Celebrate Our Staff – June 2023

Join us as we celebrate our colleagues’ achievements across the University from the past few weeks.

The people featured in Celebrate Our Staff for June 2023: Ashani Ranathunga, Suparna Mitra, Jasjit Singh, Lauren Gascoigne, Marie Van de Sande, Martin Lomas with Dan Simms, Hedwig Verhagen and Jonathan Campbell

Featured this month:

Civil engineer cements reputation

Dr Ashani Ranathunga

Dr Ashani Ranathunga been named one of the world’s top 100 Asian scientists.

Dr Ranathunga, from the School of Civil Engineering, is part of the Asian Scientist 100, compiled annually by Asian Scientist Magazine, which celebrates the success of the region’s best minds and highlights their achievements across a range of scientific disciplines. 

To be recognised, honourees must have received a national or international prize for research during the preceding year or have ‘made a significant scientific discovery or provided leadership in academia or industry’.

Dr Ranathunga was the recipient of 2022 OWSD-Elsevier Foundation Award for turning industrial and agricultural waste into value-added products and using them as raw materials for eco-friendly construction and development projects.

She said: “I am humbled and overjoyed to be included among the top 100 scientists in Asia for 2023. It is an honour to be listed alongside my role models – the very individuals who inspired and guided me on this research journey.  

“This recognition not only validates my efforts, but also shines a light on the potential of early-career researchers from developing countries. I am grateful for this acknowledgment and excited to continue pushing the boundaries of science.” 

Dr Ranathunga joined Leeds in March 2022. Prior to that, she had a four-year tenure as a lecturer in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Moratuwa in her native Sri Lanka.  

Theology academic takes up international post

Dr Jasjit Singh

Dr Jasjit Singh has been appointed as the first visiting chair of Sikh studies at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Dr Singh, from the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science, will take up the position in August.

The role is a collaboration between the NUS’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Singapore’s Central Sikh Gurdwara Board. It’s the first Sikh professorship in Asia outside the Indian subcontinent.

The local Sikh community raised funds for the post and Dr Singh was appointed after a global search for the inaugural recipient.

NUS hopes it will be an ‘opportunity for students to not only learn more about Sikh culture and its way of life through academic scholarship, but also to amplify research findings to a broader audience’.

Dr Singh said: “I am thrilled to have been asked to become the very first visiting Sikh studies professor at the National University of Singapore. 

“Facilitating engagement between academia and communities has been at the heart of my career so far, and I look forward to continuing this by working closely with colleagues at the NUS and with the Sikh community in Singapore.”

Since completing his PhD in 2012, Dr Singh has developed a track record in academic and non-academic publishing, and has regularly appeared in the media speaking about contemporary issues relating to religion in society. 

He also acts as an adviser to policymakers, and has helped establish forums for policy and community engagement to help address issues facing Sikhs globally.

His current research examines the intersection between the Sikh tradition and media, with a particular focus on the impact of Sikh digital media. He was invited to 10 Downing Street in 2018 and presented his research to the then Prime Minister.

Prestigious lectureship for astronomer

Dr Marie Van de Sande

Dr Marie Van de Sande has won a prestigious national prize in the field of astronomy.

Dr Van de Sande, from the School of Physics and Astronomy, is the winner of the 2023 Caroline Herschel Prize Lectureship, awarded by the Herschel Society in association with the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS).

The Herschel Society is a UK charity that aims to spread knowledge of the life and work of William Herschel, who famously discovered Uranus in 1781. 

The lectureship is awarded annually to promising women astronomers who are in the early stages of their careers, and is named after William Herschel’s sister, Caroline, who was also an important astronomer.

Dr Van de Sande will deliver a lecture – Dying Stars Seeding the Universe – at the University of Bath in November, and again at an RAS Public Lecture in London.  

The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellow at Leeds said: “I’m very honoured to receive this reward and look forward to talking all about astrochemistry in Bath later this year!

“In my lecture, I will focus on the chemistry that occurs throughout the stellar outflows of dying solar-like stars, and how the dust particles produced in those unique environments go on to form the building blocks of new generations of stars and planets. I will also look closer to home and discuss how our solar system could influence the final breaths of the sun.”

Dr Van de Sande will be leaving Leeds in September to begin the next stage of her promising career when she becomes an Oort Fellow at Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands.

New book looks at parenting issue

Hedwig Verhagen with her book ‘Parenting a child affected by child to parent violence and aggression’

Hedwig Verhagen is the author of a new book.

Parenting a child affected by child to parent violence and aggression’ is part of the ‘Parenting Matters’ series by CoramBAAF, an organisation that supports agencies and professionals who work with children and young people.

Hedwig (Hetty), from the School of Healthcare, has been working on the issue of child to parent violence and aggression (CPVA) for more than a decade. 

She also works as a therapeutic social worker two days a week, supporting with children who have experienced adoption, kinship or foster care – an area where many of them have experienced childhood trauma.

In the book, Hedwig’s starting point is that children who show aggression to adults need the same kind of therapeutic and nurturing support and understanding as more overtly vulnerable children.

