Category Archives: academia

Stephen King and me

Photo: The Dark Half, and Heard and Kitts 2012 Evolutionary Ecology 26:879

Do Stephen King and I have the same job, or different jobs?

This is, in one sense, a silly question with an obvious answer.  Stephen King is a popular-fiction writer, and I’m a scientist.  Stephen King’s job is to generate novels about the world as it isn’t, while my job is to generate understanding of the natural world as it is.  Clearly, Stephen King and I have different jobs.

At least, that’s how I would have answered my silly question early in my career.  Continue reading

No, your field isn’t “broader” than mine

Photo: Railway tracks and vanishing point, by annymoamo via pixabay.com, CC0.

It happened again last week.

I was sitting in a meeting, and someone explained that our cell biology course is different from our other courses (like my ecology course) because cell biology “is such a broad field”.  This has been explained to me over the years about cell biology, molecular biology, physiology, earth science, and I’m sure a few more I’m not remembering.  It’s been explained in the context of undergraduate curriculum, faculty hiring priorities, funding levels for granting agencies, library journal budgets, and more.  Every time, it makes me see red. Continue reading

A snippet of my 37-page CV

Why I have a 37-page version of my CV (and why you should too)

Image: just the first six pages of the stultifying detail in my 37-page CV

A while back on Twitter, someone asked which details she should keep track of on her CV – in particular, I think, with respect to multi-authored conference presentations.  All the details, I replied, which answer was promptly and rounded derided.  Why, a bunch of people asked, should anyone care about the 13th of 17 authors, the month or date of the conference, or the city it was held in?  Why bother?  Why keep the 37-page version of one’s CV – the version that’s (metaphorically) clogging up my hard drive*?

I couldn’t convince those who were deriding me, and to be fair, they had a considerable advantage: common sense and logic were entirely on their side. Continue reading

SciComm, and who should do it

Image: From Science Borealis’ project “100 Voices for Canadian Science Communication”; © The Vexed Muddler, reproduced with permission.  That’s me as a Cobblestone Tiger Beetle, Cicendela marginipennis – a beautiful beetle, vulnerable because of its locally rare and very scattered distribution in riverbank cobble habitats from Alabama to New Brunswick.

 

Some months ago, the Canadian blogging aggregator Science Borealis solicited thoughts about what lay science communication, or SciComm, is and why it’s important.  I sent in the thoughts above and promptly forgot about it.  Last week I was startled, pleased, and just the tiniest bit uneasy to see my quote making the rounds on Twitter and Facebook (wonderfully illustrated by The Vexed Muddler).

Why uneasy?  Continue reading

Man working on the beach

Working on “vacation”

Photo: Working on the beach, © Yuvipanda CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia.org. Not a photo of me – you couldn’t pay me enough to sit on a beach, working or no.

I took a 2-week vacation this summer.  I packed some Dick Francis mystery novels, sunscreen, my swimsuit – and a half-dozen theses and manuscripts to work on.

I gather I’m not supposed to do that last part. Continue reading

Out-of-touch administrators – and their mirror images

I just finished serving on a Vice Presidential search committee. I think we made a great choice (time will tell, of course).  It was obvious, though, that many of my colleagues could never be satisfied because they’re deeply and irredeemably suspicious of anyone willing to take on an administrative job.

One of the most frequent complaints I hear is that administrators are “out of touch” with the faculty and with their roots in academia. Continue reading

Jabberwocky

Fish out of water: a scientist examines a poetry thesis

Illustration by John Tenniel for Lewis Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky (Carroll 1871, in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There). Public domain.

I’ve been reading a thesis, getting ready for the defence.  I’ve probably been an examiner (internal, external, or opponent) for close to a hundred defences, and I almost always enjoy them.  Most students do, too – at least, those who have realized that their defence is more than (and less than) an exam.  It’s a chance to share their pride in what they’ve done, and as they do so, they know more about that work than anybody else in the room. The defence is new for each student, of course, but by now they’re a comfortable routine for me.

Last year, though, I found myself an examiner for a thesis that yanked me out of my routine.  It was a creative-writing MA thesis in our Department of English.  Continue reading