Multitasking in the Public Eye

I spent much of the last week in Belgium. A long-scheduled trip, I spent a couple of nights in Brussels and one in Leuven. With Cambridge-Brussels being easy and streamlined (usually at least) via Eurostar, this should have been a straightforward trip. In Brussels I was fulfilling part of my role as an ERC Scientific Council member by observing a (random) selection of interviews of potential grantees; in Leuven, a mere half hour away by train, I was attending a meeting of LERU science deans. (Not that my university has such a job title but, in the absence of any ‘real’ science dean, I have been asked to take on that role.)

However, things were a little more complicated than that due to a matter of bad timing. Next week is the annual British Science Festival, a celebration of the exciting science that has been going on over the past year and a chance for the public to catch up with the stories. As the incoming President I get to give a Presidential Address – and the opportunity to talk to the Press. My press conference – perhaps surprisingly the first formal one I’ve ever participated in – immediately preceded my departure for Brussels. The press conference itself was a very straightforward affair. Whereas I had been anticipating all kinds of challenging questions, these did not materialise at the time and I set off peacefully enough.

However, maybe the timing of lifting the embargo on the press release could have been timed worse, but I’m not quite sure how, (no one’s fault, just circumstance). The embargo lifted at midnight on Thursday by which time I had reached Leuven. But the Thursday afternoon and evening involved numerous hurried emails and phone calls to try to resolve media matters when I should have been doing other stuff. There really is no obvious way to do TV interviews in a hurry when in some random and not particularly large European town such as Leuven but the mobile phone is apparently considered quite good enough for doing radio interviews.

As I set off for the working dinner with the LERU deans, BBC Radio 4 Today came back me to advise me that they wanted to use FaceTime – an app I did have on my phone although not one I’d ever used – and not the hotel landline that already had been discussed. I stood in the hotel carpark discussing all the details and the topics to be covered and then set off at a fast pace for my dinner, as I was by then late. Of course I set off in the wrong direction and it proceeded to start to rain, hard and harder. By the time I found the restaurant my elegant soignée look (had I ever possessed such a thing) was lost and ‘drowned rat’ better described my apologetic and tardy appearance. However, mention the BBC and everything is forgiven. All everyone wanted to know was what I was going to be talking about: science education made the assorted company perfectly happy.

Aside from a further call to say the timing had been shifted a little – to give me longer on air – I was all set for a pleasant evening of good food and wine. The wine may have been a mistake, or it may have helped me to sleep, but I was up and ready betimes for Friday morning’s phone call (or should that be FaceTime call?). I won’t repeat what I said to Justin Webb as you can hear it here (where the BBC has helpfully placed just the relevant clip from the whole programme so you don’t have to search for my particular contribution), but suffice it to say the angle taken was not how the press release had been written. The press release was about post-16 education, with a throw-away line about toys.

The interview – and it transpired essentially all the other coverage in the print media of which there was plenty – was about gender stereotyping of toys, not my call for a reform of A levels. (Oh well, I could at least write what I wanted in my own piece on The Conversation website. I wrote this on Eurostar on the way out, and in it you’ll find something closer to what I will actually be focussing on in my Presidential Address). Plus, on Today as you can hear, a left field question about Tim Hunt that I hadn’t seen coming given the previous chat with the editor.

So where’s the multitasking, I hear you ask? That was what happened during the remainder of the day. I arrived late at the meeting – due to the Today interview – and then was much less able to concentrate on European issues about science funding, infrastructure and impact than I would have liked as I kept an eye on my iPad. Emails, tweets and voicemail flooded in. Yes, everyone in the room knew what was going on, but I still felt torn that I had two important and incompatible tasks to deal with. Several local BBC radio stations were trying to get hold of me plus a TV channel, plus a weekly publication. I found it hard to juggle, not least as I had to work out when the timing of a break might mean I could make a phone call while constantly trying to add (or subtract) an hour as I fixed things because of operating in a different time zone. I hope I still made a useful contribution to the LERU discussions!

In the end I did three of the various local radio requests (Cambridgeshire, Newcastle and LBC), finding a quiet(ish) corner outside with a bench on which to perch while waiting for my phone to be patched in. Anxiously waiting to see if another cloudburst would arrive, in fact the main problem was that I was in the rather beautiful medieval Groot Begijnhof which is entirely cobbled. Prams being wheeled past made an appalling racket and would have drowned the interviewer’s voice out if the timing had been wrong (though the incessant noises off of crows and pigeons probably wouldn’t have disturbed the listener too much). I felt bad about those stations I was unable to respond to because of failing to catch their messages in time, but people not returning calls is probably their daily fare. Just before I left Leuven I also squeezed in a conversation with someone from the TES, whilst standing in the square outside the station trying to think straight whilst anxiously keeping an eye on my luggage.

