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Michael is the Director of Translational Research Infrastructure for the Cancer Centre, Oxford. In this interview, Michael goes into more detail about the importance of having anti-bullying and harassment advisors in the University, and how B&H advisors are on hand to support everyone in the Department.

Tell us a little about your roles within the Department

As a bullying and harassment advisor, I am here to talk to people about concerns and issues they have about how they are treated, especially if they have experienced what they feel is harassment or bullying. I provide individuals with a range of approaches and options available to help resolve these issues for them to choose from. The overwhelming majority of discussions resolve issues through dialogue between staff to prevent disagreements from escalating. Very rarely do HR need to get involved. The key to the role is that it is totally confidential, purely advisory in capacity and never involves getting involved on behalf of people who approach me. They remain in complete control of how their situation is handled and any emerging actions.

Why is the H&B role important?

Academia is full of enthusiastic individuals at all levels that take their work very seriously and have strong views. Resolving intellectual disagreements lies at the heart of everything we do. This inherently confrontational and competitive process needs to be carried out in a respectful way at all times. I find the majority of my time in this role is providing people with the communication skills needed to engage in this process in a meaningful way, and make sure they feel confident to politely call out negative behaviour it escalates. I value contributing in a positive way to the level and quality of respectful debate going on across the Department.

What are the expectations and workload for some in this role?

I'm available at all times but typically have one half-hour meeting every 2-3 months with people that get in touch.

Give us an insight into what happens during a meeting?

The majority of the meeting involves listening to individuals talk about their issues. Normally this is the first time they have had an opportunity to do so in a confidential and safe environment, which in and of itself people find useful. I then provide individuals with a framework for how people have historically resolved similar issues including both informal and formal paths. I then discuss with them what they think the best course of action for them is, which they are then free to follow.

What have you learned from your role and what would you like to change?

Bullying and harassment are rare but still too common. It normally is a result of a breakdown in communication that can be resolved at an early stage if tackled at the outset. I'd like more people to approach B&H advisors as soon as they feel that a situation escalates beyond respectful academic debate so that more issues can be addressed. I also think that we as a community need to consider it our responsibility to informally call-out times during discussions, - including those that do not directly involve us - to approach the point of concern.