Latest posts

In which I assess

There’s plenty more where that came from

It’s that time of year – piles of booklets appearing on my desk faster than I can clear them out. Baffling handwriting, detailed rubrics, Excel spreadsheets, moderation sessions, similarity scores, pens of many different colored inks. Short answer questions, dissertations, poster vivas, essays – all produced by students who seem grip Continue reading

Posted in academia, students, Teaching, The profession of science | Leave a comment

The unsustainable goal of university ranking

Ranking organisations are seeking to diversify the measures use to evaluate universities. But without addressing the fundamental flaws in their methods, they will crush rather than embrace the rich complexity of our institutions of higher learning

THE University Impact Ranking

When the Times Higher Education (THE) released their University Impact Rankings back in April, the idea of scoring institutions on the basis of their c Continue reading

Posted in Research Assessment, Science & Politics, Scientific Life | Leave a comment

Letting It Go

To many people Steve Shirley is an early entrepreneur in software development who made a fortune; a woman who rebranded herself with a man’s name in order to avoid being ignored by the blue chip companies she wanted to use her services; and a woman who employed women working from home to create her business via this new flexible-working model. That is probably how I thought of her. A leader and a Continue reading

Posted in Angela Saini, autism, Charlotte Proudman, Equality, mental health, Steve Shirley | Leave a comment

Letting It Go

To many people Steve Shirley is an early entrepreneur in software development who made a fortune; a woman who rebranded herself with a man’s name in order to avoid being ignored by the blue chip companies she wanted to use her services; and a woman who employed women working from home to create her business via this new flexible-working model. That is probably how I thought of her. A leader and a Continue reading

Posted in Angela Saini, autism, Charlotte Proudman, Equality, mental health, Steve Shirley | Leave a comment

Friends with Benefits

A recent study shows – in Switzerland at least – that nominated referees judge grants more favourably than those unconnected with the applicant. I’m afraid I didn’t find the conclusion of the study a surprise. Additionally I suspect that having ‘friends’, nominated referees or simply people you know in the field, is a benefit that will inevitably work better for the well-connected. Well-connected Continue reading

Posted in ERC, grants, Matthew effect, panels, referees, Science Culture, Science Funding | Leave a comment

The Twelfth of Never

I may have mentioned once or twice the collaborative webstory that germinated a decade ago and half a world away (quite [lab-]literally).

In fact, I’ve just found on my Mac a file from December 2006, with some notes on how to finish the story—written around the time I was recovering from pneumonia. In Australia.

Continue reading
Posted in A momentary lapse of reason, Writing | Leave a comment

Telling A Life Story

It has been a while since I last posted on my blog. In part that was down to the Easter holidays, but more than that I think it was a combination of the exhaustion of the previous term, coupled with horror over the unfolding Brexit debacle at the end of March (like many another in the UK, I think following the news slavishly was upsetting my mental equilibrium) followed by, as the new term started Continue reading

Posted in CV, family, resilience, Science Culture | Leave a comment

Life lessons learned–from others’ mistakes…

I did not enjoy my service in the Israeli military between 1983-1986; in fact, I hated it. But I do know that it taught me many lessons, and I have long thought that my experiences in the army have helped me both in life and in science. The following is an example of one such instance. Many years ago, in 1984 to be precise, I stood in the Negev desert on a cold, dusty army base at attention for an Continue reading

Posted in army, electrophoresis, IDF, mistakes, Research, science, soldier | Leave a comment

How far should students go in striving for professionalism?

What is the beginning of eternity and the end of time?

Sometimes the simplest answer is actually the right one: in this case, the letter “e.”

Having served as chair of my departmental graduate and admissions committee, professionalism is an issue I have spent a great deal of time thinking about. Without a doubt, in this Orwellian society, we are not only continually evaluated and observed, but oft Continue reading

Posted in dissertation, education, jobs, PhD, professionalism, Research, science, seminars, students | Comments Off on How far should students go in striving for professionalism?

My blue heaven

Bluebells in a wood

Wordsworth lost it when he saw fields of daffodils. I wonder what he thought of bluebells.

It’s been a busy 2 weeks—a long-awaited holiday from work, with my birthday in the middle. Staycations around here always end up with a list of things I haven’t done, often seemingly longer than the to-do created at the beginning. Continue reading

Posted in bluebells, Me, personal | Comments Off on My blue heaven

In which I run aground

It’s been a long winter, and the past academic term seemed to stretch on forever, a blur of stress and deadlines punctuated by good news and bad. My lab got another paper accepted, and my outline-stage grant was shortlisted. But then I had to complete the full grant application alongside a hefty stretch of intensive teaching and supervising a team of researchers, while juggling a handful of manus Continue reading

Posted in academia, Domestic bliss, Gardening, Science Funding, staring into the abyss, The ageing process, work-life balance | Comments Off on In which I run aground

Getting Away from the Toxic Lab

The journal PLoS Computational Biology recently published an article Ten simple rules towards healthier research labs. Written by a PI it was obviously aimed largely at those who might be just setting out with their own groups, but clearly any leader can benefit from thinking harder about group dynamics and how they, as leader, interact with everyone around them; and, just as importantly, how they Continue reading

Posted in CV, group leader, mentors, Research, Science Culture, support | Comments Off on Getting Away from the Toxic Lab

How to value what cannot be measured?

The post below is a transcript of my opening remarks at the a Great Debate held earlier today at the European Geosciences Union 2019 meeting in Vienna. The debate asked us to consider the question: What value should we place on contributions that cannot be easily measured?

190410-EGU-GreatDebate.Curry.001

As scientists, measurement is what we do. It is how we have built our disciplines and won the admiration and respect of our p Continue reading

Posted in Academic publishing, Open Access, science, Science & Politics | Comments Off on How to value what cannot be measured?

In which we find out how


Science in your pyjamas: bliss

What’s the youngest a person can be exposed to science in a meaningful way? Loyal readers will know that I’ve pondered this question before, especially since becoming a mother.

The other day a colleague told me that his four-year-old grand-daughter had expressed firm interest in “being a microbiologist when she grew up”, and could she and he Continue reading

Posted in Domestic bliss, Joshua, Scientific thinking, students, Teaching | Comments Off on In which we find out how

On Project Leadership

While history is likely to associate March 2017 with the United Kingdom declaring Article 50, it also marked a more constructive event: The launch of the ETH Materials Department “Materials Scientist 2030, Who is She?” project. Here, two years in, are some reflections on project leadership based on what I have learned from making my own mistakes in our project in parallel with watching Continue reading

Posted in education, Materials Science | Comments Off on On Project Leadership