#CORPUSMOOC – Corpus Linguistics Week 3

Find an article in which the word ‘refugee’ is mentioned – make notes about how refugees, migrants, asylum seekers, etc are talked about. Chose: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/lebanon-stems-influx-refugees-minister-claims-countrys-internal-security-risk-1470743

  • Referred to in terms of numbers (large numbers)
  • Range of words indicating a ‘problem’ to be solved, stemmed, halted, stop them infiltrating, as a danger, etc.
  • Refugees = a destabilising influence
  • Humanitarian refugees (criteria unknown) only allowed.
  • ¼ people in Lebanon = refugees, highest number in the world = straining infrastructure and driving down wages.
  • Need ££ to deal with “influx”.

Oh, maybe it was supposed to be a British newspaper – ah well, pretty familiar!

Video 1: Refugees and Asylum Seekers in the UK Press

Methodologically – need large amounts of data, frequency data, hunt for co-occurrences, annotation/grouping, quantification and statistical significance.

Merits – helps us get ‘the big picture’, identify the ‘aboutness’/areas of interest that can be interrogated – can work qualitatively/quantitatively and check on ‘gut instinct’

Core terms – keywords, cluster, collocation, semantic prosody, discourse prosody.

Video 2: Building the Corpus and Initial Analysis

In UK universities is access to many newspapers, but need to define the keywords [x OR x OR x AND NOT x]

How derive a query? Collected a quick corpus of texts from a pilot study, then compared to ‘general English’ to define the ‘aboutness’, then used keywords/intuitions/concordancing to include/exclude from collection. Data was split into ‘tabloids’ and ‘broadsheets’ (interesting distinction). More data in the broadsheets, but articles in broadsheets = longer (so they are not ‘more obsessed’ about them.

Finding ‘topoi’ = finding key ‘theme’ in the data. How do ‘collocates’ (associated words) help construct that theme?

Statistical significance important. Red = tabloids; blue = broadsheets.



  • Generally about entry (mode, place, legality) – discourse largely established by the TABLOIDS
  • Number, Abuse, Numbers, Finance (cost/abuse), threat – also tabloids (except large numbers)
  • Residence, legality, issues with system, unwelcome (authentic and legitimacy only mentioned by broadsheets).
  • PLIGHT – much larger in the broadsheets (so more sympathetic?)

VIDEO 3: Tabloids, Broadsheets and Key Clusters

High probability for collocates. Red = tabloids, blue = tabloids; black = equal.


Related to numbers/quantity – different ways of doing it, but both speak in quantity metaphors, and also in the idea of ‘plight’ (based on number of collocates).quantity

To look with the word ‘illegal’ – manually checked it, then right-sorted to see what followed the word illegal. Identifying origin, ethnicity, religion, age, type of work, etc.


Number of clusters – some are more ‘emblematic’ of tabloids…


Equivalence is being ‘forced’ – terrorism, crime, fraud, etc. all being brought together in the discourse, rather than representing ‘reality’.

How many occurrences per million ‘normalised’ amongst words? Expect to see more in the tabloids than the broadsheets.


VIDEO 4: IN FOCUS. The expression ‘pose as’.

Who uses the term ‘Pose As’ in relation to RASIM? Tabloids use it 8 x times more than broadsheets…

Beggars, crooks, etc. are identified as ‘posing as RASIM’ = taken ‘as fact’, and therefore positive stance towards ‘tougher measures’ – this is particularly in the tabloids. It’s there in the broadsheets too, but the opposite view is presented (if with less words).

Identifying problems in the asylum system by police/reporters ‘posing as’ RASIM.

The tabloids focus particularly upon asylum seekers ‘posing’ as nurses, etc…

Criminals may pose as RASIM to harm RASIM – also in tabloids, but very low numbers…

VIDEO 5: Summing Up

Focus upon words ‘suffocated’ and ‘drowned’ – focus upon whether they were represented as ‘illegal’ – directly (illegal immigrants) or indirectly (sneaking)?