None of this is ideal. None of this is what any university’s media training course prepares you for. You are supposed to be fully in control of the situation, calmly sitting in a nice studio with your thoughts in order. Not switching between discussions of impact and the possible TEF to defending why Barbies represent a limited choice for girls in the toy-line. Nor is it conducive to concentration when being looked at with semi-amused smiles by the high level European scientists round the table as you try to keep an eye on your Twitter feed. Not my finest hour. Best piece of advice courtesy of Mark Miodownik  as I sat in the Eurostar terminal ready to go back: have a glass of wine!

Now I only have one interview to go, at least as far as I know, although I’m also due to record Private Passions tomorrow for BBC Radio 3 through a further unfortunate accident of timing (to be broadcast in early October I believe). Roll on Thursday, when I will be totally in control of my Presidential Address. What can go wrong? Well, my last blogpost on the Guardian website might give you some clues…..

Posted in Communicating Science | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Now I am Five*

This week I was stalking people. Professionally of course. As a Trustee of the Science Museum a group of us were invited to do some ‘Gallery Observations’ of visitors to get a sense of how they interact with the exhibits. Of course stalking is too strong a word, but observing we most certainly were.

I saw a group of three teenage girls, one of whom wanted to stop and stare, perhaps even think, but she was being constantly dragged off by her companions. I saw a pair who were obviously more interested in each other than what was on show, but nevertheless they occasionally perused a label or pointed and giggled at some old-fashioned artefact (I had never thought of the Museum as a dating venue but – why not?). There were many families, it being the height of the school holidays, with their own internal group dynamics: pushy parents, those being dragged around by enthusiastic (or whiney) children and grandparents desperately trying to keep control of exuberant toddlers.

Who is the Museum for? How should they cater for the different population segments? What can be done better? This was the point of the exercise and very informative it was for me too, if only to make me appreciate the challenge lurking behind those questions. It made me think how those questions equally apply to my blog. My blog that is, astonishingly enough, now a healthy child of 5. Its 5th birthday passed without me noticing just a week or so ago. A good moment for reflection.

So, the key question must be: whom am I writing for? Leaving aside the obvious answer of I’m doing it for myself – because it’s fun and it gives me a chance to be creative – my answer is, I think, similar to the question around the Science Museum visitors: I want it to cater for diverse audiences. My initial intention was to write mainly about interdisciplinary science and the challenges it faces (funding, for starters). I guess I thought I was going to be writing about science. As regular readers will know, that is not what I do. I am not writing for the keen 6th former who wants ready access to easily digestible cutting-edge science, nor for the grandmother trying to catch up on the science she wasn’t exposed to as a child. I am often referred to as a science communicator but my blog has in fact evolved mainly along the other lines I set out in that first post of August 22nd 2010

‘to post thoughts on work at the outer reaches of physics where it meets biology, and the challenges of working at that interface; some of my ideas and experiences as a senior woman physicist plus my reactions to discussions around this topic, and general initiatives in this area; and reactions to science policy, funding etc’.

These latter topics, much more than about interdisciplinary challenges and the detailed science itself, are what form the heart of my writing.

I choose to write about such a mixture of stuff deliberately to try to interest different sections of the potential readership. If I only wrote about women in science issues I believe my male readership might be relatively small. Since I want both men and women to read about these issues I try to space out those posts which are specifically about issues directly affecting women. And anyhow, I want to write about a range of topics which strike me as important and interesting at a particular point. I once saw blogging described as online mentoring (perhaps by one of my earliest role models Female Science Professor whose writing is now sadly mainly in abeyance; however, it may have been by someone else). I love that idea, although inevitably you cannot know if the mentee has actually been able to utilise any pearls of wisdom you try to throw their way, since you do not know who they are. They may be on the other side of the world or in the lab next door.

