Call me Dr!

phdgradI thought this was a really interesting piece – knowing even what job title, etc to go with the sweated over title can be hard enough, if we can’t even use Dr … then what… it’s not posturing – it’s 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration – fulfilled!

This scene perfectly illustrates a disturbing trend I have noticed in academia, one we should end very soon. It has become popular to rob academics with the title of “Dr” of their titles in professional settings where its use is entirely appropriate.

I first noticed this at a large academic conference where my work was to be presented. On the registration form, I wrote my name as “Dr Becky Lee Meadows”. When I received my name badge at the conference, it said simply “Becky” in large black print, with “Becky Meadows” in smaller print below. When I asked about my missing title, I was told that the conference administrators did not allow the use of the title “Dr” because other conference participants might find it intimidating.

Read full article.

Meetings: Good or Bad?

mhgnVuOI was fascinated by this piece in Times Higher Education about the power (or otherwise) of meetings. I have been to my fair share of tedious meetings, but also find regular meetings, particularly if they are focused on decision making, incredibly valuable – decisions it would take me hours to make on my own can be done quickly… and in many ways the question about what people are doing (note the obviousness of getting the laptop out) are similar to those about what students are doing whilst you are teaching … are they engaging with what you are doing, augmented with material online, or are they off doing something else (and is that something we, as lecturers, need to worry about?)

However, enjoy this rant, and recognise some of the negative possibilities of meetings:

This brings me to my second point about meetings: avoid, at all costs, the obvious. Don’t insult your attendees’ intelligence. Don’t read the minutes to them or bore them with reports that they could read on their own. And don’t say something that could easily go unsaid. None of this is an easy trick to pull off with academics; in my limited experience, I either overestimate the knowledge of my listeners (like most academic articles do) or infantilise them (like a lecture course gone wrong).

Read full article.

Lecturing on an Ocean Cruise: Sounds Good!

Cruise LinerWell, there’s an idea:

The scholar on stage holds the status of entertainer, putting on a show for a paying audience whose scores will determine whether their lecturer’s short-term contract is renewed.

Fear not: this is not a vision of some dystopian future but rather an unusual, and fascinating, break from the day job – with azure waters and plenty of sunshine thrown in.

For Kathleen Lynch, associate professor in the department of Classics at the University of Cincinnati, lecturing on a cruise ship is “the very best kind of outreach experience possible”.

Read full article.

Academics Writing Too Fast?

Fast Typing

Interesting piece … look out for the words that are used!

We all know that academics, under constant pressure to publish, are writing too fast, with little time and even less inclination to craft their prose as scholars of old might have done. Consequently, it is easy to complain about declining aesthetic standards, but this does not get to the heart of what is going wrong, particularly with academic writing in the social sciences.

Read full article.

Academic stress?

I’m wondering how many small changes – by academics, and by institutions, could change this? And how much of it is self-driven?

Academics are suffering from growing stress levels as a result of heavy workloads, management issues and a long-hours culture, a survey has found.

Unachievable deadlines, acute time pressures and the need to work quickly were also common complaints identified by an occupational stress survey completed by more than 14,000 university employees.

Staff were asked by the University and College Union about areas that could potentially cause them stress, such as conflicting management demands, workloads and pressures on their time.

Academics experience far higher levels of stress in these areas than employees in other professions, the survey found.

On a scale of one to five, the stress level of university staff is 2.51 (when well-being is assessed on a scale of one to five, with one being the highest stress level).

This has worsened in the four years since the Health and Safety Executive’s report Psychosocial Working Conditions in Britain in 2008 found that, when it came to demands on their time, academics had a stress level of 2.61 compared with 3.52 in the overall economy.

Read full story.

Gravity Always Wins @timeshighered

A great piece on the dangers of teaching in the arts, when our culture no longer really seems to value it:

And as I grow older, so I am mocked by technology. Today, every device insists on telling me the time. I watch the red figures on a microwave count down the remaining seconds of my life. “Cook for three minutes,” it says. So I cook it for two and save a minute of my life. I take a similar approach to the National Lottery. I don’t play. That saves me £50 a year. This year, what with the recession, I decided not to buy two tickets, so I am saving £100. If they continue to freeze salaries, I may not buy three.

