Inclusive Leadership

This week I attended an event in the University exploring, broadly speaking, how we can do ‘inclusive leadership’ better. Kicked off by a talk by  Barbara Stocking, President of the women’s college Murray Edwards, who was talking about the various pieces of research her college has instigated and been involved with (Women Today, Women Tomorrow and Working with Men, both well worth a careful read). We also heard from Angela Strank, Chief Scientist at BP, about their own work. What particularly resonated with me were the ‘clippings’ she produced from her personal file, illustrating how – however slow, however frustrating – progress for gender equality is inching forward. As a geologist, after her PhD in the 70s she was not allowed to go to Antarctica or on offshore oil rigs. I recall a contemporary of mine, an engineer, complaining of these same problems: women were categorically not allowed (possibly legally not allowed) to do these things back then. But what really struck home, for a slightly different reason, was an article from 1988 hideously entitled ‘Women can manage if they really try’ (rather implying that up till then the poor weak women hadn’t been trying hard enough at all to juggle children and career), written upon her return to work at BP after a period of maternity leave and illustrated by a photo of her holding her child.

AMD with cropped children

1988 was a year I had a child too, in my case my second. It was also a year in which I won a prize from the Institute of Physics, receiving the letter while I was still on leave – all of 16 weeks paid leave, plus the (unheard-of-for-an-academic at the time) extra 2 weeks I took of unpaid leave to fit in with nursery and term dates. When asked to send a photograph to illustrate the story in their publication I duly did, with my children. You can see what was published above (grainy and black and white thought it is). Where are the children you might ask? I did. If you look carefully you can see a corner of the baby’s head at the bottom right. All other traces of my maternal activities were deliberately excised. It wouldn’t be appropriate, I was told, it would give the wrong impression. A woman who had just given birth and won a prize was apparently conceptually too difficult for the editors to get their head around, so the children had to be expunged. I was furious then; I still am when I think about it, but it amused Angela Strank when I told her and she was keen to be allowed to use the story herself in the future alongside her own with its worse title but more accommodating photograph.

Leaving my personal reminiscences on one side, the event was a stimulating occasion. Challenged to come up with suggestions of activities and initiatives that the University could undertake, we collectively were not short of ideas ranging from working with schools to remove stereotypes, to introducing reverse mentoring for heads of department (reverse mentoring being a tactic favoured in the Working with Men report). I think over 40 ideas were tabled at the time, some of which will be more feasible than others; some of which offer immediate traction and impact, whereas others may be less likely to do so. I am looking forward to seeing the outcomes, both in the reporting but also the real outcomes that matter. Changes in behaviour (still required in some quarters) will be even more important than changes simply in policy.

The other recent activity on this front that I have engaged in was an afternoon exploring ‘Recruitment Essentials’, a training programme being rolled out to all those involved in interviews and selection across the University to get us to focus on good practice and avoiding pitfalls such as bias. Despite the fact that I was greeted by one of the attendees at my particular session with ‘like you really need this’, I disagree. We can always learn from others and, although I perhaps turned up with a slight feeling that I was unlikely to hear much that was unfamiliar to me, what I did learn from the sharing of experiences – usually of bad practice each of the 15 of us in the room had observed – was that there are plenty of new angles to consider. One totally expected common experience was the asking of completely unacceptable questions, usually somehow involving children but in one case about faith.

Another sort of bad example arose from appointment panel members not simply sticking up for ‘their’ candidate but deliberately trashing another one’s. This tactic can of course lead to a ‘compromise’ candidate being appointed that no one really was championing, simply for that reason when departments are too riven by internal competition and strife. My particular experience of this approach was a bit more personal, when another panel member decided to trash my own qualifications so that my views could be the more easily discarded. (I was a professor at the time.) I never knew whether the fact I was the only woman on that particular panel had any bearing but it left a very sour taste in my mouth. SO much so, that I raised it at my next appraisal, only to be told the ‘offender’ was waiting for me to apologise to him. The logic for that proposed course of action escaped me then as it still does now.

