But is it art?

13 01 2018

Found on the departmental printer this afternoon:



12 01 2018

I can’t quite decide how this compares with being cited by Your Brain on Porn, but Maria and I were denounced (yes, DENOUNCED!) by Marc Bekoff is this inflammatory piece just before Christmas.

Screenshot 2018-01-11 21.53.35

Marc writes, “Welfarism puts human needs first, and tries to accommodate animals within the “human needs first” framework. Well-being [in contrast] broadens the question of “what do animals want and need” beyond the welfare box, and tries to understand animal preferences from the animals’ point of view. For example, welfarism asks whether mink on a fur farm would prefer taller or shorter cages; well-being challenges the idea mink should be in battery cages on a fur farm in the first place.”

That is literally our work! And my response? Yes I ‘get’ the misgivings, but if you don’t do such research and mink farming keeps going, then you’re leaving animals in worse cages than they need to live in. Is that really the right thing to do??

Plus ironically, in many ways Marc’s a fan of welfare research.  When he writes about elephants dying prematurely in zoos, that work was led by an animal welfare scientist (me!); when he argues that 40% of zoo elephants show stereotypic behavior, who collected and analysed those data?  And who were the researchers he was so pleased found evidence of empathy in chickens, and signs of boredom in caged mink? Yep, all welfare scientists.  So it is pretty useful, our work, isn’t it? Not just disgusting apologism!  (I had a great email exchange with him about this actually, and all’s good).

2018: an even better year for women?

8 01 2018

This week begins with Carrie Gracie resigning from the BBC, and (nearly all) women wearing black at the Golden Globes.   2017 was a big year for women’s issues with the phenomenal ‘Me Too‘ campaign (and the sillier, but hey why not? ‘womanspreading’ one), along with giant strides for women in Saudi Arabia.

For me it’s easier now I’m older (and in a field that’s now firmly female-dominated), but a regular feature of my PhD and post-doc days was navigating around unwanted passes: nothing frightening ever, but still, I would have to make sure I was wearing a large boob-hiding sweater if I needed to talk to the Cambridge Zoology dept.’s male departmental administrator, and the number of senior colleagues I’d meet to talk about research with and then having to end up dodging unwanted kisses from was just ridiculous (and then you can’t ask them about work any more, which is just annoying; social embarassment definitely contributes to the glass ceiling!). So, from my admittedly safe and privileged vantage point, I’ve been loving all this.

Out with the old

6 01 2018

As another semester looms, it’s time to reflect on the last one. This was grim, in a word. I taught three courses: the undergraduate 4th year one (which I’m bored of — though I hope the students can’t tell — and was made even less enjoyable this time by a dingy room and TA trouble that had me redoing a load of grading), plus two new graduate seminar/professional development courses that will be good the next time around (I’m repeating both this coming semester) but were very much being ‘beta tested’ this time.

Together these meant not a single day off between early Oct and early December, which is obviously plain unhealthy (though a bit of me’s always dispassionately interested in my cumulative reactions to chronic mild stress: first I get grumpy, goes the trajectory [poor Jonathan], a manifestation of judgment bias; then I become dour and anhedonic; and then finally, immunosuppressed [revealed this time by three colds over the semester]).

So, it’s been lovely over the Christmas break doing normal things again like a normal person (sleeping, shopping, seeing friends), and feeling my cheerfulness and resilience return. And it definitely was not all bad. It’s been great having Sam, Aileen and Basma join the lab. The undergraduates always entertain, with both their typos and their sweetness (nice finds from Andrea below, one on the final exam rivalling the nice sketch I was given from Holland a few years back).


It’s also been great getting to know more of the department’s graduate students, and the departmental atmosphere also continues to get better and better: the Christmas Party was SO FUN (especially as one nice aspect of being Grad Coordinator is giving out prizes: see below). So, next semester starts for real on Monday, and I think I’m officially ready and optimistic!





What would have won

2 11 2017

Forgot to say, this year they same second, THIS would have won though:

Screenshot 2017-11-01 23.31.15


Which is Text of the Week?

26 10 2017

It’s a tough call: Emma showing what a great student she is AND how cute our mixed strain trios are? Or me asking a mink farmer about his balls? (I can explain though: he’s ordered a container-load of 50,000 table tennis and wiffle balls as mink enrichments, which is now en route from Asia).Slide1



My new office

25 10 2017


The hens – who are a delight – featured in a quiz question for ANSC*4090 too the other week.

The first day they could go outside (once their new enclosure, and the tunnel connecting it to their coop, were finished), it was a struggle to get them inside for the night. I called from the coop, and banged a food dish full of treats, but they just had no idea what I was doing or what I meant: they kept running to and fro along the tunnel, and it took me and Jonathan nearly an hour to get them all corralled indoors. But the next evening, I again called from the coop and banged the food dish, and they all immediately came sprinting in, ready for supper. The next evening I just started calling from the coop (“chick-…”), and that was all they needed to trigger the mass sprint home. The fourth night, I went to the coop to call them — and they were all there already, lined up and looking expectant!

This is the most rapid associative learning I’ve ever seen (the quiz question just being about which type). My dad thinks they should be put in charge of Brexit.