Making mistakes and owning them: How I submitted corrections to published papers and (currently) live to tell the tale

 

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by Dr. Lauren Robinson

It’s the nightmare scenario: you look back at an old bit of code and realize you’ve made a mistake and, to make matters worse, the paper has already been published. This year I lived that nightmare scenario. I had shared my code only to discover that a variable that should have been reverse scored (which boils down to multiplying the number by -1), wasn’t. It was a minor oversight that I’d made as a 1st year PhD student learning new statistics, I hadn’t caught the mistake until now, and, worse still, the code had been used in two papers I wrote simultaneously. I considered changing my name and hiding but as I had a postdoc and my mother claims to like me, I figured it was better to keep my current identity.

‘…the right decisions don’t come without risk….’

Reaching out to the senior author we knew there was only one solution: We had to redo the statistics and submit corrections. As an early career researcher, I was panicked. What if the results were drastically different, was a retraction (possibly two) in my future? Fear aside, a mistake was made, we had to own it, and if we were going to believe in scientific integrity then we had to show ours. It’s been my experience that the most difficult decisions, the ones that I’m truly afraid to make – those are the decisions I know to be right. But the right decisions don’t come without risk and I can’t pretend that I wasn’t, and continue to be, worried that not everyone would see this as a minor mistake. Science is competitive and the feeling of having to be flawless, particularly at this phase of my career, is a weight. As a woman in science I already have to fight to be taken seriously, to be seen as competent, and I had committed a sin, I had made an honest mistake that had been published, twice. Before I could find out the results of my mistake on my career, I had to find out their impact on my papers.

‘As a woman in science I already have to fight to be taken seriously, to be seen as competent…’

I somehow survived three painful hours while I waited to finish work at my postdoc and could get back to where I kept the study data. Upon sitting at my desk (liquid courage in hand) I redid the stats, anxious to find the results. Now look, I’m no slouch with numbers, I know what multiplying by -1 does to them, but panic overrode sense in that moment and I needed to see to believe. First paper: Flipped the direction of effect on a non-significant variable that remained that way. Okay, fairly minor, just requires that the journal update the tables. Second paper: Again, the only thing that changed was the direction of effect, though this variable had been and still was significant, means we had to adjust the numbers, a line in the abstract, and three sentences in the results. Not great, but as variables go it hadn’t even rated being mentioned in the discussion.

Okay, okay, okay (deep breaths, bit more whisky), this could be so much worse I told myself. I screwed up but hey, everyone makes mistakes, I was learning something new, I should’ve have caught it earlier, but it was caught now. Onto the next step, making the corrections, contacting coauthors, and letting the journals know. Time to really live by our ideals. But first! Another moment of panic while I wondered if I had made the same mistake in my two newest papers. Opening code, reading through, and…no, I hadn’t made the mistake again. Somewhere along the way I had clearly learned how to do these statistics correctly, I just hadn’t caught it while I was working on these two papers and had copy-pasted the code across them. Good news, I am in fact capable of doing things correctly.

‘I had lived my nightmare and it felt, as least in this moment…completely survivable…’

Writing the email to my coauthors wasn’t something that I was particularly looking forward to. “Oh hey fellow researchers that I respect and admire, I screwed up and am going to let the journals and the world know. PS, please don’t think less of me and hate me. Okay, thanks.” While that’s not what I wrote, that’s what it felt like. An admission of imperfection, shame, guilt, a desire to live under a rock. However, I’ve been blessed with caring and understanding collaborators, each of whom was extremely supportive. Next, I sent an email to the journals explaining the mistake and requesting corrections be published. Each journal was understanding and helped us write and publish corrections and that was it, it was done. I had lived my nightmare and it felt, as least in this moment…completely survivable. I had imagined anxiety and panic and battling my own shame and guilt. This…this was a feeling of stillness that I was not prepared for.

