Category Archives: academia

Sharing the unwritten lore: “Being a Scientist”, by Michael Schmidt

How do people learn to be scientists?  We’re very good at teaching our students how to titrate a solution, take a derivative, label a dissected earthworm, or calculate the p-value from a one-way ANOVA.  One might get the impression that learning these skills is an important part of training to be a scientist.  Well, arguably they’re not unimportant; but they’re more skills used by scientists that they are skills that make us scientists.  In Being a Scientist: Tools for Science Students, Michael Schmidt tackles the much more interesting question of that latter set.

Being a Scientist covers the softer skills that let scientists do what they do: philosophy, creativity, reading and writing, and so on. Continue reading

The basic arithmetic that makes meetings bad

Photo:  This meeting will never end; courtesy Rylee Isitt.

Warning: I sat through a frustrating meeting last week.  And now you’re going to hear about it.

We all hate meetings.  And yet, at the same time, we love calling meetings.  In academia, at least, they’re part of the very foundation of our organizations, which we insist are distinguished from other enterprises by our use of collegial governance.  (I’ve argued elsewhere, heretically, that we try to be quite a lot more collegial than is good for us, but that’s not my point today.)  In universities, we want to govern ourselves from the bottom up, with the faculty rather than administrators making the decisions.  The way we know how to do that is by holding meetings – big ones, and lots of them.
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Who should organize your department’s seminar series?

My home department’s Fall 2018 seminar series wraps up soon, and I’m looking forward to next semester’s.  We’ve got an interesting lineup of speakers with lots of variety, and I’m very grateful to our seminar organizers for that.  Today’s question: who were those organizers?  And who should they be? Continue reading

University professors should understand university administration

Some time ago, I went on a little rant here, in a post I called “University administrators should understand universities”.  In it I complained a bit about university administrators who don’t seem to understand what a university’s mission is or how we go about accomplishing it.  I stand by that criticism (while noting that it doesn’t, of course, apply to every administrator).  But I’m here now to stick up for administrators in another way.  I’m really tired of hearing people complain that universities have too many administrators.  Yes, I heard all those folks clicking away in outrage.  For the few of you who are left, let me explain.

Twice just in the last week, I’ve seen university professors roll out the tired old attack on administrators.  Continue reading

Tweeting to the Science Community: Audience, Content, and Voice

Image: The #CSEETweetShop team.  Left to right: Shoshanah Jacobs, Morgan Jackson, Dawn Bazely, your truly, Cylita Guy, and Alex Smith.  What a great group!

 

At the 2018 conference of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution, I was part of a lunchtime workshop, “The How and Why of Tweeting Science” – along with 5 friends.  Here I’ll share my slides and commentary.  I hope the other presenters will do the same, and I’ll link to them here as they become available.

 

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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 Wikimedia.org 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