Jan 172017
 
Game of thrones throne

When you work in a university for long enough you start to notice a worrying trend: High (not the fun drug way) level professors are in a state of continuous flux, changing institution at the drop of a hat for a better offer elsewhere. The better offer is likely to include working at a more prestigious university, more money for research and lab monkeys and better labs. Or, perhaps, the aggressively ambitious professor has pissed off so many people while clamoring their way to the top that it is better for everyone if they fuck off – I know of a number of instances where this is certainly the case, because I love gossip.

These max-level professors are really, really expensive. Deakin University has the level E rate set at $171,299 per annum or, to put it another way, approximately 571 tweed jackets per anus. But to the university, that doesn’t matter. These professors satisfy all of the selection criteria universities drool over. They bring in loads of money, have a butt-load of collaborations and they publish papers by the adult nappy load. AND THEY DO IT NOW, right now, as in, the university can instantly get these things and make its statistics appear way better overnight – with very little effort. If institutions do this enough, they can fill every office with a success hungry professor. Just imagine the fun workplace environment – like going for a relaxing swim, in shark infested waters, with a self-harm support group.

But here’s the thing, for every professor who moves institution, the universities replace them with another shiny headed professor, like a really shit Game of Thrones. Giving them fancy names like “strategic professors” which satisfies the sticky soul of the egocentric professor. After years of researching the same area, it is very unlikely that any professor will bring new ideas to the table. I once sat in a room as scribe for the formation of a new institute. After hours of talking it was clear to me that the only thing each academic brought to the table was a different, watered-down version of their own research applied in a slightly different way, not innovative solutions for a changing world, but safe options that have worked in the past.

It is very short sighted of the universities to perpetually employ recycled professors instead of two fresh-faced and eager young academics, for the same amount of money, who will bring new ideas, new enthusiasm and new direction to a research institute. Sure, maybe one of the level B early career academics will be a lazy little shit who just wants an easy ride after landing a cushy position – but that’s no different to some tenured professors now.

With a little time, support and encouragement I am certain that early career academics will lead the way in providing Australia with the innovation boom they are looking for. It won’t happen overnight, but I can assure you that it is an investment worth making. Let’s put put the metrics aside for one moment and invest in people, not statistics.

It’s about time the universities got called out on their bullshit academic appointments, what do you think?

Aug 162016
 
Grumpy cat face

Science has a PR problem. You only have to look at the recent interaction between heartthrob scientist Professor Brian Cox and climate change denier MP Malcolm Roberts to see that, obviously, something has been lost in translation. Ol’ Malco’ doesn’t trust scientists and is very happy not to listen to them. There will always be people who believe in things regardless of how much evidence you show them to the contrary. We are all susceptible to it. I used to have a goatee and was convinced I didn’t look like a sex offender accidentally allowed out on day release. The question is – why don’t people listen to scientists?

I know why. The majority of scientists are boring science twats. In the past, that actually was OK. There was a certain charm about boring science twats with their big shiny foreheads avoiding eye contact as if their life depended on it. As times have moved on, we can’t pretend that the skills associated with being a successful scientist are the same as those required to talk to people on a human level about science.

So don’t worry, read on. I have some advice for you.

If you find yourself talking to an actual, real life person don’t be fooled into thinking that they care about your research in the same way you do.  When Bob from next door invites you over for a drink he’ll ask you about your research. This is not the time to actually tell Bob how much funding you expect to receive, or how many papers you have got this year – these facts are to Bob as Bob’s new tarot cards are to you – pointless. What Bob wants is a one sentence summary of your entire life’s work that’s also a euphemism for sex (preferably one that isn’t funny or clever). For example, Prof Brian Cox could respond like this:

I just released a television series where I used a telescope to explore a black hole” – Brian Cox

Next, If you are talking about science to anyone and you see something similar to this expression:

Oprah looking unimpressed

STOP! You are officially being a boring science twat. The thing is, as a scientist you get used to seeing this face. You see it in lectures, meetings, conferences and on the faces of post-docs when they are told to publish more. But in the real world this is a very bad sign. At this point, ask a question about the other person and pretend to listen as you think about all the papers you have got this year and how they make you feel warm in the pant area.

Finally, when people first meet you and discover that you work in a University some may feel intimidated. Little do they know it’s essentially a hideaway for the unfortunate who were bullied in high school. I like to demystify the ivory towers by talking about my favorite toilets in each building. Everyone has their favorite toilet, you know, the ones that are warm, not busy with good WiFi signal.

Actual humans don’t care about citations, papers and impact factors. They care about stories. Sad ones, happy ones and ones that don’t include boring long words and self-promoting bullshit. Tell them a story about what you get up to. There’s lots of articles and advice available about the storytelling of science. A clever man said:

“Science stories differ from stories in the humanities in at least two critical aspects, namely, the purpose of the story and the role of the reader or listener. The central purpose of the science story is, after all, to improve the teaching and learning of science, not to just entertain or to communicate a message as is the case for a story in the humanities.” (Klassen, 2009)

After a scientist – non-scientist interaction, your aim is to make the person think “That scientist wasn’t a boring twat at all. Maybe there’s something to this anthropogenic climate change”.


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