Unsurprisingly, much of the discussion was around one’s own internal biases, trying to tease them out and come up with strategies to make the unconscious conscious and therefore more easily avoided. There is no point pretending that unconscious bias, implicit bias, call it what you will is not liable to get in the way of good decisions and it was drummed into us how much setting out precise criteria and experience/qualifications early on in the process is crucial for any kind of job. Most importantly this needs to be done before the advertisement is drawn up to make sure there is no way of fiddling the outcome to suit one’s prejudices later. Otherwise there is nothing sufficiently clearly written down in the abstract to guide the process before a flesh and blood person turns up, triggering positive or negative but irrelevant reactions.

The University is working hard on its equality and diversity agenda. October saw the launch of the Breaking the Silence Campaign, offering support and structures to ensure those who have been the victim of sexual misconduct feel confident enough to speak up. An increase in reporting of such incidents in one sense should be a source of encouragement that the campaign is working, however discouraging every single incident report may make one feel. In the present global climate that is being revealed post Harvey Weinstein through #metoo and much more, it is more important than ever that long-term offenders are not allowed to ‘get away with it’, and that anyone who thinks academia provides a cosy way to prey on others more vulnerable than them is forced to realise no, it isn’t acceptable any more: their victims will speak up, their own future is at risk.

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Industrial Strategy and the Pipeline of Talent

It was unfortunate that the Industrial Strategy White Paper was released on the same day as the Royal Engagement became public. It may not have been intended to be published on a ‘good day to bury bad news’, but it was very noticeable that as far as BBC Radio 4 News was concerned, it went from being top of the headlines at 8am – before it was published – to not being mentioned at all in the headlines by 6pm when everything was about Harry and Meghan. Despite the BBC’s sense of priorities, it is not difficult to work out which is going to have more long-term economic impact within the UK; you can only sell so many commemorative mugs.

At least, I have to hope that the White Paper will have impact on the UK’s economy and, to be more specific, on its productivity. Things are not looking good on that front. By comparison with our EU neighbours we are faltering badly ever since the 2008 crash. Many changes are required in our infrastructure, training, support for businesses (be they small or large) as well as our research base if this is to be turned around. That the Government looks willing to get more interventionist on this front, which has been a no-go area for many years, demonstrates how worried they are.  Brexit is most certainly not going to improve the situation as we lose ground on being able to export  the few things we do still manufacture here and when we cannot rely on easy exchange of labour at all levels in the job market.

Amongst the 255 pages of not very dense text accompanied by some pretty graphics, lurk some important recommendations about school education in the STEM subjects, as well as some warm words aimed at resurrecting some meaningful careers advice for school children (I wrote previously about the inauspicious and dismissive views of previous Secretary of State Michael Gove on this important matter). Given the clearly-identified shortage of skilled workers for the digital economy, these plans are important for our future. Since in the document there is the subtext that much of our low productivity can be attributed to businesses not ‘upskilling’, moving with the interconnected world we all live in in the way they handle orders or automate their production processes, training everyone better (and starting with schoolchildren) has to be an important strand of any strategy in improving our productivity, even if only one amongst many.

The two headline actions I want to highlight – beyond the welcome comments about careers advice –  relate to additional money aimed directly at the STEM agenda. Firstly, there is to be a £600 premium per student who takes maths or further maths at AS/A level or post-16 Core maths. Since the recent move towards funding per ‘course’ – which meant, for those studying A levels, a set of three – further maths, often taken as a fourth subject, has been hard hit. In the school year starting this past September I personally knew of two very disappointed 16 year olds, in different parts of the country, who had been denied access to further maths teaching because of funding issues. One – a budding computer scientist – managed to find their way into a class (the parents were so worried they were exploring options of a private tutor had their fight with the school not led to a successful outcome); the other did not. No doubt up and down the country many fell into that same category of finding their path blocked.

