Monday, 17 August 2009

the summer is almost over

With all these warm sunny days, you wouldn’t say that the Summer is almost over. But it is. Academics are returning from vacations and clean their messy desks. Only this could explain the fact that within a week I have received three responses (all negative ones) re. my long-forgotten job applications. (One of the applications was submitted last December, another one this January, and the most recent one in March.) Interestingly, or maybe not, one of the letters contains a copy of the evaluation committee’s report (which looks like, well, a concise version of my CV, but at least it’s an evidence that somebody actually did read it) and a note that I am welcome to comment on this report not later than some day last month.

Needless to say, it doesn’t do much good to my ego. Even if I take the view that it is their loss. Which it is, but it is not my gain either. In any case, I am not getting paid for them losing me. (Hey, I’d like to develop this line of thought one step further. It seems that in some institutions people spend lot of time evaluating my applications. By not applying, I could save their time, effort, and valuable desk/disk space, so it’s only fair to get remunerated for that.)

Oh well. With these three off my Christmas card list, my potential employers are not exactly queuing outside. Which means I can go away again and not miss anything.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

cool badges

The Science Scouts develop some seriously cool badges. For all humankind.
Anyone is welcome to use these badges, although a link to this site (or the specific badge entry) is much appreciated. Even better is if you provide an anecdote in the comments section to explain your reasons for awarding yourself the badge.
Excellent. I allow myself to award myself a few.

Also, thanks to Science Scouts, I’ve got acquainted with The Science Creative Quarterly, which publishes some very nice articles, such as this review by Vince LiCata.
This is a large book. Weighing in at a solid 11.5 pounds (5.2 kg), this book is good for whacking things.
If you only have time to read one biochemistry textbook this year, Ezra Pound’s “On Biochemistry” is the book you want, unless you actually need to learn some biochemistry.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

she’s such a geek

You will be wanting to read my excellent essay, ‘Suzy the Computer’ vs. ‘Dr. Sexy’: What’s a Geek Girl to Do When She Wants to Get Laid? in She’s Such a Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff.
It was this charming announcement on Zuska’s blog that prompted me to get hold of the said book. And what a book it is!

Personally, I don’t like the word ‘geek’ at all. Not everybody who is learning (works in, used to work in) science/technology is a geek. The truth is, however, that if you are a woman, you’ll be seen as a geek if you are interested in science, or maths, or technology, or computer games, or whatever else that happens to be a male-dominated field. Which is more or less everything except raising the children. Even in most egalitarian societies — and America, the home of this book’s authos, is hardly the one. OK, women may be allowed to be geeks, but even there their geekdom is considered largely incompatible with femininity, or sexual desirability. Boys don’t want to date smart girls. Mums want their daughters to behave like ‘normal’ girls (e.g. to join the cheerleading team rather than a math class). And so on.

I’d love to put a couple of quotes here — alas, there are 24 essays by very different authors, each one worth a quote or three, and I don’t have all night. Don’t be put off by the cover art. Get the book and enjoy.

She's Such a Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff
P.S. There is an interesting blog by the same name and with contribution of some authors of the book; alas, it was not updated for more than a year.

Friday, 14 August 2009

a threat to scientific communication

Once again, I am getting spammed by Nature — this time it is an email with a modest subject “Impact Factor confirms Nature is top research journal”. It informs me that its Impact Factor is 31.434 now. The reason they bother to send me this?
To celebrate we are offering you an exclusive 30% discount if you
subscribe to Nature this week.
No thank you. I just read a brilliant review by Zoë Corbyn in Times Higher Education. Featuring opinions of scientists such as Peter Lawrence, Peter Murray-Rust, and Sir John Sulston, it is a wonderful read.
Noting that the medical journal articles that get the most citations are studies of randomised trials from rich countries, he <Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet> speculates that if The Lancet published more work from Africa, its impact factor would go down.

“The incentive for me is to cut off completely parts of the world that have the biggest health challenges ... citations create a racist culture in journals’ decision-making and embody a system that is only about us (in the developed world).”
Horton believes the real crisis facing journals, and in particular the top health titles, is in defining the “purpose” of their role. While journals founded 300-odd years ago had an explicit mission, which was to “use knowledge to change society for the better”, today’s journals have “lost their moral compass”, he contends.
So, is it just the publishers to blame for the present situation? What about scientists themselves?
Unfortunately, say observers, there is no incentive for people on the inside to change things. The scientists who have learnt to play the “complicated game” of getting their papers into the top journals are reluctant to ditch it because they fear losing out.
Can anything be done by ‘ordinary’ scientists (i.e. those who do all the real work)? Yes!
A small but growing number of scientists are simply ignoring journals and putting their work on web pages and blogs, where there is no limit on the length of articles, raw data can be published with ease and peer review can take shape through discussions and comments.
Top universities, working together, could force the reform of copyright laws, Murray-Rust believes, but, given their inaction, he thinks that a better answer might be “civil disobedience on a mass scale”.

He envisages scientists focusing on one or two areas, such as medicine and climate change, where there are strong moral grounds for allowing science in journals to be reproduced — and “sticking the whole bloody lot” on their websites.
Even if you think you know all this (as I thought), read it.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

can accent damage your career?

We all know about racism, sexism and ageism, in the workplace or otherwise. But what about accentism? From A Plum in Your Mouth: Why the Way We Talk Speaks Volumes About Us by Andrew Taylor:

The BBC poll that so damned the Welsh accent was one of many over recent decades which have arranged regional accents in order how pleasant, prestigious, or socially desirable they are. A similar survey, carried out a few months later, reached much the same conclusions, with the added twist that Welsh found itself languishing around the bottom of a list of accents which supposedly gave the impression of hard work and diligence. It is significant that of the ten accents at the bottom of the poll, seven were those of big industrial cities or conurbations, namely Bristol, Swansea, Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool, Black Country and Birmingham. There are other fairly clear prejudices against the other three, South African, German and Asian — but overall, the poll was simply a vote against urban working-class speech. It is probably not unduly cynical to point out that the second survey was carried out on behalf of the Aziz Corporation, a company which specializes in ‘executive communications’, and includes ‘voice development’ among the services it offers. It’s also noticeable that surveys such as these tend to tke place either in Summer or around Christmas, when news is in short supply.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

what to tell my younger self

“If I knew then what I know now” is a regular column in The Big Issue magazine, in which celebrities tell us what they would tell their younger selves if they had a chance. It is, of course, impossible, that’s why I enjoy reading it.

What would I say — or rather, write in a column like this? I’d tell my younger self not to waste time in academy.” Knowing that there is absolutely no way to talk to my younger self: do I actually mean it? If I did not waste time in academy, I wouldn’t become what I am. So I would spend some time elsewhere, like in the army or medicine. Suppose I survive the army; I’d tell my younger self then not to waste time in army. Or medicine.

And would my younger self listen?

Not really.