Hedwig said: “This was the first book I have ever written, and I really enjoyed the process. I am looking forward to talking about it with our social work students, as CPVA is a phenomenon they are likely to come across on placement and in their future careers.

“I also hope it may inspire them to really throw themselves into a subject that interests them and want to learn more about. I’ve been doing that with CPVA for more than 10 years and I am still fascinated by the subject.”

The ‘Parenting Matters’ series is read by parents and carers, but also social workers, teachers and healthcare professionals. The books function as ‘quick reads’ and feature practical strategies.

IT Services celebrate at awards ceremony

The winners of the IT awards 2023. Chief Information Officer Dan Simms shaking hands with Martin Lomas, John Dodds, Kayva Manivannan, Bex Cattran, Andrew Rae, Daniel Garner and Charlotte Pakes.

The winners of the IT awards 2023. Top row: Martin Lomas, Chief Information Officer Dan Simms, John Dodds and Kayva Manivannan. Bottom row: Bex Cattran, Andrew Rae, Daniel Garner and Charlotte Pakes.

The IT Services team have been celebrating the past year with the IT Awards 2023.

Held as part of the IT staff conference, it was a chance to tip the cap to those who’ve delivered great service to the University community during the past year – from completing tricky projects to helping others, technical wizardry and much more.  

There were more than 150 nominations across the 10 categories. Members of the IT team nominated each other in nine of these. The final prize – the Recognition of Excellence Award – saw colleagues across the University able to nominate those who had made a positive difference to their role or department. This accolade was won by Business Relationship Manager, John Dodds.

Martin Lomas, Interim Head of IT Operations, was winner of the ‘Best person to have in a meeting’ award. He said: “I’m so proud of what we do and so pleased with the recognition. Given how much time I spend in meetings it’s good to know I might just still be making a difference!

“It is so amazing to see colleagues in person and get the buzz of what we’re doing recognised by each other and our customers!”

Dan Simms, Chief Information Officer, said: “It was a real boost to see all the nominations and the kind words showing how IT staff are valued. Congratulations go to John and everyone who was nominated in all the categories.

“One poignant category was The John Cheseldine Technical Excellence award in memory of John, a lovely guy and valued member of the IT team who passed away in January.”

Andrew Rae was the winner of this award.

The full list of winners and nominees can be found on the IT website.

National recognition for apprentices

Jonathan Campbell and Lauren Gascoigne

Two IT apprentices are also celebrating their achievements, this time at a national awards ceremony.

Jonathan Campbell was awarded the highly-commended prize in the Business Analyst Apprentice of the Year category at the BCS IT & Digital Apprenticeship Awards.

Fellow Leeds apprentice Lauren Gascoigne was also a finalist in the same category.

The Leeds apprentices made up two of the four final shortlist places, after many nominations were submitted from across the country.

Lauren and Jonathan both work in the IT Business Analysis team, which looks at how the University can best use IT to help its needs.

The awards celebrate young IT talent in several fields, including those related to Artificial Intelligence, data analysis and software development.

Hosted by BCS, the chartered institute for IT, the prizes were handed out during a celebratory ceremony on 15 June.

Jonathan said: “To be on a shortlist of 4 apprentices in the UK for my profession, who were nominated for the award in the first place was a big achievement, however to receive the 'highly commended' award is even better and is my biggest professional achievement to date. It's great to be recognised by industry experts of my major achievements and overcoming major challenges on my project work at the University.”

Lauren said: “It was amazing to be shortlisted and represent the University of Leeds at the BCS ITA Awards, especially as Leeds was the only University to have any apprentices shortlisted! I really appreciated being recognised for our hard work on the apprenticeship and as a role model for women wanting to get into IT from a non-technical background.”

Cutting-edge developments in new book on microbes

Dr Suparna Mitra holding her book ‘Metagenomic Data Analysis’

Dr Suparna Mitra is the editor of a new book on metagenomics.

Metagenomic Data Analysis’ explores recent developments and challenges in the field of analysing metagenomics – the genetic structure and function of microbes.

It’s said that microbes run the world – they are essential to everyday life. They’re key to the chemical processes that convert carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and sulphur into forms that can be used by living organisms.

The book includes cutting-edge, step-by-step methods and protocols for analysing metagenomic data, along with expert advice.

Writing the book became Dr Mitra’s lockdown project. Following a successful first chapter on the topic in 2019, which was downloaded 31,000 times, she accepted the offer to write a follow-up book as a positive challenge during the pandemic.

Dr Mitra, from the Leeds Institute of Medical Research, said: “Despite the microbiome field being established for more than a decade, there are no structured reference book materials available to the wider community. I hope to change that with this book.

“It definitely feels amazing to finish the book. There were a few obstacles due to Covid, with some of the authors unable to finish their chapters – but in the end we found eminent authors from around the globe for 20 chapters.”

The book is designed to be an accessible guide to those at all levels in their careers in Biology, with guides and advice for both novice biologists with a basic understanding and experienced researchers.

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