Sunday, May 26, 2013

equipment rant

My dear, beloved equipment fooled me today. It pretended to work fine in the beginning of the experiment to then develop more and more flaws on the go and I couldn't figure out where they were coming from. 2.5 hours of wasted experimental time and I am sure that tomorrow everything will be working fine as if this nasty box had never misbehaved at all.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

not quite polite

A while ago I had a meeting with a colleague in his office. While we were talking it knocked on the door and one of our senior professors came in. He had a visitor that day and wanted to introduce him to our colleague. And obviously only to him, because he did not even greet me! Hello? We work in the same School since a bunch of years and you don't even greet me when you see me? Even if I would have been "just" a student, it would have been rude not to at least recognize my presence! And he just talked a few sentence with our colleague and walked out again. I was so baffled I couldn't even take the initiative myself. Very weird! Maybe I should walk in his office and officially introduce myself again and give him my CV or something like that.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

the requirements for promotion

Promotion: the process where you have to wrap up your work, your achievements, your aims on a few pages and present yourself in the best possible light to climb on the next career step and be allowed to bear a new title.

This process is totally new to me. On the one hand, of course, because I am still a "newbie" and the only "promotion" I had was from grad student to post doc, but on the other hand because the process here is totally different to the country where I did my PhD. In PhD-country there are no titles like "Associate Lecturer" or "Senior Lecturer" - you are either a Postdoc or a Professor. And because of this there is no small-step promotion process - there is just the big jump to the Professor-level. In PhD-country the salary depends on your age and maybe on how long you have worked at uni and it is automatically adapted each year. In Australia we have the same system, but just within one salary group. As an Associate Lecturer my salary will increase up to highest salary within this group and then I have to go through the promotion process to the Lecturer level, if I want my salary to increase further. This is the situation I am in at the moment. I've been here for a while now and have a decent track record, so I thought it would be good to apply for promotion! There is a bunch of boxes I have to tick and I have to put a big application together which shows all my achievements since I am here.

Out of curiosity I had a look at the promotion policies of other Australian universities and it appeared that they vary quite a lot from each other.
I certainly didn't do a comprehensive search, but from my impression most universities have quite comprehensible promotion requirements.

For example the University of Technology Sydney has the following requirements for promotion from level A to B:
The staff member’s overall performance should:
(i) consistently exceed that normally expected of a level A academic
(ii) demonstrate the staff member’s capacity to perform at the level of Lecturer
(iii) demonstrate the staff member’s capacity to pursue a successful academic career as evidenced by, for example:
• the commencement of an academic portfolio. [...]
• the ability to achieve an appropriate balance between teaching, research and service over time
• the ability to make linkages between these three areas and understand how one can inform the other
• the ability to form productive relationships and work collaboratively and in teams
(iv) reflect at least competent performance across each of the three areas of academic activity (a)-(c) described below. .[....]
(v) demonstrate high personal standing in terms of workplace behaviour, including ethical and professional behaviour, respect for others, a collegial approach and support for equity and diversity in the University community.
So, to get promoted one has to be at the top level of the Associate Lecturer cohort and show promise to be able to perform well on the Lecturer level. Sounds feasible.

The University of Sydney gives a little table to explain their threshold levels for promotion, which for Research focused promotion (there is teaching only and research and teaching combined as well) looks like this:

The explanation for the different levels is the following:
Exceptional - An applicant whose achievements are Exceptional should demonstrate highly significant achievements and contributions in relation to the criteria at the level for which the applicant is applying.
Outstanding - An applicant whose achievements are Outstanding should demonstrate achievements and contributions which clearly meet the criteria at the level for which the applicant is applying.
Superior - An applicant whose achievements are Superior should demonstrate highly significant achievements and contributions in relation to the criteria at the applicant's current level.
Satisfactory - An applicant whose achievements are Satisfactory should demonstrate achievements and contributions which meet the criteria at the applicant's current level.

