Academia Obscura book – out now!

 

The book is finally here! Like all good academic publications, it is way over the deadline, with excessive footnotes, and petty comments from Reviewer 2. (I just hope more than 3 people read it).

If you’ve ever been bored to tears at a conference or meeting, driven to the brink of insanity by your co-authors, or wanted to see a rat in underpants, I think you will love the book!

Academia Obscura is an irreverent glimpse inside the ivory tower, exposing the eccentric and slightly unhinged world of university life. Take a trip through the spectrum of academic oddities and unearth the Easter eggs buried in peer reviewed papers, the weird and wonderful world of scholarly social media, and rats in underpants.

Procrastinating PhD student Glen Wright invites you to peruse his cabinet of curiosities and discover what academics get up to when no one’s looking. Welcome to the hidden silly side of higher education.

You can read the first chapter here. The book is available in all the usual places, like Amazon and Book Depository. There’s also still a few special first edition copies (with shiny cover and in-built bookmark) available at Unbound.

The Third Annual Academics with Cats Awards!

Meeeeow! The Third Academics with Cats Awards launches today!

cat logo

How to enter

Tweet your finest cat pics (preferably with an amusing caption) to #AcademicsWithCats. We’ll collate them and our expert panel will shortlist the best.

Entries close Wednesday 30 November.

CATegories

We’ll automatically put your cat pics into the appropriate category, feel free to get creative:

  • Academics and their Cats
  • Writing
  • Outreach
  • Teaching
  • Bonus: Academics without Cats! By popular demand, we’ll pick a non-feline furry friend to represent the academics sans chat!

Dates

  • Friday 18 November: Launch!
  • Wednesday 30 November: Entries close
  • Monday 5 December: Voting opens
  • Sunday 11 December: Voting closes
  • 12-16 December: Winner announcements

The shortlisting panel

The shortlist will be diligently put together by the following panel of experts.

Chris BrookeChris Brooke
@chrisbrooke
Chris is a Lecturer at Cambridge and co-winner in the first Academics with Cats Awards.

Deborah Fisher
@DrDeborahFisher
Deborah is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Duke University and co-winner of the first Academics with Cats Awards.
Nadine MullerNadine Muller
@Nadine_Muller
Nadine is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature, a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker, and an academic with both cats and dogs.
Cristina RiguttoCristina Rigutto
@cristinarigutto
Cristina is an avid golfer, Sci Comm expert, and tweeter.

Camera 360Glen Wright
@AcademiaObscura
Glen is the founder of Academia Obscura. A catless academic, he started #AcademicsWithCats to fill the void.

Academics with Cats Awards 2015 – WINNERS!

1. Best in Show - KirstyLiddiard1

AWCA Winner - @KirstyLiddiard1

 

2. Academics - MikeLNewell

MikeLNewell

 

12. Photography - Paul_Sagar

Paul_Sagar

 

4. Research - andydlbm

andydlbm

 

6. Writing - KirstyLiddiard1

 

8. Teaching - aggguilfordchem

aggguilfordchem

 

10. Assistant - MsHarrietGray

MsHarrietGray

 

3. Academics - dieterhochuli

dieterhochuli

 

5. Research - KatieLBridger

KatieLBridger

 

7. Writing - RuthMostern

RuthMostern

 

 

9. Teaching - andydlbm

andydlbm

 

11. Assistant - TudorWench

TudorWench

 

 

Many thanks to all the other entries that were shortlisted:

ColetteInTheLab

NevilleMorley

KirstyLiddiard1

MercedesRosello

TheShrewUntamed

dannifromdublin

laderafrutal

MarieLouiseLu

PhDgirlSA

AMLTaylor66

ColditzJB

EmodConsumption

SciTania

aimee_e27

BodenZoe

Dannifromdublin

ThrallofYoki

 

And once again a huge thanks to the fantastic expert panel that shortlisted the entries this year:

Chris BrookeChris Brooke
@chrisbrooke
Chris is a Lecturer at Cambridge and co-winner in the first Academics with Cats Awards.

Deborah Fisher
@DrDeborahFisher
Deborah is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Duke University and co-winner of the first Academics with Cats Awards.
Nadine MullerNadine Muller
@Nadine_Muller
Nadine is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature, a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker, and an academic with both cats and dogs.
Cristina RiguttoCristina Rigutto
@cristinarigutto
Cristina is an avid golfer, Sci Comm expert, and tweeter. Her cat tweets @academichashcat.

