Informatics Newsletter July 2021
Issue 48 of our School newsletter for students and staff.
A Message from the Head of School
The summer has arrived and through July we have been blessed with some genuine summer weather which has served to brighten our days both literally and figuratively. Work patterns have shifted for many and people are taking annual leave. My work has shifted more towards planning for the coming year, although there are still plenty of day-to-day problems to keep me busy!
Last week I attended a short Universitas21 Symposium on Mental Health in Universities. There were some interesting talks and a very stimulating panel discussion. Although the past 18 months have created additional challenges to mental wellbeing for both staff and students, it was clear that there was already an underlying problem in academia long before the pandemic started. It was interesting to hear about the University Mental Health Charter. There was discussion about the impact that even commonplace feelings like loneliness can have on the ability to learn, make new connections and be creative – all crucial skills for both staff and students in the University. I was struck by how small acts of communication and creating a sense of community can counteract feelings like loneliness and potentially have a huge impact on someone’s ability to thrive in their work or study.
As is often the case when mental well-being is discussed the topic of resilience was raised. Like me, a couple of the panel members were wary of the concept of resilience as it can seem to place responsibility on individuals and imply that mental ill-health is their own fault for not being tough enough, whereas in reality, we all have periods of greater or lesser resilience. But the discussion last week took a different turn and focused on community resilience. I think that we have developed strong community resilience within Informatics over the last eighteen months and I am keen for us to maintain it.
So, as we face the next phase of the pandemic and the changes that will come in the coming weeks, let’s face these challenges together. Open communication is key and nobody should be afraid to ask for help should they need it, and conversely we all need to be open to such requests. There are things that we can all do to boost our individual resilience, like ensuring that we take a break over the summer. But more importantly, if we pool our strengths and weaknesses we can build a truly resilient community for the next academic year.
With best wishes,
Ricardo De Oliveira Almeida started on 1st July as a Research Associate in LFCS
Lazar Valkov started on 1st July as a Research Associate in ANC
James Scott-Brown started on 1st July as a Research Associate in ILCC
Theodore Stouraitis started on 1st July as a Research Associate in IPAB
Keyhan Kouhkiloui started on 6th July as a Research Associate in IPAB
Xin Du started on 9th July as a Research Associate in IPAB
Return to Campus, Hybrid Working and Covid-19 Protective Measures
As you will be aware, the Scottish Government has confirmed that, from 19 July, physical distancing indoors could be reduced from 2m to 1m. The University has considered the practical implications of this and decided to retain 2m physical distancing across the University given the potential move to 0m on 9 August. We're therefore asking colleagues to continue to observe the 2m distancing requirements and other protective measures within our buildings, as indicated by signage within the buildings and in the building induction staff will have completed if they have had permission to return to the building.
Our current FAQs and induction materials are available under the link below.
We would also like to remind you that wearing of facemasks on campus is still required; please continue to wear them in communal areas (including corridors, pantries, kitchens and common seating areas), libraries and study spaces. Face coverings are not required when sitting in an office (including shared offices) where a distance of 2m is maintained or if there is a physical barrier (such as a perspex screen at reception). However, face coverings should be worn if moving around and entering or leaving these spaces. For more information and guidance, please check the University health and safety guidance below.
The government has confirmed that a gradual return to the office has been postponed until we move to Beyond Level 0, which SG has indicated is likely to be 9 August. We are in the process of considering how we will phase our return to campus from that point but of course, need to ensure our buildings are set up with appropriate measures recommended by the Scottish Government and the University which we will not know any earlier than early August. We do not, therefore, expect the phased return to campus to occur immediately.
The University has developed a hybrid working framework available below, which will be of interest to any staff wishing to work some of their time off-campus once we begin the return to campus. We will provide guidance to staff on how to request a hybrid working pattern as part of our return to campus guidance.