Prior to contacting the journals and writing this blog, I asked myself how much this would hurt my career. Would a small mistake cost me my reputation, respect, and future in the science I’d already sacrificed so much for? Would writing this blog and openly speaking to the fact that I had made a mistake only further the potential damage to career and respect? Would a single mistake, done at the beginning of my PhD and not since repeated, mean that others didn’t trust my science and statistics, not want to work with me? Would I trust my own skills, and more importantly, myself, again? There was so much uncertainty and so little information available on this experience, yet mistakes like this must happen more than we think, they just go unspoken.

‘…genuine mistakes? We have to make those acceptable to acknowledge, correct, even retract, and speak about, to learn and move on from.’

This, this is the crux of a problem in science, there are unknown consequences of acknowledging and speaking openly about our mistakes and, by failing to do so, we only further increase the chance that mistakes go uncorrected. Let’s hold those that perform purposeful scientific misconduct accountable, but genuine mistakes? We have to make those acceptable to acknowledge, correct, even retract, and speak about, to learn and move on from them. Those who don’t learn from their mistakes? Well, they may be doomed to face the consequences. As a note, if we’re going to move towards openness and transparency in science then we need to be particularly careful that those in underrepresented groups aren’t unfairly punished or scrutinized for admitting and speaking about mistakes as these groups are already under a microscope and face unique and frustrating challenges. We cannot allow openness and transparency to be used as one more excuse for someone to tell us no, not if science is to diversify and progress.

‘What kind of person and scientist do I want to be?’

Of all the questions I asked myself, deciding to write this post came down to one: What kind of person and scientist do I want to be? As an animal welfare scientist, I have long believed in being transparent and open in science, I realized that’s who I am as a person as well. Living by my ideals meant not only correcting my mistake but also talking openly and frankly about it. These choices, challenging as they may have been, are the right ones. To err is human and luckily for me I have divine friends, mentors, and colleagues that forgive me my mistakes and sins. I believe that we should all be so lucky and that mistakes should be openly and transparently discussed. For now, I live to science another day and look forward to the challenges, mistakes (which I intend to catch prior to publication), and learning that come with it.

For those interested in working with me (imperfections and all) when my current postdoc ends this January, feel free to get in touch via ResearchGate (https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Lauren_Robinson7) or Twitter (https://twitter.com/Laurenmrobin).

Links to published corrections:

http://psycnet.apa.org/buy/2016-39633-001

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016815911830193X

Read about Lauren’s fascinating research (with lots of monkey photos!) into animal welfare and animal behaviour here.

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‘When you know better, you do better’: Tackling inequality in secondary schools

by Holly Foley, PhD candidate in Sociology at TCD, Project Co-ordinator at The Rising Tide Project and Junior Chambers Ireland ’10 Outstanding Young People’ 2017 nominee.

‘When you know better, you do better’ – Dr. Maya Angelou

 

Schools are the battleground where inequality can be eradicated and the students’ right to equality can be won. Society can judge its most vulnerable members with a very harsh eye. Nobody wishes to live in poverty, raise their children in poverty and be judged by their peers for the size of their TV, the food on their table and the clothes on their back. Let us imagine that we were all genuinely doing our best with the skills and knowledge that we had, however limited or however bountiful, but accepting that we were nonetheless doing our best. Maya Angelou bestowed many pearls of wisdom upon us, one of which resonates with me daily “When you know better, you do better”. It can be that simple. Schools bring our young people together to educate them; education in its many forms helps us do better.

There is a growing body of literature which explores the influence of school in the lives of young people. Now we know better, let us do better. Let our schools raise our young women and men up from their first steps on their educational journey until they march out the door, heads high armed with the knowledge and power to do better.  Sounds lofty? I am a realist, so let’s get practical. Our teachers must teach the curriculum, but in what environment, with what expectations and with how much awareness of “the hidden curriculum”?

