With research like this, a 4* rating is just pie in the sky

December 23, 2005

Angela Thody previews her paper on mince-pie consumption to the All Comers Faithfully Winterfest Conference

Ever conscious of the impending research assessment exercise, where everything possible must be converted into research output, I present the results of my latest project.


This project investigates the characteristics of those who came to eat mince pies at a faculty end-of-session, pre-winter break social meeting. The aims were to target more accurately the potential market for such events, investigate obesity-to-mince pie ratios, explore consumerist discrimination concerning ageism, heightism and nationalism and attract future grants from the Bakers' Federation.

Establishing a relaxing atmosphere for celebrations in work settings is considered difficult (O. F. Fice and P. Artry, 1998:4).

Numerous projects have trialled systems but none has yet considered a multicultural winterfest (D. Wali, 1995; E. Id, 2001; R. E. Tirement, 2004), nor has the context of this research in newish universities received any attention other than from Professor Lapping ( Times Higher , every week).


All faculty were invited, with five days' notice, to consume mince pies in two shapes, round and oblong, together with coffee. All were informed that mincemeat did not refer to meat, but to dried fruits, mixed with grated apple, carrot, suet and glace cherries between two layers of rolled and shaped mixtures of flour, fats and water, baked by the author (to reduce the variables of having to compare Mr Kipling and Sainsbury's own commercial varieties).

As new universities lack senior common rooms (hint to vice-chancellors), a classroom was converted with paper cloth-draped desks, chairs scattered informally, an imported coffee urn and a traditional ghetto blaster for audio winterfest music.

While circulating with pies and coffee, faculty were asked to provide details about themselves on analysis sheets attached to the walls. This public collection of data was to enhance the seasonal atmosphere; traditionally reticent faculty in British universities might be roused to converse with each other or even to exchange names while holding each others' pies and coffee to allow pen manipulation on the wall sheets. The author also used participant observation. Future research on such occasions would be assisted by a microphone hidden in the researcher's own mince pie.


Attendance and consumption: about half the eligible faculty attended; 100 per cent of attendees consumed at least one pie each; round pies proved most popular (75 per cent consumed) despite both round and oblong pies containing the same mixture and quantity.


a) Ageism - age range was claimed at 21-92, averaging 39.2 years. Observation appeared to indicate that a higher average would have been appropriate. Two consumers claimed to have forgotten their age.

Several perceived themselves to be "over the hill". Some made competitive claims - "younger than you", for example.

b) Heightism - three were less than 5ft, two were 6ft, two more looked more than 6ft and one was 1m 98 cms (whatever that is). The mean was somewhere between 5ft and 6ft.

c) Nationalism - The English delegates were observed to consume as many mince pies as those from outside England (Jamaica, Ireland, Egypt, Japan - one each; Wales, two). The English were mainly from the southern counties but the one Yorkshire person consumed three mince pies (all oblong). One delegate came from Fairyland and one from Regent's Park. Obesity-to-mince pie ratio: the average from the claimed weights was 8st 8lb. Observation showed this to be unlikely, as did the comments: "I don't want to know", "Can't see the scales" and "Too much". One person (Welsh) claimed to be "just right" and the Fairyland delegate came in as "lightweight".


  • The 47.142852179 per cent attendance rate indicates that: insufficient time is allowed for seasonal celebrations in work time; or that faculty depart before the vacation has formally begun; or that coffee is insufficient inducement to attendance. There was no evidence that mince-pie eating is discriminatoryn
  • The mean perceived age was lower than that observed. Interpretation: you are as old as you feel and you may feel older at the end of term
  • The average height may indicate an unjustified tendency to employ 5 to 6-footers in universities, but further information is needed on height distribution in the populace generally
  • Students are lucky to be exposed to faculty of such wide-ranging origins with such open minds that they eat whatever is put in front of them
  • Don't mess with tradition; always serve round pies
  • The open method of information collection may have affected data veracity but it enhanced the jollity rating. Moral: all methodologies are compromises so why miss out on the fun?


It is hoped that this research will shorten the long climb up the rating scales. In the meantime, research funds must be acquired so the author intends to sell the more sensational of the findings to the tabloid press.


The overload on university staff was illustrated in a recent survey. While consuming mince pies at their university's winter party, staff were asked what sex they were. "What's sex?" asked several. Some indicated they had lost interest or had not had it recently, would like more information or had forgotten what it meant. Women seemed less affected than men: two stated they had worn out two husbands and were working on the third. The researcher said she had been considering encouraging staff to increase their research outputs but is thinking of setting up a massage parlour instead.


The author would welcome some.


To ex-colleagues at the universities of Lincoln, Luton and Leicester: if you recognise yourself in the above, it's not my fault.

Angela Thody is emerita professor of educational leadership, Lincoln University.

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