Latest posts

What’s Missing from the White Paper?

This post first appeared on the Campaign for Science and Engineering’s website on 19-5-16

With over 600 responses to the Green Paper consultation, Jo Johnson and his team have had plenty of advice to consider. And some of the White Paper content shows he clearly has listened. Whilst recognizing much that is encouraging in the document, I woul Continue reading

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In which the old girl rides again

Second-Hand Confocal

As you can see, my young apprentice, your experiments have failed. Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational second-hand confocal microscope!

My love-affair with second-hand lab equipment continues unabated. Continue reading

Posted in Kit, Research, The profession of science | Comments Off on In which the old girl rides again

ICYMI No. 5: Asking universities to be open about research assessment

I first wrote about the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) when it was launched in May 2013. DORA is a simple statement asking the different players in the business of academic research to free themselves from the damaging effects of relying on journal impact factors when assessing researchers and their research – and suggestin Continue reading

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The Competitive Streak in Academia

Does being competitive necessarily mean foregoing kindness? In essence this was the question posed to Uta Frith at the end of her public conversation with me last week (you can hear the whole conversation here). Uta didn’t give a completely explicit answer but it seems to me the answer has to be no, not necessarily, but it does depend who you are t Continue reading

Posted in Carol Robinson, impact factor, Mary Beard, Meaning of Success, Science Culture, Uta Frith, Women in science | Comments Off on The Competitive Streak in Academia

How much is my sanity worth?

largeI think that many scientists today would likely agree that writing grants (and worrying about funding) can drive a person to insanity. A question that I’ve never really pondered until recently is “Would I trade my sanity for a grant?” And if so, what size of a grant would warrant relinquishing my treasured stable mental state?

The reason that this Continue reading

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Transitory Mercury

I wasn’t sure if I was going to get to see today’s celestial encounter. The forecast was for blanket cover by early afternoon and the blue skies of the morning had largely filled with cloud by lunchtime, when the transit was due to start – 12:12 pm to be precise — this stuff runs like clockwork.

Transit of Mercury

From the bus-stop I scanned the heavens with an anxi Continue reading

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Putting a Value on the Intangible

Does being around trees make you less stressed? A recent study claims it does and, for many of us, green spaces undoubtedly confer a sense of peace and a place to sit and relax. Do trees confer benefits that can be measured? Economists want to do this since they want to weigh up the pros and cons of planting trees in urban areas (versus, presumably Continue reading

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Embedding the People in our Labs

Scientists are people, they have emotions and they interact with their peers, their students, their professors….and indeed the public. Sometimes, however, scientists are represented as interacting with little more than glassware or white lab coats. We can be perceived as living in a hermetically sealed bubble of our own construction occasionally ch Continue reading

Posted in book review, Hope Jahren, Lab Girl, relationships, Science Culture, students | Comments Off on Embedding the People in our Labs

In which work-life balance wobbles

As with most academics, evenings and weekends often provide the extra time I need to stay on top of my workload. I’d rather sacrifice some family time than get behind – because once you’re behind, the anxiety sets in, making it increasingly harder to get anything meaningful done.

Work-life Balance
This weekend’s modest haul

Usually the chore Continue reading

Posted in academia, Domestic bliss, Gardening, Research, The profession of science, Women in science, Work/life balance | Comments Off on In which work-life balance wobbles

Culture and Science

Culture arguably sits at the centre of our society, but what it means isn’t always clear. To many, too many I would say, it only refers to the ‘arty’ stuff: literature, films, art and music perhaps. That science could be part of culture, whilst rarely explicitly stated as impossible, generally seems to be regarded as not being the case. But then, w Continue reading

Posted in AHRC, Geoff Crossick, Science Culture | Comments Off on Culture and Science

How to deal with delicate situations in the lab

Welcoming diversity in the workplace has become second nature in the US, and I would venture to guess that the biomedical workplace has been paving the way for years. The reliance on international scientific talent in the US has truly made the biomedical science laboratory a mosaic of cultures, religions, ethnic groups and nationalities that could Continue reading

Posted in culture, diversity, ethnic, graduate student, lab, laboratory, Music, nationality, personal hygiene, PhD, postdoc, postdoctoral fellow, Research, science, smoking, student, tolerance | Comments Off on How to deal with delicate situations in the lab

Unravelling Grant Success Rates by Gender

I first realised that the problems I was facing might just, possibly, not be down to my own shortcomings when I read the 1999 MIT report on the Status of Women. For the first time it occurred to me that my failure to be persuasive in committee meetings, or to convince the head of department of the importance of my research area, or to be treated wi Continue reading

Posted in Equality, funders, mentoring, old boys' network, Women in science | Comments Off on Unravelling Grant Success Rates by Gender

ICYMI No. 4: Books to read before university

This week’s Times Higher Education has a nice cover feature listing books recommended by various scholars to students preparing for university. More particularly, as the author of the piece, Matthew Reisz, explained to me in an email, “We are asking some leading academics to recommend a single book which they believe those towards the end of their Continue reading

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RIP Sir David MacKay

Many people have been paying tribute to David MacKay, who died on Thursday, and I would like to add my own voice. He was an extraordinary man who contributed so much to physics and wider societal issues during his tragically short life. Although I never worked directly with him, nor even interacted with him much during the many years we worked in t Continue reading

Posted in academia, Cavendish Laboratory, DECC, energy production, Sustainable Energy | Comments Off on RIP Sir David MacKay

In which I feel a bit too old for this game sometimes

Age is a slippery thing. Most days I still feel like that tentative new PhD student, pulling 80-hour weeks at the University of Washington Health Sciences Center in Seattle. By the red glow of the safelight, I’d feed dusky rectangles of film into the developing machine and they’d emerge clear, slightly sticky and covered with a primitive pattern of Continue reading

Posted in Nostalgia, Scientific method, students, The profession of science | Comments Off on In which I feel a bit too old for this game sometimes