Camera 360Glen Wright
@AcademiaObscura
Glen is the founder of Academia Obscura. A catless academic, he started #AcademicsWithCats to fill the void.

The Second Annual Academics with Cats Awards!

You asked for it, and here it is! The Second Academics with Cats Awards launches today!

cat logo

How to enter

Simple! Check out the categories below and tweet your finest cat pics (with caption) to #AcademicsWithCats. We’ll collate them and our expert panel will shortlist the best. Public voting will open on 25 November 2015.

CATegories

This year there are 5 categories. Get creative!

  • Academics and their Cats: you and your feline friend
  • Writing
  • Outreach
  • Impact
  • Teaching

Prizes

Best in Show
Your cat will receive a professorship certificate, mortar board, and collar tag, and will become the Mice Chancellor of Academia Obscura (@MiceChancellor). Your cat will also be entered into the Academic Cats Hall of Fame. You will receive a signed copy of the forthcoming Academia Obscura book.

Category Winners
Your cat will feature in a series of demotivational academic posters (if they so wish!). You will receive a signed copy of the forthcoming Academia Obscura book.

Runners-up
You will receive a free ebook version of the forthcoming Academia Obscura book.

Dates

  • Tuesday 3 November: Launch!
  • Friday 20 November: Entries close
  • 20-25 November: Shortlisting
  • 25 November: Voting opens
  • 15 December: Voting closes
  • 16-18 December: Winner announcements

The shortlisting panel

The shortlist will be diligently put together by the following panel of experts.

Chris BrookeChris Brooke
@chrisbrooke
Chris is a Lecturer at Cambridge and co-winner in the first Academics with Cats Awards.

Deborah Fisher
@DrDeborahFisher
Deborah is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Duke University and co-winner of the first Academics with Cats Awards.
Nadine MullerNadine Muller
@Nadine_Muller
Nadine is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature, a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker, and an academic with both cats and dogs.
Cristina RiguttoCristina Rigutto
@cristinarigutto
Cristina is an avid golfer, Sci Comm expert, and tweeter. Her cat tweets @academichashcat.

Camera 360Glen Wright
@AcademiaObscura
Glen is the founder of Academia Obscura. A catless academic, he started #AcademicsWithCats to fill the void.

A New Academic Year Begins… Bring on the Ig Nobels!

Summer is, sadly, over. Freshers week is, thankfully, also over. And yet another academic year kicked off with that most amusing of academic traditions: the Ig Nobel Prizes.

This year the Ig Nobels, which recognise research that “first makes people laugh then makes them think”, celebrated its 25th first annual award ceremony.

In case you’ve never heard of the Ig Nobels, they are described by singer Amanda Palmer, herself a little off-the-wall, as “a collection of, like, actual Nobel Prize winners giving away prizes to real scientists for doing f’d-up things…”

Ig Nobels Harvard

For a quarter-century, the Igs have been dishing out prizes for unusual research, ranging from the infamous case study of homosexual necrophilia in ducks, to the 2001 patent issued for a “circular transportation facilitation device” (i.e. a wheel).

The award ceremony takes place in Harvard’s largest theatre and resembles something akin to the Oscars crossed with the Rocky Horror Show. The lucky winners, drawn from a field of 9,000 hopefuls, are indeed presented their prize by a one of a “group of genuine, genuinely bemused Nobel Laureates”.

Michael Smith

In 2010, one scientist became the first to win both an Ig and a real Nobel: Sir Andre Geim was awarded the former for his work on graphene, and the latter for levitating a frog with super strong magnets (Geim also co-authored a paper with his pet hamster, Tisha).

By the far the most bizarre this year is a study in which chickens were fitted with prosthetic tails to see if their modified gait could provide clues as to how dinosaurs walked (yes, there is a video).

Sans titre

Other gems this year include:

  • A chemical recipe to partially un-boil an egg.
  • A paper answering the question: “Is ‘Huh’ A Universal World?”
  • A series of studies looking at the biomedical benefits, and consequences, of intense kissing.

If you are looking for a bit of distraction after the whirlwind of the first weeks of term, you can watch the whole ceremony online, or explore all the prizes to date with this neat data viz tool.

