Tag Archives: university

UK women academics in 1974

This page and every sentence in it wins the prize for most depressing work-related reading of the month. I keep realising that I must have grown up on a different planet. I really hadn’t realised how recently things were shockingly horrible in what we in the East thought of as the enlightened Western Europe. For all the ills in the socialis bloc, at least scientists and engineers were, and still are, equally divided by gender… (See e.g. The chart on P.21  of this 2012 report on gender in science in the EU)

Excerpt from “The academic labour market” edited by Gareth Williams, Tessa Blackstone and David Metcalf, Elsevier, 1974 

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Unsurprising findings: universities damaged by “student as consumer” ideology

Academics under pressure to bump up student grades, Guardian survey shows

“Many academics said recent reforms, which encourage universities to treat students as consumers and expand their intake, have damaged the quality of education offered to undergraduates. […]52% of academics said the emphasis placed on “the student experience agenda” had damaged the quality of education offered, while 40% said the removal of the cap on student numbers had also had a negative impact. Of those academics who said the rush to recruit extra students was lowering standards, many complained of cramped facilities, a relaxing of entrance criteria, and a reduction in the amount of time academics can spend with undergraduates.”

full findings here.

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What should we teach to liberal arts students who will take only one math course?

Interesting discussion about what and how much mathematics university students on liberal arts courses in the US should know on mathoverflow – here

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The price of a citation, or How did King Abdulaziz University get in the world’s top 10?

According to a great recent blogpost by Berkeley academic Lior Pachter, there is something very fishy about university rankings.  In last week’s global university ranking published by the US News and World Report (USNWR), the top 10 universities listed in mathematics are:

1. Berkeley
2. Stanford
3. Princeton
5. University of Oxford
6. Harvard
7. King Abdulaziz University
8. Pierre and Marie Curie – Paris 6
9. University of Hong Kong
10. University of Cambridge

The USNWR rankings are based on 8 attributes:

– global research reputation
– regional research reputation
– publications
– normalized citation impact
– total citations
– number of highly cited papers
– percentage of highly cited papers
– international collaboration

Now, how did KAU end up in the top 10?  Its chair received his PhD in 2005 and has zero publications.  Its own PhD programme is only two-years old. It has separate campuses for men and women.  The author, and probably many other mathematicians, have never heard about KAU. Apparently, the secret of the ranking success lies in the fact that,

“[a]lthough KAU’s full time faculty are not very highly cited, it has amassed a large adjunct faculty that helped them greatly in these categories. In fact, in “normalized citation impact” KAU’s math department is the top ranked in the world. This amazing statistic is due to the fact that KAU employs (as adjunct faculty) more than a quarter of the highly cited mathematicians at Thomson Reuters. “

The article goes on with a very interesting and evidence-supported discussion of the ranking system, and of the particular approach taken by KAU in order to put itself on the world’s mathematical map. There are also comments by various academics, a few of whom work for KAU. Well worth a read if you have time to be scared about the $$$$$future$$$$$ of global academia.

Pachter’s blogpost raises some very interesting questions about the future of global academia. First of all, it is not at all surprising that universities from the periphery (the “global south”, as we sociologists like to call it) are trying to gain prestige and put themselves out there.  It is also not surprising that some, which are very affluent, will attempt to buy their way in the global academic system. In fact, by doing so, they are merely using loopholes and bugs – which to them are “features” – in the ranking and prestige system created by old-world academia. Our indignation at this, while justified, is also somewhat hypocritical: after all, they are simply taking the “money makes research go round” principle that bit further. Academics and administrators in US and European universities should take this as a warning – a mirror held up to our own academic institutional  practices which may be less blatant and aggressive, but are nevertheless often the same in their nature.  UK universities in particular – more so than in the rest of Europe, but still less so than in the US – are also doing their best to hire highly-cited academics.  I’m not at all worried about universities from other places taking the lead in research, and no doubt many of the names on the list are doing just that.  What is really worrying is the increasing overreliance on numeric indicators of academic quality as a substitute for much more detailed, more qualitative indicators.  I think that we… or someone? but who? well, we – vice-chancellors, academics and administrators – should take the hint from KAU’s success on paper and change the system of science quality assessment not just by tightening existing loopholes, but by not relying on simplified indicators at all.

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Invisibility cloak unveiled!

Awful pun in the title, sorry! So here is the news. Scientists at Rochester have invented – well, not quite invented, but significantly improved over old versions – a device which works as an invisibility cloak. The new approach not only results in better concealment of the object, but can also use cheaper materials. In fact, you can even make your own using 4 lenses! Read the full article (from which I took the Rochester cloak building instructions and the image below) here. If you or your university has a subscription to the OpticsInfoBase journal, you can read the mathematical basis of the cloak. I love the title of the paper. I bet they enjoyed writing it.

J. C. Howell, J. B. Howell, and J. S. Choi, “Amplitude-only, passive, broadband, optical spatial cloaking of very large objects,” Appl. Opt. 53, 1958-1963 (2014), URL: http://www.opticsinfobase.org/ao/abstract.cfm?URI=ao-53-9-1958

lens diagram

  1. Purchase 2 sets of 2 lenses with different focal lengths f1 and f2 (4 lenses total, 2 with f1 focal length, and 2 with f2 focal length)
  2. Separate the first 2 lenses by the sum of their focal lengths (So f1 lens is the first lens, f2 is the 2nd lens, and they are separated by t1= f1+f2).
  3. Do the same in Step 2 for the other two lenses.
  4. Separate the two sets by t2=2 f2 (f1+ f2) / (f1 f2) apart, so that the two f2 lenses are t2 apart.


Earlier this year, scientists from the University of Central Florida made the news with the first large-scale invisibility cloaking device. Here is their paper in Advanced Optical Materials:

Li Gao, Youngmin Kim, Abraham Vazquez-Guardado, Kazuki Shigeta, Steven Hartanto, Daniel Franklin, Christopher J. Progler, Gregory R. Bogart, John A. Rogers, and Debashis Chanda, Negative Index Materials: Materials Selections and Growth Conditions for Large-Area, Multilayered, Visible Negative Index Metamaterials Formed by Nanotransfer Printing (Advanced Optical Materials 3/2014)http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/adom.201470019/abstract



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How does your department get such brilliant mathematicians? (comic)

Brutal academic labour market comic…if only it were that easy to a) get brilliant mathematicians and b) find a good job as a mathematician!



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