Whatever direction a career may take a young adult in, strong quantitative skills (including statistics) really, really matter. It is clear that many struggle with some of the basic concepts and others may be competent but not wish to commit to an A level in the subject. They may be willing to progress a little further with Core Maths, so the funding for this subject too is important. Maybe fewer children would struggle if primary schools were better equipped to install the basics right from arrival, so additional money to support primary school maths teaching is also extremely welcome. An extra £27M has been promised to support expansion of teachers working with the Mastery in Maths Programme, to bring it to a further 11,000 primary (and secondary) schools over the next 5 years.  But for the purely STEM sectors the further maths A level funding is a big step forward.

Digital literacy is another area where our schools have not kept up with the times, in part for entirely understandable reasons: a lack of teachers (and a previous over-emphasis on low grade ICT skills). It is encouraging to see the White Paper promise funding to the tune of £84M over 5 years to improve the teaching of computing. Amongst the plans are the

‘upskilling of 8000 computer science teachers – enough for one in every secondary school.’

This goal is very much in line with the Royal Society’s recent report After the reboot: computing education in UK schools, which called for government to tackle the undersupply of teachers of computing, noting that during 2012-17 only 68% of the recruitment target in this area was met. For teachers of physics, similar schemes – and money – designed to address low numbers entering the profession have not met with success. Recruits just don’t come forward. One has to hope that the story has a happier ending for computing.

Another key recommendation in the Royal Society report, indeed its first highlighted recommendation, was to work towards redressing the gender imbalance in the field. This too is identified in the White Paper as a primary focus. Again, this is not a new issue and organisations such as Stemettes have a good track record in stimulating interest amongst girls. However, with horror stories endlessly coming out of the tech industries, it may take work way beyond the UK education sector to turn this around. Think of ‘that’ awful Google memo or death threats against Anita Sarkeesian when she analysed the portrayal of women in video games, and it isn’t perhaps so surprising that taking a computer qualification in order to enter the tech industry may not appeal to all girls (of course, computing and digital skills in general are useful way beyond the tech industry, as the White Paper makes very clear, but that message may easily get overridden).

The Industrial Strategy is about far more than education, but without an appropriately educated pipeline many of its aims cannot be met. I wrote about the importance of our population’s ‘absorptive capacity’ (in advance of the White Paper) in terms of being able to make good use of the promised uplift in R+D spend in general, and the White Paper echoes this in the importance it places on this issue. I will leave it to the others who will, and the many who already have, commented on the importance of ‘place’ when we think about how to regenerate parts of the country not currently thriving; or the importance of ‘clean growth’ as we in the UK and far beyond attempt to transition to a low carbon economy. There is much to commend in the White Paper – but, as with the supply of computing teachers and far beyond – does it really have the means to deliver? Time will tell.

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Joining the Dots

I’ve been in Paris this weekend, talking to a ‘Global Cambridge‘ event for alumni. Paris is a city of which I am inordinately fond – one of my unfulfilled dreams was to spend a sabbatical in the city so I could finally gain an ability to speak the language properly – and over the years I have visited it not infrequently both for work and pleasure. My brief stay gave me plenty of opportunity to reflect on my development, as a scientist and a person; to consider more fully, in a phrase I tossed out during my talk, the issue of joining the dots.

At the formal alumni event I was in discussion with Tim Lewens, a memberof the department of History and Philosophy of Science in Cambridge, on the topic of scientific developments and ethics.  As a former member of the Council of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, he is well versed in the issues surrounding so-called three parent babies, and talked us through the issues involved with great authority.  Inevitably impostor syndrome struck me as I talked at a much more superficial level about issues I had been indirectly involved with during my career, starting from the time I was studying starch, working with researchers who themselves were carrying out genetic modification to alter the enzymatic pathways involved in the production of the starch granules. I got well-versed in GM’s pros and cons for the consumer during the time I was working on this and serving on the Governing Body of what was then known as the Institute of Food Research in Norwich around the turn of the century. GM was a lesson in how not to approach sensitive, ethical issues with the public. In the UK, the approach to the three parent baby problem was handled with far more skill and awareness.