As is now the norm, the whole thing was also live-tweeted (#IgNobel). In fact, the Igs employ an “official observer” to linger on stage, head buried in smartphone, for this purpose.

Elsewhere on Twitter this week, I discovered:

  • That animated gifs make for great academic metaphors:

    • That the resident penguin at the University of Portsmouth library has its own account:

  • That National Punctuation Day is a thing:

Fun and Laughter in the Lab

coverThis week we have a guest post from Dr. Gail M. Seigel. I recently bought Gail’s book, ‘Academania: My Life in the Trenches of Biomedical Research’, which recounts some of her experiences from her 25+ year research career. You can buy it here. Gail’s book happens to have an entire chapter about having fun in the lab, so I asked her to do a guest post and start a conversation about having fun in the lab! Follow Gail on Twitter @eyedoc333.

I am thrilled to be an invited guest blogger this week for Academia Obscura. As a matter of professional introduction, I am a retinal cell biologist at SUNY Buffalo with 25+ years experience in biomedical research. I am a firm believer in working hard, but having as much fun as possible while doing so. With all of the bad news these days of funding cuts, low wages and poor job security, we all need to lighten up sometimes and have a good laugh.

buff

Buff the Gerbil

When Academia Obscura asked for photos of “Academics with Cats” on Twitter, I was the one who posted a photo of “Academics with Gerbils” just to be contrary. That’s how I roll.

Here is an excerpt from the book, from the chapter entitled “Lab Hijinks”:

Sometimes we scientists need a break from the serious work of the lab, especially during the challenges of graduate school. The long hours and delayed gratification of long-term experiments can inspire us to do silly things to break up the tedium and I am no exception.

It was April Fools’ Day and there were two large goldfish swimming in our lab’s 10-liter buffer dialysis tank. My thesis advisor had once joked that although the dialysis tank was empty at the time, one day there would be fish swimming in it. I made sure that his prediction would come true. Not to worry, though. Once the prank was over, I brought the goldfish home as pets and named them Src and Myc, two oncogenes that I was studying at the time. Src and Myc went on to live happy goldfish lives and the dialysis tank was used for experiments once again.

Many people wonder what it’s like to work in a lab on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes, it can be very serious. At other times, it can resemble a comedy sketch. Imagine bright yellow masking tape with the word “radioactive” in red lettering. It is normally used as a warning label for experiments that involve radiation. But if the tape is cut in half, the word “radio” becomes evident, ready to stick on the portable stereo system used for background music in the lab.

I think being able to laugh at ourselves can help get us through some of the darkest times. My happiest memories of graduate school are not of the exams, but of the lightheartedness and human-ness of the people around me. I may have forgotten fermentation pathways, but I’ll always remember the bacterial plate streaked in the pattern of a good-natured farewell: “GO AWAY, LARRY” and presented to a fellow student upon graduation. I’ve also forgotten the Krebs cycle but I still remember a lab’s proud display of plasticware that had been accidentally melted into contorted modern sculptures by the intense heat of the autoclave cycle.

The funniest things can happen without even a conscious effort on anyone’s part. I’m still amused by the thought of proof-reading a student’s thesis before the age of auto-correct and finding the phrase “picnic acid” instead of “picric acid”. Another time, while scheduling a meeting with a visiting scientist named Dr. Fu, I had to spell the scientist’s name on the phone. I became red-faced and apologetic as I told the caller, “F-U”. It doesn’t take much to find humor in the nooks and crannies of every day life, academic or otherwise.

snowmanI will leave you with a visual prank. This one is a snowman made from lab ice, a conical tube and aluminum foil. When a co-worker dumped ice into the lab sink and declared, “Someone should make a snowman out of this!” How could I not?

You must have your own stories of academic tomfoolery, pranks and silliness: we would love to read all about them! Tweet using the hashtag #LabLaughs and share your stories. And remember: Have fun, but be safe!

If you want more about lab hijinks, as well as stories of plagiarism, sabotage and academic mayhem, check out Gail’s book, ‘Academania: My Life in the Trenches of Biomedical Research‘.

The PhD Path Less Travelled: share your story!

Hello everyone!

I just found out that at the end of April I will be taking over the Wiley Exchanges blog for one week. I have chosen to theme the week around the title The PhD Path Less Travelled.

