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Posts Tagged ‘research’

Nothing Even Matters

One of the reasons I became quite invested in the #Receptiogate saga*, even before its full popcorn-munching bizarreness became fully apparent, was the phrase used in the initial response of Carla Rossi’s (quite possibly fictional) secretary to Peter Kidd’s initial enquiries about the unaccredited use of images and commentary from his blog: “I regret to inform you that blogs are not scientific texts, published by academic publishers, so their value is nil!” (more…)

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Was It Worth It?

And so farewell then, the Thucydiocy Podcast. In seven episodes, stretched out irregularly over several years, you established in mind-numbing detail the different ways in which people have misattributed things to Thucydides, to an audience of many tens of people, two of whom once posted positive feedback… Wait a minute! There is a faint pulse! It lives, to be largely ignored for another day! (more…)

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My email inbox this morning contained one of the oddest invitations I’ve received in a long time – odd, to the degree that I’ve just spent ten minutes trying to check whether it’s actually an elaborate bit of phishing, or a practical joke on the part of whoever suggested my name. The message offers the opportunity to become a Detailed Assessor for the Australian Research Council – to write extensive peer review reports on, say, 5-20 applications per year, term unspecified. This is of the order of being asked to pay £20 to secure my fabulous First Prize of unscheduled pancreas removal. (more…)

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Nothing But Flowers

It’s Reading Week – or, as various people have sagely commented on the Twitter, At Last I Can Catch Up On Sleep Get Ahead With My Teaching Prep Write Those Reviews Comment On Postgrad Drafts Spend Some Time With Family Do A Bit Of Reading Finally Get Some Research Done Hey Where Did That Go Week. And that’s in a normal year. This autumn, I imagine I’m not the only person who has found the switch to online teaching and the constant worrying about students thoroughly draining, absorbing every minute of the working day and disturbing every night – with the result that I both need to sleep for a week and have a list of overdue commitments that is at least twice as long as usual. (more…)

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Chasing Cars

Remarkably, the results of a search for “ancient history” on the jobs.ac.uk website currently include an advert for a Demi Chef de Parti. I cannot help but interpret this as a personal Sign. Back when I had finished my final undergraduate exams, and for various reasons was pretty sure that I’d messed things up to a degree that would preclude any hope of funding for a PhD, I had to think seriously about what I should do instead, and came to the conclusion that I would really like to be some sort of chef. Of course, I had no relevant qualifications or experience, so it was fortunate that the PhD funding did turn up after all, but it’s a salutary reminder of how rarely in my life I have had any sort of career plan. (more…)

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Time, and Money. One of my most concrete achievements so far this summer – besides winning first prize for ‘a truss of cherry tomatoes’ at the local garden show – has been getting the front of the house painted. Does the money saved by doing it myself, and the sense of satisfaction, actually balance out the fact that a professional would have done it at a much lower hourly rate than one might calculate mine to be, so I could instead have devoted more time to working on all the chapters and articles I’m supposed to be writing / have written – with substantially less potential satisfaction? I do tend to revert to an autarkic ‘why pay someone if you can do it yourself?’ attitude, especially as I like doing practical things, rather than spending money to make everything but the research go away? (more…)

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Free Range

As Abraham Lincoln once remarked, Thucydides is not the only historical figure to get regularly misquoted. One interesting example is the line that “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country”, regularly trotted out to epitomise a certain attitude prevalent within big business. At least in the UK, there is at best only a fuzzy sense of the original context – it was said by Charles Erwin Wilson in 1953, during confirmation hearings for his appointment as Secretary of Defense after being Head of General Motors – and little idea that it’s not completely accurate. What Wilson actually said, when asked whether he would be able to make a decision as Secretary of Defense that would be adverse to General Motors, was that he would, but that he couldn’t actually conceive of such a situation “because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa”. That’s a great deal more reciprocal, and less dubious – and hence less useful – than the usual version.

In universities – yes, I am going somewhere with this – there has traditionally been a similar assumption, all the way down to the individual level: (more…)

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Two things on the internet caught my fancy yesterday. The first, quite widely circulated so probably already familiar, was a story in the Grauniad: How Computer-Generated Fake Papers Are Flooding Academia. This struck me as a rather wonderful thing. Of course, the basic focus of the article and the research on which it reports is the lax standard of reviewing at certain journals and conferences, so that papers churned out by simple computer programmes which are essentially gibberish nevertheless are accepted (it wasn’t completely clear from the report whether the papers are submitted  under the names of the programmers, i.e. real people with genuine university affiliations which serve as an imprimatur so that the content is simply ignored, or under fake names as well, implying that there are no quality checks whatsoever). But it can’t be that big a step to write a programme that could generate fake papers by a specific author. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if an analysis of my own works identified clear, consistent patterns in the use of certain words and phrases, tendency to resort to a limited number of key references and to start every paper with a quote from some nineteenth-century thinker intended to unsettle current assumptions, basic structural similarities and so forth (come to think of it, I’m drawing this entirely from Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, aren’t I?) – so, why not use that to produce ersatz Morley essays, barely distinguishable from the real thing? (more…)

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Tail Wags Dog?

Via my colleague Chris Brooke, I’ve just come across the letter published in The Times on Saturday by Professor Sir Fergus Millar, which notes the concerns of the Minister for Universities about the increasing emphasis on research over teaching in UK HEIs, but emphasises both the extent to which this has been driven by government policies, rather than idle academics neglecting their students in favour of their pet projects, and the extent to which this has warped the research activities themselves. Funding for research, Sir Fergus argues, has shifted more and more from direct grants to individual projects; universities are ever more desperate for the overheads and estate costs that come with such projects, and so individual academics (who have now lost tenure and so are at the mercy of their managers) are compelled to expend effort on writing grant applications, at the expense of their teaching and the research they actually want to do. “It is not that funding is sought in order to carry out research, but that research projects are formulated in order to get funding.” Long-term research projects, with uncertain outcomes (let alone impact), are rendered impossible, not least by short REF cycles.

(more…)

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One of the things I most enjoyed about spending a couple of months in German universities this year, and most envy about their set-up, was the sense of freedom when it comes to teaching. Within remarkably broad limits, and subject only to a remarkably small number of regulations and administrative imperatives, it seems that professors can do more or less what they like, and can extend that freedom to their colleagues. One can teach a course over a full semester, or over half a semester with an all-day Blockseminar, or even (presumably) through a number of Blockseminars rather than a weekly class, whatever seems to suit the topic and the level of the students best. One can introduce a new course on one’s research interests without having to complete a lengthy form and submit it for approval from the university – and without the risk of being told, sorry, because of the work involved in completing and approving forms, no new units are being accepted for the foreseeable future. Indeed, when I mentioned even a few minor examples of the bureaucratisation of teaching (without even hinting at the scrutiny of assessment), all I got were incredulous stares. Goodness knows what my German colleagues would think of the full reality. (more…)

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