Tuesday, November 27, 2012

coffee breaks

Going for a coffee break is a very essential part of my everyday life at work and not only of mine. We're a bunch of people taking coffee breaks in various constellations, talking about work, last weekend's activities, sports, the latest news.... . But there is one topic that is pretty much completely left out and this is talking about our partners. I don't mean in a serious way, but just like you could mention your partner in an everyday small talk conversation. I know that all of the coffee crowd members have partners, but for most them I don't even know their names. For some of them I don't know it through them but because somebody else talked about it. The coffee crew members who have kids are happy to talk about the kids once in a while, but the "partner topic" seems to sit on a different level. I sometimes mention my partner, but I'm starting to think this might be some kind of "unprofessional" as nobody else does that. Maybe it's because all the other coffee crew members are guys? Maybe it's just a strange habit of our group? Or do I have to learn to keep the partner topic out of coffee break conversations to enter the next level of professionalism?

Thursday, November 15, 2012


... traditional Christmas decoration at the beginning of summer is just weird. The southern hemisphere really should get some very own Christmas traditions!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

funding and the people who pay you

A couple of days ago the Australian Research Council (ARC) finally announced the outcomes of this year's proposal round. Everything was kept on hold for a while until the government had decided where to cut a serious amount of money from the tertiary education sector. All researchers, who had put in proposals this year, kept their breath first because they were worried, that the money might be cut from the grants they applied for. And after they knew that this will not be the case, it was the usual breath-keeping during the days before the results are announced.
The very nice thing about ARC funding is that the outcomes are published online and are separated into all potentially interesting aspects: how many applications were funded, how much money did they get, what were the success rates in general, in each field, for each university, for women, for men, separated by age, separated by years after obtaining a PhD,... . And of course one can look up each proposal abstract plus names and institutions and how much money they got for what kind of topic. 
This is how it's supposed to be in a funding scheme based on tax money! Every person can look up what their tax money is spent on. And everybody can just write an email to the person who got the money and ask why they think the money is well spent in their project. Usually nobody does that, but at this point the system gives the opportunity to engage with democracy, because everybody can inform themselves very easily. Where I come from politicians don't care about the projects that are funded - or at least, if they do, it's not transported to the public. Here the opposition finance spokesman Andrew Robb complained that a lot of the money goes to projects, which do not seem meaningful and innovative enough. And they made a whole list of projects, that should not have gotten funding from their point of view. AND some of these projects were mentioned in the newspapers. Sounds harsh, but it's a great starting point for some discussions. Esp. a big Center of Excellence is in the focus of this debate. The director of this center responded to the complaints and explained how this research is important for Australia and why it's worth spending the money. Stepping out of the ivory tower, getting involved in "the real world", explaining your stuff to people, who usually do something totally different. But they pay you, so they have the right to know. And if some are even interested for more reasons than just for the money - even better!

Friday, November 2, 2012


Last Wednesday the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science (PMPS) were awarded. Since 2002 the Australian government awards these prizes for outstanding contributions in research and teaching of science. This year the recipients were the following:

Prime Minister's Prize for Science
Kenneth Freeman 

Science Minister's Prize for Life Scientist of the Year 
Mark Shackleton 

Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year 
Eric May   

Prime Minister's Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools 
Michael van der Ploeg 

Prime Minister's Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools 
Anita Trenwith

What I really love about this award is that there are prizes not only for researchers, but for school teachers as well. Having an engaged and inspiring school teacher in no matter which subject can create this little spark that makes the students really interested and curious. And self-motivated curiosity is what we all want to see in our uni students. But it is as well something that I whish everybody to have. There are so many people, who don't have "their own field" and lack this deep interest in something. They don't get excited and curious and want to know more about something just out of general interest. This is very sad as there is nothing more satisfying than successful learning. Having a great teacher early in life can make a huge difference and its great that this is officially valued by the government through this prize!

More info about the whole thing can be found here: Link to the PMPS website