Survey on the phishing banner
Please take our 5-10 minute research survey on the "This email was sent to you by someone outside the University...." banner that appears in University emails. The survey asks about your experiences with the banner, and optionally some questions about your attitudes around computer use and online safety.
Please feel free to forward this survey on to other University members. Our aim is to collect a wide range of views and experiences from across the University.
The survey is part of a larger research project looking at how to make the tools and processes around malicious email detection easier for people to use including things like awareness training and the processes around reporting such emails to IS. It is being conducted by the Technology Usability Lab in Privacy and Security in the School of Informatics.
You can read more about the project in this newsletter article from IS below.
The research project has been reviewed by the School of Informatics ethics committee (RT5879). If you have any questions about the project, get in touch with Kami Vaniea.
Congratulations to our graduating students!
Unfortunately, the in-person graduation ceremony was cancelled this year and instead our students could watch a live-streamed virtual celebration, which included a word from both the Principal and the Chancellor of the University.
Jane and our teaching staff recorded messages for our graduating students, which can be viewed online till the end of this week.
The School of Informatics joins the TestEd project
Informatics staff and research students can support efforts to combat Covid-19 from their workplace.
The School of Informatics is now participating in the TestEd project, which provides in-house asymptomatic Covid testing using saliva samples (no nasal swabs required).
Two test booths are now open in the Informatics Forum Monday to Friday, from 9:30 to 12:30. Anyone who is a member of staff or a research student in Informatics can use these booths (even if their office is not in the Forum). Participants are encouraged to do two tests per week, spaced apart. The booths are self-service and written instructions are provided.
Participating in the project will make Informatics a safer place to work and contribute to containing the virus. It will also help the TestEd team in their efforts to develop new Covid testing methods.
Printer Changes in Informatics
During the lockdown, new working practices have developed which place far less reliance on the printing out of materials. Recognising this, and wishing to reduce the financial and environmental impact of printing across its estate, the University has created a policy on sustainable printing, the implementation of which will see printers with low levels of usage in their existing locations being redeployed to areas where new printing requirements have been identified in preference to new devices being procured for these areas.
In Informatics, the printers identified as suitable for redeployment are the small mono A4 devices located in the SW corner of each floor of the Forum and the labs on levels 3 and 5 of Appleton Tower, hardly surprising since usage levels of all of these devices have been consistently low, even before lockdown.
One of the Forum printers has already been moved to the Wilkie Building to accommodate Informatics students who have been relocated there and a second was moved last week to another part of the University.
It’s not possible at present to say when the other devices will be removed since this will depend on when new locations are identified for them. Note that the A3 colour printers will still be available on all floors of the Forum and that the colour printers on levels 4, 6 and 9 of Appleton tower will also remain.
Performance and Development Reviews (PDR)
The deadline for submitting your PDR paperwork to InfHR is 31st July 2021. Please ensure that any outstanding PDR paperwork is submitted to InfHR before this deadline.
Further information and PDR forms can be found below
Thank you to all those that have submitted the completed and signed paperwork to InfHR already.
Annual leave recording in People and Money
We are aware of a few ongoing issues with annual leave balances in People and Money and we are awaiting a fix from the systems team. Due to this, InfHR are receiving a high number of annual leave queries and therefore please expect a delay in response to these queries.
For queries regarding working patterns, please email the HR Helpline or raise a service request via the ‘Help Desk’ section of People and Money.
For further People and Money guidance, please see below.
Research Data Management Update
The Research Services team is delighted to announce that Sam will fill the Research Data Manager post during Victoria’s maternity leave (from 02 August). The Research Data Officer role will be advertised shortly – if you know anyone who might be interested, please do let them know and direct them to Victoria or Sam with any questions.
Please continue to submit details of recently accepted publications to the RDM email below. Questions related to the RDM’s broader remit should be directed to Sam,
Open Access requirements
Open Access policies remain unchanged throughout the current COVID-19 situation, and the expectation is that accepted manuscripts are deposited in Pure within three months of the date of acceptance. If there are concerns about meeting Open Access deadlines, please contact RDM (email below) and they will be happy to advise.
