When helpful is unhelpful

Question.

Tell me what you think about me.

No, I’m serious! Please, tell me what you think about this scenario.

A while ago I spoke at a small research meeting. I gave a 20 minute talk on my science. I engaged with my audience, answered general and specific questions, and hopefully came across as knowledgable and measured.

I also arrived early on the day of the meeting as the organisers had mentioned they would like some support. I carried piles of papers to the meeting room, helped to fill up water jugs, and dispensed snacks. When the meeting was over, I helped clean up.

None of the other meeting attendees did this. They’re all nice guys who work hard, respect their colleagues, and have all been in the team much longer than I.

When the other members of the forum arrived, I was there setting up water glasses, looking like a meeting organiser rather than an invited meeting member. I wondered, as I handed out agendas: am I helping my career here, or being alarmingly unhelpful?

Here I was thinking that providing an extra pair of hands is generally a good thing: it seems logical to me that helping out if needed is beneficial for your interpersonal relationships and career.

But maybe that’s not true? Maybe it’s rude and condescending to help with a job that is someone else’s, or professionally a bad look to set up the chairs for a conference at which you will be speaking?

The gender issue also crossed my mind. Assisting in unpaid activities overwhelmingly falls on the shoulders of female organisation members, particularly in academia.

While I have not seen this so much in my career to date, I did wonder if the other (predominately senior, predominately male) meeting attendees thought less of me because I was doing some non-academic tasks. Would they have thought more of me if I arrived late, looking frazzled and important?

I genuinely don’t know. But the experience left me feeling slightly uneasy, as though I had made a mistake.

So…

giphy-downsized

Tell me what you think about this?

Do you help with jobs outside your core role?

Have you found it helpful, or is being helpful sometimes, well, not?

The week of responsible research

Responsible research, sustainable science, aware academia. No matter which alliteration you choose, considering the environmental impact of your research sounds a bit meaningless, like dynamic synergy.

But is it?  If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense for climate researchers to think about the climate footprint of their research.  The two main pros for this are that:
a)  we obviously need to reduce global carbon emissions right now and everyone has to do their part, but also that
b) climate scientists will be more well respected if we lead by example. Wouldn’t you have less faith in your doctor if she was a smoker, or put less trust in your architect if he lived in a ugly house?

Read More »

The week of the cry

OR
Is it worth it?

A few days ago I came home for lunch and had one of the biggest melt downs I’ve had in ages. Not one of those little tearies that might happen after you stub your toe, but a full on, family pet died kind of crying session. Why? Because I could not solve a problem at work. All morning I had tried and tried to fix this small issue, and it simply would not budge. I was frustrated at myself and the world, and the only non-violent way to deal with it was to cry. Don’t tell Tim Hunt.Read More »

The week in the cloud

When I was at school, I would always take home what I now realise was ‘optimistic homework’. Two text books, two binders, my pencil case, the novel we were reading in English, three notebooks, my diary, and my calculator. You know, just in case. It was lucky for me that large, surfing brand backpacks were cool when I was at high school, because mine was chock-a-block on the bus almost every day, full of tasks that I ‘might’, but generally didn’t, complete.

During my PhD, I did all of my work on a laptop. It was connected to a large monitor most days (I’m not a complete posture masochist) but again it meant that almost every night I would ride home with my Mac Book Pro on my back, full of intentions to work. Inevitably, I would then drag it back again the next day having not opened it at all.

My current work situation puts me in the blessed position of being able to walk to and from my office. I can come home for lunch, nip back if I’ve forgotten something, and walk a lovely 3km everyday. But finally, I am getting a bit smarter. I take a small bag, my diary, a bottle of water, and that’s it. Why? Because now I live in the cloud.Read More »

The week of the meeting

Meetings are important. Particularly for student/supervisor and boss/employee communications, but also for any sort of team work, one face to face chat is generally worth a thousand emails. Some people have too many, and some people have enough, but I think we can all agree that across the board of professions out there, knowing how to attend a meeting is a fairly necessary skill.

