Latest posts

In which I realize I am part of a select sci/art group

Me talking about the antimicrobial resistance crisis back in 2015

I haven’t written here for a gazillion years – life is just too full-on. But I found out an amusing fact that I wanted to share. I’m not sure how it came up, but my Fiction Lab contact at the Royal Institution recently told me he’d done a little digging and found out that only three published fiction authors Continue reading

Posted in Lablit, Nostalgia | Leave a comment

How Groupthink Contributes to Harassment

I was recently challenged by a colleague after a meeting as to whether we had all been guilty more of ‘groupthink’ than was apparent at the time or that any of us would have wished. I’m not sure that I think he was right in his conclusion, but he was certainly right to ask the question. The trouble is, it is such an insidious way to behave. We have all been in situations where you arrive at a meet Continue reading

Posted in bullying, bystanders, consensus, Equality, Margaret Heffernan, Science Culture | Leave a comment

The Transition Period

“What’s going to happen with the second year students that I usually teach in the old curriculum when I’m teaching the new curriculum to the first years?” asked a colleague. YIKES! Somehow I had naively pictured our entire student body morphing smoothly into our new program in Autumn 2020, and had entirely repressed the reality that the Fall 2019 incoming class will be taug Continue reading

Posted in education, Materials Science | Leave a comment

Sausage Machines in the Academic Lab

There was a bit of a spat over Twitter last week regarding how many hours students (and postdocs) should be expected to do at the bench. This originated in a tweet from a professor of chemistry but I don’t think it is necessary to go through the exchanges in any detail. Suffice it to say that the originator believed that it was impossible to

‘do world class science in 38 hrs per week’.

Others chal Continue reading

Posted in Phd student training, PhD students, Science Culture, Science Funding, skills | Leave a comment

Do You Know How Many Children Boris Has?

Today I was giving a talk within the University about building an inclusive workplace; more than just about gender, of course, but that is where the majority of my experience lies. There are so many obstacles, big and small, which prevent inclusion for minorities of all sorts. They need articulating; to be evidenced, accepted and acted upon by those with the power to effect change. The trouble wit Continue reading

Posted in Dorothy Hodgkin, Equality, Inclusion, Ursula Von der Leyen | Comments Off on Do You Know How Many Children Boris Has?

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 | Comments Off on Who Do You Think You Are?

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 | Comments Off on 50 Years Is Not Long Enough

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 | Comments Off on Unconscious Bias Training Isn’t a Magic Wand

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 | Comments Off on Where is the HE Sector Going?

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