The most popular posts on my blog in 2013

I really like this blog. Great ideas and discussion. Challenges. All you want from an academic blog really.


Would tenured faculty be hired today? A proposed experiment

A good post by by Lsb and Field. Are we actually talking about Academic Capitalism?

The Lab and Field

There’s been much discussion of late concerning Peter Higgs’ assertion that, were he a newly-minted PhD today, he likely wouldn’t have been hired.  Yes, that Peter Higgs.  You know, the Nobel laureate for whom the Higgs boson is named?  Since 1964, he’s published fewer than 10 papers.

Fast-forward just a few weeks, when Rebecca Schuman posted that a search for a tenure-track job in pre-1900 English literature was going to interview candidates on 5 days’ notice at the Modern Language Association conference in Chicago.  She pointed out that not only was this logistically and financially impossible for many who are on the job market (postdocs and early-career researchers generally don’t have much disposable income to purchase last-minute flights and hotels), but that it signalled the devastating way in which the academic hiring system is broken.

To be clear, I don’t think this particular problem is found that frequently in the…

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Why bother with research engagement?

The Research Whisperer

Mark Hamann (James Cook University)After working for both NGOs and government, Mark Hamann is now a researcher and lecturer at James Cook University in Townsville.

His research interests cross several disciplines but generally relate to marine wildlife ecology, marine and freshwater turtle biology, marine wildlife management, conservation biology, and the impacts of plastic pollution on marine ecosystems.

Most of Mark’s current research projects are conducted with partners from government, industry, NGOs and Indigenous communities. He spends a considerable amount of his time talking about science and science delivery with his collaborators.

Last year, Mark participated in “I’m a Scientist get me out of here” and he was introduced to the world of online science communication. 

Mark tweets from @turtlesatJCU.

We already engage all the time. It’s a part of family life, work, and our everyday relationships.

Engagement describes a journey; it is about building a conversation, a friendship, trust and – ultimately –…

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How to calculate #MyGenderGap for publishing scientists

Good point on how we all can contribute to reproducing gender gaps:

The Lab and Field

A recent article in Nature looked at the gender gap in scientific publishing among a variety of countries.  There’s lots of good stuff in there, but the one metric I want to focus on is the ratio of women/men authors.  In Canada, it was 0.459, meaning that for every woman author, there are 2.17 male authors.

There’s lots out there on womein in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the challenges they face, and the degree to which they are under-appreciated (including historical figures).

So what can I, a white man, do?

Well, the data in the Nature article had to come from somewhere.  So as an actively publishing scientist, I contribute to this phenomenon (regardless of whether my data were included in Nature).

After a bit of musing, I pulled up my current CV and decided to look at the gender gap in my own academic…

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MOOCs as a form of furtive learning


For the last three weeks, I’ve been a student again. I’m following a MOOC offered by FutureLearn, an offshoot of the Open University in partnership with a number of other institutions. And I have to report that so far, I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience.

Most of the pleasure comes from following a subject in which I am interested, but I’m also deeply interested in how a MOOC actually feels on the receiving end. The flexibility is highly impressive: I can study a little segment as and when I have the time, and I can do it wherever I want. I am not going to list all the places where I have MOOCed, but suffice to say that they include the kitchen and my car – anywhere that involves waiting, or an activity that doesn’t involve my conscious brain. And it is reasonably sociable too; the discussion space is busy and…

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Shh! Thinking

I really liked this. We sometimes confuse the ‘massification’ of HE with the democratisation of learning. Some of the questions here suggest something else.

ag foghlaim

In the world of twitter, snapchat and even blogs, long-form journalism struggles to maintain its role in the exchange of ideas. As for traditional forms of academic discourse, even there we’re being persuaded to seek out the sound-bite, the idea in ‘a nutshell’ and told increasingly that our expectations of students to write academic essays and dissertations are ‘irrelevant’ for their futures, a future of work, that is.  Time is short, the competition for attention is fierce and contemplation is ‘idle’.

Just as modern medicine (or in truth, modern work expectations) has abolished recuperation (symptoms blocked? good, then back to work), all is a rush, time is short, there’s more to do. More incessant chatter in which to engage; always on lest we suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out).

And in learning too, the pace, deadlines ,rushing from lecture to lecture, taking test after test and no time to…

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Co-op or Co-opt?

Interesting thoughts on governance as the site of neo-liberal struggle

ag foghlaim

Governance. Obscure, arcane structures peppered with titles fully worthy of the faux-medievalism of many universities – that’s the view of many working in academia towards this issue. But, governance is precisely where the ideological battles around the role and future of higher education are being played out. Changes in the balance of representations from internal to external interests, from public service to business and ‘entrepreneurs’, from elected to appointed, from autonomous to ‘steered’, from values to products.

Management. Increasingly built on business models, the shift from President/Principa/Vice-Chancellor to CEO; after all aren’t universities multi-million Euro operations, don’t they need the discipline and efficiency of the private sector, or at the very least a form of ‘public accountability’ that isn’t reliant on academic values, personal integrity or something as unreliable as a sense of public service? So we’re told.

So what form then should a university take in terms of its…

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Ambition Drives Policy – Or When Policy is Morally Bankrupt

Recently I wrote about the pretence at rational planning that is the current state of Irish higher education reform.  The official policy discourse gives the impression that the flurry of activity that sees the presidents of Institutes of Technology meeting each other, the production of guidelines on criteria for Technological University status (that not quite a ‘real’ university status that IoTs may be granted) by Simon Marginson, and update reports by the Higher Education Authority are somehow the stuff of deliberative democracy.

My claim is that they are nothing of the sort. 

The reality is that as soon as the Hunt Report was published, with its well rehearsed arguments for institutional rationalisation (read budget cuts), Technological University status, and regional higher education clusters, ambitious presidents and registrars of IoTs quickly got into action.

Suddenly there were rumours of potential amalgamations between this IoT and another, of regional amalgamations.  Month by month it seemed these rumours changed, morphed.  What was a ‘definite’ love match one week was cast asunder the next.

It is important to note that all of this occurred in the absence of any real legislative framework.  Indeed, it still does.  It is an example of POLICY WITHOUT POLICY.  Instead, the process on the ground has been driven by ambition.  For all the attempt to put a rational gloss on things, the BIG players on the field call the shots their way.  For instance, the long held ambition for a ‘university of the South East’ (a dream thwarted by the OECD report) has framed the actions of at least one institution.  Others who may or may not come under the orbit of institutional merger in that region are bit players.  Hardly deliberative democracy.

Similarly, the changing elements of a possible regional fix in the North West has, it has been privately reported, been partly driven by a mixture of personal ambition and antipathy.

In a climate of fiscal restraint – OK, let me be blunt about this, in a climate of raiding the public sector purse to pay for the criminal mistakes of the private sector, the running around trying to either get in on a bigger players act, or desperately trying to secure some presence in the new future for non-university tertiary education, has involved massive transactional costs.  This is not just in the money (public money) spent on meetings, but the serious discontent amongst ordinary lecturers about their and their institution’s futures.  This sees itself in petty actions and in ill-health.  Ordinary lecturers are not participating in the discussions about their futures.  These are held by those higher up the institutional food chain.

This could have been different.  The HEA could have organised a more meaningful process.  The relevant government minister could have sought to legislate in a way that actually asked serious questions about what kind of higher education system a small open economy and country like Ireland could have.  But they didn’t.  I don’t know why.  Some might say it is the result of incompetence.  Some might say it was political ineptitude.  Some might say it was both.

What is clear, is that what is happening lacks any compassionIt is ethically moribund.  It is a moral embarrasment.