How Broad is Broad?

Most conferences provide food for thought and my participation this week in the Global Scholars Symposium in Cambridge certainly fulfilled my expectations in this respect. Although I was meant to be the one doing the talking, there was also time for Q+A and general discussion with the students under the broad theme of Building Impact: Listen, Learn and Act. My day fell under the Listen theme and I gave a keynote talk, was involved in a panel discussion on the impact of science as well as participated in a more informal ‘fireside chat’ with around 20 students (but sans fire).

I want to pick out two strands that we kept coming back to and that the collected scholars (mainly PhD students, but some doing Masters and some who had recently completed their studies) seemed keen to discuss: policy and breadth. They are not unconnected.

A quick look through my publication list would demonstrate I have not spent all my life working in one small field of physics. My lines of research have had abrupt transitions between fields, meandered, had false starts which went nowhere, been kick-started in new directions due to funding opportunities and once or twice I have deliberately stopped a research topic when I felt I’d worked something to the point of loss of interest (for me). In other words, it has evolved in unpredictable ways. With hindsight I can come up with a post hoc logic for the whole trajectory but at the time it was probably less calculatingly thought through than a historical narrative might imply. After all, who believes in a Whiggish history of one’s research career any more than in any sort of endeavour?

So, in totality, I look broad and pretty interdisciplinary. If you are in your early-to-mid 20’s contemplating your next move how is that narrative to be handled? Should it be embraced or rejected? That was the question in essence that was posed to me and the only answer I can give is ‘It depends’. I believe that if you have done your first and second degrees in one place then perhaps it is good to move on to somewhere else to broaden your horizons, cultural as much as scientific. However….….for some people a move may be impossible for all kinds of reasons, often personal. I still believe breadth can be obtained even then and, for future fellowship applications for instance, probably should be sought. Working with a new collaborator, perhaps in a different department or sub-discipline, will provide evidence that you are not a one trick pony. It will also provide a means for differentiating yourself from your PI, perhaps an even more important distinction to make.

To me, reading an application, I am more concerned by what a candidate uniquely brings, than how many grand old (wo)men they have worked with in different hemispheres. But too often breadth is portrayed as the requirement to have globe-trotted. I fear this is another area where a crude metric of number of departments worked in is used in place of a more nuanced version of breadth. Nevertheless, the fundamental question of how broad is too broad remains. It is a question I have heard muttered by someone who has failed to make election to the Royal Society as well as by the disappointed, more junior URF candidates. There can be no simple, right answer (since in this case there aren’t even insane metrics to aim at) so ultimately it is a personal choice. What interests you and how can you find your own niche? For some people a lifetime spent studying every facet of a well-defined problem may be the right way to go, but personally I think that person is a rarity, probably increasingly so. New insight comes from joining dots in novel ways, be it by utilising a new technique on an old problem, or applying the well-established tools and approaches of one field to the questions in another. Maybe even by ‘just’ tearing up an old paradigm by approaching a well-worked problem with new eyes when not steeped in a half century of dogma.

‘How broad’ is equally applicable as a question when contemplating what to do beyond one’s actual research. I was asked how I thought opportunities for students to get stuck into policy compared now with when I set out, a question I found embarrassing. Embarrassing, because I have come to thinking about policy so late in life. As a student I was completely oblivious of the issues; indeed that not very happy state of affairs persisted until recently so I am definitely a late if enthusiastic convert. Having said that, there are obviously wonderful opportunities to be seized now. In Cambridge we have the luxury of all the activities provided by CSaP (the Centre for Science and Policy) and, specifically for students, by CUSPE (Cambridge University Science and Policy Exchange): I am, for instance, taking part in a CUSPE event on the ‘STEM skills gap’ in a couple of weeks, discussing the loss of women entering the STEM professions. Students in Cambridge have no excuse for not dipping their toes into policy waters if it takes their fancy, even without doing anything substantial such as seeking an internship through POST (the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology) or elsewhere.

But should they? My answer must be yes if they feel that inclination. It is such an important issue and, if we bemoan the lack of scientifically-trained policy makers as I for one do, then the only solution is for science-trained students to engage and contemplate making policy their subsequent career, be it as civil servants or MPs, in think-tanks or in NGO’s. The challenge for research students must be to find an appropriate balance so as not to let their research get derailed (or at least not until after they have their PhD successfully under their belt). I was encouraged by the interest and enthusiasm the students at this conference evinced, wanting to know more about how they can get involved. This was a bunch of students who cared passionately about wanting to make their world a better place and ensuring that sensible policy decisions are made has to be part of that.

