Category Archives: academia

Collegial governance and crickets in the meeting room

Image: Two-spotted tree cricket singing, © Patrick Coin CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Warning: a little bit grumpy.

I’ve just come back from a highly successful Departmental retreat: high turnout, engaged faculty and staff, and some genuine problem-solving.  But just as a sidewalk sighting of Manute Bol might make me realize that some of my friends are rather short, our successful retreat reminded me of a weird but not altogether surprising thing about university faculty.  That thing: everyone loves collegial governance, right up until somebody calls a meeting.

As a general rule, university academics feel very strongly about collegial governance. Continue reading


University administrators should understand universities

Photo: Brunel University campus, © Brunel University, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Warning: I’m grumpy today.

In my current role as Department Chair, I deal with a lot of administrators.  Some are academics, serving as Chairs, Deans, Vice Presidents, and so on.  These folks are doing important jobs (and you should consider joining them), for which they often don’t get much respect.  Others – and these other ones are my subject today – aren’t academics, but rather professionals of other kinds.  They may be human-resource managers, legal advisors, office administrators, accountants, financial clerks, risk-management directors, and on and on.  The list is nearly endless, which is no surprise given that every university needs to operate itself, and universities are large and complex organizations.  But I have a beef with some (not all!) of this non-academic group: they don’t always understand what a university is. Continue reading

Academic nomads, academic settlers

Image: moving van © Artaxerxes via CC BY-SA 4.0

A few weeks ago my Twitter feed was, for a couple of days, full of complaints about how often early-career academics move, and the toll that takes on our personal lives.  In particular, there was a lot of discussion of the difficulty of putting down roots, becoming connected with the local community, when you’re both recently arrived and soon to be leaving.

I’m going to make myself unpopular by pushing back a bit.  Continue reading

I don’t work for the people who pay me

Image: A bit of my salary. KMR Photography, CC BY 2.0.

I don’t work for the people who pay my salary.  Or at least, not always.  And this shouldn’t be a problem – but I worry that it’s becoming one. Continue reading

How to write, and read, a (manuscript) rejection letter

Several months ago, I wrote about how to write, and read, a job rejection letter.  I know a lot about those.  I also know quite a bit about manuscript rejections (as most of us do).  I’ve received so many I’ve lost track, and I’ve written as many or more as an editor.  Just as with job rejections, there are better manuscript rejections and worse ones. Continue reading

Can we stop saying reviewers are unpaid?

Image: Coins by KMR Photography CC BY 2.0

Reviewers, we all tell each other to remember, are unpaid. Sometimes we’re being scandalized about it, as in “Megapublisher X is making unconscionable profits on the back of unpaid reviewers”.  Other times we’re being laudatory, as in “We should be grateful to reviewers for all the help they give us, since they’re working for us without pay”.  I’ve said versions of the latter many times: for example, in The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, in this older post, and more recently and more explicitly in this post.  But the thing is, it (mostly) isn’t true.  We should probably stop saying it. Continue reading

The power of “thanks”

Image: Scrabble tiles by Wokandapix via, released to public domain.

Warning: a little saccharine.

My mother, no doubt like yours, was right about a lot of things (although she was wrong about some other things).  One thing she was really, really right about was the importance, and the power, of saying “thanks”.

I know, that seems trivial; but we sometimes forget.  This crossed my radar recently because I saw a tweet exhorting people to thank reviewers and editors (that is, members of journal editorial boards) who had worked, unpaid, with their manuscripts.  A reply* expressed surprise that journal editors might be unpaid (and therefore, implicitly, deserving of thanks).  I had several reactions to all this.

First: some people might think “why should I thank those power-wielding career-destroying gatekeeping mean people”?  I plead guilty to having this thought myself, occasionally and temporarily. Continue reading