Tag Archives: curmudgeonliness

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

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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

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

Conference nametags mostly suck

I’ve been to a lot of conferences, and at every single one I’ve been issued a nametag.  I don’t know how those nametags get designed, but I’m guessing it’s mostly an afterthought.  That’s because they’re mostly terrible.  If you think about it, that’s pretty astounding – because as easy ways to improve a conference go, better nametags are such low-hanging fruit they’re practically lying on the ground.

Here’s a good place to start: what’s a nametag for?  Continue reading

Does anyone else find “Up Goer Five” a bit condescending?

Image: just a portion of the original “Up Goer Five” cartoon, diagramming a Saturn V rocket.

Like a lot of people, I’ve been enjoying the “Up Goer Five” phenomenon.  If you don’t know about it (unlikely!), it started as an xkcd cartoon in which Randall Munroe labelled a diagram of a Saturn V rocket using only the thousand most common words in the English language.  Munroe followed it up with a book along the same lines, Thing Explainer, and the idea really took off, with scientists in all disciplines trying their hands at it.  It came up most recently for me because the 2016 meeting of the Ecological Society of America had an Up Goer Five session.  I wasn’t able to get to any of it, but I got a taste via Twitter and via titles and abstracts posted online and around the convention centre.

Up Goer Five is fun – tons of it.  But I have the unsettling feeling that I’m missing something, because I don’t quite understand what Up Goer Five is for.  Or at least, I can see three things that people may think it’s for, but they seem at odds with each other, and I’m not convinced that any of the three does more good than harm. Continue reading

Cat chasing laser pointer

Can we just put down the laser pointers please?

Photo © Hey Paul via flickr.com, CC BY 2.0.

I’ve been to three conferences this summer, and seen dozens of talks: some short and some overlong; some riveting and some dull; some good and some bad.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the good talks could be even better, and the bad talks a bit less bad?  There are some difficult ways to accomplish that, but here’s an easy one:  let’s all agree to leave the laser pointers to our cats. Continue reading