Let us explore class inequality first. Research in an Irish context found that irrespective of social background and Leaving Cert grades, young people attending a school with a high concentration of working-class students were much less likely to go on to higher education than those who attended middle-class or socially mixed schools. In Ireland, students from middle-class schools were more likely than those from working-class schools to go on to some form of post-school education and training. It is not the bricks and mortar or the tables and chairs of the school that is creating such an obvious divide. Schools need to examine their culture.  Is everyone present because it is compulsory, or because they want to teach and learn and grow and do better? What is the belief system in the school? Do the teachers believe in their students? Do the students believe in themselves? Schools cannot control the messages students are getting in the media, in their neighbourhood or in their homes. They can, however, carefully craft the messages that students receive during their day of learning and they can encourage students to control how they receive positive and negative messages about themselves. What subjects are schools offering? Is the school offering a higher-level option to junior and senior cycle students? Schools which do not offer a European language and higher-level subjects to their students are sending a loaded, negative message to their students: these are not for you. Schools which do not offer and actively encourage students to study higher-level subjects are curbing the future life-chances of their students and need to hold themselves to a higher standard. What types of guidance does a school offer? Research tells us that working-class students and students from ethnic minorities are more heavily reliant on formal guidance in schools for making educational decisions. Does the school have a college-going culture? Are students exposed to different types of pathways? Visibility is crucial when planning post-school pathways. If a student does not know a certain career or profession exists, how can they pursue that pathway?  Simple answer: they cannot and so they do not. Instead they follow the familiar pathways that have been worn before them but, no more! Now they will know better and they will do better.

This leads us to the issue of gender inequality. Research suggests that male students achieve more success than female students in co-educational schools. Reasons for this include teachers calling on male students more frequently to answer questions, allow male students to speak over or ‘shout-down’ female students and dominate the discourse. Not only is this further reinforcing gender inequality in the classroom, but it internalises the power structure for females who carry this experience of subordination into higher education and the workplace. Are co-educational and single sex schools fighting gender bias in subject choice? There is a disservice being done to all students by not fostering a culture in which male and female students can actively engage in traditionally highly-gendered subjects.  If a school is not challenging gender bias in subject choices the message is clear to students from a very young age.  Students make distinctions between what is for them and not for them; thus, their pathways become gendered which is not in the best interests of the students, the school or wider society. Gender inequality damages everyone and stunts our growth as people and as a society.

I attended a single sex school, and I lament the wasted opportunities that a ‘better’ culture and a ‘better’ understanding of our agency in society could have created. There were approximately 700 young women in my school. Can you imagine the change 700 young women could make in the world if they were armed with the tools to tackle inequality in its various forms? Prescribed prose and poetry on the curriculum in my time did not speak to young working-class women and their place in the world, or the power they possess. Geography seemed a somewhat abstract subject, mountains, rivers,  and lakes unfamiliar from my own vantage point in a housing estate. And of course, the Leaving Certificate “points race”, a tall-tale of meritocracy, which in reality is run on a two-tier track and never the twain shall meet.

We do a disservice to our young students by not acknowledging the power to create change that they possess. One young person working in isolation to tackle inequality will undoubtedly face an unrelenting path. A school of 700 young people, hungry for more, has the power to create a tsunami of change in their community, to empower their peers to go forth and demand better. Schools must acknowledge their unique position in shaping these future agents of change. Over the course of a lifetime a school has daily access to young people, where they can empower them with the knowledge to create change, consistently reinforce these values and lift their aspirations to previously unimaginable heights.

Let us end on a reflection of the school as the ‘battleground’ where equality can be won. If a school makes it their mission to wage war on inequality, their students will carry this victory with them. Empowered and emboldened by this victory, students can assert their place in society and challenge inequality on a global stage with confidence and eloquence because these students will know better and these students will do better.

This IS ‘proper’ research: Taking on the social science vs. science debate

By: Rosie Smith 

“So why is your research necessary?”

“How do you get funding for research like this?”

These are just two of the many questions that I was asked recently whilst taking part in a competition for PhD researchers at my university. The competition was interdisciplinary and was aimed at showcasing doctoral research at the institution, whilst also providing early career researchers, like myself, a gateway into public engagement. Needless to say the competition was one of the many uncomfortable things I intend to do this year as part of my resolution to be a ‘yes’ woman and challenge myself more.

