Month: May 2017

Tsundoku

I used to suffer from tsundoku but now I am almost cured…  Tsundoku is a Japanese word meaning ‘the constant act of buying books but never reading them’.  I still find it hard to walk into a good bookshop and leave without buying a small pile of books.  I did it early this month in the Camden Lock Books and left with ‘The New Leaders‘ by Daniel Goleman, ‘What we talk about when we talk about love‘ by Raymond Carver and ‘The Fires of Autumn‘ by Irène Némirowsky.  I will probably read all of these three books over the coming months so it was not really an act of tsundoku.  But, it’s perhaps only because there are so few really good bookshops left that I don’t  buy more in a year than I can read.  Although this is not quite true in my professional life, because I have started buying books on-line and the pile of unread books in my office is growing; so I am not completely cured of tsundoku.  Actually, all researchers are probably suffering from it because we collect piles of research papers that we never read – in part because we can’t keep up with the 2.5 million papers published every year.  And, it’s growing by about 5% per annum, according to Sarah Boon; perhaps, because there are more than 28,000 scholarly journals publishing peer-reviewed research.  Of course, that’s what happens if you measure research productivity in terms of papers published – it’s a form of Goodhart’s law [see my post entitled ‘Goodhart’s Law‘ on August 6th, 2014].

Walking through exams

As a student, in the run up to exams, I used to enjoy going out walking in the hills on my own.  This approach to exam preparation probably surprised my fellow students.  While other walkers that I came across probably thought I was mad because, in an age before mobile phones, they would see me talking to myself; because, as I walked, I was reciting material that I needed to learn for the next exam.  This technique worked for me but I have hesitated to recommend such behaviour to my students.  Now, I’ve discovered that psychologists have found that cognitive performance is improved in young adults while walking at a comfortable, relaxed speed.  This is probably connected to the neurogenesis that I wrote about in my post entitled ‘Gone walking’ on April 19th, 2017.

So, as the examination season is underway in many universities, I thought I should pass on my rather eccentric approach to exam revision.  No doubt, I’ll discover that I wasn’t so eccentric after all but none of us dared share such an unconventional approach to exam preparation.

Sources:

Schaefer et al, Cognitive performance is improved while walking: differences in cognitive-sensorimotor couplings between children and young adults, Euro J Developmental Psychology, 7:371-89, 2010.

Susan Greenfield, A Day in the Life of the Brain, London: Allen Lane, 2016.

Leadership is like shepherding

Leadership is like shepherding – selfless and most of the time you have to stand back and watch.  You show them where to forage [provide the vision], you take care of their health and welfare, you protect them against predators [threats] and you worry about them.  But, when all of that’s done, you watch from a distance and feel proud of them.

If you would like to discuss ideas about leadership in science and technology then join us towards the end of this month for a CPD module on Scientific Impact and Reputation, which is part of our Science and Technology Leadership programme at the University of Liverpool in London.

Bibliography:

James Rebank, The Shepherd’s Life, Penguin, 2016.

Cities: a sense of belonging

While we were walking in the Lake District [see my post ‘Gone Walking’ on April 19th, 2017] I read ‘The Shepherd’s Life’ by James Rebank.  Rebank describes how his flock is hefted to the land.  ‘Heft’ is a word used in Northern England and Scotland, and means to become accustomed and attached to an area of pasture.  In our modern society people tend to become accustomed and attached to cities.  A few weeks earlier Nilanjana Roy, writing in the FT Weekend on April 8/9, wrote about the growing belief that national identity is an outdated and insufficient concept, whereas cities reflect the common identities of their inhabitants and have been home to peoples of diverse origin and belief for centuries.  Many of us who travel frequently have a map in our heads of cities in which we feel comfortable, happy to return, accustomed or ‘hefted’.  Roy calls it ‘a map of belonging’ – the cities that your spirit chimes with the most.  Mine would probably include Liverpool, Ottawa, Santa Fe and Taipei [see my posts entitled ‘Out and about‘ and ‘Crash in Taipei: an engineer’s travelogue‘ on December 7th, 2016 and November 19th, 2o14 respectively].  To which cities do you feel ‘hefted’?

Sources:

James Rebank, The Shepherd’s Life, Penguin, 2016.

Nilanjana Roy, How cities reject the insularity of nationalism, Financial Times, 8/9 April 2017.