Academic Travel 1: Preparing for the Trip

JR ticket from Osaka Umeda to Kansai Airport. The exit gate machines swallow your ticket so I took pictures of each one as I went in order to claim them on expenses.

This year I’ve been travelling a lot for work. It’s been deliberate — I decided that being mid-contract, 2011 was my best year to do all the conferences, talks, workshops, and courses (as both teacher and student) as I possibly could. Getting into the groove of semi-constant travelling, and getting into a routine that meant I wasn’t constantly forgetting my passport or being too jetlagged to remember my name, has been a learning experience. So I thought I’d blog about what has worked for me. I seem to have a lot to say on this topic so this’ll be a series, the first of which is Preparing For The Trip. There’s a lot of generic travel advice in this first bit, but I hope that’s useful too.

In this post I introduce you to:

1. The Amazing Conference Spreadsheets of Planning and Packing
2. The Delights of Two Pieces of Good Luggage, or, Why I Don’t Admire You and Your One-Bag
3. Packing So Hardcore Even My Naval Dad Was Impressed
UPDATED 23/10/2011

1. The Amazing Conference Spreadsheet

One of the delights of being an academic is the multitude of transferable skills one has to have (*insert wry grin*), including those of travel agent and event planner. This got a lot easier for me once I came up with the Amazing Conference Spreadsheet (ACS). This is a GoogleDoc spreadsheet with two parts.

The first is a PLANNER where every event, including potential and unconfirmed events, has a column in which I list the details of, and check off, various steps such as “enter business trip request form”, “book hotel”, “submit conference registration form”, “check out location on Streetview”, etc. I can look at this and at a glance see the things that are outstanding for a given trip. I also use it for keeping track of advances, and expenses on the go.

The second is a PACKING CHECKLIST tailored to business travel and includes things like “video cable connector for Mac”, “map of venue”, and “business cards”, but also includes each item I individually take, rather than a generic catchall like “Toiletries” or “Shoes”. If you, like me, are the kind of person who remembers the toothbrush but not the toothpaste, then this level of detail could work for you too. People often think I am organised. I’m not. I just have good coping strategies.

I’m more than happy to share a copy of these if anyone wants one, just let me know.
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protecting your ideas

In science, being “scooped” really sucks.

It crossed my mind when I set up Culture Evolves! that “idea security” might become an issue. There are two aspects to this:

1. Idea Security as directly relates to the work I’m doing on my PhD, which I have yet to describe in any detail because I’m not yet comfortable with how much is enough/how much is too much. As well as my own desire to publish from this work, there are other people’s intellectual contributions involved, so this is quite a big deal. I hope to get to some sort comfort zone on that issue soon; for now, it’s just the (vaguely out-of-date) description on my UCL page.

2. Idea Security as relates to work I wish to do in the future, or at the very least, be involved in somehow. The last month I’ve had two quite strong ideas for future projects; things I’ve not got time to do in my one-year-left-and-counting PhD, but that would make good 1-2 year projects. They’re both in domains of culture unrelated to what I’m looking at, so to jump in a new field is too daunting as a side diversion. But I would like to articulate and discuss them to see if they’re viable with people who might know more about those fields. It’s fair to say that this is what one’s colleagues are for, but sometimes one’s colleagues are busy, uninterested, or without background knowledge. And the same issues below will apply.

HOWEVER. Having an idea is all for naught unless it is out there, and in print desirably. Priority is such an important concept in scholarship (rightly so) and I fret about this all the time. There’s the idea itself, and then there’s the execution. I firmly believe that the doing is more important than the saying, but the idea does count for something. Where I’m heading with this is as follows: the expectation in academic work is that you cite your intellectual forebears, and give acknowledgement where due. That is, you make a bloody good effort to know your field and what other people have said and done. But how does the internet figure into that now, when just about any obscure topic gets thousands of search engine hits? If I throw out a reasoned hypothesis or describe a potentially productive line of work here, on a blog, should (a) I expect it to be attributed or (b) no longer consider it my “intellectual property”? Does this change if I slap on some sort of copyright notice?

Enquiring minds.

peer reviewing

Two articles about peer reviewing from The Scientist:

  • Is Peer Review Broken: a state-of-the-system report. The table with odds for publication is especially interesting, for a given value of interesting = argh.
  • Truth or Myth: 3 common complaints about the peer review process examined.

The discussion regarding signing reviews is thought-provoking:

Nature journals let reviewers sign reviews, says Bernd Pulverer, editor of Nature Cell Biology, but less than one percent does. “In principle” signed reviews should work, he says, but the competitive nature of biology interferes. “I would find it unlikely that a junior person would write a terse, critical review for a Nobel prize-winning author,” he says.

Less than one percent is mind-boggling. I understand the principles behind anonymity, the candour it provides one to have–and the ability to maintain working relationships and friendships without “you rejected my paper” being an issue–but. My ideal world has an academic environment where the expression of a considered and supported argument does not hinder one’s career, and where rigor is provoked into quality, and I only see that happening when one can be proud to sign one’s name to a review.

follow-up on Lawrence

Re yesterday’s post:

It’s an interesting essay. I think Science were right to reject it on the basis that it presented no positive suggestions for action. One could be left with only the message that the status quo is acceptable in some situations, if we accept that men and women bring different plates to the table.

The way I see it, there are a number of issues here.

1. The degree to which men and women are different at different things. I have no problem with this. Men and women ARE different. Different bits, different brains, different developmental experiences.
2. Where those differences come from and how they develop. I’m unable to discern what sort of take the author has here and to what degree he thinks in terms of nature/nurture and biology = unchangeable.
3. The culture of academia and how it favours certain traits–something which has a history in itself. With respect to the question of why all the women disappear as one moves into more senior positions, I think this is actually vastly more relevant than any on-average “suitability”.
4. “Is” and “Ought”. Just because women may be on-average more (for example) nurturing, doesn’t mean we ought to be happy with a predominance of women psychologists. The whole concept of “on-average abilities” should surely fly out the window when we are talking about highly skilled/intelligent/trained individuals, because we’re dealing with those people in the upper tail end of their respective curve, not the average 68%. What we should be happy with is an absence of the commercial model in academic culture, one that allows a diversity of people to be thoroughly considered on a number of qualities for any given position.

I was more interested in the mention of creativity and originality in science. It’s a tired old truism that it’s hard to be creative and viable in many areas of science, but I’d like to know what creativity actually means. How could I foster “creative” approaches to my own work? Answers, plz.

alumni events

The University of Auckland is having an alumni event in London next month. I’m vaguely interested in the proposal (for a Centre for NZ Studies in the University of London system), but more importantly, I’m wondering about networking opportunities. I’ve not made an effort with alumni events so far (granted, they’re limited on the other side of the world), but in under a year I shall be Seeking Employment, and wonder if I should get on that ship and start sailing.