Beyond the purely ethical issues, though, we also discussed how scientists could and should get involved with policy issues. Getting more bright young scientists thinking about policy is an issue close to my heart.  In Cambridge a new Institute for Public Policy is about to launch. This is a group with which I hope both to be involved both personally and at college level, enhanced by the recent election of Diane Coyle to the Bennett Chair in Public Policy (focussing on Inequality) associated with Churchill. The college is also working closely with the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) on this front.

So where did the phrase ‘joining the dots’ turn up? It turned up in this context of science and policy. My knowledge of many issues may not be as deep as others who have specialised in policy issues, but the ability to make connections due to the – perhaps slightly bizarre – route I have taken through my research science I think means I have something to offer when it comes to science policy. Seeing things afresh because one hasn’t followed a well-trodden route, can be beneficial, a conversation I continued over a dinner with the Churchill alumni. It is so easy, given the current state of the academic world and career ladder, to imagine that the ‘right’ way must be to specialise and stay specialised, and it is something with which I profoundly disagree. Too often (but clearly not inevitably) specialisation can encourage a narrowness of thinking that doesn’t allow so easily for ‘thinking outside the box’ or, indeed a joining of the dots between ideas from areas apparently far apart. Physicists now talk in terms of emergent phenomena when this applies in systems, but I think it applies more abstractly too to the way ideas, as well as phenomenology, develop.


The weekend in Paris gave me much more than simply the opportunity to interact with alumni. As I say, it is a city I love and which I have regularly visited. A visit there inevitably takes me back to the heady days of my honeymoon (my first visit), when travel there was much more convoluted than Eurostar currently makes it. I well remember the bewilderment I felt when disembarking the ferry at Calais after a 2-3 hour crossing, and trying to find the right train to take us on to Paris. Eurostar makes it all so simple. I have been back for various trips of pure pleasure, and also sneaking pleasure in (as on this trip) on the sidelines of business trips. My involvement with the L’Oreal/Unesco Laureate awards – first as a jury member, subsequently as a prize-winner in 2009 – gave me opportunities to spend time in the city with my husband (at L’Oreal’s expense) and explore the city, along with the work I needed to do in the context of the L’Oreal prize

But, perhaps what struck me most forcibly on this visit was memories of my association with the Nobel prize-winning physicist Pierre-Gilles de Gennes. There was the heady visit when he was so encouraging about my work on starch at a time when many physicists were still viewing this work with grave suspicion as not ‘proper’ physics. His words were encouraging, along the lines that I should dare to be different and proud of it. Of course words from a world leader such as him, alongside of those of my more local mentor Sir Sam Edwards, carried a lot of weight.

Perhaps inevitably, though, such words of encouragement ultimately came with a ‘price’. When de Gennes asked me to take on responsibilities that, if asked by others I would quite likely have declined, I felt I owed it to him to accept. One was closely associated with his own role at ESPCI: would I help to choose his successor as Director? I replied I would if the interviews were in English and was assured ‘d’accord’. But of course they weren’t! Perhaps that fuelled my (unfulfilled) desire to spend time in Paris so that, the next time such a request came my way, I would have been better equipped to follow the political niceties of what  turned out to be an appointment with a political dimension, somewhat tied to the Mairie of Paris. Instead, when Jacques Prost was duly appointed, I found myself still connected with ESPCI as a member of its international advisory panel. Through that role I got to spend significant amounts of time in Paris, working hard but also being taken to some delightful restaurants and notable sites: restaurants up the Eiffel Tower and on a Bateau Mouche for instance. (But the Eiffel Tower has other, more personal, associations for me: the only time I have been to the very top was with my family when the children were still small. While they were busily spotting the highlights of touristic Paris I was merely seeing flashing lights and zigzags across my vision. What a moment to be struck down with the aura of a migraine!)

