The Darwinian notion of ‘survival of the fittest’ is still too dominant in our thinking. And it’s getting in the way of societal progress through collaboration.

Mushrooms on tree bark.
Mushrooms on tree bark.

Most of the present problems that face our planet can best be solved through careful collaboration between individuals, between groups, between institutions and between governments. They are so complicated, interrelated and threatening to the existence of the entire global population, that working together seems to be the only sane and effective way forward.

Yet in a lot of the rhetoric that we use, it would appear that the best and perhaps only route to…


In a few weeks it will be the anniversary of university life being hit by the full force of the Covid-19 crisis. By and large, higher education has pulled through remarkably well.

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At the beginning of the lockdown, we put the vast majority of our teaching online and carried on with a substantial amount of our research, where safe and practicable. We partially resumed on-campus activities, such as essential lab research and face-to-face teaching, when that was possible again, but equally quickly went back to being a largely virtual community when government rules demanded it. …


What is wrong with wanting to deliver perfect work, with wanting to be flawless at what we do? My short answer is: a lot. I believe the wish to be perfect is in the way of achieving our potential as individuals and of reaching our most important institutional goals.

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Eccup Reservoir, West Yorkshire

It has taken me a while to realise that perfectionism is not a good trait to have. Before this started to dawn on me, I thought that wanting to get it exactly right every time, was the best way to be successful. My upbringing, my education, my drive to produce particular…


This blog has an accompanying audio description, where I read it in full.

The COVID crisis has taught us the importance of strong communities, mutual support, shared values and human-centred strategies. We should ensure we use those lessons to re-focus our institutions on what truly matters to create a brighter future.

Sun shining over North York Moors National Park
Sun shining over North York Moors National Park
North York Moors National Park

On 1 September 2020, I started my first ever job as the overall leader of a university, right in the middle of the COVID crisis. My original plans to be on campus and to get to know people in an unhurried way, had to change. …


This blog has an accompanying audio description, where I read it in full.

There’s a time for talking and a time for listening, but we don’t always find the right balance. We have to get better at listening in a world that favours people who talk.

Trees coloured with autumn leaves in Saltaire, Yorkshire
Trees coloured with autumn leaves in Saltaire, Yorkshire
Saltaire, Yorkshire

We live in a society that is biased in favour of vocal people. A society that rates proposals more highly when they are formulated by those who speak loudly and confidently and frequently express themselves. As a consequence, those people play a prominent role in the group process. I don’t think this always yields…


This blog has an accompanying audio commentary, where I read it through, and discuss it with the University’s Deputy Director of Communications, Fridey Cordingley.

2020 has been extremely stressful for the entire global population. As the year is closing, we are all longing for change. We are collectively able to make the world a better place, but we cannot expect it to magically happen. We should be deliberate about it and have a plan. Compassion has to be at the heart of it.

Baubles hanging off of a tree in winter
Baubles hanging off of a tree in winter

A number of huge issues have made this year extremely difficult: the COVID crisis, of course, and…


Unless you are a hamster, being in a hamster wheel is never a good thing (and I do sometimes wonder about hamsters, too). You run hard, but you are not getting anywhere. You run even harder, and you are still not getting anywhere. You realise it is pointless and stressful, but somehow stopping and jumping off doesn’t seem to be an option. The frantic activity is mind-numbing, but there is this overwhelming sense of having to keep going or worse things will happen. Yet it is not at all clear who exactly makes you run, and especially not why?

Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire
Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire
Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire

It…


People may look different from each other, and we may behave differently too, but we have an awful lot in common. The more we focus on our shared humanity and not on what separates us, the happier we will all be.

Blue, red and yellow flowers in a field
Blue, red and yellow flowers in a field

I believe in the innate goodness of people. I am convinced that the vast majority of us are born with the seeds of solid social skills, a genuine willingness to help others and a wish to be part of a community. …


The COVID crisis has put us all on a path with no clear end. Not being in control can be stressful, but there are things we can do to make the journey easier.

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Grassington, Yorkshire Dales

In studying historical events, we benefit from knowing what happened. We are able to read the world backwards, aware of how it will eventually all unfold. We don’t have that option when we are actually living through unprecedented, difficult times. We have no choice but to try to cope with a highly unpredictable future.

With this current COVID crisis, we don’t know how or when it will all end. We are not in control, and that is stressful. …


We can’t go on like this. By striving to create an unachievable perfect replica of the past in a volatile, unstable present, we risk doing a disservice to the longer term future of our students and our wider academic communities. That’s a message I think we should all keep front of mind as we try to keep our institutions open for teaching, learning and research in spite of the second wave of COVID outbreaks.

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Roger Stevens building in the autumn

Academic communities in the UK and across the world are all working tirelessly around the clock, against the tide, and mindful of rules that change on…

Simone Buitendijk

Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leeds.

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