But other topics have regularly featured here. One type I used to enjoy writing was characterisation of people you might well meet in academic circles (as in the Committee Chair) – basically character assassination of certain types. Unfortunately, as Master of a Cambridge college I do not feel able to continue that line in case my fellowship nervously start trying to identify the culprits I appear to be dissecting. Indeed, I was rather apprehensive the College might be uncomfortable with me continuing to write at all. That has not been my experience for which I am grateful. For a period I sat on far too many committees and I wrote a lot about committee paperwork and coping strategies, but more recently I have had to endure fewer of such mind-numbing, paper-intensive meetings and that line of writing has also dried up, at least for now.

I have an occasional line in what I mentally think of as ‘lyrical’ posts, in so far as they are less embedded in the academic world. Ones based on places I’ve been or books I’ve read, for instance – or even on the importance of the bicycle to me. My life does not contain sufficient poetry that these could ever turn up often. Mainly my posts are simply triggered by something that has happened, to me or in the world in which I move. From time to time I wonder what would happen if I wrote something totally different: how would readers react if I decided to discuss rock music or football? Straying far from what is expected might lose me regular readers (although possibly gain me others). I don’t intend to do anything quite like that, but it is not clear to me whether one has to or should stick with the particular niche that one has fallen into.

One thing that is undeniable is that my writing is personal and in the first person. The whole joy I get from blog writing is that it is an escape from the passive voice beloved of scientific papers (although that style is beginning to fade a little). If my personal experience, my ‘authentic voice’ as I suspect life-coaches might have it, can encourage others that is a bonus that means a lot to me. Not all bloggers feel comfortable with such a personal voice, but one thing I have learned (it took me a while) is that I have control. I do not have to tell you my more humiliating anecdotes, share the details of my wider family or spill any other beans that I don’t want to. It is my choice. Everything I write may be honest, but I don’t honestly have to tell you everything. I believe that that personal voice has been appreciated, but I realise I never actually consciously decided to use it. It just turned out that way. If on day one I had chosen to write in more guarded tones I wonder what would have happened. I suspect I would have given up.

Although I may not know who my online mentees may be in many instances, I do know how many people have approached me (virtually or in person) and said how much they enjoy what I write. I will never have a regular and huge readership because the academic blog-reading scientific community is not massive. But the words of encouragement I receive from friends and strangers alike are hugely encouraging and mean a lot to me. It encourages me to keep writing, albeit at a slightly slower rate now I am out so many evenings through College and other activities (I used to find that time of day ideal for writing, when too tired to deal with more weighty matters but with enough energy to do something a little bit creative). Whether I will still be here in another five years who knows? But for now I hope the energy and ideas do not dry up and that I will still have the diverse audience I strive for coming back for more.

*With apologies to AA Milne





Posted in blogging, Communicating Science | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Choosing an Oxbridge College

As one cohort of students are celebrating (or coming to terms with) which university they’ll be heading off to this autumn, another cohort are considering their Year 12 results. For this latter group, decisions loom about UCAS forms. Which universities provide what they want in terms of course, cost, location and ambience? And for those who are contemplating Oxbridge as a destination, further decisions may be needed about which college to choose. (While Cambridge and Oxford advise students not to worry too much about choosing a college, on the sound grounds that the Colleges are far more similar than they are different, most applicants do still want to select one rather than simply making an ‘open’ application.) These are tricky decisions, often inevitably based on limited information. As Master of one of the bigger, more heavily applied to and most academically successful Cambridge colleges (we were placed third in this year’s Tompkins Table of undergraduate academic performance), let me tell you about some of the things that I know our students were attracted by when they chose Churchill. In this way I might assist those worrying about college choice by providing some pointers about what may be important. I don’t promise to be entirely unbiased!

Churchill’s undergraduate population is around 460, larger than many of the colleges. In the 2014 admissions round we accepted 140 students, compared with the smallest intake for a traditional undergraduate college of 66 at Peterhouse and 210 at Trinity, the largest. We also boast the largest site, with substantial playing fields as part of the site as opposed to fields located a mile or more away, and the largest dining hall. Figures to bear in mind if you think size matters. We are a modern college – brutalist 1960s architecture rather than Tudor wood, but delightfully large, light rooms with much-admired windowsills for sitting on and staring out of the window – which commits to providing accommodation, often en suite and almost always on the main site, for three years of an undergraduate course. At a reasonable rent (a touch below midway in overall costs, with total transparency over what the rent covers), free wifi in all rooms and no additional fixed charges for food. These are all parameters that can vary substantially between different colleges. Oh yes, and alumni from 10 years back have told me how much the food has improved in recent years – I’ve certainly been enjoying it.