From the time I visited de Gennes way back when as a young and nervous lecturer, through the time when I had to negotiate my way into the Collège de France (where he also held an appointment) in my ‘execrable’ French past a belligerent and obstructive porter, to the time when L’Oreal were feting me as a winner of one of their Laureates I can look back and see just how the young me has transformed. As I say, impostor syndrome can still lurk as I prepare to open my mouth, but simultaneously there is an underlying feeling that my experience, from starch to policy, from hands-on research to holding a leadership role, allows me to make connections, both obvious and, I hope, those less so: to join up the dots and offer insights not necessarily always evident. And, as I look back at the unseasoned PhD student on her Paris honeymoon and what that young woman might have expected for her future, it is useful to remember life is rarely predictable.



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Measurements: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Measuring us seems endemic to academic life now (as indeed to the NHS or local Councils or any other part of our civic society). The Forum for Responsible Research Metrics is charged with coming up with ways to use metrics in our universities in ways that are constructive and relevant. There are far too many potential metrics out there – and there will be a whole set more devised when Jo Johnson’s recently announced Knowledge Exchange Framework gets worked up into something concrete. I’m involved with the earliest of the three (currently) academic frameworks, the Research Excellence Framework, through my role as Chair of the Interdisciplinary Advisory Panel for REF2021, and we will have our own part to play in checking that any criteria we use don’t rely on meaningless if precise numbers. The Teaching Excellence Framework  (I am tempted to refer to it as the ‘middle-aged’ framework, as it was the middle one to be constructed; since it’s only in its first year of evaluations that is probably misleading) has been criticised by many as designed to come up with numbers that don’t actually address the questions that need answering about our university teaching.

To take another example from this week, ‘Oxford tops research grant table for third year’ said the headline, entirely truthfully if you consider amount of money awarded. But, being a proud Cantabrigian I looked further down to see how Cambridge had performed. Lo and behold, the success rate for Cambridge was actually a couple of percentage points higher than for Oxford. Which figure of merit is more important? Oxford had put in a larger number of (potentially larger on average) grants yielding a higher income than Cambridge, but proportionately fewer of them had succeeded. I could claim that Cambridge had been the most successful university, by literally considering the success rate (Leeds had also returned a success rate of 32%, the same as Cambridge). Perhaps what is most interesting, for Cambridge at least, is that their success rate had shot up by 4%: the grant-writing had, apparently, improved significantly. Is that the metric we should be looking at: most improved?

Several universities have been told off for using misleading numbers this week by the Advertising Standards Agency. For instance the University of Leicester must stop claiming to be “a top 1% world university”, although no doubt some league table somewhere would allow them to be so described; and the University of Strathclyde has been told to change the claim “We’re ranked No. 1 in the UK” for physics, but someone, somewhere, had presumably put them at the top of a specific list. Metrics are tricky animals and academics (or university administrators) are incredibly good at finding some way of finding an appropriate number that can be used to their advantage. The University of Poppleton does this reliably on the back page of the THE each week.

The trouble is, when one moves beyond institutional metrics to individual ones, things can get really nasty. How much grant income did you produce last year? If the answer doesn’t satisfy the senior management, are there consequences? What is your h index  and is it a consideration in whether or not you get appointed in the first place or promoted subsequently? What about the journal impact factor in which you published your last paper? Does this matter? – although if your institution has signed up to DORA (as I have in a personal capacity),  it may not matter as long as the promotion committees remember. Does the management want to have these sticks to beat you with?

