Partner Journey: Dr Cecilia Medupin, University of Manchester

Dr Cecilia Medupin is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Manchester, and a Co-Investigator on the Engaging Environments programme. As Co-Investigator, Cecilia convened the Women in Environmental Sciences network across 2018 and 2019, and followed by launching a three-part pilot study, using University of Manchester as the prototype, focused on Connectivity & Inclusivity in Higher Education: A solutions’ based approach from environmental sustainability.

Cecilia is an ecologist with an extremely diverse professional background. Having completed a BSc degree in Biochemistry at Bayero University in Kano, Nigeria, she then spent several years in industry, environmental regulation and consulting working for various organisations focused on environmental sustainability and development, before joining the University of Manchester. Cecilia’s interests are in understanding and managing water quality and ecology of urban watercourses, and through partnering with Engaging Environments, have expanded further into citizen science and public engagement.

Through her work with Engaging Environments, Cecilia has been connecting the UN Sustainable Development Goals with women’s participation in environmental sciences, and most recently exploring the synergy between connectivity in nature’s ecosystems and the link to human connectedness.

In this post, Cecilia shares her reflections on the Engaging Environments project, developing equitable partnerships, leadership in Higher Education, and guidance for those setting out on a similar journey.

The objective of building the partnership must be very clear

If we are going to build a truly equitable partnership, that benefits you, our future, and then there must be sincerity and clarity of purpose. That purpose should encompass a need that could be translated from written policy documents to practice and, beneficial to all. When the objectives are clear to parties concerned, then, the partners will be open to making contributions that fulfils the overarching objectives. I have benefitted from working with partners in the NERC Engaging Environments because each partner brings their unique skills, which, not only contributes to the overall project, but also enhances the outcomes.

We are all aware of the news on climate emergency as a global problem, but, while these discussions are going on, the voices of the people that can be a part of the solutions are often not considered. By building equitable partnerships with diverse people, we must be thinking about the value-added processes, which are needed. For example, we can start by thinking about how we listen to others; build our own personal values, which cascade into community values. These professional practices supported by a sense of value, would strengthen the process of partnership such that it becomes a place of learning, and, of building shared values.

My thinking was not limited by what is not possible

I have not only benefited from the partnerships, but also from being confident in what I have been able to bring to it. By identifying partners, stakeholders with similar interests and outlook, it was easier to initiate and actualise creative ideas and, a joy to work with members of the team. Furthermore, I was open to receive great ideas from the partners’ diverse experiences, which has enhanced my deliveries and outputs. By working with diverse people who share similar interests and are willing to act on such interests so that new things can be created to drive change, is a resounding experience from Engaging Environments. Ideas are generated across the partnership and there is a collaboration to be created which they can help you run with it.

Being part of a team where everybody was free to develop their own thoughts and freely exchange practices without feeling intimidated or out of place has been a healthy environment to be in. Working with people that have different perspectives on the same concept, be that from an academic perspective, or evaluation, or communications, has also been very beneficial. Bringing together these different ways of thinking to create something holistic and something of value has been a positive process which can offer direction in terms of how we come together to create change.

I have learnt a lot from people that are willing to give up their time for me. Learning from people about the different ways to approach or solve problems, how they connect selectively with people that they can relate with and, the outcomes that can be achieved from this, has been valuable to see.

A leader carries people along with them and empowers them

The concept of taking responsibility is one of the key aspects of leadership. If you consider a certain problem and think about what you can do about it that makes you a leader.

From the work that I have done, I have recognised a problem and I looked for solutions – I saw a gap that was not only affecting me but it was affecting other people. I believed that a good leader has the ability to see beyond themselves, i.e. to see the wider impact of the identified problem on other people. Thus, the decisions a leader makes are not only based on their own judgement or personal knowing alone, but also the sensitivities of other people who form part of the followership.

Being a leader opens up a need to understand how other people can contribute to finding a solution to a problem. I would personally like to be leader that brings people together, and creates a space where they have the sense of freedom to think. I like the concept of the drawing board – using it so that we can come together and find ways of thinking collectively about a challenge we are faced with. Collective systems thinking means that each one of the people who become followers can actually feel a sense of belonging, acceptance and contribution. These fundamental human needs are what can empower a leader and their followers, which gives the willpower to follow through with the project, collaborators and the decision-making process.

I also believe that it is important to be able to share, and if you are a leader, to hear about things that are not working well, so that these can be corrected. It increases shared learning and individual development while delivering outcomes. However, there needs to be a sense of humility and sensitivity among the collaborators. Being sensitive to members of the team also enables the leader to identify the strengths and interests of team members. Having a collaborative team that has a broad overview of a project enables everyone to contribute their best effort, fosters creativity and, explores the best possible options that could enhance and respect the fundamental values, principles and culture demanded by the project. On completion of a task, providing feedback to people on what has been decided is vital to sustain the relationships and confidence needed for future collaboration.