Dictionary may have a range of different meanings, but the press gives a range of terms that ‘mean similar’ … used in a particular way continuously.

Remember that there are distinctions within newspapers, rather than labelling ‘tabloids’. Question how helpful your distinctions are.

Move between largescale analysis, and closer/more-detailed readings of the text.

#CORPUSMOOC : Week 2 Notes from @drbexl

The second week of the MOOC ‘Corpus Linguistics‘ via Lancaster University:


I want you to think of two words – ‘diamond’ and ‘cause’.

Without consulting anybody else, or looking at any reference resources, write two short definitions for these words. Take no more than two minutes to complete this task.

A diamond is a compressed mineral whose rarity ensures that it has high value. It has gained meaning in recent centuries as a valuable gift, especially to signify love, and is commonly used in engagement rings. As an anniversary it signifies a long marriage.

The word cause may refer to ‘a cause’ that one supports, including charitable causes, or ‘to cause’, as in cause something to happen.

Recap and Introduction to Collocation

  • How can we manipulate and exploit that frequency data in order to gain insights?
  • Collocation is one way to do this – systematic co-occurrence of words in use, and may influence each other’s meanings, e.g. back/front, telephone/operator = the result of hunches.
  • Hunches can be right, but not always, as things may be more/less important than we think they are.
  • See, e.g. diamond, and we’ll be reminded of a range of meanings.

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  • How close do these have to be to collocate? +/- 5 words seems to work, with a minimum of 10 occurrences, and be aware of sentence boundaries.
  • Know these words ‘by the words that they keep’, and can be before/after.
  • Frequency can’t be the only measurement – seek mutual information value, and identify if words rarely occur with other words.

Collocation, colligation and related features

  • What about grammatical words? Words do have strong affinities for certain prepositions or occasional articles. Colligation – affinity with a grammatical class (rather than meaning).
  • “For now, word form refers to any word that you may find in a corpus. So ‘fighting’ and ‘fought’ are both word forms. On the other hand, a lemma is what we might call the base form of a word – so the lemma ‘fight’ gives rise to multiple word forms, including ‘fighting’ and ‘fought’.”
  • Semantic preferences – e.g. diamond (often part of a class of gems), but ‘a glass of’ includes drinkable liquids.
  • Discourse Prosody – expresses speaker attitude = important for ‘discourse analysis’.
    • ‘Cause’ often associated with trouble, pain, suffering – subconsciously the word has negative discourse prosody.
    • The way that words in a corpus can collocate with a related set of words or phrases, often revealing (hidden) attitudes.”


  • Are there words that appear more frequently in Corpus A than they are in Corpus B? Can use statistical significance tests.
  • What words are ‘unusually frequent’ in this particular dataset? [I’m thinking here if we did research into words used by those of different religions on Twitter – what words would appear ‘unusually frequently’ in each religion?]
  • Analysts often cut off the top 50-100 keywords to create manageable data, and there must be 20+ keywords, and those distributed across the range of texts (and not bunched in one text/paragraph)
  • Typical keywords: Proper nouns (names), Style/genre markers (grammatical words), spelling idiosyncrasies (British/American English) – for discourse analysis = “the aboutness” of the text – the gist of the text.
    • Once identifying salient words – identifies interesting factors and explain ‘meaning’ and why those words are there.
    • Discover words (especially once run through computing power) that our conscious cognitive abilities would not identify as salient.
    • Can the experiment be replicated – follow the same process, and it should come out the same ‘objectively’.