There is, as any old fogey will tell you, something exhilarating about talking to those setting out on their lives. It is one of the reasons that working in academia is such a privilege and it is definitely one of the perks of the job of being Master of a Cambridge college. I certainly came away from my half day’s intense interrogation by this bright bunch of students mentally weary but excited. So, as ever, I turn to my blog to put down my half-digested thoughts on the ideas the debates have stimulated.

How broad is too broad? It is an impossible question to answer. Spreading one’s wings into (mixed metaphor) pastures new has to be good for all kinds of reasons beyond simply the CV and the next job application. But, go too far and it is of course possible that glib superficiality will set in. It’s a fine line, but one that every individual has to work out for themselves. And then, no doubt like me, they can write a sensible narrative late in life with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight.

Posted in Research, Science Culture, Science Policy | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Do you have a sponsor? (Do you need one?)

I have been reading the book by Sylvia Ann Hewlett on sponsorship: (Forget a Mentor) Find a Sponsor. Sylvia very kindly gave me a copy of this book when I met her in March where we were both talking at The Meaning of Success event in New York; she is a fellow alumna of Girton College. She is emphatic that you need sponsors as well as mentors. As she puts it, sponsors

‘believe in your value and your potential and are prepared to link reputations and go out on a limb on your behalf’.

These aren’t just people who give you advice, as mentors do, they are powerful people who will be your champions and provide opportunities to prove yourself. As a consequence, if you fail when you try you may damage their own reputations too.

The book largely describes a corporate world that at first sight looks incredibly different from academia. It is hard to relate the language she uses to the (comparatively) flat world of academic research structures. It isn’t so obviously a case of being shipped around the world to deliver one project – perhaps restructuring a failing office – and then another, each linked to the sponsor but enabling you to progress after each task until you arrive at the much sought after ‘C suite’. Academic life does not resemble this very closely. Yet there are similarities, although they probably deal more with the non-research side of academic progression – although not necessarily so, as I’ll explain below.

Mentoring as a concept is much more familiar to university departments, not least through Athena Swan action plans. Many departments appoint formal mentors to new staff hires. Some provide explicit assistance to early career researchers too. One would hope that supervisors (of students and postdocs) provide mentoring too, although one knows that sometimes that is a forlorn hope. However, I remain unconvinced that formal mentoring is the catch-all answer that sometimes people make out, not least because you can be assigned one with whom you do not gel, in which case there is no sense of clicking to indicate that the mentor ‘gets’ what the mentee is looking for/needing.

Mentors can advise you on where to look for the next source of funds or the number of papers you would be well-advised to have under your belt before applying for a fellowship. Perhaps they may help you negotiate some tricky internal conflicts or at least enable you to talk through your options. But will they put your name forward, behind the scenes, to be considered for some new role? That is where Sylvia believes sponsors come into their own. This would be, not just for promotion – when mentor or sponsor alike should be tapping you on the shoulder and encouraging you to throw your hat into the ring – but for some role where the effect of someone else putting your name forward might be hugely important. Things such as joining some significant committee or being considered as a head of a team or department would fit this bill. Speaking up to a head hunter to put your name forward to join some external body would be another sort of example. Mentors, in Sylvia’s categorisation, would not be likely to do this but sponsors will.

So, within academia it is obvious that as one progresses, colleagues of both types will be helpful. Thinking about Sam Edwards, as I’ve been writing various pieces (my last post plus, in a slightly more scientific vein, a piece on the Guardian website) to honour the memory of the man who made such a difference to my own career and who died a couple of weeks ago, I realise in many ways he certainly did act as my sponsor as well as mentor. When he pulled in the money for two major grants – one on food physics and a subsequent one on colloids – he passed the lead on the grants over to me. At the time I suppose I imagined he was doing it faute de mieux. I was the experimentalist to hand; he felt an experimentalist and not a theorist was the right person to lead the work and anyhow he had bigger fish to fry in the rarefied world of policy and industrial leadership he moved in. Although the faute de mieux argument probably has some truth in it, at the time it never crossed my mind additionally what a compliment he was actually paying me or what a fantastic opportunity he was tossing in my direction.

