Latest posts

DORA, the Leiden Manifesto & a university’s right to choose: a comment

The post below was written as a comment on Lizzie Gadd’s recent post explaining in some detail Loughborough University decision to base their approach to research assessment more on the Leiden Manifesto than DORA, the Declaration on Research Assessment. So you should read that first! (The comment is currently ‘in moderation’ because, like myself, Lizzie is on holiday. I suspect s Continue reading

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An unusual source of inspiration

In the introductory project management course that we took at the start of our curriculum revision process, we learned about the importance of defining the boundaries of a project, and not succumbing to the ever-present temptation of project inflation. Up until now, we have managed to be quite disciplined and have repeatedly restrained ourselves from drifting into modifying our Master’s prog Continue reading

Posted in education, Materials Science | Leave a comment

A Lifetime of Music

It is inevitable that as one gets older the deaths of people who have meant a great deal to you happen more and more often. I have written in the past years about the death of two key mentors of mine as well as my own mother. This week I heard of another death of someone who had a profound impact on me half a century ago, my music master from my secondary school. Obviously he was a lot further rem Continue reading

Posted in Camden School for Girls, education, LSSO, Peter Morgan, viola | Leave a comment

What does the Future Hold for Interdisciplinary Research Funding

UKRI has big shoes to fill. So far it has only just begun to signal its intentions regarding strategic directions: the ‘strategic prospectus’ it published in May was more a road map for developing its strategy than a strategy itself. However, these are important times for UK research and would be even without Brexit-related uncertainty. The Government has pledged to move towards a target of 2.4% o Continue reading

Posted in Interdisciplinary Science, refereeing, Science Funding, Strategic Priorities Fund, UKRI | Leave a comment


I often, if not always, take my laptop with me on holiday. Ostensibly it’s to write (for pleasure, definitely not work), but always—but always—that never ends up happening and we just use it for looking at all the photos we’ve taken.

This time, on a hill in Tuscany, it’s been different. I’ve managed, over the last two or three nights, to finally finish a project that has b Continue reading

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

Ready-made citation distributions are a boost for responsible research assessment

Though a long-time critic of journal impact factors (JIFs), I was delighted when the latest batch was released by Clarivate last week.

It’s not the JIFs themselves that I was glad to see (still alas quoted to a ridiculous level of precision). Rather it was the fact that Clarivate is now also making available the journal citation distributions on which they are based. This is a huge boost to the pr Continue reading

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Elegy for a building

The building is still there, holding its head high, but it’s fatally wounded. It is plain to see that it won’t be with us for much longer. NIMR, Mill Hill – with its iconic copper green roof visible across north London; its 1930s art deco features; its massive presence on The Ridgeway NW7 – that building will very soon be flattened.

The main NIMR building on 14 June 2018. From some Continue reading

Posted in History, Libraries and librarians | Leave a comment

Anchoring Your Biases

I couldn’t tell you when I last listened to a football commentary on radio or TV (the current World Cup has not caused me to rush to change this), but I don’t need to listen to realise that a statement that ‘women’s voices are too high’ to do a decent job at the commentary is liable to be perceived as inflammatory. Why, I ask myself, should the pitch affect the accuracy, the shrewdness or the insi Continue reading

Posted in anchoring bias, Equality, unconscious bias training, voice | Leave a comment

Where are the Modest Men?

A hashtag debuting this week has caused quite a stir on Twitter: #immodestwomen. In the wake of a US newspaper deciding not to accord anyone the title of Dr in its articles, unless they were medical doctors, historian Dr Fern Riddell tweeted

My title is Dr Fern Riddell, not Ms or Miss Riddell. I have it because I am an expert, and my life and career consist of being that expert in as many differen Continue reading

Posted in Amplification, Dr Fern Riddell, Equality, immodest women, mansplaining | Comments Off on Where are the Modest Men?

On reporting and pedagogy

While writing lots of proposals to fund my research is not something I miss about my pre-ETH existence, I was reminded this week of one aspect of my former proposal-supported research life that had some value: Reporting. This reflection was prompted by the visit of Sara and myself to the “Freitagsrunde” — a weekly (on Friday of course) meeting of a teaching committee made up of s Continue reading

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Being Critical

When discussing the skills students pick up – and need to pick up – during their undergraduate courses in a subject like physics, I always highlight the fact that they learn how to be critical, notably about assumptions underpinning an analysis. What assumptions are the right ones and why? When might they not apply? And if the underlying suppositions break down, what else can be done to solve the Continue reading

Posted in assumptions, education, errors, exams, marking, Research | Comments Off on Being Critical

Disruptive publishing

To build a successful career in scientific research you need to understand the scientific publishing system. It is going through a period of change and innovation but has remained largely intact. Recently I and a colleague ran some ‘Disruptive Publishing’ coffee break sessions to highlight some of the changes in science publishing to our researcher community. I produced a factsheet sum Continue reading

Posted in Journal publishing, Open Access | Comments Off on Disruptive publishing

The Only Woman in the Room

As the Master of a Cambridge College it probably isn’t surprising that I get asked to talk about Leadership, and often more specifically Women in Leadership/as Leaders, but there is nothing that brings out the inner impostor in me faster than such a request. I have, after all, never received any training and yet am expected to deliver wise words on the subject by way of training others. Recently I Continue reading

Posted in board membership, Equality, gender pay gap, Philip Hampton | Comments Off on The Only Woman in the Room

In which Cat Zero arrives on the scene; plus some other literary shenanigans

It’s nearly showtime: my third lab lit novel Cat Zero is about to be published! After a several-month delay due to issues of US distribution, I am pleased to confirm an official publication date of Tuesday 5 June!

Yes, that’s next Tuesday! Just today, as I was working from home on various academic tasks, the postman rang the doorbell and delivered a few boxes of books hot off the press Continue reading

Posted in Lablit, Writing | Comments Off on In which Cat Zero arrives on the scene; plus some other literary shenanigans

Writing, Creativity and Grief

What acts are best to provoke creativity? Some poets – from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Dylan Thomas – seem to have felt that drug- or alcohol- induced hazes may be effective, but I don’t think many scientists would recommend that route. Discussing unanticipated results with colleagues at the conference bar is probably as far as alcohol wisely enters into the scientist’s lexicon of inspiratio Continue reading

Posted in Communicating Science, Dictionary of National Biography, Sir Sam Edwards, Thomas Edison | Comments Off on Writing, Creativity and Grief