Change over time and lock words

  • Which words have become steadily less/more frequent – or stayed the same (locked in place) – and what this tells us about cultural values.
  • The Brown Corpus – what were the key shifts happening in language 1931-2006 (4 sample points). E.g. Mrs down, health up and money largely ‘locked’.
  • What have declined?
    • A more informal society as less use of Mr, Miss, etc.
    • A modal verb – less comfortable with ‘imposing’ on people, so this is declining also.
    • Longer forms are contracting – as people seek to squeeze as much as possible into a short a space as possible [e.g. Twitter!]
  • What are lock-words?
    • Weaker modality
    • Wh – question words
    • Body parts
    • Other nouns, including money (we’re still obsessed)
  • Increased use
    • Contracted forms, such as it’s
    • Numbers as 34, rather than thirty-four
    • Social terms
  • Why has the word ‘children’ increased over time?
    • 1990s – fear of danger to children, promoting/supporting children and families… children are being problematized… [That fits with Raising Children in a Digital Age]
    • 2006 corpus – lots of moral panics…

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 20.27.09

  • Dominant discourse arising in Britain relating to children.


  • Corpora give us insights into the mechanics of language, and of the society within which that language is being used.
  • They can answer some questions really well, but others not so much – be mindful!
  • Corpora should be linked with other methods for study of language, society, history, etc… which expand the range of studies/findings?
  • Mesh qualitative/quantitative data…
  • Toolbox – use the right tool, in the right combination…

Should McCann Twitter abuser have been doorstepped on TV? for @ConversationUK


A recent piece, published for The Conversation UK, under Creative Commons licence (republished on Durham University):

Should McCann Twitter abuser have been doorstepped on TV?

By Bex Lewis, Durham University

Brenda Leyland, a 63-year old woman from Leicestershire who had been accused of publishing a stream of internet abuse about the family of missing child Madeleine McCann, has been found dead in a hotel room.

Her death raises important questions about the wrongs and rights of how we handle people who express unpalatable views online.

Leyland had been exposed in a Sky News report as the person behind the Twitter account @sweepyface, which had been used to post offensive messages about the McCanns. These included the accusation that Madeleine’s parents were responsible for her disappearance. When confronted by a Sky News reporter about whether she should have posted such messages, Leyland said: “I’m entitled to do that.”

Days before Leyland’s death, BBC Radio 4 ran a story about how the police were investigating abusive social media messages sent to, or published about, the McCanns. Madeleine’s father Gerry McCann featured, suggesting that these messages are fuelled by press reporting. He added that he thinks more people should be charged for internet abuse and revealed that his family tends to avoid the internet because of the nature of threats and insults they receive.

For obvious reasons, the McCanns had encouraged a high-profile press campaign after Madeleine’s disappearance. But without answers about what happened to Madeleine, conspiracy theories have abounded. Brenda Leyland was one of many to discuss the McCann case online. As Rev Pam Smith, one of my Facebook connections said, are we really saying that people are not “entitled” to share adverse views online?

Leyland said she “hoped she hadn’t broken any laws”, but the Malicious Communications Act 1988, which covers Twitter, notes that it is an offence to send messages to another person which are “indecent or grossly offensive”, threatening or false. If the message is intended to cause distress or anxiety to the recipient, they breach the law.

We have to consider whether Sky has a case to answer in this particular situation too though. The broadcaster’s correspondent approached Mrs Leyland on her own doorstep in a live broadcast. She evidently had no idea that she was going to be confronted or that the footage would be broadcast to the world.

Whether or not we like what Leyland had been doing, she was clearly just one of several people who had been expressing their opinions online. She was certainly not the worst. Is doorstepping people, outing them on TV, and ensuring that their face circulates the internet, really the answer? Had Sky done any research into this woman before they put her face in the public domain? Did they know anything about her mental state? Did she just have the misfortune to be the first person who could be made an example of?

Her case carried echoes of the recent media treatment of Cliff Richard. The BBC was heavily rapped for broadcasting live from his home as police raided it. The police of course need to investigate such stories but it is a worrying sign of our culture that trial by media and even trial by gossip appear to have become acceptable.

