Latest posts

Will Biography be a Lost Art?

As a young postdoc I arrived, fairly literally penniless in the USA in October 1977. I had flown with the forerunner of today’s low-cost airlines, Freddie Laker, on his new invention of ‘standby’ fares. You turned up on the day and took the chance of there being a spare seat. So it was that, very early in the morning I went to somewhere near Victoria Station and paid, if my memory serves me right Continue reading

Posted in Communicating Science, email, letters, Maggie Thatcher, New York, Science Culture, Winston Churchill | Leave a comment

Are Women Underpaid?

The deadline is past for companies in the UK employing more than 250 employees to report their gender pay gap. The numbers are not pretty and the University sector is no different from other types of employers in manifesting an average or median hourly difference of around 20%.  (Wonkhe have published the data for universities, and there is also an account of all the Oxford Colleges data here, alt Continue reading

Posted in equal pay, Equality, gender pay gap, Unconscious bias, Women in science | Leave a comment

A complete curriculum outline. Almost.

Having left you in suspense last month, I can now report that we have chosen the modernization option for our new curriculum! Materials Science at the ETH will no longer be taught according to the old materials categories but rather in grand, over-arching themes, (hopefully) revealing deep connections between materials and concepts, facilitating student learning and equipping the next generation o Continue reading

Posted in education, Materials Science | Leave a comment

Guilty of Rambling On

As a PhD student it is an exciting moment when you know you’re off to your first international conference. Whether or not you get to present (either orally or via a poster), there is still a thrill in just being part of the larger scientific family. I can still remember the stand-out paper from the very first conference I ever attended – the Electron Microscopy and Analysis’ Group of the Institute Continue reading

Posted in Andrew Keller, conferences, Research, Science Culture, speakers | Leave a comment

The Potholes in Life

As regular readers of this blog will know, I rely on my bike to get me around to the myriad committee meetings I need to attend across Cambridge. It is my lifeline to get me speedily to the railway station (often, I suspect, faster than car or bus during peak rush hour) where the (relatively) new bike park at the station – increasingly filling up though it is – is a huge improvement. Our previous Continue reading

Posted in alpha male, bicycle, obstacles, opportunities, Science Culture | Leave a comment

On quotas in Academia – do we need them?


As a graduate student I was asked to participate in a `women in science’ group. I refused. I was an old(er) grad student compared to my cohort, my goal was to get in and get out as fast as practically possible, so that I could be gainfully employed. I’d spent years working very low-paying jobs and I was over it, anything optional that was going to delay me from finishing my PhD qui Continue reading

Posted in bias, Unconscious bias, Women in science | Leave a comment

Sold for a Mess of Potage

A couple of weeks back I undertook another trip to Europe. A trip that got extended by nearly a day due to snow which disrupted my travel plans, thereby making it impossible for me to get back to the UK as planned.  The trip was another opportunity to ponder what we are losing as we head off into #Brexitshambles. Once again I was there in my capacity as a Scientific Council member of the ERC and t Continue reading

Posted in EMBL, ERC, Frankfurt, Janet Thornton, Research, Science Culture, Science Funding | Comments Off on Sold for a Mess of Potage

On ‘lower impact’ publishing – it’s better than you might think.

Over the course of the last two or so years, I have had a number of personal issues to deal with. Family illnesses, the sudden death of my older brother and some other things (I will spare you the gory details). Fortunately for me, my scientific research kept going. Why? Because I had an absolutely fantastic research group who worked hard and stayed in touch with me during my absences. During Continue reading

Posted in impact factor, scientific publishing | Comments Off on On ‘lower impact’ publishing – it’s better than you might think.

In which age is no impediment to scientific discourse

Joshua has had quite a few vaccinations in his four-and-a-half years – the usual routine inoculations for standard childhood illnesses and a couple (chicken pox and meningitis B) that are not on the NHS menu. The last time I took him out of nursery, this time for the flu vaccine, he asked me why we were going to the doctor, and I decided to give it to him in simple terms.

With Joshua these Continue reading

Posted in Domestic bliss, Joshua, students, Teaching | Comments Off on In which age is no impediment to scientific discourse

What Can I Do? Press for Progress….

What follows is a lightly edited version of the address I gave at the joint Churchill/Murray Edwards Colleges ‘Humanist Happenings’ last Sunday, in advance of International Women’s Day today.

Today is International Women’s Day, with its theme of Press for Progress. Every year this day gains a little more momentum; more people are aware of it, more occasions swell the message. In Continue reading

Posted in Amplification, Bystander, Equality, International Women's Day, Women in science, Women's Lib | Comments Off on What Can I Do? Press for Progress….

Nothing’s Wasted

No doubt the majority of my readers are far more familiar with TEDx talks than I am, and have watched many more than I have. They are a notion that has floated past me occasionally. I have been asked to do one a few times, usually by student associations and usually with very little warning.  Hence, although I have explored the format from time to time on YouTube and watched  a few of the much tal Continue reading

Posted in Communicating Science, media, memory, TEDx, Whitehall | Comments Off on Nothing’s Wasted

Another school shooting–will anything change?

It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep one’s nose to the grindstone and carry on in America of 2018 as though everything is okay. That’s because it isn’t.

I have to be optimistic—and despite Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman’s wariness of optimists in his great book, “Thinking Fast and Slow,” I remain optimistic on several accounts. Just as an aside, Kahneman noted in his book that he never me Continue reading

Posted in assault rifle, Daniel Kahneman, empathy, Florida, gun control, guns, military, narcissist, optimist, president, school shootings | Comments Off on Another school shooting–will anything change?

Even scientists have birthdays

Scientist bday

What do you get for a scientist who has everything? Except, perhaps, all the grants and papers he wants….

Posted in Birthdays, grants, humor, manuscripts, peer review, Research, reviews, science, scientists | Comments Off on Even scientists have birthdays

In which I get the blues (a tale of miracle surgery)

I have a good excuse for not writing for a while: eye surgery in the new year, which made reading or writing of any kind difficult. Only now am I starting to get back to my old literary self.

I have worn glasses since about age six. My myopia had grown progressively worse over the decades until I settled at about -11 diopter with an astigmatism of about 3.5. Continue reading

Posted in The ageing process | Comments Off on In which I get the blues (a tale of miracle surgery)

The Only Woman in the Room

The Only Woman in the Room, is not only an experience I have frequently endured, but is also the title of a 2015 book by Eileen Pollack (subtitled Why Science is Still a Boy’s Club). I’m not sure why this particular book hadn’t crossed my path until recently, given it is about her experiences as an erstwhile female physicist during her education, but it hadn’t. She and I are near contemporaries bu Continue reading

Posted in coeducation, Eileen Pollack, physics, Women in science, Yale | Comments Off on The Only Woman in the Room