Tuesday, May 19

Surveys. What's the point?

Every week, I seem to get a number of surveys emailed to me. These are academic surveys, forwarded by the school office, sometimes administered by the central support centres.

So why are they all so damn useless?

I always get about three questions in when they hit the "Which is the most important, pick one: A, B, C, D". Except I can't do A without B. Or they are so wildly different that it's hard to judge - yes, I spend longer doing A than B, but that's because B can be done quickly but is essential to do my job, while A is, well, essential if I want to do my job well. Which I do.

And then you get the "Rate on a scale of 1 to 5" malarky - which almost invariably has me putting 90% of the stuff at rating 3, one thing which is blatantly obvious at 5, and the rest at 1 because they can't be important as I hadn't heard of them.

Next is the "how did you hear about it" bit. Well, as "it" is a boring one day course I did a year ago, I can't possibly remember. But they don't give you a "I can't remember, it was ages ago" box.

The annoying bit is that these are all online now. At least when they were on paper you could just fill in the bits worth filling in and leave the rest either blank of with "this cannot be answered in multiple choice format" written across it.

But that's not the worst. The worst is that at the end of it - and the reason they're done in multiple choice and "rate 1-5" rather than asking for written opinions - someone will turn these survey results into numbers. And they will then decide that once you have numbers you can graph and plot, that means they have fully and comprehensively understood the situation. This is undoubtedly not true. These surveys are virtually pointless.

Tuesday, May 12

Kelvin Hopkins - a labour MP who might keep his seat

Wonder what exactly Kelvin Hopkins is doing in the Labour party. Or government in general. Present him with a gravy train, and what does he do? Ignores it.

Second home allowance? No thanks, says Kelvin, I'll just get the train in. He barely even claims for food expenses.

Deary me. People like this would give politicians a good name if it wasn't for the strenuous efforts of the rest of them.

Wednesday, May 6

EPSRC back down

Hurrah, following substantial academic uproar, the EPSRC have backed down from their frankly bonkers idea to ban randomunsuccessful applicants for funding.

Reading between the climb-down page is a laugh.

"Constructive feedback from our communities and stakeholders on the new measures indicated that there was significant support for safeguarding peer review by modifying submission behaviour"

We said it was broken, and about as efficient as pulling the names out of a hat. Plenty of academics have also got annoyed at being called stakeholders, but they're not listening.

"...but some concerns regarding the detailed implementation..."

We said they were stark, staring mad and it wouldn't work.

"After careful consideration, we have therefore made the following amendments in implementing this aspect of our published policy".

Yeah, pity you didn't try careful consideration in the first place. Consultation also works. That's consultation as in the real "ask people what they think, then take that into consideration" as opposed to the PR consultation of "ask people what they think, then do what you'd planned on doing anyway".

"Why the change?"

The peasants were revolting

"Has this policy been watered down so much it is ineffective?"

No, but it has been watered down enough that we don't have to worry about hordes of organic chemists showing up outside Polaris House with pitchforks...

But basically, unlucky researchers can still put in one application in the 12 month "ban" period. There will probably be further modification when the research council notices the number of Fellows of the Royal Society they ban under this random scheme. If we're really lucky, they'll notice that the difference between coming 32nd out of 60 and coming 10th out of 60 isn't much at all.