Media ethics are typically concerned with truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, public accountability and limitation of harm. After the Leveson inquiry, there has been increased emphasis on press responsibility. But in a time of rapid media change and fast-moving news, broadcasters must ensure they too meet their ethical responsibilities.The Conversation

Bex Lewis does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

#CORPUSMOOC : Week 1 Notes from @drbexl

Here’s my notes from week 1 of Lancaster University’s MOOC ‘Corpus Linguistics’ (Haven’t got time to do the practical exercise, but this is twigging some thinking re my PhD thesis database!):

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What is a corpus?

  • A collection of words?
  • It’s a methodology but not a theory of language.

Why might I use corpus linguistics?

  • Look at language ‘as it is’
  • Large amounts of data which are difficult to ID with intuition/anecdotes
  • Large amounts of data show us things we’re doing that we don’t even realise.
  • ID rare/exceptional cases not identifiable in others ways
  • Human beings are slower/less accurate than computers for purposes of this kind of research.

What is your research question/hypothesis?

  • Is the corpus ‘off the shelf’ useful to your question?
  • If you’re developing a corpus – how will you need to define it?
  • 30,000 à billions of words.
  • Needs to be representative of the corpus – e.g. http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk
  • Must be machine-readable (not just a photo of the text) – so that the computer can identify the words
  • It may act as a standard reference for what is typical in language.
  • May be annotated with extra linguistic codes (e.g. grammar)

What is annotation and markup?

Computers do not have the cultural knowledge that we have, so we have to mark-up the text so it can read the nuances, etc.

  • Delimit particular sections as e.g. a ‘heading’, a ‘sentence’, etc. allowing computer to analyse just those areas, etc.
  • Understand how this is done, as the computer can automatically do this, etc. then allows sophisticated searches through the data.

Types of Corpora

Come in different flavours, so different things can be assessed – e.g. date, time, genre, etc. Specific = outline the areas, but are also general ‘corpora’ – especially language (note difference between spoken/written).

  • Think about the shape of spoken language – especially the differences between e.g. the different people you talk to.
  • Parallel, new language, historic material, on-going corpus…

Frequency data, concordances and collocation

A search, how often does it appear, but also how frequently per million words, and what kind of documents/context does it appear within.

  • Think you see a pattern emerging, can ‘sort’ so can start to see patterns emerging [on the basis of which attain themes to identify].
  • Needs a cycle of extraction of data, and analysis, and close reading of relevant parts of the text.
  • Collocation – co-occurance – from which meaning (and possibly) grammar appears – words are not randomly put together – words ‘shade one another’s meanings’ and ‘co-construct meaning’ – seek patterns in language.

Corpora and Language Teaching

This is less relevant to me, but interesting that need to identify the right words that help people understand which words are used frequently, so which to come first within a textbook – could be helpful within digital literacy training.

What can’t we do with corpus?

  • Just because it doesn’t exist in the corpus doesn’t mean it can’t be used – may be rare.
  • As with any scientific method, we are making deductions, not facts.
  • No visual information (pictures or body language) – traditionally people have set aside the visual and focused on the written language, but tools are being developed. * See database methodology – visual material collated in the 1990s for PhD research.

Speaking Up Required in Higher Education…


A really interesting piece about the place of ‘introverts’ in higher education where action learning means not speaking up is no longer an option:

However, university students are no longer allowed to be shy. “Active learning” has become a modern mantra. Students must ask questions, express opinions, lead oral presentations and participate enthusiastically in community projects. To collaborate is sacrosanct. Passivity, on the other hand, is considered the enemy of learning. They must be vocal, expressive and assertive. The extrovert ideal, as Cain calls it, is all the rage.

Read full story, and see my PGCLTHE work re: group work… and this letter response.

