Sunday, 28 February 2010

my yawning gap year

28 February 2009. I woke up in the morning (hey, that sounds like blues!) realising that I am not going to work today, or next week, or next month. Freedom!

When I were a lad, the concept of gap year was unheard of. After the school, young men were facing a choice of either university or a two-year spell in the army — or, with any luck, three-year spell in the navy. As exciting as it was, the military stint never appealed to me; six years in the university looked so much more prudent. I started working full-time couple months after graduation (and I was working part-time for almost three years before that). Work, work, work. Work.

We were taught that regular employment is good and absence thereof is bad. I don’t know, I quite enjoy the fact that I can sleep as much as I want while I am, er, on me career break. Speaking of which: according to Wikipedia,
The <gap year> market demographic is split into those aged 18—24 (pre, during and post university), 25—35 (‘career gap’, also known as ‘Career Break’ and ‘Career Sabbatical’) and 55—65 (pre and post retirement gappers).
Now I know: mine is post-sabbatical pre-preretirement gap — apparently underoccupied ecological niche.

Friday, 19 February 2010

no landing cards for me

Yesterday, while waiting in a queue to the passport control at Stansted airport, I was pondering how lucky I am to have British passport. I don’t have to fill the landing card anymore. I cannot tell exactly how many of these I have completed during my first ten years in this country. A lot. I never could understand what is the point of these scraps of paper in the era of computer-readable passports. And yet, according to Wikipedia,
Failure to complete a Landing Card when this is required is a crime punishable by a fine or 6 months in prison.
I wonder how determined one should be to end up in prison. I mean, they just won’t let you in unless you complete it, right?

One has to do that even after obtaining indefinite leave to remain in the UK. I remember the first time I entered the country with my brand new ILR stamp in the passport.
“For how long are you going to stay?”
“Forever.”
“For EVER?!”
You had to see the immigration officer’s face. It turned out that he never saw the (then) new-style ILR stamp before.

If I still had to fill this form, what would I put as “occupation”? Probably “none”. I can only guess what would be the reaction. Alas, my Russian passport has expired so I am postponing this experiment. Indefinitely.

Friday, 12 February 2010

back in my student years

Circa 1986. The professor at our department of biophysics is saying (to nobody in particular):
«Я только что сказал моим студентам что работать в науке надо много. А теперь я надеваю пальто и иду домой.»
“I just told my students that in science one has to work a lot. And now I put on my coat and go home.”

Monday, 8 February 2010

what’s wrong with science blogging?

There was an interesting post by David Crotty entitled Science and Web 2.0: Talking About Science vs. Doing Science on The Scholarly Kitchen blog.
Even without new online technologies, scientists already spend a substantial portion of their time communicating. They share results with peers, plan future experiments with collaborators, give talks, write papers, teach, etc.
Frankly, I don’t see why any of these activities are incompatible with blogging. Quite the reverse: blogging can be a way to improve the communication. If you give a presentation, whether at a conference or in a classroom, why not to post it online? And is there any better way to share your results than to blog about them?
New social media endeavors ask scientists to devote even more time to communication, but it’s unclear where participants are supposed to find that time. Every second spent blogging, chatting on FriendFeed, or leaving comments on a PLoS paper is a second taken away from other activities. Those other activities have direct rewards towards advancement. It’s hard to justify dropping them for activities backed by vague promises that “you will be one of the early adopters and will be recognized and respected for this in the future.” That’s a tough gamble for most to take, and scientists are unlikely to risk current status for a leg up in the event that sweeping societal changes occur in how we fund, employ, and judge scientific achievement.
Thus, it is inherent conservatism of those who are “unlikely to risk current status” that prevents the scientific community from embracing new technology. If so, then that’s too bad for science. But really, should we worry?

The author discriminates between scientists and people who talk about science, for example... teachers. Excuse me. I heard there are many people in academia whose positions include a lot of teaching. On the one hand, “scientists are no different than other humans” (and most people don’t blog, ergo most scientists shouldn’t either). On the other hand, it is implied that they require the communication tools different from “mainstream” ones. I do recall that in 1980s there was a belief that scientific computing should be done on specialised workstations, not PCs or Macs. Now most of the scientific computing is done exactly on the same PCs and Macs.

The blogging in science may never become a mainstream activity. Or maybe it is the future of scientific communication. Consider this: people blog because they like blogging, not because they have nothing else to do. Also, people go to science because science is fun. While writing grant proposals and, in most cases, writing research papers is not fun. (That also explains why reading grant proposals and most research papers is not fun either.) The sooner scientists leave these not-fun activities behind, the better. Or so one can hope.