So, at the University of Sydney one has not only to be at the top of the current level, but one has to show significant contributions compared to the people in the level above. This is a significantly higher hurdle to take compared to UTS. 

But the most specific promotion requirements I found for the University of New South Wales. They give a neat little table as well, giving the option to go for research focused, teaching focused or combined. But they are much more specific about on what level they want an applicant to perform. Here is the table:

And the abbreviations mean: 
Outstanding Plus is expected standard at the top quartile of level above current appointment (O+)
Outstanding is expected standard between the midpoint and the top quartile of the level above current appointment (O)
Superior is expected standard at the midpoint of level above current appointment (Sup)
Sustained is expected standard for the bottom quartile of the level above the current level of appointment (S) 
Not Sustained is a level of performance that is no higher than at the current level (NS)
Acceptable level of performance requires evidence of engagement with the university in both teaching and service (A)

To get promoted on the research focused track your research achievements have to be above the midpoint of what people in the level above you have achieved. So, you have to perform in the upper part of level B for at least some time while you are still level A, to be able to be promoted to level B. Which means you must be as good as or nearly as good as the people who plan to become promoted to level C, for which the same criteria are in place. This sounds to me like a crazy strategy to ensure the quality of each level is constantly increasing (which is not a bad thing per se). And what happened to the people in the lower two quartiles of a certain level? They must have started off somewhere above midpoint by definition. And where is the upper limit for this "quality increasing" strategy?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

School vs. university

Over the last few weeks it has been in the headlines all over: the Gonsky reform plans. The Australian schooling system suffers from a large gap between high and low performing students and the Gonsky school reform aims to improve this. The Australian schooling system is quite complex and responsibilities as well as the degree of schools autonomy vary from state to state. Schools funding is fed from both the states and territories as well as from the commonwealth and one can imagine that it is difficult to figure out how much money a certain school should actually get. And then there are very different requirements of the schools throughout the country. Schools in rural areas have different needs than schools in the city, private schools differ a lot from public schools - and the Catholic Church plays a major role in the schooling system as well. The Gonsky reform aims to account for these differences on a financial level and to close the gap between high and low performing students. Schools which e.g. have a high percentage of students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds or kids with disabilities will get more money per student to be able to provide high quality education. The whole plan sums up to a A$ 14.5 billion injection in the school system over the next 6 years.
But where is the money supposed to come from? The Commonwealth will contribute about 2/3 of it and to do that,.... well, the plan is that about A$2.3 billion of it will be stripped from the universities. About A$900 million will be taken from the general university grants and the rest will be saved by converting student scholarships into loans and by cancelling the discounts for students who pay their student fees upfront. That does not sound incredibly much in the first place and universities calculated that it comes down to a cut of about A$200 per student. The total funding of the Commonwealth to the universities will still increase, just not with the same rate as expected. But as the reform is planned to commence in 2014 we talk about money that in principle is already planned into the budgets and nearly spend. Combined with the earlier termination of the Future Fellowship program and the funding cuts from last year this adds up to a critical level. 
But besides the fact that nobody wants to have money taken away from them even if it is for a very good cause such as better school education: isn't it a weird thing to do? To aim for a better education on the primary and secondary level but then reduce the possibilities for the same now better qualified students to study at an Australian university? Esp. in a public university system which already has one of the highest student fees world wide? Isn't the higher education lifted into a new level of luxury by that?
Until now the whole Gonsky reform still isn't finalized. The states have to give their consent to it, because the schools are primarily their responsibility and so far just New South Wales has signed the agreement. And then there are elections coming up later in the year and maybe this changes everything anyways - at least that is what the opposition claims to do now in the pre-election phase.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

ticking the boxes

box one ticked: reached the 20 papers published mark - that does not sound a lot, but it was my goal for this year and I reached it already in May!

box two ticked: was asked to give an invited talk on a nice conference! Again: doesn't sound special, but it's my first one!

So: progress happens, can't complain!