Tag Archives: curmudgeonliness

On teaching writing, and being overruled: a passive-(voice)-aggressive rant

So, I’m teaching my course in Scientific Writing, and I’m frustrated by something I didn’t see coming.  I teach students to write in the active voice (“I measured photosynthesis”, not “Photosynthesis was measured”).  That’s the modern best practice in scientific writing – not to use the active all the time, but to prefer it unless there’s a specific reason for using the passive in a specific sentence.  But the way the course is structured, I’m running into conflict with my departmental colleagues.  Continue reading

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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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The fetishization of entrepreneurship

Image: Cash, images_of_money CC BY 2.0

Warning: curmudgeonly.

Last week I went up to our campus conference centre to see my 11-year old son’s display at the school district’s “Invention Convention”.  I found a room full of students showing off their clever inventions, most of them bubbling with energy.  They had on display, not just their inventions, but searches for prior art, pricing strategies, marketing plans – the works.  It was the second such event I’d been to in a month, actually; at the school’s open house, there was a Grade Eight Marketplace where the students were actually selling the gadgets they’d designed and made.  The latter event, I’ve learned, won a National Entrepreneurial Award.  All this was clearly supposed to impress me and make me proud, and in a way it did.  But it also saddened me.

It’s not that I object to kids learning about entrepreneurship.  Continue reading

I refuse all review requests with deadlines < 3 weeks. Here’s why, and how.

Warning: another grumpy one

I’m seeing it more and more: requests to review manuscripts with ludicrously short deadlines.  Sometimes 10 days, sometimes 7, sometimes one week (5 business days).  And I see editors on Twitter bragging about a paper they’ve shepherd through the entire review process in 5 days, or a week, or two weeks.  I want all this to stop. 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

We praise originality, but we don’t seem to value it

Image: Citation impact vs. originality, for 55 of my own publications.  See text for explanation.

 Warning: a bit cynical.

Last week I filled out a grad-school recommendation form for a terrific undergraduate student.  Among other things, it asked me to rate her “originality”.  That got me thinking.

We tell each other often that we admire scientists who are original thinkers. Originality is often an explicit criterion in manuscript assessment, in tenure assessment, even at science fairs.  The related idea of “novelty” is a major criterion in many (if not most) grant applications. Herman Melville might almost have been speaking for scientists when he said “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation*”.

So we praise originality. But do we value it?  I’m skeptical.  Continue reading

Things that are more important to me than reviewing your manuscript

Warning: I’m grumpy today.

Last week I got a review request from a major open-access journal.  It specified a 10 day deadline.  I thought that seemed a little quick – but the manuscript looked right up my alley, and I could see the beguiling glint of some available time coming up.  So I agreed.  But it turns out 10 days meant 10 calendar days, not 10 business days as I’d assumed, and now I’m late* and getting rather testy autogenerated messages from the editorial office about it.  This makes me rather testy in return. Continue reading