So what used to be a secure life is so no longer. Our teaching is inspected for its effectiveness, our research explored for its “quality”, awarded stars like children in primary schools rewarded for not wetting themselves. Our students are asked if they love us. We are required to explain our relevance, recruit students with higher qualifications, students with lower qualifications, produce more first-class degrees, explain why we give so many first-class degrees, recruit overseas students while the government turns them away at immigration.

Read full story.

Coaching in Higher Education? Yes Please…

Corporate coaching has spread rapidly from the US across the world, with the business sector happy to buy in such support for employees they are grooming to be high flyers. The higher education sector, in contrast, would appear to offer a less obviously lucrative, and perhaps more sceptical, market. Yet coaches in the US, and to a lesser extent in the UK, are working with an increasing number of academics, helping them to confront not only the challenges they share with many other professionals (notably the sheer lack of hours in the day) but also the pressures specific to the sector.

Nathalie Houston, associate professor of English at the University of Houston, has just begun to offer coaching to academics outside her own institution. In addition to her full-time tenured job teaching and researching Victorian literature, literary theory and the history of the book, since 2009 Houston has been involved in the ProfHacker blog, where a team of more than a dozen writers offer “tips about teaching, technology and productivity”.

“I write about time management and work-life balance,” she says, “topics I’ve been interested in for a long time.”

Recognising that she often provided informal coaching to colleagues, friends and students, Houston decided to gain a formal qualification and set up a practice that she hopes to extend to about 15 clients.

She “meets” them, either for 30 minutes three times a month or 45 minutes twice a month, by phone or by Skype – mostly, she says, “on Fridays, when I don’t teach or have university meetings, and on Saturdays, so it’s compacted into a certain section of my week”.

The basic principles are simple. “While therapy tends to look to the roots of the problem, to trace it back to some dynamic or trauma,” explains Houston, “coaching is about what you can do now to change the situation.

“As one well-known coach said, if a stick in a river gets stuck, you don’t ask what made it stuck – it just needs a nudge to go on floating down the river. Coaching focuses on the nudge. It’s action-oriented, and present- and future-directed.

Read full story, and I’m ahead on this one, thanks to The Kerslake Company! We have been in discussions recently within the LTDU at the University of Winchester, re bringing together a group of people who are interested in coaching, which you can see from my PGCLTHE assignment, I am.

Do students like reading? @timeshighered

A great article re dealing with that statement “students don’t like reading”, which we hear over and over, and courses tend to use ‘force’ to try and “encourage” students to read… A new approach:

Recently, I decided to act on this expectation and launched a “Reading Challenge” to my history undergraduates. This voluntary event encourages them to read 20 books for pleasure during their degree. It is not an attempt to force on them a “canon” of worthy literature; it presents them with a wide range of books from which they select titles that interest them.

Those who wish to take part receive a long bibliography broken into sections, including 20th-century fiction, philosophy, short stories and so on. The idea is that they choose and read at least two works from each area until they have reached the required number. Successful participants will receive a certificate and a small prize, but this will not be large enough to be an incentive in its own right.

In planning this with colleagues, it was suggested that we outline how a healthy amount of leisure reading can broaden knowledge, stimulate ideas and sharpen comprehension skills – and thus help improve a student’s chances of gaining higher grades. But I was instinctively resistant to this idea. I didn’t want students to think of this as “work”.

As it’s still in its infancy, I can’t say yet if it has worked. But when I ran the idea past my seminar groups, the reaction was positive – many students indicated that they would like to take part. We are also looking into the possibility of building some form of reading group into the challenge, and another colleague has offered to host an annual round-table discussion on a selected title. The idea is to create a structure that helps guide and motivate students to read for pleasure, supplying direction and encouragement, and – if possible – to build an undergraduate reading culture.

Read full story.


CV for @drbexl

I am currently completing my final essay for the PGCLTHE, and realised I needed to refer to my CV, so I thought I’d make it hyper-linked (seems to have ‘wiggled’ the fonts though)!

Dr Bex Lewis – Academic CV (March 2011)

Thinking, inside the box (@timeshighered)

Richard Klein, who became BBC Four’s controller at the end of 2008, is always on the lookout for new ideas.

