Academic life

August 14, 2018

Is it still paranoia if they're really out to vet you? On Clarivate Analytics

(Published on the Cost of Living blog)

Imagine that you’re out in public when a call of nature of the excretory variety strikes. At this point, you are presented with two options. The first is a toilet that you have to pay to enter – although it doesn’t cost the usual 20p but the wildly inflated amount of £20. The good news is that there’s another toilet nearby that you can access for free. But there’s a catch, see, because once you enter the loo, your every movement is tracked: not just your identity, but how you use the toilet (standing vs. sitting vs. squatting), the amount of toilet paper you use (and whether you’re a scruncher or a folder), the quantity and consistency of the ‘outputs’ you produce, whether you flush, wash your hands and for how long.

April 10, 2018

Does not compute: why I’m proposing a moratorium on academics’ use of the term “outputs”

(published on the LSE Impact Blog)

As a recent Australian transplant to the UK from Canada, there is one relatively unfamiliar word I have heard repeatedly over the past three months: “outputs”. Like most academics, I have been exposed to the term before. Canadian grant agencies love to talk about “outputs” (and its more desirable sibling, “impacts”), generally in the context of their own “inputs”, and based on the following ideal formula: $ → Op → Oc → I (the input of funds leads to outputs which lead to outcomes which lead to impacts). However, whenever confronted with the term on grant applications, I always treated it as grant-agency-speak to be ignored. But here in the UK, I hear the term used on a daily basis – not just by university administrators, but by academics to describe their own work.

June 30, 2015

An academic diary in the strictest sense of the term

(published at the Centre for Imaginative Ethnography)


March 5th, 2015.  Went to workshop about writing successful grant applications and facilitator emphasized need to demonstrate ‘impact’ in order to score well on ‘researcher excellence’ category. Asked question about whether citations are valid proxy for ‘impact’, giving example of my paper on e-cigarettes getting lots of citations purely because of topicality. Facilitator looked at me blankly and repeated that they require evidence of impact; she also stressed merits of Twitter. Afterwards, joined Google Scholar and (drew line at Twitter!). Spent 3 hours creating profiles and uploading documents on each site—complete waste of time! Don’t understand whole ‘follow’ thing—seems juvenile, so avoided it entirely.


March 13th, 2015. Already have 10 followers on! Have no idea how people found me so quickly unless they’re on it constantly (kind of sad). Out of curiosity, checked out profiles of people following me but haven’t heard of any of them. Thinking about maybe putting up picture and adding blurb to personalize my profile a bit.

September 28, 2014

How to review a journal article

(published at the Centre for Imaginative Ethnography)

Peer review is one of academia’s unifying principles. In a complicated, unregulated and extraordinarily diverse environment, it’s the core value we share (Biagioli 2002). For this reason, the first time they are asked to review a manuscript is a momentous occasion for budding academics. Suddenly, the shoe is on the other foot – or perhaps more accurately, you are now the boot instead of the ball.  


In common with the majority of tasks academics are required to undertake, how to review papers should ideally be absorbed through osmosis, as opposed to anything as passé as formal guidance or training. But sometimes it’s helpful to have insights from colleagues more experienced in the process. Although I do not claim to have subjected the peer review process to any systematic study, I like to think of myself as someone with a certain amount of expertise in being reviewed. Why, just this year I published one paper that received 25 reviews from 16 people at four different journals. How many people can boast that?

October 12, 2012

How to deliver a paper at an anthropology conference

(published on the American Anthropological Association blog)

Academic conferences, as several observers have noted, are a singularly understudied phenomenon.  One of the more profound insights on this topic is to be found in an article by Jacobs and McFarlane published in, of all places, the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning.  They note that conferences are sites where inexperienced neophytes learn how to become professionals – how to (quite literally) walk the walk and talk the talk.   While we learn from the practices and attributes of our individual teachers, it is only at our discipline’s most cherished events that we get to see The Anthropologist as a larger species of academic in all of his or her glory.  Thus, more than any other academic pursuit, be it fieldwork, writing or teaching, it’s at conferences that we learn how to inhabit an anthropological habitus.


At some level, we’re all aware of this.  Certainly, for those budding anthropologists who have never previously presented at an academic conference, they can be a nerve-wracking affair.   If not careful, one can become the academic equivalent of a gauche guest at a dinner party, or the Nigel-No-Friends on the playground ignored by other students and picked last for team sports.

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