Switching off?

I know, it has been embarrassingly quiet on my blog, and I am ashamed to see that my last blog post was almost two months ago – on the 16th of May. Why have I been so quiet? Has nothing been happening in my academic life? Or am I also someone who, after an enthusiastic start, throws the proverbial towel into the ring, as we would say in Dutch? Well, at least, in the last two months, readers of my blog would have found a blog post that said it all: I have been incredibly, ridiculously busy.

So what have I been doing during these two months? Well, in no particular order, I have built roofs for my drought experiment and done the first samplings, I have organised a publishing workshop at the Faculty of Life Sciences of The University of Manchester, I have been on field work for the Ecofinders project, I have been to a knowledge exchange workshop with Cumbrian farmers, I have participated in a workshop about food, health and environmental change, and I have revised and resubmitted two papers. I have also written and submitted a grant, and I am currently writing another one. On top of that, I am writing two other papers, I am setting up a lab, I am an associate editor for two journals, and I regularly review articles for a range of journals. And I am also secretary of the Plants, Soils, Ecosystems special interest group of the British Ecological Society. Oh yes, and I have also been to the Netherlands for a week to visit family and friends.

Writing all this down does make it look a bit ridiculous, and it at least sort of underpins my feeling that I have been pretty much working flat out. Which is slightly worrying, since I have not even started teaching yet! Continue reading

No time!

It has been a while since I wrote a blog post. The reason is simple – I have been away for almost four weeks. First, I went to Aberdeen for a week to extract DNA from my glacier samples (yes, I actually have a project on glaciers, or rather, the soil in front of glaciers, which represents a chronosequence of ecosystem development because of the retreating ice), then I went on holiday to Portugal for almost two weeks (kitesurfing! 25 degrees! sunshine!), and then I went to a three-day workshop. Yes, this sounds great, but coming back from it all is not so great, as I have been struggling to keep up with things, or rather, to get rid of the backlog. Holidays cause stress – before you go to finish things, and after you come back to catch up with things.

Of course, I could have made time to write a blog post. I could have also made time to catch up with friends, to ring my family, to send private emails, to reply to all those non-urgent work emails, and to clean the house. I could have made time to buy a plant for my new office, to take my car for an MOT, or to have my passport renewed. I could have also finally analysed data from last year’s experiment, and talked to a sales rep about the centrifuge that I want for my lab. But none of this was urgent enough.

Kite surfing is very relaxing indeed, but afterwards you pay the price!

Kitesurfing is very relaxing indeed, but afterwards you pay the price!

Continue reading


It has been very quiet on my blog for the past two weeks. The reason is simple: I have not only started a new job, but I also packed and moved the lab, and we moved house – all in one week. So, it is about time that I reflect on my first week in Manchester, which is in many respects very different from Lancaster!

Our house is lovely – it is a red brick house in the south of Manchester, and it is beautiful, warm, and light. In contrast, although very nice, the two late 1800’s terraced houses we lived in in Lancaster were dark, moist, and cold, and so were all our friends’ houses. We got used to having a cold house by default – always below 15 degrees during the day – and blasting the heating for a couple of hours in the evening. This warmed up the air in the house, but never the walls, the bed, the contents of the kitchen cupboards, or the bathroom. I always wore two jumpers in the house, drank tea to stay warm, and slept with a hot water bottle – even in summer. To Dutch readers, this might sound medieval. In Lancaster, it’s just how it is – you either have a cold house with character, or a comfortable house without a soul. Continue reading

Cheating in academia?

It’s been all over the media in the past weeks – Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Lance Armstrong, in which he admitted having used EPO, blood transfusions, and hormones. Having been a semi-professional mountain biker for years, I have been following the accusations that preceded the interview, the buildup to the interview, and the (media) response after the interview. One thing I found particularly interesting is that Lance Armstrong didn’t feel he was cheating, because (at the time?) everyone was using doping.

After having read a recent blog post on Retraction Watch, I couldn’t help starting to compare cheating in sports with cheating in academia. There are quite a few parallels – for example, Tyler Hamilton, a convicted doping user, has written a book about his years in Lance Armstrong’s team, giving insight in the systematic drug use in the peloton. One of the most notorious committers of scientific misconduct, Diederik Stapel, has written a book about his fraud, and I am sure others will follow his example. After all, once your career is over because of cheating, writing a book about it is a good way to make money as well as coming clean, which must be a massive relief after having lived a lie for many years. Continue reading