Summer Fruitfulness in Academia?

ook5dkSGreat piece on the joys of academic pressure:

It’s not true, of course, that September is entirely grim. Being back at work means colliding with cheery colleagues in the corridor, each of us ruefully clutching course-packs and exchanging sympathetic smiles; it also means spotting suntanned students with newly stylish “second-year haircuts” sauntering around all the familiar spaces. I’ve missed them all. But there is a certain pang that strikes you like the memory of a lost youth – or, more precisely, the memory of an article you were meant to finish, a book proposal you intended to start, a research proposal you thought you would concoct and never did as July sank into August and then, whoops, suddenly September started impudently banging on your door.

Read full article.

Value in a PhD?

An interesting piece on the ‘value’ and employability of a PhDphdgrad

Who would do a PhD? Who would willingly submit to spending endless hours, over three or four years, in the laboratory or library, racked by self-doubt and money worries, in preparation for a career for which vacancies were never more oversubscribed? …

But do doctoral students really feel prepared for life beyond the ivory tower? And how ready are they to embrace it? Here, we speak to five current and former doctoral students from a range of disciplines and universities about why they did their PhDs, what their experience was like and where they see their futures now.

Read full piece, with a couple of more positive responses 28/811/9.


Group Work: Not Pulling Your Weight?

Enthusiastic Study GroupI’m really interested in group dynamics (see mini project undertaken as part of PGCLTHE), so an interesting case study here:

“Academically ambitious students contribute to moving the average up – unenthusiastic students and shirkers do just the opposite,” he added.

Indeed, some hard-working students may even defect to “the dark side” of the slackers if they saw their classmates getting away with minimal effort, he continued. To combat this problem, students were offered the chance to gain a higher mark for their group assignment if they managed to raise the grade scored by the weakest student in individual tests on the same subject.

Read full piece.

Work less, do more, live better (@timeshighered)

botanical-garden-gazebo-1430498-mI am SO EXCITED to be reading this piece in Times Higher Education – over the last year I’ve been seeking to work in a healthier pattern (although ironically this week has been a 6 day-week & I need to do some more over the weekend so that I can take a week off… to write a book proposal … carefully planned this is though!)

Great Intro:

Some years ago, I heard that a colleague characterised me as “someone who didn’t work weekends”. This description was not meant as a compliment. It’s true that I make a concerted effort to keep something approximating normal working hours of 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. But I haven’t always worked like this. As a postgrad, I anxiously counted my hours and consulted with fellow students, worried that I wasn’t spending enough time at my desk. Eventually, I allowed myself one full day off weekly. When I became a lecturer, I stayed in the office until seven or eight in the evening, in part imitating the working patterns of my new colleagues, and continued to work weekends. Yet when I reduced my hours at the desk some years ago, my productivity did not decline. Instead, my mindfulness to follow regular hours means that my productivity is the same as or even greater than it was before, when I worked 50, 60 or whatever hours it was per week.

Further down, there’s a series of historical figures, and their living styles (most were writers)

The common feature in these workday schedules is walking, bipedalism, that form of locomotion that distinguishes us from the other primates. Walking and thinking seem to go together so naturally that perhaps it’s walking that made us thinkers. Aristotle famously taught while walking along the colonnade connecting the temple of Apollo and the shrine of the Muses. That link between philosophy and walking has stuck and was memorably parodied in Monty Python’s sketch about the Philosophers’ Football Match. Rebecca Solnit, author of Wanderlust: A History of Walking (2000), concurs that walking is good for thinking: she concludes “a desk is no place to think on a large scale”.

Exercise and sleep are highlighted as of key importance to being creative (and I’ve certainly been working on my sleep), and then  How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing (2007) is quoted: 

His suggestions are simple: write and do your research daily in small blocks of time (schedule it in and don’t cheat on that schedule); keep track of what you do in that time; stay attentive to your writing goals and, ideally, get yourself a group that will help you keep to these goals. You might protest, what good are small blocks of time? But small, regular amounts of work build up to significant productivity. A few pages often make a big difference. If you were learning how to tap dance or play the French horn, you wouldn’t set aside one full day a week for practice or cram it into your Saturday afternoons; instead you’d practise for short periods, daily. Why should research and writing be any different?