“We appeal to viewers who have curious minds, and we reach parts of their brains other channels don’t reach,” he says. “We are always interested in covering mainstream subjects, but we go in deep. One of the natural places to look for people who have a credible, authoritative position and who can argue a strong view of the world is in the academy.”

He and his team recruit suitable academics in a number of different ways. Some are already well known via their books, public appearances and the media. During BBC Four’s autumn/winter season, Robin Lane Fox, reader in ancient history at the University of Oxford, will present a bold new interpretation of the origins of Greek mythology in Greek Myths – Tales of Travelling Heroes. Lisa Jardine, centenary professor of Renaissance studies at Queen Mary, University of London, will be examining the ethics of science through the archives of her father, Jacob Bronowski, in My Father, the Bomb and Me.

Identifying the (Post)Graduate Student


  • you can identify universities by their internet domains.
  • you are constantly looking for a thesis in novels.
  • you have difficulty reading anything that doesn’t have footnotes.
  • you understand jokes about Foucault.
  • the concept of free time scares you.
  • you consider caffeine to be a major food group.
  • you’ve ever brought books with you on vacation and actually studied.
  • Saturday nights spent studying no longer seem weird.
  • the professor doesn’t show up to class and you discuss the readings anyway.
  • you’ve ever traveled across two state lines specifically to go to a library.
  • you appreciate the fact that you get to choose *which* twenty hours out of the day you have to work.
  • you still feel guilty about giving students low grades (you’ll getover it).
  • you can read course books and cook at the same time.
  • you schedule events for academic vacations so your friends can come.
  • you hope it snows during spring break so you can get more studying in.
  • you’ve ever worn out a library card.
  • you find taking notes in a park relaxing.
  • you find yourself citing sources in conversation.
  • you’ve ever sent a personal letter with footnotes.
  • you can analyze the significance of appliances you cannot operate.
  • your carrel is better decorated than your apartment.
  • you have ever, as a folklore project, attempted to track the progress of your own joke across the internet.
  • you are startled to meet people who neither need nor want to Read.
  • you have ever brought a scholarly article to a bar.
  • you rate coffee shops by the availability of outlets for your laptop.
  • everything reminds you of something in your discipline.
  • you have ever discussed academic matters at a sporting event.
  • you have ever spent more than $50 on photocopying while researching a single paper.
  • there is a microfilm reader in the library that you consider “yours.”
  • you actually have a preference between microfilm and microfiche.
  • you can tell the time of day by looking at the traffic flow at the library.
  • you look forward to summers because you’re more productive without the distraction of classes.
  • you regard ibuprofen as a vitamin.
  • you consider all papers to be works in progress.
  • professors don’t really care when you turn in work anymore.
  • you find the bibliographies of books more interesting than the actual text.
  • you have given up trying to keep your books organized and are now just trying to keep them all in the same general area.
  • you have accepted guilt as an inherent feature of relaxation.
  • you reflexively start analyzing those Greek letters before you realize that it’s a sorority sweatshirt, not an equation.
  • you find yourself explaining to children that you are in “20th grade.”
  • you start referring to stories like “Snow White, et al.”
  • you frequently wonder how long you can live on pasta withoutgetting scurvy.
  • you look forward to taking some time off to do laundry.
  • you have more photocopy cards than credit cards.
  • you wonder whether APA style allows you to cite talking to yourself as “personal communication”.

Yes – this might be Americanised, but do you realisise JUST how true some of this is! (My postgraduate project)

Most PhDs desert academe

More than half of UK PhD students quit academia for industry as soon as they get their qualifications, according to the first-ever detailed report on the early careers of those with doctorates. While the report will quash fears that PhD students are so specialised as to be unemployable, it will raise concerns about the future supply of academics.

The report, What Do PhDs Do?, from the UK GRAD programme, found that about 60 per cent of UK PhDs in physical, engineering and biomedical sciences leave academia, compared with about 30 to 35 per cent of arts, humanities, social science and economic PhDs. The report says that over time these proportions increase as, for example, PhDs on short-term postdoctoral positions move into other employment sectors. Report author Ellen Pearce said: “The figures will raise serious issues about how universities retain PhD students and sustain the teaching base of UK universities.”

