Tag Archives: academia

The Factory Academy (poem by John Kinane)

When they step out to the other side

Make sure they are the models described

Obedient and clean, just as prescribed

Trust in the academy production line

Value added and progressed tracked

Fit for purpose, packaged and stacked

Teacher……………“Stick to the template”

No matter what

Don’t motivate or deviate

Remember the plot

No individuality

Charisma or flair

Cut out the humour

Pretend you care

It’s a grand parade of inane individuals

Processed and classified with positive residuals

Ready for use in our brave new worlds

Trust in the academy production line

Institutionalised bullying stereotyped lies

Dehumanised products no light in their eyes

Teacher……………“Stick to the template”

No matter what

Don’t motivate or deviate

Remember the plot

No individuality

Charisma or flair

Cut out the humour

Pretend you care

If the factories performance shows invention

They will come under scrutiny through inspection

If inspiration is used you will get intervention

Trust in the academy production line

A new linear structure uniform on time

Schooled factory primed and sublime

Teacher……………“Stick to the template”

No matter what

Don’t motivate or deviate

Remember the plot

No individuality

Charisma or flair

Cut out the humour

Pretend you care

So here we are at the factory gates

Select and synthesise your class awaits

A generation of clones produced by the state

Trust in the academy production line

For you knew it would always be fine

When you sell your autonomy right on time

Teacher……………“Stick to the template”

No matter what

Don’t motivate or deviate

Remember the plot

No individuality

Charisma or flair

Cut out the humour

Pretend you care

 (Reposted from http://www.leere.co.uk/#!in-the-poetry-pipeline/crw7)

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Why no one can “have it all”

“Our gilded expat cages”
http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/8781338?platform=hootsuite
(The photo is intended to represent the sexes…)

This is just one example of the many articles on the web right now which continue a one-sided discussion that will never have a solution until we stop pretending that *anyone* can be independent. The men are just as dependent as the women (and that’s true of all kinds of relationships, as well as about singles). The ideal of independence is unattainable because it is trying to answer a badly defined question. In my research about matheamticians’ careers, I have met a lot of academic couples, and academics partnered with non-academics. The same mechanisms as described in this short article are visible in academic careers, as well. Many more female academics who are in relationships with children tend to default to the housewife optio, compared to our male colleagues. My hypothesis is that there are several main culprits. These come in order of importance, with 1 and 2 being probably equally important, and 3 and 4 being contingent upon them. i would be very thankful if anyone shoots down any of my ideas or adds better ones!

1. the way gender roles within the household snd in the workplace are defined in contemporary Western society, and the way these definitions are adopted, un-challenged, passed on to children and perpetuated by (a) institutions and (b) both men and women. These gender expectations/roles/conventions are by far not obvious or universal across time and space! An example of a different gender role distribution is socialist and postsocialist Eastern Europe where the proportion of female scientists was, and remains (though to a smaller extent after 1989), higher than in the west. in fact, Germany is a very interesting one-country example where women born in the [former] GDR are socialised in a noticeably (though by far not completely) more gender-equal way of thinking. aS someone who grew up in Eastern Europe, and has been in the uK for 9 years, I am still often shocked by occasional day-to-day revelations of micro- and macro-gender inequalities I was never aware of.
2. The “scaffolding” which enables people to go about their daily lives outside of work. This includes but is not limited to transport infrastructure, healthcare, childcare and all stages of education but especially early-age education, family structure (extended families in one geographical locality enable more women to spend more time on paid employment), the urban landscape (a funny detail such as the preference for houses in the UK vs apartments in Germany makes UK cities much less dense in comparison, meaning more driving and less access to social spaces outside the work-home nexus, which in turn makes it more likely that one of the partners will stay at home with the children), parental leave laws and practices.
3. Historical inertia
4. Counterproductive initiatives! Small UK example: I don’t know how useful are all the “women in academia” events is the Athena SWAN initiative, though they are certainly very well intentioned. I am yet to be convinced that Athena SWAN is contributing, instead of taking up time and cluttering the debate space… I am pretty sure I am being unfair here and I really hope to see positive change brought about by this initiative… (i am just using this blog as a space to think aloud, so don’t take this particular statement as very serious). But a bigger German example is the law which requires university employers to employ the woman if there are two equally qualified candidates. This one seems both hard to implement and badly received by men and women academics, and in some cases creates a bad attitute towards any female academics employed anywhere because their colleagues begin to harbour suspicions of what they see as “unfair” appointment. This one also needs a more extended discussion, but I am sligtly more convinced of it than by my Athena swan comment above.