I want to question the idea that the PhD is, or should be, a rigid 3-5 year full-time process, and discuss how non-standard PhD processes can provide valuable life skills and experience. I also want to discuss alternative PhD models that are more conducive to having these experiences, and how universitiescan better support their students to make the most of their PhD.

The posts will be personal, telling stories and sharing experiences. I want to connect with people with a range of PhD experiences and outcomes, and invite them to share these with the world:

Please get in touch if you:

  • Have had a particularly unusual PhD journey that you’d like to share;
  • Have found that your PhD journey has prepared you well for a career in research;
  • Have had a bad PhD experience, felt unsupported by your university, or overwhelmed by the commitments you were expected to take on;
  • Have an interesting international experience to share (I always hear about UK, US, and Australia – I’m keen to learn about the PhD process elsewhere);
  • Have done your PhD part-time, in your spare time, or in some other format!

Tweet me @AcademiaObscura, leave a comment below, or email glen[@]academiaobscura[dotcom] (anti-spam nonsense, you know the drill!).

Merry Christmas and an Academic New Year

This post originally appeared on my Guardian Higher Education blog.

Merry Christmas (REF is over). Hopefully you can breathe a sigh of relief and ease into a nice relaxing Christmas break. Or, if like me you have a long list of papers to finish, I hope this post will at least bring you a little bit of holiday cheer.

One of my favourite ways to get into the holiday mood is to bake something Christmassy; there is nothing quite like the smell of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves filling your house. As well as reminding you of Christmases past, it turns out that these spices produce chemicals similar to amphetamines when baked, potentially acting as a natural mood enhancer.

Once you are high on Lebkuchen, you are ready to put your feet up and sink into some Christmas-themed research. Highlights include Will climate change kill Santa Claus?, on the potential decline of Santa-themed tourism, and a rigorous analysis of 344 letters to Santa. Though kids ask for an average of seven gifts per letter, the jury is still out on whether or not gift giving is ultimately welfare enhancing.

While kids may love his gift-giving powers, this study shows that they are pretty ambivalent about actually meeting Santa in person. The facial expressions of children queuing to see Santa in a shopping centre were compared with a scale used to measure pain in medical settings. Of 300 children assessed, 247 were deemed “indifferent” to the prospect of meeting the mythical bearded man, while 47 were “hesitant”. By contrast, most of the accompanying adults wore “exhilarated” expressions, perhaps as a result of overenthusiastic attempts to get the kids to give a damn.

The author of the study suggests that Santa “may not be an important hero figure and might even be considered a stranger” to the children. However a survey conducted in Denmark counters that people perceive Santa as being as trustworthy as a doctor, and more friendly, despite his nonexistence.

The Canadian Medical Association, concerned about occupational health risks, has published a doctor’s referral for Mr Claus. Potential ailments include obesity and hypertension, respiratory problems caused by repeated exposure to ash in chimneys, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (he’s always making lists and checking them twice).

Rudolph may also have some health problems. I always assumed that his red nose was the result of a severe cold, however one academic argues that Rudolph is in fact suffering from a parasitic infection of his respiratory system.

Speaking of Rudolph, the chemists may be interested to learn of two chemicals, rudolphomycin and rednose. The paper detailing these chemicals was submitted to the journal on December 21st (1978). While the journal allowed the silly name to stand, the chemist was rebuked by his boss for not taking his job seriously enough.

An excellent contribution to the Christmas literature came this year from Laura Birg and Anna Goeddeke. Their comprehensive review of Christmas economics highlights some interesting trends: the US stock market surges in the pre-holiday period, though this effect is decreasing over time (in New Zealand the effect is increasing); alcohol consumption and related accidents and deaths spike during the holidays, though suicides decrease; and the number of people dying of cardiovascular diseases increases markedly, though the exact reasons for this are unclear.

Women do most of the Christmas shopping, men are happier, and more kids are conceived – no causal link has been established between these three observations.

The week on Twitter

The academic Twittersphere has been particularly full of Christmas cheer this week. The hashtag #XmasSongPapers is being used to reframe famous Christmas song titles as academic papers:

Meanwhile, a handful of creative academics have been converting their left over draft manuscripts into office decorations:

Finally, while I was doing my PhD, we created this beautiful Christmas tree from old boxes left over from an IT delivery:

Box Tree

Have a go at some #XmasSongPapers or #DraftFlakes, and let me know what your#AcademicXmas plans are – @AcademiaObscura.