As always, please continue to send details of recently accepted papers and open access questions, and the team will respond to your query.
Summer Ethics office hours
The Informatics ethics committee will over the summer hold an office hour every first Monday of the month, 4pm-5pm (02 August, 06 September). The frequency of the office hour will be reviewed again at the start of Semester 1. The session is attended by one member of the ethics committee. Staff and students are welcome to join the office hour via the Teams link below and to discuss questions around ethics and ethics applications.
Please take the time to review the information available on our pages before attending, including the FAQs.
Students should discuss specific ethics questions with their supervisor before attending the office hour (open to both students and supervisors).
DroughtED: A dataset and methodology for drought forecasting spanning multiple climate zones
Pavlos Andreadis and three 4th year students: Calum McMeekin, Christoph Minixhofer, Mark Swan had a paper accepted by ICML 2021 Workshop on Tackling Climate Change with Machine Learning. The paper is a continuation of the students' project coursework for Machine Learning Practical this year.
The work takes a significant step towards a global drought prediction model and enables future such research by creating the first dataset and models for drought prediction across the Continental USA. The greatest potential impact comes from significantly lowering the bar (in available data and infrastructure) for getting predictions on drought, allowing less developed areas to capitalise on the data gathered in other regions.
The workshop took place on 23rd July.
Yellow emojis might not be as neutral as we think
Alexander Robertson, a PhD candidate at the CDT in Data Science working with Sharon Goldwater and Walid Magdy, led a study that suggests text messages and social media posts that contain yellow emojis are seen as having been written by White people. Rather than being perceived as neutral, Black and White readers associate yellow emojis with White ethnicity. The study is the first to examine how people infer aspects of another person’s identity based on their use of emojis. Previous studies have shown that people use skin-toned emojis as a way of representing their own identity.
The study will be presented at the 24th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing.
Ram among Top 100 Asian Stars
Professor Subramanian Ramamoorthy, Director of the Institute for Perception, Action and Behaviour, has been selected as one of the Top 100 Asian Stars in UK Tech 2021 for his work at Five AI. The Top 100 Asian Stars in UK Tech is a list of high achievers of Asian descent working in the digital sector in Britain. Professor Ramamoorthy’s selection for this award demonstrates a very significant level of innovation and influence in his work and research.
Zhibin (Alex) Li featured in Gizmodo's piece on robopets
Dr Zhibin (Alex) Lee from the Institute for Perception, Action and Behaviour was interviewed by Gizmodo, a science and tech website that has a monthly worldwide viewership of 21 million people. The interview concerned new possibilities of using AI and Robotics Technologies for future homes, to create robot pets, take care of the elderly, and how these new technologies will have consumer robots that will shape the way we live in the future. According to Li it’s possible that deep learning could one day be used to improve the social fluency of public-facing robots, bringing them closer to the sort of spontaneous yet familiar interaction that’s possible with living creatures. It’s certainly possible that these robots could become a fixture in nursing homes by 2030, especially if the next generation are designed to address their current shortcomings, or are packaged with other useful functions that can actively assist an elderly person’s daily living, like reminders for prescription medications.
Vaishak and Ioannis go viral with their Explainable ML report
Vaishak Belle and Ioannis Papantonis gathered quite a social media buzz on their report Principles and Practice of Explainable Machine Learning published in July in Frontiers in Big Data. the authors examine how we understand the decisions suggested by AI systems in order that we can trust them. They focus specifically on data-driven methods—machine learning (ML) and pattern recognition models in particular.
