Monthly Archives: December 2021

Why are university strategic plans almost always meaningless?

If your university is like mine, it has a strategic plan. It put hundreds of hours of work (some of them yours!) into developing it, consulting widely and wordsmithing through dozens of drafts. It shouted excitedly about the release of the plan, and how it prepares the university as a leader into the future. And that plan? Essentially meaningless.

Most of the university strategic plans I’ve seen are pretty similar. They identify some lofty but vague goals,* but not how they will be attained.** They promise all things to all people: we’ll prioritize research, and teaching, and community service, and being an economic engine for our region. They might identify some special areas of scholarship in which the university will attempt to excel – but they’ll combine that with language indicating that they don’t mean it (usually, something about “while retaining comprehensive excellence”), and they won’t identify any area of scholarship that the university won’t pursue. In other words: they’re essentially meaningless. Prioritizing everything means prioritizing nothing; and it isn’t strategic to fight a war on every front all at once.

Why does this happen? Continue reading

Stop buying my book! (Because the second edition is nearly out)

People are doing something weird: they’re buying my book.

The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, I mean – it’s not weird at all that people are buying Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider. (So please keep buying that one. It’s fun, I swear.*)

But The Scientist’s Guide: people are still buying it (I can tell from its Amazon sales rank, which I expected to start cratering before now, but which hasn’t), and that’s weird. Continue reading

Those journals may be “fake”, but I don’t think they’re “predatory”

If your email inbox is like mine, you’ve seen more than a few invitations like the one above. There are thousands of “journals” offering to publish pretty much anything, without peer review or with only the pretence of it. They tend not to bother with such things as copy-editing or secured long-term web hosting either – and why should they? They’re not in business to help drive scientific progress; they’re in business strictly to collect authors’ money (normally in the form of article processing charges, but notice the slick little grift in the teaser email illustrated above).

Journals like this get labelled “predatory”, but I don’t think that’s the right label. Continue reading

My goodness that’s a lot of squirrels

This is my 500th post on Scientist Sees Squirrel*, and my goodness, that’s quite the logorrheic accomplishment.

When I started this blog, back in January of 2015, I really didn’t know where it was going. (Like many of my major life decisions, starting a blog wasn’t thoroughly thought out.) It’s astonishing to me that I’m still at it, nearly 7 years later; and that I’ve written 500 posts and thus, roughly, 550,000 words. That’s just a little bit less verbiage than War and Peace, and a little more than Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (the doorstopperiest of the series) and Moby Dick (which, by the way, carries an important lesson for scientific writers) combined.

Like Dynamic Ecology, I know I’ll eventually stop spelling ‘banana’; but not yet. Continue reading