Friday, December 19

Do the heads of the research councils think the oompa loompas do it?

Sometimes, to someone working as a researcher in a University, it can appear that those who have designed and run the system haven't actually set foot in a University for many decades. One aggrieved researcher writes in the Guardian about how most of the people who do research aren't actually included in the RAE assessment.

One line, where he complains that a potential PI said that they liked an idea of his for a project, but that he wouldn't get a post if it was funded, rings true. I've been involved in a number of applications where a referee has complained that our choice of a PhD student and a postdoc to do most of the work is a "missed opportunity" for more training - i.e. that a postdoc doesn't need research opportunities, only creating more PhD students matters. Not that there's a direct route from PhD student to lecturer - instead there's the slough of postdoc.

Sum them up together - there is the strong impression of a view that postdocs do nothing worth considering. PhD students are here to be trained, PIs are here to create research. That we're the ones who do the research a lot of the time is irrelevant - research and publications cannot even be considered in an RAE if a permanent staff member isn't attached to it.

A very good postdoc I've worked with for a number of years has just had her final day today. She has fled into industry (and one that is fairly credit-crunch proof as well). Arguably, she hasn't fled research - she's escaped academia to be able to continue as a scientific researcher. If she'd stayed in academia, she'd have had to become a lecturer - paid to lecture, judged on research, but actually doing bureaucracy first, teaching second, and no time to actually do any research yourself. But you can hire someone else to do it for you.

Thursday, December 18

Who says the Swiss don't have a sense of humour?

Credit Suisse has got itself in trouble with its shareholders, who blame the bonus-heavy bankers for tanking the share price.

The bankers seem to have managed cleverly to have a system where they get huge bonuses for themselves, no matter how inept they actually are. So the investment bankers are still due big payouts. Credit Suisse has set these bonuses this year to be part of a bonus fund, which is linked to assets with a notional value of 5bn Swiss francs.

That's notional. These are the credit-crunched mortgages and debts - potential value, nothing at all. But then again, if they haven't produced any wealth (magically, from nowhere, as they claimed to do) they shouldn't have the bonus anyway...

Friday, December 12

US car makers

It's like watching British Leyland all over again.

The BBC is reporting that the Senate bail-out for the US car makers Ford, GM and Chrysler has failed after the United Auto Workers (UAW) union refused to cut wages next year to bring them into line with their Japanese counterparts.

The union must be believing that the three companies will linger on until Obama takes over, and then they can get what they want.

But that'll just leave them needing another bail out, and another. The US taxpayers aren't going to like the idea of subsidising inefficient companies to pay their employees more than the going rate, either.

The danger for the union is that if they keep demanding pay better than the Japanese companies give, they'll end up either as many of the British Leyland employees did - with no job at all, or working for the Japanese anyway.

The car industry is over-supplied, and based on the perpetual churn of new products to the consumers - the former is impossible to maintain, the latter may turn out to have been a late 20th century phenomenon that cannot hold as strongly any more. I suspect that Ford will survive, Chrysler is doomed - the question is what will happen to GM?

Tuesday, December 2

Happy pills to let you sleep

Now, I know from past articles that the BBC can be - particularly when it comes to "Health" articles - strangers to the concept of the proper processes of science. And in all probability they have jumped at the combination of press release and Lancet article to hype something up beyond what it deserves (i.e. it might work a bit in some cases, and won't be on the market for years anyway)

But on the other hand... a pill to cure jet lag would be such a nice thing to have...