Author Archives: Stephen

To be or not to be exceptional?

I can’t remember how I came across this video from philosopher Alain de Botton, but I feel seen. Like many academics, I guess, I have always prized scholarly achievement. And of course, within our systems of research assessment, we are … Continue reading

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Books of 2020

I made what I think was a smart move at the beginning of 2020. Instead of waiting until the year’s end and then struggling to recall what I thought of the books I had read, I created a Twitter thread of … Continue reading

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Photographs of 2020

My computer tells me that I took over 2,400 photographs in 2020. Here are my favourites. I’m afraid I have failed to whittle them down to fewer than seventy-five. Click on the first image, taken on a winter walk on … Continue reading

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No, DeepMind has not solved protein folding

This week DeepMind has announced that, using artificial intelligence (AI), it has solved the 50-year old problem of ‘protein folding’. The announcement was made as the results were released from the 14th and latest competition on the Critical Assessment of … Continue reading

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Nature’s new open access option – a few first thoughts

A news article published online in Nature this morning discusses the announcement of new open access options in the Nature family of journals. The details are in the article, but the basic story (written by Holly Else) is that authors … Continue reading

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Teaching online: how to use an iPad as a whiteboard

Last week I gave my first online tutorials where I needed to scribble on a whiteboard and to show the students their exam scripts from last term, which has been posted to my home by the university. To solve both … Continue reading

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In defence of the bureaucracy of equality, diversity and inclusion

The UK government’s new policy to reduce bureaucracy in research institutions aims at an easy target. But the bonfire of administration lit by the Prime Minister’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, risks burning down the foundations of much-needed efforts to value … Continue reading

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Our Beirut Brexit

At 6:18 on the afternoon of Tuesday 4th August a huge store of ammonium nitrate exploded at the port of Beirut. The blast, one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions in history, killed nearly 200 people, injured thousands more, and … Continue reading

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In our elements

I have been coming to the Lake District on and off for much of my life. It is my favourite corner of England. I first came in 1981 when I was seventeen, as one of half a dozen venture scouts … Continue reading

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Comet NEOWISE – catch it if you can

Comet NEOWISE has come but not yet gone. If there is no cloud cover for the next night or two, you might be able to catch its wispy presence low in the north-west before it fades from view. Don\’t feel bad … Continue reading

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Augmented reality: me and my hearing aids

My new best buds… When I started out on this blog back in ’08 I made a passing observation about my age, having noticed I was increasingly lifting my glasses to read the date on my watch. Not long afterwards … Continue reading

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UK R&D Roadmap 2020: big picture poses big questions

The latest in a long line of R&D strategy documents from the UK government reveals some promising evolution in its strategic thinking. But while it touches on a wide range of complex and interacting challenges, but the precise direction of … Continue reading

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The Flattened Curve

The lockdown might have flattened the curve of infection and death, but it has also flattened the curve and swell of life. Existence has shrunk to fit within four walls; life ‘outside’ has largely been compressed within the flat rectangles of … Continue reading

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The still unsustainable goal of university ranking

The new and improved Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings 2020 were published this week with as much online fanfare as THE could muster. Unfortunately, they are not improved enough. Sydney University’s Duncan Ivison makes case for impact rankings. And … Continue reading

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Three weeks

Just three weeks ago, on eve of the weekend, my wife and I met an old friend for dinner at a restaurant in Southwark. Even then, the most normal things in the world were beginning to feel risky. Our friend … Continue reading

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