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Who Do You Think You Are?

This is not about the TV programme of the same name. I would not be a good contender for that because, at least on one side of the family, I know quite a lot about my antecedents so I doubt they could dig up surprises about my grandparents (as a child I lived with two of them right up till their deaths and we had a filing cabinet of even earlier diaries dating back to the 1880s or so). On the cont Continue reading

Posted in compliments, Impostor syndrome, poise, Science Culture, Women in science | Leave a comment

50 Years Is Not Long Enough

Last weekend I returned to Girton College to join the celebrations for 150 years since its Foundation (albeit the college was originally situated in Hitchin). This was the college of my undergraduate and postgraduate years. When I entered the college in 1971 its centenary was not far past, so all but 50 years have passed. This coming weekend alumni will be coming back to Churchill College to celeb Continue reading

Posted in admission to degrees, Churchill College, education, Equality, Girton College, Philippa Fawcett, Women in science | Leave a comment

Unconscious Bias Training Isn’t a Magic Wand

This week saw a sober assessment of the impact – both positive but also depressingly negative – of schemes to improve gender equality. As the Athena Swan Review Group wrestles with how to improve their own awards, it is important to learn from mistakes as well as successes. In years gone by I spoke up for Athena Swan pointing out it wasn’t a ‘tickbox’ exercise, but as time has passed its bureaucra Continue reading

Posted in Athena Swan, bullying, Equality, implicit bias, Science Culture, training | Leave a comment

Where is the HE Sector Going?

There is a lot going on in the HE policy world, from the Augar Review of post-18 education and funding, to the publication of the UKRI (and its constituent parts) Delivery Plans. Yet all this is set in the context of the worst uncertainty in UK politics I can ever recall. Brexit remains a huge, black cloud of economic and societal uncertainty. We cannot predict who will be Prime Minister in a few Continue reading

Posted in CDTs, education, John Kingman, Research, Royal Society, Science Funding, strategy, UKRI, Venki Ramakrishnan | Leave a comment

The Matilda Effect and Jean Purdy

There are well-known instances of women in science being apparently overlooked for a Nobel Prize: Jocelyn Bell Burnell, springs to mind, as do Lisa Meitner and Rosalind Franklin (if one ignores the inconvenient fact that she was dead by the time of the award). These are names that could readily be associated with the Matilda Effect, coined by Margaret Rossiter and summarised on Wikipedia as

‘bias Continue reading

Posted in Churchill College Archives, Equality, IVF, Patrick Steptoe, Robert Edwards, Women in science | Comments Off on The Matilda Effect and Jean Purdy

The Renaissance and Preformation

This is a tale of woes, and oh, what a tale. And it all begins with some introspection as to whether we, as human beings, are “preformed.” If we venture back a mere 350 years or so, to the time of Italian biomedical scientist and microscopist, Marcello Malpighi, we can find the origins of a rather intriguing (if not somewhat childish) scientific theory known as ‘Preformation.’

1978_miniature of sperm

The concept of Pref Continue reading

Posted in army, internet, Malpighi, microscope, morality, Preformation, Renaissance, Research, science | Comments Off on The Renaissance and Preformation

Examining Season

Students, you may want to look away now as I’m going to give away some of the secrets of exam marking, as I’ve discovered them over more years than I care to remember.

Firstly, it is extremely boring. If you have 100 scripts to deal with in a compressed period of time, as so often, it is very hard to keep concentration going reliably. Sometimes the pile may be much larger than 100, which compounds Continue reading

Posted in education, marking, students | Comments Off on Examining Season

A Crisis in Mental Health in Academia?

It will surprise no one in academia to know that it is an environment that is stressful, frequently precarious and there never seem to be enough hours in the day. The HEPI report on mental health issues in academia by Liz Morrish published last week (Pressure Vessels: The epidemic of poor mental health among higher education staff) highlighted the dismaying extent of the problem and considered som Continue reading

Posted in education, HEPI, Liz Morrish, suicide, well-being | Comments Off on A Crisis in Mental Health in Academia?

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 | Comments Off on In which I assess

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 | Comments Off on The unsustainable goal of university ranking

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 | Comments Off on Letting It Go

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 | Comments Off on Letting It Go

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 | Comments Off on Friends with Benefits

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 | Comments Off on The Twelfth of Never

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 | Comments Off on Telling A Life Story