The food physics grant I took over before I’d even got a permanent position at the Cavendish. The lecturer who was meant to be the lead, Jacob Klein, headed back to Israel for personal reasons leaving me as the only obvious (experimental) successor, as I was already in the department in my first year as a URF. Suddenly I found I had a grant to hand, tied in with the Institute of Food Research at Norwich, funding three or four postdocs in an area in which I had no experience. Character-building, I suppose one could call it. Quite scarey too. But out of that ultimately grew my own successful research in starch some years later – there were some less than successful projects in between, as well as so-so projects that weren’t a disgrace but which either had little to do with food or which just weren’t hugely exciting – and from there I moved into things more biological.

Back in the 1980’s I foresaw none of that. I merely knew that Sam expected me to make a go of a large grant and I had better get on with it and enlist help where I could. Clearly, now I know what sponsorship is, Sam was doing exactly that. And by doing that he was indeed risk-taking, another attribute Sylvia Ann Hewlett identifies with a sponsor. If I had monumentally messed up it couldn’t have destroyed Sam’s reputation, he was way beyond that point, but it might have left him looking less than wise in his choice at the very least.

So, in academia sometimes sponsorship can be highly significant as well as the mentoring that is so much more familiar. This is not to say that the only people who ‘make it’ are the ones who found a sponsor along the way. Nor do I believe that all early career researchers should expend much time and effort seeking such people out, as Sylvia believes is so important in the corporate world. Nevertheless, having people higher up the career ladder who you take the trouble to talk to when you encounter them, be it in the canteen or at a conference, and to whom you indicate what you might be looking for in terms of progression cannot be a bad thing.

So, if you haven’t yet identified a sponsor as well as a mentor, maybe you should give the matter further thought.


Posted in Science Culture | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

On the Loss of a Giant

At the turn of the year I wrote about the death of Ed Kramer, one of the two key people in my life who turned me into the person I am as a scientist. I am deeply saddened to learn about the death of the other crucial individual who influenced the course of my career so substantially, Sir Sam Edwards. I have written previously a little about Sam but it seems timely to say a little more to celebrate his life, his wisdom and the impact he made on the field of soft matter he was so influential in creating (along with Pierre Gilles de Gennes).

My interactions with Sam were very different from those with Ed Kramer, in some ways more distant lacking the intensity of the two years of near-daily contact I had with Ed during my time as his postdoc. But Sam was there for much longer in my life, offering me his wisdom, his support and the benefit of his contacts over an extended period. But, aside from the purely professional, there was one absolutely vital statement he made to me that meant that I stayed in science and had the confidence to attempt to combine motherhood and a career. At the time that it became clear a lectureship was going to open up in polymer physics at the Cavendish I went to see him to discuss the situation. I pointed out that I wanted to start a family. I have never forgotten his response

‘Intelligent women should have families’

he said, making it clear that were I pregnant at interview he, for one, would not hold this against me (he was at the time Head of Department as well as Cavendish Professor). Remember this was a very long time ago when such attitudes could not be counted on; perhaps they still cannot.

At various points Sam was Chair of the Science Research Council (the single predecessor of EPSRC and BBSRC) and de facto Chief Scientific Advisor to the Ministry of Defence, though that probably wasn’t the job title at the time. Of course he was also head of the department of Physics in Cambridge, Cavendish Professor and a Pro Vice Chancellor, I think the first Cambridge ever had. He had a very strong belief in the importance, not just of physics, but of contributing to the community wholeheartedly to give back for what he had himself received. As a Welsh grammar school boy who won a scholarship to Cambridge immediately post war, he never forgot his roots and that his grandfather had been down the mines. He felt strongly he owed something to the country that had enabled him to progress from these roots to the highest levels in academia and he had a palpable sense of public service and duty.

If you look around the country at Sam’s protégées it is clear many of us imbibed the message that his life conveyed. Numerous of those who worked with him have gone on to leadership and public roles. Of those I know well I can think of 3 PVC’s/Deans (Richard Jones at Sheffield, Tom McLeish at Durham and Ken Evans at Exeter). That cannot be a coincidence. Mark Warner is running the Rutherford Schools’ Physics project  operating from the Cavendish; Robin Ball was Director of the Complexity Science CDT at Warwick. Two of us are currently serving on Royal Society Council (Mike Cates and myself), something he himself did, becoming a vice-president for a year. We all learnt from Sam that involvement with these larger spheres is both important and interesting, a message that many scientists don’t necessarily ever hear or receive.