It is an interesting irony that the organisation that seems to have been most passionate about removing the ‘individual’ from REF2021 is the Royal Society. It might be seen by many as an elitist organisation, but actually it explicitly stated, in its submission in response to the REF2021 consultation earlier this spring

The decoupling of individuals from output should reduce pressure on those who take time out of research and on early career researchers, whose recruitment would be based more on their research potential and not their ‘REFability’. It would also begin to remove disincentives to hire, and reverse the demotivation and restore morale to technology specialists, industry collaborators and members of large teams.


Using a new volume measure and portfolio approach to assessment means there would be no need to set a maximum or minimum number of outputs per staff member, thus avoiding recoupling outputs and individuals, with all the invidious consequences highlighted by the Stern Report.

However, the collective consultation responses rejected this position. Universities wanted to be able to tie outputs to individuals as, one has to assume, a management tool. Far from seeing the Stern recommendation to move towards an institutional REF as a freeing up of academe, where outputs were valued in the round not in the way they scored individuals, they resisted such an attempt. As a member of the grouping within the Royal Society that helped to produce our response to the consultation, I am dismayed that something that will continue to put immense problems on the life of the individual has been reinforced in the face of an attempt by the Stern Review and HEFCE to reduce it. As a champion for diversity it upsets me that there will still be a need for individuals with ‘special circumstances’ – having a baby perhaps or long term sick leave – to produce a justification of why they haven’t produced even a single output within the REF period. The removal of any tie-in of outputs to individuals would have obviated this need.

Metrics in general are designed to fit the ‘norm’, to fit what people collectively believe an ideal academic looks like. One who breaks the mould – for instance by working part-time, by being more interdisciplinary than their colleagues or by preferring to produce fewer but more thorough papers – can be disadvantaged by a standard set of metrics.  Using metrics which haven’t been thought through sufficiently to look for inherent biases against such individuals will likely disadvantage them. One obvious such group are women. Research has shown variously that women are: likely to win slightly smaller grants (data based on Wellcome awards);  are less likely to cite their own papers;  they publish less and are less likely to be cited by others when they are the lead author. I don’t intend to argue why these findings might be as they are; I merely want to point out that metrics that don’t consider such matters will be damaging to the individual. This is particularly the case about citations and the slavish use of h indices. I hope the Forum for Responsible Research Metrics very much has these issues in their sights, issues which were highlighted in the original analysis of the possible use of metrics in The Metric Tide report which I wrote about when it first appeared.

The impact of all these ‘measurements’ on the individual, for their health and well-being, is a crucial part of how we as a sector thrive – or, quite possibly, do not thrive. There are many issues about ‘objectification’ and ‘measurement’ that are deleterious for an academic’s mental health at any stage of the career ladder. I will have more to say about this in a later post.



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Soul Music

We all have parts of our characters – beyond our work-face – that we feel are important to us. Be it that we like poetry, going for walks or collecting teaspoons, we feel this hobby or habit in part defines us. How much so, what the balance is between personal and professional, is likely to shift during life, not least because there may be periods when the personal gets squeezed out by other aspects of work-life balance. Children or elder-care for instance may mean any ‘me time’ vanishes from the week for far too long at a time. But, whether one is actively engaged or not, I think these characteristics remain deeply embedded and don’t lose their importance because they are not being currently exercised.

For me, the part of my character I would so identify would be (classical) music. As a teenager, this not only gave me immense satisfaction as I sang or played (viola) my way through classical music large and small, with groups better or worse, but it provided me with a community beyond the immediate circle of contemporaries with whom I sat through lessons. It was my creative outlet (whilst art and poetry meant not a great deal). It was my stimulus and my absorbing out-of-hours activity. It wasn’t that I was particularly good, but as a viola player I was much in demand and got to play with people far better than I could ever aspire to be.

Music has remained important to me, although my days of active participation ceased with the birth of my children. Life simply became too crammed full for regular attendance at any choir or orchestra and, by the time my children were off my hands, my hands – or more strictly my wrist – were not strong enough to take up the reins of practice. A bout of RSI exacerbated the problems with my wrist I had suffered as a teenager (my hand was really not large enough to cope with playing scales in octaves on a viola, as demanded by the higher Grade exams, and I repeatedly was dislocating my wrist in my attempt to do so); it meant there was no way back for me when time might have permitted me to try again. My voice likewise had crumbled from lack of exercise and, apart from once-a-year College carol-singing, I don’t feel it is wise to attempt anything in public.

But music continues to define me in a certain way and I remain attached to listening to Radio 3 whilst dealing with email or writing a blogpost. I was delighted to be asked to participate both in Desert Island Discs * and subsequently the more classically-serious Private Passions and Essential Classics (no longer available). My write-up of my experience of the last of these indicates why I feel for a scientist to do such activities has immense value in reaching out to the (unsuspecting) public: science is not usually associated with such programmes unlike, say, In Our Time let alone The Life Scientific, so it provides a means to speak directly to those who might not choose to listen to a scientist otherwise.

However, in my private life I do continue to find music a solace when low and a good background to my work at home. So I was interested to read recently that listening to music is not necessarily conducive to better concentration and perhaps should, at certain times and for certain types of task, be avoided. Reading this article made me realise I am careful in what (almost invariably classical) music I choose for my background listening: not opera or Lieder and, if Radio 3 switches to a discussion or an interval talk I immediately turn it off. In other words lyrics and the spoken word definitely do not work for me, because I find myself listening to the sentences line by line, not just swimming in the warm bath of sound that a rousing symphony or melodious string quartet might provide. (It is equally true I would not choose to listen to 12 tone music or something in a modern idiom that jars on my ears.)

Perhaps this means I am committing the cardinal sin – as my slightly-professionally-trained mother would have had it – of treating music as wallpaper. Not listening at all, but simply wanting background distraction. I don’t agree. If I am concentrating hard – perhaps on some fiendish spreadsheet – it is true I simply won’t ‘hear’ the music and can be surprised when the applause bursts in at the end of a symphony when the last thing I’d noticed was the applause for the conductor at the start. But in general I believe I can switch in and out and, while pausing to concoct a particularly nuanced sentence in an email or finding some choice phrase of irritation when addressing a fellow committee member, the musical sonority soothes the savage beast of my composition and enables a fluency in my writing sitting in tense silence cannot always achieve.

Everyone has to find their own medium. My choice in music will be no one else’s. What brings tears to my eyes when feeling low is perhaps more universal (the familiar duet from Bizet’s Pearl Fishers I suspect is a common tear-jerker; Whitman’s Dirge for Two Veterans set by Vaughan Williams in his Dona Nobis Pacem probably less so) but I undoubtedly make different choices for different tasks and according to my state of mind. Certain selections are down to music I performed in my youth and which have their own accompanying memories (such as the irregular rhythms of Holst’s Perfect Fool); others I came to much more recently including Granados’ piano music and the whole idiom of Tango, which probably was sparked as much by the early days of Strictly Come Dancing as anything else.

Music has been part of my past and I hope my future. In my earliest years I would listen to my grandmother playing Chopin Mazurkas on a piano given, I believe, to her as a wedding present by my grandfather one hundred years ago this year. My mother learned on this piano, as did I (in as far as I learned piano at all). It came to Cambridge when I bought a house here and my daughter learned on it too. It gives me immense pleasure to think that it has now moved to my daughter’s house where I hope in time my granddaughter will also learn on it: five generations of women making the most of this wonderful instrument.

But now that active music-making is long since past, the passive pleasure I derive remains. The college’s music life enables me to get to regular concerts of an impressive standar; the radio, CD and iPlayer provide me with whatever I want essentially whenever I want it. For writing blogposts, emails or committee papers, music helps me get on.

*The website still unfortunately claims my luxury is a bat – a sadly misleading typo for my actual choice of a bath.

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