But these are hard facts that you can get from the College prospectus and which you can easily compare with other colleges through the site How to Choose a Cambridge College. What matters more is what I termed ‘ambience’ above. To some extent this is best appreciated by visiting – and there are plenty of open days to enable visits to be made: the next one at Churchill is on September 25th for all subjects. As I presided over my first Matriculation Dinner last year, the first year physicist sitting next to me confided that he had felt at home as soon as he’d walked into the College. We are, as I am constantly being told and it is self-evidently true, a friendly and unstuffy college. We even provide written notes to help the nervous work out which way to pass the port at our handful of really formal meals. No need to be embarrassed about such Cambridge trivia.

And, contrary to fairly widespread assumption, we are not full of public school kids, although we obviously value those we have: around 70% of our UK admissions come from the state sector, which is significantly above the Cambridge average, something I am very proud of. I wrote previously about how our admissions policies work, to ensure not only transparency but also that we look at every applicant in the round. Nevertheless we do have a problem I want to help solve: our gender make-up is significantly out of line with the typical close to 50:50 composition of most of the colleges. I want to see more girls apply so that we can admit more of them. Possibly because of our preponderance of students in STEM subjects (by statute 70% of our students will be in these Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths subjects), the number of female applicants is persistently lower than we would like. This, despite the fact that we can proudly cite that the College was the very first in Cambridge to vote to admit women. What happened along the road is not clear to me, but it seems to mean we are no longer seen as a college of first choice for enough of the UK’s brightest young women. Would it be an inducement to say that we have a mainly female leadership team next year, with myself, the Bursar and the Senior Tutor all being women? And we have enough female Directors of Studies in Natural Sciences that they are able to make up a whole netball team to play our students …

So, what more can I tell you that I have discovered in my first year here? Our student support is fantastic, with a College Nurse, a Counsellor and specialist study-skills Tutors to support the Tutorial team in making sure that all students thrive to the best of their ability. We have one of the lowest non-completion rates of any of the colleges and I am sure this can be directly attributed to the excellent pastoral care and individual attention students receive. If things start to unwind, perhaps because of family issues back home, or financial or health problems, there will be people there to offer support and advice. For some the porters are the first point of contact (although for one or two that is admittedly because they’ve had too much to drink!), for others it will be their Tutor or their Director of Studies. People are well-equipped to deal with these sorts of issues sensitively and confidentially, only sharing information as is appropriate to ensure that the best support is provided. Hugely important for young folk away from home, perhaps for the first time for an extended period.

So, good food, good (and guaranteed) rooms, good support – what else? A bike repair-man on site several days a week is a plus; I’ve used him and he’s excellent and quick. Good sports – our Boat Club excelled this year – good facilities for music, with a Music Centre on site; a large lecture theatre good for film screenings and plays. And a good location, particularly if you are a physical scientist. Maths, physics, computing, materials science and much of engineering are all within 10 minutes’ walk or so (less by bike); admittedly the Biomedical Campus is a decent cycle ride (or a trip on the Uni bus service) away, but town-centre science and arts departments are also pretty close. The major development of North West Cambridge is all-but adjacent (and soon there’ll be a new Sainsbury’s there; Cambridge is woefully short of centre-of-town supermarkets) and indeed, whereas Churchill might once have seemed on the fringes of the city, Cambridge’s centre of gravity is gradually moving west to encompass it.

In short, this is a fantastic place! Come and visit and be bowled over…..




Posted in Academia, Education | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

When Did You Decide to…..?

People seem to think that life travels in straight, orderly lines, with everything mapped out from birth. I have never felt that my life was like that and it is always startling when I find other people assume that I know, and have always known, what I‘m doing and why, as well as what I’m going to do next. The other day an interviewer kicked off with the question ‘When did you decide to…..?’. It was a question that left me floundering: it hadn’t been like that, I hadn’t made the decision, I’d just rather fallen into a particular role. I cannot believe I am alone in my life being, in fact, a lot less considered than it may appear to an outsider. Indeed it is little more than a chaotic trajectory of opportunities, failures and accidental progress. And this I believe is hugely important. People – especially the young such as those who’ve just got their A level results – shouldn’t be fooled into thinking success equates to ‘I always knew what I was doing and why’ and that if you personally don’t know it will invariably lead to failure or at least stagnation.