But Sam never gave up his science. He had a reputation at the Ministry of Defence for being incredibly thorough at taking notes during meetings, but in practice he was often working on solutions to the latest problem that had caught his interest in his notebook. His interests were wide and, after his retirement he started up the whole new field of granular solids practically single-handedly although not without controversy. Many of us felt he was unlucky not to share the 1991 Nobel Prize with de Gennes, but the pair of them maintained a very close relationship until de Gennes untimely death, even if it was a relationship tinged with a hint of rivalry.

He was a non-executive director for various companies and always maintained close links with industry. That his name was widely celebrated at Unilever was a source of mixed pride: he was remembered for solving the equations for polymer viscosity that enabled the company to make a loo cleaner (Domestos I think) that hung around the bowl for longer and therefore disinfected more efficiently. He wasn’t sure that that was the product he really wanted to be associated with! His close links with industry had major importance for me in that he was able to pull all the relevant parties together to create a  linked grant from government and industry on the topic of colloids, at £3M a huge sum back in 1992 for the Cavendish to win. This was a grant I was then fingered to lead. His was the hard work that brought the grant to fruition, but I was one of the group who derived the benefit of scientific credit. This wasn’t the first time he had done so for me either: he had previously brought Food Physics to the Cavendish with another major grant which I then took the scientific (and experimental) lead on. My scientific reputation, if you like, derives from his vision. It was demanding to fulfil that vision but I had a strong financial platform on which to build.

As I write this, and having circulated the news of his death widely over email, the messages that come back to me all use words like affection and fondness in their remembrances, plus words recalling his wisdom and humanity. For instance, as Randal Richards wrote (and he was one who had never worked directly with Sam)

He will indeed be missed not just for his scientific insight but also for his warm humanity and an ability to treat all as equals be they fresh PhD students or Margaret Thatcher (who appointed him as chair of the Science Research Council!).

This attitude of equality is something I identified when I wrote about Sam some years ago, another key characteristic we should all bear in mind in our own behaviour.

Finally, there is no doubt that Sam was a bon viveur. He was an opera aficionado who frequented Glyndebourne, and a serious wine buff. His room in his college (Gonville and Caius) had a small (former bedroom) room off it in which he stored a huge cache of wine. This collection was legendary. I cannot comment on his knowledge of wine because I would never have been able to catch him out, although I did once see one of my junior colleagues do so. In fact, I didn’t always appreciate his taste in wines although over the years I managed to consume quite a lot of it. Sam’s solution to many situations – trying to win grants, win friends from industry or just to entertain visitors – was to host a good dinner.

Indeed one of his last pieces of advice to me was to hold dinners as a way of making progress in tricky negotiations, one I didn’t follow (at least until I became Master at Churchill, at which point I seem to be far more involved in formal dinners than at any point previously). At a dinner given by ICI in his honour around his 80th birthday in Caius, I realised – not for the first time – my ability to consume wine was not up to everyone else’s and I was all set to leave the red wine in my glass rather than drink it and slide under the table. At that point Sam held up his glass and said

‘at current prices I think this wine would fetch around £150 a bottle’

– he had of course laid it down long before when the price was more moderate. I looked at my glass, calculated that it contained £30 worth and felt obliged to drink it all! He had strong views about wine. Quotes abound. There was the hotel at which he picked up the wine list and remarked scornfully there wasn’t a bottle on it that was fit for more than being flushed down the toilet. And he said, more than once, that life was not long enough for the Gamay grape.

Of course, his shrewdness and his wisdom extended far beyond the wine cellar. For many years I would trip along to his office and pour out my latest conundrum, including long after he had retired. He would offer me the voice of experience and encourage me every step along the way. He had invested in me in the sense of procuring the grants he then handed over to me; he wanted to make sure I, and all the associated research, flourished and did all he could to ensure that.

RIP Sam. You will be missed by so many. A good friend, mentor and collaborator whose reach went far beyond those who actually formally worked with him. A ground-breaking theoretical physicist (read Stealing the Gold if you want to read his seminal papers and the impact they had on all around in the fields of spin glasses and soft matter) who set the field alight in the UK and far beyond.

Posted in Science Culture | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Knowledge versus Experience

One of the things that is always said about teaching is that it shows you what you do or don’t know. You can’t flannel an explanation to a student who keeps asking probing questions though you may manage to do it to yourself. They may be questions that approach a topic in some way you had never considered before but rapidly realise is illuminating – possibly even challenging – and so they can aid your own understanding. Sometimes writing a talk is rather like that too.

