Phase of unbearable news

21 11 2018

I feel there are regular periods of time when it’s near impossible to listen to the news. Right now, we have Trump, Brexit, and the South American caravan (with Syria not being news any more, despite still awful); and then today, evidence that campaigners for women’s rights in Saudi have been tortured, and a new Save the Children report on death rates in the Yemen (Save the Children were actually trying to call us last night, and we didn’t pick up because watching TV, cringe). It’s hard not to succumb to learned helplessness. Ah well, at least none of my PhD students have been arrested for spying.

Email of the week

20 11 2018

From Lindsey, replying to an email in which I said “I advise pragmatism”:

Screenshot 2018-11-19 22.42.33

The possible No. 1 Highlight of my Grad Coordinator days

19 11 2018

I’m standing down as departmental Grad. Coordinator in Dec., because that will have been 5 years on the post. On the whole I’ve really enjoyed it: working out how to make processes fairer, more transparent and more efficient turns out to be something I like (I’m a closet admin nerd apparently); helping students and faculty find money and navigate the system is really satisfying too; and most of all, getting to know so many grad students in the department has been wonderful.

And there was a possible highlight last month: Jonathan‘s former student Kruti got married, and we were invited to all three parts of the wedding: a “garba sangeet”, the wedding itself a couple of days later (a “barat” followed by the ceremony), and then the next day again, a reception. But which to go to? Was it rude to say yes to all three? Or rude NOT to say yes to all three? Which would be most fun for two white people who’d hardly know a soul? And last of all, what on earth to wear? Luckily, thanks to being Grad Coordinator I’d got to know three Indians in the department and could ask. This triggered tonnes of advice, an invitation for tea and Indian sweets, some enjoyable controversy as to whether North Indian weddings are pompous (no, Sanjay from Bangalore, you are wrong wrong wrong!), and not one but two offers of clothes (salwar kameez, saris just being too tricky for a novice: no-one needs to see me naked).

So, many many thanks to Nadeem‘s lovely wife Mehar for the outfit on the left (worn to the garba sangeet, a night of back-to-back dance performances), and to the irrepressable Ash for the outfit on the right (worn to the reception, which was even more fun, with more dancing, this time by everyone, and more rap and Drake than you’d expect too).

CSAW symposia

4 11 2018

A sign of how large my ‘backblog’ is, here I am reporting on not one but two past CSAW symposia, from May 2018 and May 2017!

This annual meeting is always a great event (2016’s being a particular highlight for me because Marian spoke). The 2017 one saw MSU undergrad student Sam Decker (below) presenting a talk for Maria (who was tied up at iSlide1n East Lansing getting ready to leave for the UK). He did a terrific job (and then started a MSc with me a few months later, having successfully won an OMAFRA HQP award! He’s now looking at how novelty, variety and number influence the efficacy of simple enrichments on mink farms).

Aside from that it was a quiet meeting for my lab, with only Andrea giving a talk. The ever-engaging Ed Pajor gave the plenary, on welfare issues in the rodeo: a really fascinating topic (though the talk was too data-free for me personally  –  not quite enough to get the intellectual teeth into).

2018’s conference was, by contrast, a big (and slightly traumatic) one for my lab, with five of us, including me, giving talks (partly in prep. for the ISAE, and in my case, because I had had a project funded by CSAW and so had to present it).  Aileen made a poster for the meeting too.  The poster, and Aimee’s and Misha’s talks, all went without a hitch.  So did Little Emma‘s (her talk was actually perfect), but she was very, very nervous beforehand: so much so that she threw up.  Andrea was then so utterly thrown by a question after her talk that, after she sat back down in the audience, she cried.  And my own talk was pretty miserable too: the Sussex experiment had been a failure, so presenting it was no fun; I misjudged the timing, and could see whole sectors of the audience losing track of my meaning; and by about half way I had an overwhelming urge to curl up into a little ball behind the podium and hope that everyone would quietly leave (“She’s gone into her nest; time for a break everyone”). But here’s the amazing, heartening (and, with hindsight, unsurprising) thing: although Emma, Andrea and I staggered out feeling like we’d been though a war, NO-ONE NOTICED that we were struggling! They just thought we gave good talks! Simply incredible. And I should well and truly know this by now: negative judgment bias – it’s a real and powerful thing, and it gets you when you’re down!

Below, philosopher Karen Houle wraps up the day, and below that, a lovely pic of Aileen tweeted by Michelle:


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Spam of the week

3 11 2018

Every morning I wake up to a deluge of academic spam. It’s mostly annoying, but sometimes so very random it’s actually hilarious. So, here is a gem. (What would happen if I said yes?)

Screenshot 2018-11-03 17.44.35

Mink art …

28 10 2018

.. spotted at Art Toronto yesterday (adding to my collection):



Research purchase of the week

24 10 2018

Forget tea strainers: the “Research Purchase of the Week” Award is won hands down by Carole Furiex, who’s trying to find out which fishnet stocking will stop lobsters from escaping a preference-testing apparatus. I love science, I really do.