The title question is rather like the question ‘why did you decide…?’ in my case usually posed as ‘why did you decide to study physics?’ (or its variant, ‘what or who inspired you to study physics?’). I have no good answer to either question other than that I liked it. I know I’m meant to come up with an answer which demonstrates I was inspired by Marie Curie/my teacher/my aunt (or even uncle) or perhaps, more studiously, that the inspiration arose from reading Carl Sagan or Fred Hoyle. It always feels wimpish simply to say I liked it. But that is the truth and I’m not prepared to invent a false history to suit someone’s idea of what life ought to be like.

The same applies to decision-making of many sorts in my view. I am sure there are people who could say they decided to do a PhD because they wanted to understand quantum dots or black holes (or embryo development or to cure cancer if you happen to be a biologist as opposed to a physicist). Equally I am sure there are many who decided to do a PhD for the reason that the then head of department Brian Pippard told my graduating year at the Cavendish which he clearly thought was entirely the right reason:

‘if you think you ever might want to do research, now is the time to do it’

without any more specific goal in mind. Any faint penchant for it and you should aspire as soon as you graduate rather than wait a few years and regret the loss of opportunity (although of course people do return; sometimes they are even are sponsored to return). Pippard’s advice seemed good enough for me to take, particularly as I had no desire to do anything else very definite – such as join industry.

If I look back on my life there are decisions that I did consciously make, including getting married, starting a family and staying in the UK rather than returning to the USA to make my career there. Big decisions undoubtedly, but not the ones interviewers tend to ask. After all, asking why you decided to start a family would seem a pretty intrusive question; in fact I could give an easy answer to why I stayed in the UK (like the location of my wider family and my husband working here). But the questions that are asked tend to be about motivation, inspiration or direction, or else they make implicit assumptions in their question which immediately take the question into territory in which I’m not comfortable.

So, how many people, hand on heart can stand there and say they always knew they wanted to be an XXXX, they knew what they needed to do to achieve that goal and they have never deviated, hesitated or allowed repetition to slow them down en route to getting to that endpoint? I doubt many people could swear to that. Of senior (and successful) academics, I know ones who thought they wanted to be – or thought they were going to be, which isn’t necessarily the same thing – a writer, climber, musician, chair of the local PTA, a social worker or a tax inspector.

Perhaps they never got beyond the idea of expecting to end up unsalaried as a full time parent, or simply unemployed. I recently met an eminent lawyer who set off intending to be a medic. Perhaps these accidental academics believed they knew their (different) plans at 14, 18, 21 or even 25 but at some point they got locked into an academic career. Nevertheless, most probably didn’t know what their goals were beyond a horizon of a year or two even long after that. Doing the next thing that turns up (assuming it appeals to you) I think is not a bad thing to do. But it probably isn’t always writ large in self-help books.

Based on my own trajectory, experience is often helpful in the most unlikely ways. To give a fairly recent and very personal example, when I was asked (and agreed) to chair the Royal Society’s Education Committee in 2009 I had not previously been very close to school education but I thought the challenge would be interesting. I had at that point no aspiration to head a Cambridge College, but the knowledge I gained about curricula, examinations and the rapidity of change in both under recent Ministers has been immensely helpful in my first year in Churchill. The one opportunity did not lead to the other, but the detour into educational matters from my research has stood me in very good stead. Had I sat down in 2009 and thought that in a few years I wanted to be a College head, would I have thought that this was my optimum strategy to achieve that end? I’m sure not. Call it luck, or serendipity, or blind chance as you will, but it merely confirms me in the belief you never know what might grow out of seizing opportunities or when knowledge gained will come in useful. Perhaps the only thing you should regard as worse than turning down opportunities is not being offered them.

So the next time someone asks you ‘when did you decide…’ maybe you should come clean that actually you never made that decision at all. It just happened.


Posted in Careers, Science Culture | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

I Refuse to Think Like a Man

The recipe for success for women has been identified as

Look like a girl,
Act like a lady,
Think like a man,
Work like a boss.

(or at least it was until the Bic South Africa advertising poster was pulled due to the public uproar, so I can’t link to the original). This sentence is wrong on so many fronts I find it hard to know where to begin to take it to pieces. Nevertheless it has speedily been dissected by wise commentators from all round the world (here’s just one UK version). It matters because the implicit message will be what many people still seem to believe. Our looks (or absence thereof) come first and we should be sure to look less than our age apparently; being a lady is something I object to anyhow although at least this time the syntax is correct (unlike in the phrase lady scientist). But what takes the biscuit as far as I’m concerned is the idea that men think differently and implicitly better than women. That if our poor little mushed-up brains were merely themselves we’d never get anywhere in the workplace, so we have to aspire to think like men. But then, perhaps it would be all right after all because Donald Trump could come along and ‘cherish’ us and UCL’s Tony Segal just ‘loves women. The more the better’, so we could stay as mere decorative girls and still get on OK. Although probably not as successful academics.

