Finally, something that is accessible to the public

Open access to publicly funded research is an issue that isn’t going to go away, the number of articles I’ve stumbled upon recently is testament to that and I even get the feeling that it’s starting to snowball.   The latest nudge in that direction is the Finch Committe’s report, released today.  I haven’t yet managed to read a copy, however Stephen Curry has been much more on the ball this morning, read his summary and commentary here, or if you’re feeling brave read the full report here.

Apart from Govt. led investigations there is also a ‘grass roots’ element to this issue, highlighted by Tim Gowers.  After becoming frustrated with journal fees he posted his feelings on his blog, specifically regarding Elsevier’s high fees.  The reaction to this was outstanding and 1000’s (12098 at my last count) of other academics have also taken professional risks in boycotting journals run by Elsevier.  Want to find out more?  The Guardian has reported on this and there is a website, the cost of knowledge, dedicated to the cause.

Given the rising profile of this issue, I’m going to do a piece on it later this week – keep your eye’s peeled if you’re interested!


Female Role Models Desperately Needed in Japan?

I was reluctant to blog about this, as I’ve spoken about women’s role in academia before.  However this THE (No. 2052, pg 19) article shocked me, so I thought I should share it.

Professor Burton, from the Bunkyo Gakuin University of Tokyo tells her first hand account of being a female academic in Japan, not only heavily outnumbered by men but frequently having to justify here presence to students.  She has been described by students as “not a real teacher” and one even stated that students had less motivation in a class taught by a woman (although stating it in his graduation thesis was bravery bordering on stupidity).  The article goes on to say that throughout society the driving force behind official changes in policies has not been an internal demand but international pressure.  Attitudes within the country have been slow to change, examples of which include influential figures such as Yoshiro Mori (ex-prime minister) who stated that women who didn’t have children shouldn’t benefit from a state pension!

I am well aware that sexism is a pretty well established form of bigotry throughout the world and not just Japan.  I also believe that the “early female brain drain” is not even unique to HE (I think it would’ve only taken one female role model when I was a teenager for me to be blogging to you about carpentry right now).  However the openness and entrenched nature of the prejudice I did find shocking; which might be a naive response, but surely the correct one.

Read the full article here.

Twitter Discussion on How to Take Effective Notes from Papers

Here’s a twitter discussion on how other postgrads and researchers take notes from articles. Also worth a glance is the article on Luhmann’s Zettelkasten from @FHeimburger(

Personally I’ve always stuck to pen and paper to take notes, begrudgingly supporting this with Endnote organised papers – I’m not a technophobe, I simply don’t remember anything I read or write digitally, whereas an insignificant jot on the back of an envelope will stay with me for weeks.

The Thesis Whisperer

Taking notes from the articles we read is not something we researchers talk about a lot, which means you have probably developed your own ad-hoc, idiosyncratic methods. And they probably work … but could they be better?

I find the very best way to learn this kind of everyday practice is in casual conversations; the sort that usually take place in the tearooms and hallways of academia. When @riotk asked me to do a post on note taking I figured Twitter was the ideal vehicle to start gathering ideas. Twitter enables me to host a ‘watercooler’ conversation – globally.

I know lots of people either don’t like Twitter, or think it’s a waste of time. I hope to convince you otherwise. Last night I facilitated a live Australian #phdchat on the topic on note taking tips and techniques, where lots of good ideas were shared. In fact, the discussion…

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Struggling to be enthused?

Not enjoying what you’re doing can be the quickest way to boredom, depression and ultimately poor science.  If you’re not fully engaged with your work, how can you possibly begin to explore the subject fully and ‘see’ the links that others miss?  Teaching is also, in part, about enthusing students for your subject, however they’ll be the first to spot a fake.

 Derek Lowe has written an article in Chemistry World, The passion of the chemist, which really resonated with me regarding motivation.  I’m never more focused, determined and..quite frankly enjoying myself when I’m in control.

Women in academia

After blogging about the trend for couples to live separately in academia, I have now seen two further articles regarding life-work balances within the industry.

First is  What the Dr Ordered by Beryl Leiff Benderly stating that having children is the main cause for women’s under representation in Science academia.  largely because the next few years is the time when, as an aspiring academic, I should be completing my PhD and carrying out post docs in order secure a permanent position; however this is also the period in most women’s lives when children are a) possible and b) desirable.  Academia has been slow compared to many other industries to adapt to familial responsibilities, which are often still largely the women’s responsibility.

Secondly is a slightly more upbeat article Fix the under-representation of women in science, says RSC’s first female President from the RSC.  Lesley Yellowlees, the RSC president, has given evidence to the Royal Society of Edinburgh which has released a recommendation for new initiatives in order to block the leak of women from STEM subjects.  It is pleasing to see that this is not only in the interests of representation, but could be worth a staggering £2billion to the UK industry.

I am very fortunate to be in a group which is actually predominantly females, including two senior members with children.  I haven’t made any decisions about children, however being able to watch role models cope with the balancing act will only make any decision in the future more informed.  Lets hope it’s a sign of the changes.