As academics, we are used to research, so we should research our own habits (oh yes – and being ‘completely detached’ from the good and the bad of a job – is key) –

It is in our best interest to not only be productive but satisfied with our work, because work is vital to our identity and self-definition. We need work not just to put bread on the table but to feel of use, to serve, to contribute, to make and to connect. But the long-hours culture and the cult of busyness saps meaning away, as we tick through never-ending “to do” lists, becoming chronically tired and working less efficiently with each overtime hour.

There’s mention that even in the factory shorter hours have demonstrated increased productivity .. and I remember this from my research in the Second World War – it was SO essential to get arms out, that an extra day was added to the ‘week-cycle’ … productivity went down! And, even in times of crisis, this is key:

Before, Red Cross workers put in as many hours as necessary until the job was finished. Now the Red Cross recognises that workers need breaks in order to be able to respond effectively to the humanitarian crises they face.

Yes, yes, yes… (read full article – and also the opinion piece Know Your Worth).

How Not To Treat a Guest Speaker (Via @TimesHigherEd)


This is an enjoyable hop, at which am wincing in recognition at 10 ways that it is possible to badly treat a guest speaker, who has usually spent quite some time (and probably years of study) in preparation of a talk for your delectation… but also some thoughts for academic speakers as to ways around some issues:

I later realised that my title of professor had probably intimidated them. Most bird-keepers are working men: miners, steelworkers, bricklayers and decorators, with little experience of the academy. Once they knew I had kept birds myself and cared about the same things that they cared about, there was no problem. Their close contact with birds gave them extraordinary insight and several of them went on to help me with my research on this topic.

Read full story.

A student’s lecture to professors (via @timeshighered)

amphitheather-667184-mThis looks like it could be worth a read – a student tells his lecturers what they should do with their lectures in order to ‘allow learning':

The question “Why am I here?” often strikes in the 73rd minute of a droning lecture. Don’t misunderstand – I love lectures. But only if the person delivering it knows how to allow learning. And yes, I do mean “allow”, for academics don’t create learning – only the student can do that. Unfortunately, most if not all lecturers are crippled by misunderstandings about their students and ill-founded assumptions about education itself. If we can filter the mud from the Pierian Spring, then they will have far less frustration in their lives and students will stop wishing that they were somewhere else. So one afternoon, after a particularly frustrating day with my professors, I sat down and wrote my lecture to them. I pray that they are taking notes.

Read full story in Times Higher Education.

The value of PhD supervision…


Interesting piece on PhD supervision:

When a PhD supervision session constitutes just another blocked-out hour in a besieged diary, it can be all too easy to forget that it could make an impression that stays with the student for the rest of their research career.

We asked five academics for their recollections of the PhD supervision they received, and the way it had informed their own approach to tutoring. Three had enjoyed excellent supervision that had deeply influenced their own practice. But two had not. One recalls exchanges with their tutor characterised by yawns and silences, while another was treated with a “cutting harshness”, valuable only as an exemplar of how not to conduct yourself.

Read full story, and accompanying editorial.

The Scholarly-ness of Sources

ml6m22KInteresting piece in this week’s Times Higher Education. I certainly use a range of sources in my writing, but then my recent book Raising Children in a Digital Age does not count for the REF, as it’s aimed at a ‘general readership’ (which does at least mean it gets read by 1000s of people, rather than the average of 3!)

A student is researching scholarly material for her essay. She finds an excellent quote. It ticks all the boxes: original and insightful, persuasively argued, provocative, with just enough holes for a good forensic analysis to expose any weaknesses. There’s one problem, however. It does not come from an academic paper. It comes from a blog written by an obscure amateur. It has, technically speaking, no academic credibility.

By convention, students – and academics – are supposed only to engage in critical discussion with “academically credible” sources. What, then, is the student to do? Pretend this precious nugget doesn’t exist? A terrible waste. Plagiarise it (after all, who’s to know)? Downright unethical.

