My worst exam

It is a nightmare: I am at university, and I have to pass a difficult exam. It is an oral examination, for which I have prepared, but probably not enough. I am nervous. The Professor’s office is in an old building, down a long corridor. Outside the room, a few students are waiting their turn. I go sit with them. I don’t know any of them. One of the girls greets me and says something.  I don’t understand her. It sounds like what she is saying is “So, how many times have you tried this one?” I mumble something about this being my first time. (And hopefully my last! But I don’t even have the courage to say that. This, I feel, is no time for being over-confident.) I go through my notes, like everybody else does. After a few minutes, the door opens and out comes The Professor. I have never seen this man before.

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Living machines

So, we stared at each other for a moment, each of us thinking that the other was really stupid. But let me start from the beginning …

I have been thinking some more about interdisciplinarity. I have written before about how different disciplines have different ways of thinking, and sometimes this gets in the way of mutual understanding. I have a story about how this panned out early on in my career, when I was working on my MSc project in a developmental genetics lab.

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The narrative of the “Bitchy Sisterhood”

Last month, the Guardian’s “Academics Anonymous” column talked about the “trouble with the sisterhood in academia”. The underlying narrative is a familiar one, I have heard it often: Women, according to it, complain about gender discrimination, but the shocking truth is women are mean to each other, which makes them their own worst enemy. I call this the “bitchy sisterhood narrative”. Sometimes – as in said column – it goes even further: Because women are so mean and judgy, you can’t even speak out about the problem, because who knows what would happen? “Luckily,” the anonymous author writes, “I’m currently on a flight, 12km above the ground, where I feel safe from the judgments that would confront me were I to exorcise this academic grievance at the coffee station.” This is a rather clever device, at the same time reinforcing the “bitchy sisterhood” image and elegantly pre-empting any critical response.

I’ll respond anyway. Continue reading

Books I’ve read

This is self-explanatory, really. Here is every book I’ve read since summer 2015. (Mainly for my own record, but you might find something interesting there.) Not sure about the exact order, and I might have left some out (indeed, I am pretty sure I have). I will try to complete and extend the list as I go along. There is going to be no commenting or rating, and having read a book doesn’t necessarily mean I think it’s great. Most of them are, though. Books are awesome.

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A jeho žena

As many of my friends know (and some of them from awkward personal experience), I like walking around cemeteries. Cemeteries from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy are especially great, because you can learn a lot about the people buried there and the time they lived in. Not just names and dates and places of birth and death. Often, the headstone will also inform us about a person’s station in life, their job, their academic and professional titles. It will tell us, for instance, that the deceased was a Doctor of Philospohy. Or an officer for the royal-imperial postal service. Or a house owner’s widow. I love it.

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