Edinburgh papers nominated for Best Paper Award at CONCUR
2 out of 4 papers nominated for the Best Paper award at the forthcoming CONCUR 2021 conference are Edinburgh papers. Authors Wen Kokke, Sam Lindley, Richard Mayr, and Eric Munday are all members of the Laboratory for Foundations of Computer Science at the School of Informatics. Nominated papers: Richard Mayr and Eric Munday Strategy Complexity of Mean Payoff, Total Payoff and Point Payoff Objectives in Countable MDPs Simon Fowler, Wen Kokke, Ornela Dardha, Sam Lindley and J. Garrett Morris Separating Sessions Smoothly CONCUR is the top international conference on the theory of concurrency and each paper had to undergo a thorough review process. The CONCUR 2021 Conference will be held on August 23rd-August 27th, 2021.
IPAB alumni start-up finds an investor
IPAB alumni, Dr Svetlin Penkov and Dr Daniel Angelov, co-founders of start-up company Efemarai successfully closed their pre-seed investment round.
Efemarai, a Sofia-based company is developing a solution to Machine Learning Operations, built on three pillars: testing the code of a machine learning algorithm, visualizing its models to understand where they fail, and debugging the code.
Outreach and Public Engagement
If you have participated in an outreach and public engagement activity in the last six months, please make sure it has been recorded by the Comms team in the directory below.
If you need to add an entry, would like to get involved in a public engagement activity or promote an opportunity that you are aware of, please use the webform below.
For the latest opportunities please check CSE PE blog for more info.
Call for content - Edinburgh Impact
Communications and Marketing have launched Edinburgh Impact: an approach to sharing inspirational content that reflects the priorities of Strategy 2030 and our institutional research themes under the following headings: Research with Impact, Inspiring Minds, Our People, Opinion, and Our Shared World.
The focus is on content (long-form written pieces and video) that has a personal element - it is not about sharing facts and figures. The approach doesn't rely on external audiences navigating our Edinburgh Impact webpages, but through actively sharing content via the University's main social media channels, including paid promotional posts/tweets, and then monitoring what works and doing more of that.
The Editorial Board has access to the REF case studies that have been recently submitted and will be liaising with the people involved in these to publish pieces over the next few months. However, they are also open to suggestions for other new content pieces that align with one or more of the Edinburgh Impact headings.
If you have any suggestions, please email contacts Kasia Kokowska, Informatics Marketing, Communications and Outreach Manager.
Call for contributions - Bang Goes the Borders festival, 18th Sept (deadline: end of Jul)
Bang Goes the Borders is returning on 18th Sept in an online format involving a mix of live and pre-recorded events aimed at children and young people, as well as activities that can be done at home. If you have anything which you believe could be of interest, please email Miranda by the end of July with a brief outline of the event/activity, target age group, duration of event/activity, and any links to materials which already exist.
Call for contributors - Meet the Expert sessions, Skills Development Scotland; deadline: early Aug
In order to bring classroom learning to life by linking to real-world applications, Skills Development Scotland’s My World of Work (MyWoW) Live team is offering Meet the Expert Live sessions for secondary school pupils and are looking for new contributors.
The sessions bring people from across a range of different sectors into the classroom (virtually) to give young people a real insight into their world of work. During a 40-minute facilitated session, the speaker talks about their workplace, their role in the company, and their education and career pathway. Pupils also can ask questions during the session, which is hosted on MS Teams Live.
The next Meet the Expert sessions will take place in the autumn, so the delivery team are looking for organisations to be signed up by early Aug. Further details can be found in this Word document [UoE login required] and a recording of a session that took place in March 2021 is also available. If you are interested in getting involved you can email Sarah Hunt.
Call for members - ADR Scotland public panel, deadline: 20th Aug
Something to circulate to your networks beyond the University as broadly as possible! ADR Scotland is looking to recruit 6-8 members of the public to expand their public panel, which meets virtually every quarter, and explore the use of public sector data for research.