Academia may be little better or worse than many professions for gender equality – law or medicine being obvious parallel examples – but we do seem to be increasingly measured in ways that look robust but almost certainly aren’t. As the recent HEFCE metrics report points out, relying on metrics isn’t necessarily wise. Nevertheless, if ‘scores’ are devised based on man-as-default, women will inevitably be less successful. Then the short-sighted bean-counters who devise such metrics can confidently announce that women just aren’t as good as men and the powers-that-be can smugly go on appointing people who look just like them. Success seems, in this picture, to be a self-perpetuating virtue.

All the arguments about what success looks like in academia – and the problems thereby caused for women’s progression – have been neatly pulled together in a recent short paper by Megan Henley on ‘Women’s Success in academic science, challenges to breaking through the ivory ceiling’.  Key to this topic is the problem posed by measuring success by metrics that women either don’t want or aren’t set up to achieve, broadly speaking number of papers (or patents) and their citations. If you argue that how often a paper is cited is an indicator of the esteem in which it is held in the field, you are ignoring many inconvenient facts (see the HEFCE review for more on this), including the fact that papers with errors in them are often highly cited. So, let’s for a moment go with the view that men and women are fundamentally different in the way their brain works – which many may reasonably consider to be neurobollocks anyhow – then if you take the view that men are more likely to take risks due to higher testosterone levels then they may rush into print with an over-hyped paper which is then panned by many others; the citation count is high. Bingo it looks like ‘success’.

There are other problems that beset the citation count: for reasons that aren’t clear to me, it appears that papers with male authors are more commonly cited than those led by women. Maybe this is because women don’t blow their own trumpets so much – it’s our natural ladylike modesty of course; or because they don’t get the same opportunity to network because they’re at home with the kids while their whizzkid – sorry that should have been successful – partners jet set around the world to talk about their own work (N.B. just in case you’re worrying that sentence is meant to be ironic). I have to say I find it inconceivable that a man should sit down and deliberately exclude citations to a woman’s work simply because of her gender (but maybe I’m naïve), but I don’t find it all surprising that women are less well known since, as has been pointed out many times, they tend to get fewer high-profile speaking invitations.

So, we should be reconsidering what we think success looks like – as my own University’s book The Meaning of Success made clear a year ago. It’s time to stop sticking with the same old criteria based on lazy metrics and old-fashioned concepts of what is valued by a university. Jenny Martin’s wonderful alternative set of metrics should be required reading for all appointment and promotion panels. It highlights many personal attributes that currently do not feature in the usual criteria, however valuable these additional criteria are. Interestingly, this includes creativity: don’t kid yourself that writing many papers means someone is necessarily creative. Writing pot-boilers is a good way both of making one small idea go a long way and, in the process, being able to create lots of self-citations to push the citation count up.

Thinking like a man may or may not be creative – just as thinking like a woman may or may not be. But sometimes thinking at all is a rare virtue. When it comes to looking after a research group, being so focussed on a high output may come at the expense of the wellbeing of individuals in the group if you never stop to think about the pressures they are under. Thinking about the workload you are dumping on your colleagues – academic and administrative – by being a serial offender at missed deadlines (exam question-setting perhaps) would also be a good thing to contemplate. What about sparing a thought for the students who turn up for a 9am lecture only to find you have put so little effort into preparing the material that they would have learnt as much by staying in bed? Teaching too often counts for little in promotion but it will always be of importance for the students.

What is needed is a fundamental change in the mentality of what is important in a university so that we reward a broad range of contributions. Paper count (including citations) and grant income are just two aspects of a complex suite of skills on which the well-rounded academic should be judged. We don’t need to ‘fix the women’ to make them more like men, we need to fix the system. I refuse to think like a man (or to alter my voice to speak like one either, but that’s another story). Indeed I don’t really know what it means. Diversity means valuing difference and in academia, as elsewhere, we should celebrate it and make sure that excellence is recognized wherever it is found and whatever form it takes.






Posted in Equality, Women in Science | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments