Latest posts

Telling A Life Story

It has been a while since I last posted on my blog. In part that was down to the Easter holidays, but more than that I think it was a combination of the exhaustion of the previous term, coupled with horror over the unfolding Brexit debacle at the end of March (like many another in the UK, I think following the news slavishly was upsetting my mental equilibrium) followed by, as the new term started Continue reading

Posted in CV, family, resilience, Science Culture | Comments Off on Telling A Life Story

Life lessons learned–from others’ mistakes…

I did not enjoy my service in the Israeli military between 1983-1986; in fact, I hated it. But I do know that it taught me many lessons, and I have long thought that my experiences in the army have helped me both in life and in science. The following is an example of one such instance. Many years ago, in 1984 to be precise, I stood in the Negev desert on a cold, dusty army base at attention for an Continue reading

Posted in army, electrophoresis, IDF, mistakes, Research, science, soldier | Comments Off on Life lessons learned–from others’ mistakes…

How far should students go in striving for professionalism?

What is the beginning of eternity and the end of time?

Sometimes the simplest answer is actually the right one: in this case, the letter “e.”

Having served as chair of my departmental graduate and admissions committee, professionalism is an issue I have spent a great deal of time thinking about. Without a doubt, in this Orwellian society, we are not only continually evaluated and observed, but oft Continue reading

Posted in dissertation, education, jobs, PhD, professionalism, Research, science, seminars, students | Comments Off on How far should students go in striving for professionalism?

My blue heaven

Bluebells in a wood

Wordsworth lost it when he saw fields of daffodils. I wonder what he thought of bluebells.

It’s been a busy 2 weeks—a long-awaited holiday from work, with my birthday in the middle. Staycations around here always end up with a list of things I haven’t done, often seemingly longer than the to-do created at the beginning. Continue reading

Posted in bluebells, Me, personal | Comments Off on My blue heaven

In which I run aground

It’s been a long winter, and the past academic term seemed to stretch on forever, a blur of stress and deadlines punctuated by good news and bad. My lab got another paper accepted, and my outline-stage grant was shortlisted. But then I had to complete the full grant application alongside a hefty stretch of intensive teaching and supervising a team of researchers, while juggling a handful of manus Continue reading

Posted in academia, Domestic bliss, Gardening, Science Funding, staring into the abyss, The ageing process, work-life balance | Comments Off on In which I run aground

Getting Away from the Toxic Lab

The journal PLoS Computational Biology recently published an article Ten simple rules towards healthier research labs. Written by a PI it was obviously aimed largely at those who might be just setting out with their own groups, but clearly any leader can benefit from thinking harder about group dynamics and how they, as leader, interact with everyone around them; and, just as importantly, how they Continue reading

Posted in CV, group leader, mentors, Research, Science Culture, support | Comments Off on Getting Away from the Toxic Lab

How to value what cannot be measured?

The post below is a transcript of my opening remarks at the a Great Debate held earlier today at the European Geosciences Union 2019 meeting in Vienna. The debate asked us to consider the question: What value should we place on contributions that cannot be easily measured?


As scientists, measurement is what we do. It is how we have built our disciplines and won the admiration and respect of our p Continue reading

Posted in Academic publishing, Open Access, science, Science & Politics | Comments Off on How to value what cannot be measured?

In which we find out how

Science in your pyjamas: bliss

What’s the youngest a person can be exposed to science in a meaningful way? Loyal readers will know that I’ve pondered this question before, especially since becoming a mother.

The other day a colleague told me that his four-year-old grand-daughter had expressed firm interest in “being a microbiologist when she grew up”, and could she and he Continue reading

Posted in Domestic bliss, Joshua, Scientific thinking, students, Teaching | Comments Off on In which we find out how

On Project Leadership

While history is likely to associate March 2017 with the United Kingdom declaring Article 50, it also marked a more constructive event: The launch of the ETH Materials Department “Materials Scientist 2030, Who is She?” project. Here, two years in, are some reflections on project leadership based on what I have learned from making my own mistakes in our project in parallel with watching Continue reading

Posted in education, Materials Science | Comments Off on On Project Leadership

Student Feedback

After a few weeks of consolidating and tidying up the ideas generated during the retreat, the project team managed to converge a reasonably coherent curriculum structure, and decided that the next step was to run it past our current students for a feedback. In particular, we realized that our current and recently graduated students would be better able than us to spot if something essential was mi Continue reading

Posted in education, Materials Science | Comments Off on Student Feedback

Does Leadership Need to be More Touchy-Feely?

If our sector is to see more minorities rise through the ranks to positions of power, indeed if any sector is to achieve this and go on, for instance, to remove the typical gender pay gap, then inclusive leadership needs to be the norm not an unusual surprise. A recent article published by the Harvard Business Review reflected on this and looked at what traits make an effective, inclusive leader w Continue reading

Posted in Equality, group leader, humble, inclusivity, minorities, PhD students, Science Culture | Comments Off on Does Leadership Need to be More Touchy-Feely?

Tears Before Bedtime

Tears Before Bedtime

It is a well-worn trope that women weep and men shout. Stereotypical but, although I have occasionally seen women shout I have yet to see a man break down in public when losing an argument (as opposed to when losing a family member, for instance). There is some truth in the stereotyping.

But, in the male-by-default way of the world, shouting is still (largely) seen as somethin Continue reading

Posted in bullying, emotion, Science Culture, shouting | Comments Off on Tears Before Bedtime

Leadership for Our Times

Much has been made recently of Theresa May’s leadership, or rather the lack of it. It reminds me how when I first took up the reins at Churchill College, several people told me the story of an earlier Master, William Hawthorne. Eminent engineer though he may have been, when it came to sensing the mood of the fellowship over the possibility of admitting women he seems to have got it badly wrong. Ho Continue reading

Posted in Brexit, John Bercow, Microcosmographia Academica, Prime Minister, Science Culture | Comments Off on Leadership for Our Times

Lady in Red

There has been some interesting dialogue over Twitter recently regarding what sort of images may – or may not – inspire future generations of young women to think about the STEM subjects and, in the exchanges I’ve seen recently, specifically engineering. What sort of poster girls work best and which just annoy? The argument seems to be that glossy brochures dreamed up by advertising agencies featu Continue reading

Posted in Churchill Academy, clothing, education, inspiration, pockets, Women in science | Comments Off on Lady in Red

How *NOT* to deliver a seminar

It seems that people are apt to try and recreate or relive their greatest successes, and it turns out that I am not immune to this behavior. Some years ago, a combination of exasperation and disbelief coupled with an attempt to educate others led me to publish a satirical piece called “How NOT to get a lab job.”

In those years I was besieged with a multitude of po Continue reading

Posted in education, How NOT to get a lab job, how to deliver a presentation, How to give a seminar, humor, postdoc, postdoctoral fellow, presentation, Research, science, talk, tips on presenting a seminar | Comments Off on How *NOT* to deliver a seminar