Friday, October 26, 2012

funding cuts

And the funding cuts continue. After cutting the LAFHA tax benefits for everybody on the same visa class as me since this month, the Australian government announced another great money cut just a few days ago. This time it's the universities turn to tighten the belt.
There were rumors about this since quite a while and a lot of the research staff on grant funded positions were really worried, that maybe the number of research grants or the money attached to them will get reduced.
But luckily this doesn't seem to be the case and everybody who applied for funding this year is still in the game. However, there will still be a cut of 500 million$ over the next 4 years. This money is not directly attached to grants, but used by the universities to cover the indirect costs of research. Distributed over the roughly 40 universities in Australia, this is a huge cut for all of them. The first "victims" of these cut have already been announced. I'm not sure if more big projects like that will be affected or if the cuts will be distributed "downwards" to the individual researchers, but one thing is certain: it's interesting times!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

new media

Nowadays smart phones, tablets, e-reader,... they are everywhere. I see 4-year old kids handling smartphones better than their parents and when I'm on the bus it seems I'm the only one younger than 70, who can survive this bus trip without starring at some kind of electronic device. Our world became "connected" during the past few years, 24/7, non-stop. People get nervous if their phone can't connect for a couple of minutes and how often do run people into each other because both were starring at their phones. Isn't there even an app that tells you, when you are about to run into someone, while you are in virtual worlds?
Sometimes it seems, that there is no awareness in the general public for this kind of "addiction", because it's so accepted and it's even expected, that everybody is always connected. Not only in private but for job purposes as well.
More and more guidebooks and news articles are published on this topic, telling you how to disconnect without feeling guilty, how to get back in touch with the real world or even just how to manage the massive amount of emails, so it doesn't stop you from doing all the other work you are supposed to do.
Of course, one might say that being able to check your emails wherever you are makes you more efficient and flexible - and in parts I guess that's true. But lately I recognized a trend, that disturbs me a bit.
We tell students to keep their phones off the table during lectures, so that they concentrate on the content and because it would be impolite in general. But it seems totally acceptable if academics check their smart phones every 5 minutes, while sitting in a meeting or "listening" to a students talk. If there is a big audience and the speaker will not recognize it anyway - no problem. But even if there are just 5-10 people in a small room listening to highly recognized speakers, I found that at least 2/3 of the academics drift off every few minutes and check their phones.
Maybe someone high up in the hierarchy doesn't care so much anymore, if people actually pay attention - I don't know. But students certainly recognize, if the academics in the room seem to have better things to do than to listen to their talk. Not very encouraging!
Is everybody really so busy and important these days? How did academics do that before the age of the smart phone?

I'm a great fan of the real world and sometimes I feel odd, because I don't have a smart phone to stare at, while I'm on the bus. On the other hand, I'm happy, that I'm not so busy and important, that I still can get through without any of these devices. And hopefully, if I ever get so busy and important, the general culture and expectation about being connected has changed and I can still only look out of the window while being on the bus or just listen to a students or professors talk, without being distracted by little *bing* and vibration alarms, telling me that my attention might be needed somewhere else.