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Semantic Scholar: the AI which, knows your field better than you (and a Short Rant to Science Policy-makers)

“What if a cure for an intractable cancer is hidden within the tedious reports on thousands of clinical studies? In 20 years’ time, AI will be able to read — and more importantly, understand — scientific text. These AI readers will be able to connect the dots between disparate studies to identify novel hypotheses and to suggest experiments which would otherwise be missed.

AI-based discovery engines will help find the answers to science’s thorniest problems.”

— Oren Etzioni

“Semantic Scholar” is a better idea than the REF. But wait, what do they have in common? Here’s what.  Semantic scholar looks through existing scholarship and lets you use it and build up on it. It may uncover an article which no one has read many years after it was published, and let a new researcher learn something. It helps cut through the bullshit – perhaps not in the best possible way, but AIs are work in progress and will surely evolve into cleverer versions. The REF, conversely, fosters the production of bullshit. Its existence scares scientists into producing more crap (sorry, dear colleagues) because that’s the way in which we, and our university departments, are assessed. We all know it’s a game, and some refuse to play it, but people in their early careers have more incentive to play along than to protest by producing fewer, better pieces of work – even though it actually is in our long-term interests, we are fooled by fear. And so we write, and publish, instead of thinking and publishing less, better stuff.

If I were a science policy-maker, I’d put my money on tools that facilitate tedious, or downright impossible, tasks such as sifting, navigating and organising existing knowledge and debates.  And I would leave scientists with a bit more freedom to actually think, be curious, produce ideas, hypotheses and sometimes even knowledge, and – very importantly – also to make mistakes in the process. Oh, and having access to jobs that last longer than a year or two before having to move continent with or without your significant other, or instead of deciding to have children, would help. But that’s another rant, perhaps for a future post entitled “If I were a science policy-maker”.

For more about Semantic Scholar, see: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn28434-ai-tool-scours-all-the-science-on-the-web-to-find-new-knowledge/

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What are rankings for?

hear, hear:

“The panic about ratings causes university management teams to spend money on PR in order to affect the opinions of those who rank universities. They may formally request all staff to lobby colleagues in foreign universities for a higher rating on questionnaires. They may insist on an increase in the quantity of postgraduates without respect to quality. They may demand that faculty publish only in journals the university ranking systems tabulate.

When the only aspects of quality considered are those that are digitally measured, a great divide can open up between appearance and reality. Time is spent on the manipulation of measures rather than on the search for truth or the betterment of life.

Ratings may go up (in the short term) and the actual quality of the university sink.

These management-driven efforts to perform for the rating system can have a bad effect on scholarship as well as teaching.”

Letter to the editor of the Irish times by Adrian Frazier, 5 Oct 2015 http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/letters/university-rankings-what-are-they-for-1.2376841

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Is “embracing ordinariliness” really the only way to cope with the impossible demands of contemporary universities?

Another depressing article: astute analysis of the problems in contemporary academia (which affect both women and men, but the average man tends to have better invisible support in coping with them)…sadly followed by a call to “embrace ordinariliness”.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/angela-mcrobbie/womens-working-lives-in-new-university

“Given that women still bear the brunt of responsibility for running households and organising the school schedules of children and so on, the question I was asking myself was how can women academics ever hope to achieve success in their working lives when this kind of pattern is seen as not just normal but entirely unremarkable, especially in a sector deemed by and large to be well-disposed towards working parents? Deciding not to have children, and having a partner who is also an academic or at least very familiar with these kinds of schedules would seem like the obvious answer.

the ideal career track in the academy especially one which carried all the laurels of prizes, awards, fellowships and a high volume of grants seemed to have been tailored around the image of the brilliant young man untrammelled by any of the fine details of domestic life. And if the young woman was to follow this pathway and plan the right time to have a child, then when would this right time be? The first few years of full time work (34-38) are marked by all kinds of expectations, and so it may be that just before getting to 40 having children could be embarked upon.”

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Academic job insecurity and psychological well-being: new study

At long last, here is a new-(ish, from last summer) study about the psychological effects of job insecurity on non-tenured academic staff.  Unfortunately, it is only about psychology academics.  The fact that it is published in the journal called Frontiers in Psychology is crazy…As the authors themselves stress, “[t]he study of psychological well-being among contingent faculty is uncharted territory.” More research needed!

Gretchen M. Reevy and Grace Deason (2014) Predictors of depression, stress, and anxiety among non-tenure track faculty, Front. Psychol., 08 July 2014

You can read the full text here (updated link, free access): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4085875/

 

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