How often to publish?

My supervisor is a great believer in a high risk strategy of waiting to publish to ensure a bigger impact.  I can see her point, although I’m glad that for the time being she’s the one who will hold our nerve’s, because I’m not sure I’d be able to – the thought of being pipped at the post is just too horrifying for me!

I was sent this New Scientist article today which I thought, as the person who sent it to me thought, might be of some use to any other post grad students and post docs.

Blogging Research

I’ve signed up to a ‘writing for the web’ workshop later this week, hopefully that will help with some of my quanderies regarding my institutions stance on blogging as well as legal issues such as copyright.  However in advance I did a bit more searching for science blogs are found this.  It’s a few years old, but still quite interesting for anyone like myself starting or thinking of starting a science/academic blog.

A Glimpse at a Lonely Future?

One of the contributing factors to leaving my last job and starting my MSc, and subsequently my PhD, was I was fed up of spending hours a day in my car.  My last job required lots of UK based travel and my partner, ‘A’ was usually at the other end of the country – something had to give.  Since starting back in education we still have to live apart however the commute is regular, relatively brief and, crucially for me, via train so I can read/work/knit etc.

However on reading THE magazine article on how to get on in HE (M, Reisz ‘Flying Solo’ in Times Higher Education 2044, 5/4/2012) I’m not sure I’ve made the right choice!  In summary the competition for academic jobs often sees partners and families split up in order to secure the best position, this being particularly acute where both spouses work within academia.  In addition many senior positions have such high demand on the candidates that they are really only open to “those with no primary care responsibilities”, with the likely affect of further skewing the gender balance at the top. 

This is by no means an academic problem.  Many couples deal with long distances through jobs which require one or both of them to travel as part of the position or to the workplace.  However for myself this article was particularly disheartening, as many of the couples said that one partner was often forced to take a lesser position in order to allow the other to get a good job whilst still staying together, “maximising the minimum” was the phrase used. 

Not only am I, as a PhD student, at the beginning of my career in academia, but ‘A’ already holds a managerial position and is 7 years my senior and hence will almost always be ‘the bread winner’ leaving me as ‘the minimum to be maximised’ – not an appealing thought!

It was not all doom and gloom though.  Many couples did report benefits of living separately some of the time.  I have to admit that I also like having my own space; I can be utterly selfish with it, leave it messy guilt free and know that if I tidied it earlier it will still be tidy when I get back.  I can eat what and when I want, listen to my music and watch whatever I want on the TV.  I can also work late, without the nagging feeling that I’m neglecting or disturbing anyone.  However this narcissistic lifestyle does not make up for that lack of seeing A, and do I want to continue like this indefinitely into the future?  I’m not sure.

Term starts, but I’m hoping to keep the chaos at bay!

Last term was my first in helping supervise Undergraduate and Masters students during their projects.  At my previous two institutions I was only supervised by lecturers directly so I was unprepared for the added responsibility and although all the students project s went well overall it was …er…a bit chaotic I have to admit.

I don’t think there was one single reason for this, a combination of new equipment, run by inexperienced people (myself included) was always going to throw up some challenges.  However beyond being more experienced in my lab I hope that I can implement some strategies to prevent this next year.  Firstly and most importantly I think an official lab induction would massively reduce the number of times preventable issues, e.g. running out of solvents after the stores have closed for the day, as well instil good lab practice such as washing up glassware the day that it is used.  These ‘housekeeping issues’ are especially important in our lab as it is quite small and we share all our equipment and consumables.  I’m much more aware now of the psychology of carrying out a small project like this, how involved students get and consequently how important it is to point out the bigger picture.  There are some things that we implemented this year that worked well such as a meeting every morning just to quickly check what everyone was doing and to give brief updates on progress (or lack of it sometimes!).

If there are any other tips anyone else has in making sure the process is as smooth and positive as possible then please let me know!

Duncan Steel’s lecture on asteroids and the potential for deep impact

The Raven’s Science Café has always appealed to me.  I guess it’s the romantic in me which imagined a cluster of academics debating and discussing current theories in such civilised surrounding as the Raven Pub.  It was not, as I’m sure you can anticipate, anything like this, however I was not to be disappointed.  The event was much more popular than I had envisioned with the top floor entirely full.  It was also much more professionally run with all the hall marks of a modern university lecture.  However this should not put you off as Prof Steels’ talk was highly amusing and accessible even for someone like myself, who didn’t know the difference between a meteor and an asteroid (just in case you also didn’t know – the former is just the light you can see, whereas the latter is the actual lump of rock). 

Unfortunately I had to leave during the break between the lecture and the questions however I can thoroughly recommend both Duncan’s talks and the Raven’s Science Café [].  Some of the things I picked up include:

– Asteroids are not round, as seen in many cartoon, unless over 2km wide (when their own gravitational pull draws them to a sphere).

– Never trust Wikipedia (as if we didn’t know this already), particularly as many scientists sons are prone to sabotaging their own father’s pages when bored!

– There is a belt of giant asteroids (easily big enough to wipe us off the planet) just outside Neptune.  Occasionally (we’re talking ‘occasionally’ in astronomical terms here rather than once a fortnight kinda time scale) Neptune’s gravitational pull acts as a giant slingshot and flings them into the inner solar system (where we are).  If this wasn’t daunting enough, they often break up into smaller asteroids, so instead on one massive one we’d be dealing with millions of them!

– It’s not like it is in the movies.  Although these events are predictable at the moment we don’t spot them coming very accurately till either the last minute or after it’s already passed us!  Duncan thought that to have any chance of dealing with a large asteroid we’d need decades of warning.

– No funding is awarded by the UK or the Australian (where is Duncan is based) governments for developing early warning systems.


There was loads of other interesting tit bits that I haven’t included, so I’ll definitely be popping back for next months installment.

Blogging, eh?

Since starting my PhD I’ve become increasingly aware that I’m living through some of the most intense, fascinating and unique years of my life.  Although my lab book, and hopefully, my research will survive as a record of this time I have also thought that a more general approach to encompass less formal aspects of my PhD would be good.  I have kept diaries for specific times in my life before, however writing for the sake of writing, or my own retrospective thoughts in years to come, after a day of papers and thesis this seems unlikely.

Blogging however carries a major difference from a standard diary.  That is, anyone can read it; this, I hope, will have several benefits. It’ll keep the prose constructive even after the toughest of days (no one’s interested in self pity!) and even the suggestion that someone else is monitoring my writing raises the bar in both quality and quantity.  Regularly having to comment on scientific issues I hope will provide motivation to open up my approach and expand my reading and lecture attendance to beyond my immediate work (an approach I know all good academics should take, but day to day pressure can restrict us to the absolute necessities)

Also since taking this suggestion seriously I have been doing a bit of research (ever the scientist!) and found some really interesting blogs, articles and websites which are already feeding into my work, so it looks as if it’ll have some tangible benefits as well.

Although my ambitions are considerably more modest than the impact of Tim Gower’s post on journal charges, as reported on by Alok Jha’a article ( I hope that other’s may find something useful here.

Blogs are always going to be works in progress, this will be especially so though in the coming weeks and months as I work to identify more specific aims and audiences etc as well as some more boring technical issues.  There are also issues specific to my arena such as intellectual property and copyrighting which I’ll have to tackle before I get my teeth properly into this project.  In the meantime I’ll be sharing what I’m learning, as it may prove useful to other would-be-bloggers.