A day in the life (2016)

Today is Friday, 20 May 2016

I am an Edinburgh-Zhejiang lecturer at the University of Edinburgh (UK).

This is a day in my life.

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Extracurricular Failures

Years ago, I wrote a little column about how in academia, we tend to speak only about our successes and remain very silent about our failures, and I suggested that people compile and publish their “CV of Failures”. I was delighted to see the idea taken up by Princeton Professor Johannes Haushofer, who published his CV of failures and thereby sparked a discussion on the topic on social media.

For myself, I haven’t been brave enough to publish my own CV of Failures, but I thought I could make a start by compiling the “Extracurricular Activities” section of it. Or at least, the top five.

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The Invisible Woman

It’s International Women’s Day, and like on so many other days, I have been thinking about superpowers (one of my favourite topics). In particular, about invisibility. Because it can be an awesome superpower, and it can also be devastating, and all this has a lot to do with women in science. But let me explain.  Continue reading

What’s in a name?

When I was a postdoc, my university had a biology reading course for undergraduates. It was structured as a small seminar, and any postdoc or faculty member could choose a topic and lead a discussion group, provided enough students showed up. Excited, I wrote up a proposal on one of my favourite topics and handed it in. Time passed. Zero undergraduates signed up. Zero. I talked to the professor overseeing the course about possible reasons. “Maybe,” she said, “you should have chosen a sexier title.” I was astonished. How is “Computational Models in Biology and Biochemistry” not sexy enough?

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For the sake of honour

Last month my Alma Mater, the University of Salzburg in Austria did something remarkable: They revoked the Honorary Doctorate they had awarded to Konrad Lorenz in 1983.

For those who don’t  know, Konrad Lorenz was a scientist who studied animal behaviour, especially in greylag geese. He is particularly famous for studying how their young form attachments to the first moving thing they encounter in their lives. This is why you will find a lot  of pictures of Lorenz followed around by a gaggle of adorable goslings.

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Gamifying the PhD

Over the past weeks, I have taken an awesome MOOC called “How to survive your PhD” on EdX (thank you Simone for pointing me to this!) Of course, I did survive my own PhD a while ago, but as I am crossing over to the dark supervisor side of things, I want to learn as much as I can about the general PhD experience and about what we can do to support our students.

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Unskilled and unaware of it

Have you heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? It’s an interesting psychological insight about how people’s actual knowledge and skill aligns with their perceived knowledge and skill.

People who are not very skilled at a particular task find it very hard to understand the level of skill needed to do that task well. As a consequence, they fail to recognise a truly skilled practitioner when they see one, and they tend to overestimate their own skill. As a people get better at a particular skill, they also get better at accurately estimating how good they are at it. This is true for a wide range of skills and knowledge areas, including grammar, logical thinking, and even humour. It was first described in a 1999 paper by Kruger and Dunning entitled Unskilled and Unaware of it.

Now, here is the problem.

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