in an application to the Student Partnership Agreement Small Project funding and successfully obtained financial support from the Institute of Academic Development.

Why a sports day?

A pre-event community survey found that 67% of IMPS occupants recognised only ‘some people’ in the building, and roughly 60% felt they were a small part of the community (Figure 2). This suggests that the IMPS department should make their occupants feel more appreciated and valued in IMPS. This can be addressed by organising more social events within the department. A few participants commented that they don’t see people outside the lab as much as they wanted to due to the layout of the building and lack of social spaces (except our small kitchen).

Three pie charts detailing the results of the pre-event survey. Across three charts, students and staff record feeling isolated.
Figure 2. Pre-event community survey with a total of 28 responses from IMPS staff and students.

A departmental sports day would allow students and new staff to meet people that they usually do not see inside their lab environment, but who are important for the functioning of the workplace (e.g., media and wash-up staff, as well as workshop cleaners). The competitive element of a sports day is a great chance for everyone to network and build teamwork and respect for others. A fun community event, we hoped, would hopefully improve participants’ mental health by promoting a sense of wellbeing and belonging.

How did it go?

During lunchtime on 17 June 2022, we had more than 70 staff, students, and family members turn up to the department barbecue and potluck. There was a buzzing atmosphere with lots of chatting and food, something we had dearly missed for the past three years of Covid-19. A huge thank you to Sophie for organising the barbecue and to volunteers who became chefs de partie.

Figure 3. Composition of players’ in the sports day. It was a mixture of summer undergraduate students, PhD and Masters students, research assistants (RA), principal investigators (PI), postdoctoral researchers, technical staff and others (e.g., family members).

After charging our batteries, we moved on to the Olympic games. We had eight teams of five players for the sports day. The players were a diverse mixture of summer undergraduate students, PhD and Masters students, research assistants, principal investigators, postdoctoral researchers, technical staff, and others, such as family members (Figure 3). Games included the ‘protocol race’, flower pot stacking, science charades, guessing games, and blindfold measuring. It was heart-warming to see so much laughter and fun in the community. We were lucky with the weather and had a brilliant time.

The post-event feedback indicated that:

  • 94% of the participants would like the sports day to be organised again next year
  • 83% of participants met more than 4 new people outside of their lab
  • Most participants agree that the sports day was useful for meeting new people
  • 70% of participants felt like a big part of the IMPS community following the event

Aligning with IMPS’s sustainability goals, the items purchased and resources developed for the IMPS sports day can be reused by other institutes or schools if they wish to organise their own sports day event.

We would like to thank Ella Catherall for being our photographer for the day, and Heather Jones for being our timekeeper and scorekeeper. We would also like to thank all the volunteers who made this event a success and the Institute of Academic Development for funding this incredible event.

Yen Peng (Apple) Chew

Apple is a PhD student in the Molar Lab. For her PhD project, she is developing tools to enhance CRISPR-Cas genome editing in model green microalgae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and investigating the repair mechanisms during editing. She enjoys hiking, dancing, and crochet.

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