Volunteers must be based in Scotland and ideally have either:
- an interest in who should have access to a person's data for research purposes, or
- are passionate about one or two subjects covered by their research, such as safer communities or children's lives, or
- have worked in an area covered by their research, such as health, care homes or education
Appointed members will bring diverse backgrounds, life experience, understanding and skills to ADR Scotland. Members are paid for their time. The deadline for applications is 5pm on 20th Aug; further details are available in this full advert.
Call for respondents - the future of UK Science and Discovery Centres
A new survey has been launched to explore the future of Science and Discovery Centres in the UK. The survey is open to anyone: those who work in science centres, visit them, or are a science communicator or informal science practitioner in any way, shape or form. The survey has been commissioned by UKRI and Wellcome and aims to support thinking around the innovations of Science and Discovery Centres over the next 10 years.
The survey should take 10-15 mins to complete and is available through this Typeform page.
Advice - Hook Your Audience - informal science engagement
Hook Your Audience is a new guide - available online for free until end-Oct 2021 - that presents a range of performance techniques to engage child/family audiences in interactive presentations. It's mainly aimed at informal educators, but it could be useful to anyone who is planning on engaging children / young people / family groups. The purpose of the guide is to encourage readers to reflect on how they grab the interest and retain the attention of the audiences they are trying to engage. Key elements throughout include focusing on emotionally connecting with your audience, as well as the importance of the performer's/communicator's character and personality in presenting their messages.
New network - Public Engagement Trainer's Forum, 7th Oct
In order to go beyond personal networks and become more inclusive, is there value in a new UK network for people who devise and deliver training in science communication and public engagement? The NCCPE and the BIG STEM Communicators Network have been exploring these questions and will be hosting their first meeting on 7th Oct for people who deliver public engagement and science communication training. This will present an opportunity to meet some new people, reflect on the training being offered, and most importantly share and reflect on some of the great work being done and how the training ecosystem could be improved.
More details and a sign-up link are available in this blog-post.
Webinars - Digital Engagement Masterclasses
The UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres recently ran three masterclasses that covered evaluation, digital storytelling, digital accessibility, and keeping communities engaged. If you are wrestling with any of these topics, the recordings and slides from each of the masterclasses are available through the ASDC website. Also on that page is a list of accessibility tools that could be worth consulting when putting content together for websites or presentations (e.g. the 'check accessibility' function that can be found in Microsoft software under the tools tab).
Staff Training Courses
We now have a page listing training courses attended by staff. You can submit your own feedback on a particular training you attended.
Professor Emily M. Bender - Meaning Making with Artificial Interlocutors and Risks of Language Technology
The School of Informatics' UKRI CDT in Natural Language Processing, in conjunction with UKRI CDT in Robotics & Autonomous Systems at Heriot-Watt University and UoE, invite you to attend a Distinguished Lecture being delivered by Professor Emily M. Bender on 25th August 2021.
Informatics Social Bulletin
Due to popular demand, we bring you a completely new and refreshed version of our Lockdown Bulletin - Informatics Social Bulletin. We have moved all the content that you found useful to our blog, so head there to find out more.
This month we collated all info Edinburgh festival junkies will appreciate, including DISCOUNTS available for the University staff.
Best of InfGeneral
This month's inf-general has been full of things for sale! We are totally beating Meadows Share with the number of items colleagues are giving away for free as well.
But this month best of inf-general award goes to David Sterratt for creating a quick and easy-to-download semester dates Outlook calendar. If you missed it, you can download it below.
Inf-general is a mailing list used to carry informal discussions, postings, requests to and from staff within Informatics. Not for official purposes. Julian Bradfield is the guardian of the inf-general who steps in to point out misuses and confirm when the inf-general should most definitely be used. If you’re new to Informatics inf-general emails can be a great source of knowledge for you: ask and you will be informed, but do remember to share the information back with the mailing list users.
Keep in Touch
For all the latest news, keep an eye on our website and social media channels!
The newsletter is produced by the Communications team.
If you have any questions or comments please get in touch!