The report, which analyses what UK rather than overseas PhD students do, found the students to be highly employable. Nearly three-quarters got jobs – in or outside academia – six months after graduating. This compared with 69 per cent of masters students and 61 per cent of undergraduates. UK PhDs are about 50 per cent less likely to be unemployed (3.2 per cent) than first-degree graduates (6.6 per cent).

“It is hard to say whether this is brain drain or brain circulation,” Ms Pearce said.

The report also found that the percentage of female PhD graduates had increased from 40 per cent in 1999 to 46 per cent in 2003. In all, 12,520 research students were awarded PhDs in 2003. Between 1999 and 2003, there was a 31 per cent rise in the number of PhD students registering for their final year.

“We interviewed employers from different sectors and found them to be highly enthusiastic about PhD students,” said Ms Pearce. “Their response puts all the emphasis on transferable skills into perspective. It is clear that PhD students have a high value in the market.”

Stephen Court, senior research officer for the Association of University Teachers, said there had been a sharp decline in the number of young entrants to academia coming from the UK.

“It is not surprising that a high proportion of people with PhDs do not choose a career in higher education,” he said. “Universities are finding that the prospect of fixed-term contracts and the low pay they offer are extremely unattractive to potential academics.”

In 2002, Sir Gareth Roberts’ report SET for Success put in motion a major programme of transferable skills training for PhD students.

Morgan Kavanagh, a director at recruitment consultants Huxley Finance, said: “We recruit for clients who require high-level quantative skills, so we look only at PhDs – first-degree graduates simply can’t compete.

“PhDs are much more sophisticated in their thinking and have a broader toolkit of skills to draw on in the demanding roles we place them in.”

The general manager in a private engineering firm said: “We’ve found that PhD graduates have a combination of maturity and autonomy that is more useful for our work than engineering graduates with a similar length of experience in industry.”

Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of the Universities Colleges and Employers Association, said: “Higher education recognises that recruitment and retention of academics is a vital area and for that reason the framework agreement on pay modernisation addresses work-life balance, career development and renumeration. These have been shown to be the most important issues people consider when making decisions about their working life. The framework will deliver on all three. Real progress is already being made to offer postgraduates an academic career that is both attractive and fulfilling.”

The UK GRAD report shows that 38 per cent of PhDs are in the biosciences, 33 per cent in the physical sciences (including engineering), 14 per cent in the arts and humanities, and 11 per cent in the social sciences. Some 4 per cent of PhDs were doing theses in other areas such as education.

Taken from the Times Higher Education Supplement
Claire Sanders
Published: 08 October 2004

Academic Language

The following list of phrases and their definitions might help you understand the mysterious language of academia. These special phrases are also applicable to anyone reading a Ph.D. dissertation or academic paper.

  • IT HAS LONG BEEN KNOWN”… I didn’t look up the original reference.
  • “A DEFINITE TREND IS EVIDENT”… These data are practically meaningless.
  • “WHILE IT HAS NOT BEEN POSSIBLE TO PROVIDE DEFINITE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS”… An unsuccessful experiment, but I still hope to get it published.
  • “THREE OF THE SAMPLES WERE CHOSEN FOR DETAILED STUDY”… The other results didn’t make any sense.
  • “TYPICAL RESULTS ARE SHOWN”… This is the prettiest graph.
  • “THESE RESULTS WILL BE IN A SUBSEQUENT REPORT”… I might get around to this sometime, if pushed/funded.
  • “IN CASE AFTER CASE”… Twice.
  • “IN A SERIES OF CASES”… Thrice.
  • “IT IS BELIEVED THAT”… I think.
  • “IT IS GENERALLY BELIEVED THAT”… A couple of others think so, too.
  • “A statistically oriented projectION OF THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THESE FINDINGS”… A wild guess.
  • “A CAREFUL ANALYSIS OF OBTAINABLE DATA”… Three pages of notes were obliterated when I knocked over a glass of beer.
  • “AFTER ADDITIONAL STUDY BY MY COLLEAGUES”… They don’t understand it either.
  • “A HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT AREA FOR EXPLORATORY STUDY”… A totally useless topic selected by my committee.