I have a list of talks coming up that aren’t on particularly familiar territory, starting with one on communication for a group of postdocs. I have never previously sat down and thought about my style of speaking, or what I feel the necessary ingredients of a good talk are beyond clarity and coherence. And keeping to time. And that the slides are visible from the back of the lecture theatre. And that you’re audible. And….You will see why I realised as I started putting my presentation together for this talk, that actually there were a lot of things I felt quite strongly about. I may not have been used to articulating them but nevertheless I ‘knew’ at some level what I thought was important (though in fact most of the talk won’t be about giving talks).

I have presumably been asked to give this talk because someone thinks I know something about communication, whereas in fact it is more a case of having got on with the job, experimented with different styles, media (as with this blog but also newspapers and radio), topics and audiences. For each of the multiple combinations you can construct out of those four ingredients, there is probably a different set of ‘rules’ one is implicitly obeying. But this does not mean that I have ever sat down and constructed a matrix of how to construct ‘communication strategies’ appropriate to each of the different combinations.

Experience is a wonderful thing because it enables you to ‘learn’ without noticing. The first time of doing anything will always be daunting and things may easily go belly up. But, to use that apparently trite cliché, one learns from one’s mistakes. And one does. So, after years of hiccoughs, trials and tribulations you slowly find out how not to fall over quite so painfully. (If you want to hear about the ‘lumpy custard’ debacle when attempting to discuss the somewhat unfamiliar topic of colloids with the media many years ago, I refer you to Desert Island Discs. Believe you me, that first major interaction with the media after an ill-considered press release was painful. It put me off talking to the media, in any shape or form for about 15 years. In fact until shortly before Desert Island Discs invited me along and, out of the blue, they sprung the question about the lumpy custard saga….)

Experience is in fact often just knowledge which hasn’t been put explicitly into words – I guess it’s ‘unknown knowns’ to rework Donald Rumsfeld. When someone asks you to articulate how you do something, a little reflection enables you to realise what strategy you’ve unconsciously been putting into practice. However, on that first occasion when you have neither experience nor internal knowledge you do have to rely on others to stiffen your spine and to pass on their tips and advice. So, I guess talking about communication may help others to start identifying some of the strands they personally will need to pull together and to consider what the options are and which ones personally appeal.

Last year I was asked to talk about leadership. Rereading what I wrote at the time, it seems to apply almost as well to communication as to leadership (in the case of this paragraph I was specifically referring to committee work):

Whatever, I am who I am and my style has to be what works for me and I guess the same is true for everyone. Worry about the content first and foremost; make sure you’re articulate, coherent and audible as well as factually well-prepared and aware of other people’s sticking points.

This idea that one has to be true to oneself was very much the advice I gave a young colleague recently who was facing his first after-dinner speech. I told him

If you’re not good at telling jokes (I’m not), then don’t for instance. Are you trying to give any particular message? It’s often best if you can ‘talk from the heart’ i.e. be quite personal without being self-centred. But personal anecdotes by way of illustration of some point – something you’ve learned for instance, something you wish you had known but didn’t and so messed up – tend to work well.

I haven’t included the art of after-dinner speaking in my talk on communication – I am after all talking to scientists not Toastmasters. Perhaps I should cover it too, but it is such a particularly peculiar format, and so very British, that it doesn’t feel as if it would fit in. Of course in my own College when I have to speak I always have the option of peppering my words with some appropriate Churchillian bon mot, although on the whole I don’t. I certainly still feel I am learning ‘what works’ for a relaxed and mellow audience in after-dinner speeches, and how to manipulate notes, microphones, toasts (with requisite full glasses of wine) and remember all the well-deserved thanks, interweaving the one with the other without the notes descending to the floor in fluttery chaos as they are prone to do.

Unfortunately this talk on communication is not the only unusual topic I have agreed to do over the next month. Looking at my diary I see I am also supposed to be giving a Keynote to PhD students on the topic of ‘Understanding Service’, although I’m convinced that was not what the original invitation highlighted. I am sure, as I put that talk together, I will likewise be teasing out ideas that lurk in my head without necessarily having been previously put into words. But, it won’t take the reader of this blog long to know I believe service to the community is hugely important and a task that too few senior professors are willing to engage with wholeheartedly. Shortly after that I’m supposed to be giving a talk on ‘transitioning to independence’ for aspiring PIs. This transition is a key stage that I’ve obviously been through but I wonder if I can reflect sufficiently coherently on what I did, well or badly, at that critical juncture to be any use to a new generation.