So why is it that the meeting I attended last week was a display of some of the least professional behaviour I have ever seen? The attendees were professionals: scientists, managers, leaders and actual grown-up adults. And yet, the level of attention paid was similar at times to that of primary schools students. Email checking, texting, leaving the room frequently, having secondary conversations with other attendees, farting loudly… ok, maybe no loud farting, but everything else was definitely there.

This experience last week, and with other meetings over the past few years has led me now to present to you the SHITELLY factor, a function that I have just made up to quantify how badly some people behave at meetings. If your SHITELLY score crosses the SHITELLY threshold, then you are officially a Random Uninterested Distracted Employee who Doesn’t Understand Decent Etiquette. Yep, a RUDE DUDE.Read More »

The week I reviewed

We are the watcher on the walls. We are the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men…for this night and all the nights to come.

OK, so I’m not Jon Snow (in that I’m not a bastard or disastrously handsome), and we are not waging war against white walkers. But in some respects, peer review is the last line of defence against bad science escaping into the world.Read More »

The week the paper was published

“Dear Dr Ashcroft,

I am pleased to inform you that your paper has been accepted for publication.”

Huzzah! Is there any sweeter sentence in the scientific world?! Maybe “the results are significant at the 99.9% confidence level (p<0.01)”.  But the opening line from this email I recently received is definitely up there.

The accepted paper is the last publication to come directly out of my PhD thesis, an adaptation of the final chapter that brought together several datasets I developed and tried to answer a big question using my historical instrumental data: how has the El Niño–Southern Oscillation influence on southeastern Australian rainfall varied since European settlement?

Read More »

The week I wrote about science instead

One of the reasons I started this blog was to share my experiences of living and working in Spain, hoping to fill the gap that I discovered when frantically Googling ‘how to live in Spain as an Australian’ before we left home. I enjoy sharing what we see, what we eat, and where we discover in this largely unknown region of southern Catalonia. It might be useful for others to know how we survived the administration process, and what to expect. I write for my friends, my family, for Past Me, and hopefully for future visitors.

One of the other reasons I started this blog was to tell stories and snippets from my research, which (until I got here) was mainly about historical weather observations in Australia. This topic is an amazing combination of history and science, of characters and statistics, and throughout my PhD I was determined to tell those stories to more people than my patient friends and obliging parents.

And so this website is a combination. Una mezcla. Part professional, and part…not. Sometimes I feel bad about this. I want to say sorry to those who have arrived here looking for info on Australia’s climate history, and are instead bombarded with pictures of Catalan booze. Equally, I want to apologise to my mates who want to keep up to date with our adventures here, but have to wade through the science stuff that they may find boring. I worry too, that when it comes time for me to find another job, this quasi-professional approach might bite me in the backside, as I have shared too much of my personal life.

But you know, most of the time I do not want to apologise. To take that young person’s phrase that I don’t completely understand, I’m sorrynotsorry. Just like any profession, scientists don’t do science all the time. Sure, we may appreciate the world in a different way, but we are still living in that world, and occasionally doing non-sciencey things, just as accountants do non-accountanty things, and waitresses do non-waitressy things.

And maybe one day a potential young scientist might come across this blog and realise that he can be passionate about clinical psychology AND about his random love of baking dog-shaped cakes, or that her love of physics with her goal of visiting every football stadium in the world can co-exist happily. Or perhaps a skeptic might stumble here looking for details about historical Victorian weather and find that the scientists who study this stuff are real, complex people too, and may think twice before publishing something hateful on her blog.

Who knows. But either way, this week I finally put together a small tale about Melbourne’s meteorological history. Light on graphs, but effective at making me homesick, this is a summary of some key sights to see in Melbourne if you are on a nerdy science tour. Enjoy! Or don’t.