Read full story… and check out this piece from Barbara Graziosi re women and the REF.

Perhaps, I considered, women simply prefer to devote their energy to research and teaching.

“Women on Your Bookshelf” by @MaggiDawn

maggi-dawnI saw this post come through my feed earlier today, stuck a bookmark on it (I was being focused on #bigread14 … for which I do need to Skype Maggi to get a recording of Evensong – and which I’ll be reading alongside Maggi’s Giving It Up!) and thought, great to go and look back at next week – and then tonight realised that I was mentioned on it (just published in time!), which is a great encouragement to go to sleep on – especially looking at some of the other women on the list!!


A call for Interdisciplinarity

mhihBNsHaving had a role promoting interdisciplinarity, and taken a job where I can be part of a team within an academic context – an interesting argument for more working together in the humanities:

Why not the academy? What if we were to picture a team of professors, the academic equivalents of Lincoln’s collaborators, devoted to maintaining not the Union but instead the union of the humanities? Might this approach be no less effective in leading a first-year course than in leading a nation?

Few lines of work are more public yet more solitary than teaching the humanities. We are alone in our research, alone in our reading and alone in our writing. And though it is the most banal of observations, it nevertheless still surprises when we realise we are alone in our teaching. From our graduate days, we knew this would be so, but truly understood what it meant only on the first day we stood, alone, in front of a full lecture hall.

Read full article.

PhD: Has the quality dropped? If so, who’s “to blame”?

mfIRNyuThis is rather concerning (but not particularly surprising, as we’ve heard all those complaints about GCSE, A-Level, degree level standards dropping, etc.) re PhD doctorates. Really, by the time you sit the viva, you should know that your work is ready to pass, and that your job in the viva is to demonstrate that you actually wrote it (although others will still see it as a test) … and as I hope to take on a PhD student before too long:

Our experience does not lead us to criticise any particular system of examination or type of thesis. However, it does raise serious issues about the quality of work submitted for the PhD degree (or its equivalent) and the standards employed to judge such work.

To cut to the chase, a significant number of the theses we have examined did not deserve to pass – at least, not in the form in which they were submitted. One of us has examined six doctoral theses in the past year and believes that not one of them was worthy of the degree. Yet he had the means at his disposal to fail only two of them. Administrative conventions and examination procedures, not to mention social pressures, simply did not allow the possibility of failure.

Read full post.

Creating ‘Networking Buzz’

2dzvOq5Enjoyed this piece, as I’m always looking for ways to connect people up and make the most of that knowledge – let’s stop reinventing the wheel, and put our heads together:

The forty delegates were asked to submit information in advance both about their own research interests and about the specialist areas that they wanted to know more about. After the first couple of talks, there was a “speed dating” round, where each was paired up for 10 minutes with four people with very different knowledge bases.

Even this created an immediate “buzz”, said Dr Carazo Salas, and “at the next set of talks questions came from all over the room, not just the usual couple of rows at the front”. A second “dating” round made even more direct use of the “wish lists” to bring together people with highly developed skills in a research method such as intravital imaging or microfluidics and those who wanted to learn about that method.

Read full article.

Times Higher: Is there still a place for lectures?


The end of this piece made me laugh:

Not that lecturers themselves are necessarily so wedded to such high-minded considerations. One extremely distinguished English literature professor habitually ended his lecture on Shakespeare in the middle of a sentence. Baffled students read any number of interpretations into this idiosyncrasy. Was he implying that there was no definitive conclusion? That students must fill in the meaning for themselves? Was the content too ambiguous to merit a traditional ending?

Someone finally plucked up the courage to ask why he insisted on leaving his insights incomplete. He explained, patiently, that it was nothing more than a linguistic device to keep everyone else in their seats while he secured his place at the front of the lunch queue.

Read full article.