So, a series of talks to groups at different stages, on different aspects of ‘making it work’ as you progress. I hope, as I tease out some strands of what I did and what in hindsight I wish I had done, I can be of some use. Service, as I’ll be discussing in that middle talk, takes many forms, but assisting those who are setting out should be something all of us nearer the top of the greasy pole need to embrace. I hope I’ll be doing my bit this month.

Posted in Communicating Science, Science Culture | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Perils of Procrastination

Voter registration in the UK showed just how many people are good at procrastination, with nearly half a million people registering on the last possible day. My email inbox is also a good indicator of people’s expectation that we are all procrastinators. How many emails do you get a day headed ‘Last chance – fantastic offers end tomorrow’ or ‘Final Days to Register for…’. We are presumed to respond to these last minute opportunities, rather than opt for something in a stately and timely manner well before the deadline.

Does this matter? We’ve all been guilty of engaging in some variation of this from time to time. Students turning up with a piece of coursework 24 hours after a deadline is a familiar occurrence which, not even 5% automatic mark loss per day late seems able to counteract. Or academics who put pressure on institutional administrators to process major grant applications within a day of a funder’s deadline; we don’t take kindly to being reminded that the organisation’s rules require a week’s notice particularly if, as a consequence, the institution refuses to sign the grant off. (Although I suspect many administrators would not actually feel empowered to throw a hot-shot professor’s application back in their face in that way, however reasonable such behaviour might be.)

But what if the only person who gains or loses by the procrastination is oneself – what are the pros and cons then? It seems to me that there are times when a task is so tedious the only way that one can motivate oneself to do it at all is to leave it to the last minute. That can apply to writing numerous letters of reference for students you don’t know very well; or reading the paperwork for some committee that merely feels like an exercise in drudgery and pointlessness, or that you feel you have been stuck on as a makeweight and you actually have little you feel qualified (or interested in sufficiently) to offer.

The other group of tasks that, it seems to me, we are prone to put off and put off are the ones that are the complete opposite. These are the tasks that are so important they feel horrifyingly daunting. Challenges such as the big talk you’ve got to give at an international conference for which simply recycling a previous one with some tweaks and updates will not suffice; or the new lecture course that has to be delivered to 400 keen (or not so keen) first years. Some of these tasks you know about so far in advance that they seem remote so that it is easy to put off week after week. Until suddenly, the talk is only next week, or the 24 lecture course next month. Then, perhaps, the adrenalin will surge and fear will prompt a sudden flurry of activity. The danger is that time will still run out. A talk (or lecture course) will be written, but it won’t be honed and polished to perfection. At that late moment it may remain rough around the edges. Afterwards you will curse yourself for not devoting the tender loving care to your thoughts and slides that you know they deserved.

I well recall when I was invited to give a big lecture, on a topic of my choosing but specifically not simply about my research and for a general university audience. I had around a year to think about this and I read extensively, broadened my range of reading material significantly, thought about all kinds of topics that I had barely considered before and had a huge amount of fun and stimulation. But did I write the talk? No of course I didn’t. The ideas were floating around in a vague amorphous mess but not a slide did I construct. I had files of useful articles and quotes but they were all jumbled up metaphorically and literally. A couple of weeks before the talk my husband asked how it was going. That gave me a jolt! I hope I did the topic justice; I do know that I had more questions (about half an hour’s worth) than on any previous talk I had ever given and they only stopped because everyone’s tongue was hanging out waiting for the drinks reception. Nor were these hostile questions but searching, deep ones which made me believe (wishful thinking perhaps) that I had got through to the general listener. But it doesn’t alter my perception I could have done better if I had started the actual talk construction (rather than merely thinking about the ingredients) further in advance.

Nevertheless, the real problem arises when you leave things to the last moment and then something goes wrong. Not quite along the lines of ‘the dog ate my homework’, more typically that you have flu or your computer crashes. That I suppose is what has prompted this post. Trying to tidy things up in advance of going off to a conference for a few days, I was copying what I needed off my desktop computer so that I could take material with me. I just had a brief interval before rushing off to a student event in College and that, of course, was when my computer crashed. It just sat there blinking forlornly at me refusing either to reopen programmes or shut down. Fury, despair and panic ensued. Luckily I extricated myself (and it) after only about 10 minutes, but it reminded me of the dangers of not being well prepared. Had I allowed a proper amount of time to accomplish the needful, I would have expended less nervous energy on the trivial task.

Reader, beware of putting yourself in this same position. Regularly. Do not procrastinate as no doubt you, like all of us, do.

Posted in Science Culture | Tagged , , | 2 Comments