Finalists were made up of three researchers per faculty (social science, science, arts and humanities), and as a criminologist I quickly found myself gravitating towards the social sciences camp. It was a full day event in which we were judged on a multitude of criteria ranging from originality, impact, accessibility, interdisciplinary scope, and importance. I use the word ‘importance’ hesitantly, as it’s a term that causes particular anxiety when I consider my own research. My work explores the concept of ‘spectacular justice’ and the way the mass media makes the criminal justice system visible and public. I explore this concept by analysing how high profile criminal cases are represented in media archives from the 1800s to 2016.

 

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And whilst I thoroughly enjoy my research, I still often find it difficult to have confidence that my work is ‘important’, and necessary. In part this is because I am self-funding my research, and at times I find it difficult to have confidence in my work when understandings of ‘good’ research are so closely bound to notions of impact and attracting funding. But it is also in part because of situations like these, when I am forced to contemplate the debate around what constitutes ‘proper’ research.

When I was posed these questions, I admit, I was initially shocked and somewhat taken aback by the abruptness with which they were posed. But at the same time these questions draw on some of the existing anxieties I have as I begin the journey into academia. To me, these questions in some way breach the social conventions on conversation etiquette, not to mention conventions on what is and is not okay to ask a frazzled and distressed PhD student.

To the first, I was honest, and launched into the toils of juggling several part-time jobs alongside trying to develop the aura of a rounded and successful academic.

But it was the question “Why is your research necessary?” that caused me more concern. Looking around the room at the other contestants I began to question whether this question had been asked of the other finalists, in particular the natural, computer, and the physical scientists.

I was transported back to the long debates I had as an undergraduate with my ‘proper’ scientist friends. In these debates I would spend hours defending the position that social science is important and necessary, and that the two disciplines can exist in parallel.

I would passionately defend the position that the relationship between the two does not need to be one of comparison. Admittedly, my efforts to convert them were largely fruitless. And I was often left being endearingly mocked, only to be told that “but it’s not a real science though is it?” And unfortunately this is still a plight I am fighting as I embark through my PhD.

It is as if this debate is a matter of either or. You are either a social scientist or a scientist, with very little scope to dabble somewhere in the middle. This was only confirmed as the day progressed. I overheard the finalist next to me ask a gentleman, “Are you going to go to Rosie’s stand next?” To which the gentleman replied, “I don’t think so, I don’t like social science, I’m a more of a scientist”.

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Needless to say I tried my best to convince him of the merits of the dark underbelly of the social sciences, but was left wondering why I had to.

I cannot escape the importance of gender to this debate. Despite being interdisciplinary, the competition finalists were overwhelmingly female, with male colleagues only being represented by the science faculty.

Needless to say there are a large number of male social scientists who contribute greatly to the field, but historically the social sciences have been regarded as a ‘feminine’ discipline.

This is supported by statistics on the relationship between gender and higher education degree choices: in 2016, 17,075 men accepted university offers to study a social science subject in the UK, which amounts to just over half the figure for women which totalled at 30,860 (UCAS, 2016). And so I interpreted the questions “why is your research necessary?” and “how do you get funding for research like this?” not only as a judgment on the value of my research, but a value judgment more generally about the credibility of the social sciences as a predominantly female discipline. I couldn’t ignore the feeling that the feminization of the social sciences served as a double mechanism to justify the position of the sciences as superior.

At times I worry that as a social scientist, the rivalry that exists with science, whilst often only in jest or antics, has a direct impact on understandings of what constitutes ‘proper’ research.

And I question the appropriateness of using one set of criteria to judge and compare the value and ‘necessity’ of the two disciplines. In my opinion they are complimentary rather than contradictory fields. And we should be striving to broaden our understanding of what constitutes ‘proper’ research. Because although my research does not find a solution to world hunger or fight disease, it does have value- just in its own way.

At the end of the day the judges seemed to recognise some of that value too. When the scores came in, I won! It was one of the proudest moments of my Phd so far, as a social scientist, as an early career researcher, and as a woman. This experience has taught me many lessons, but the most important is to take the victories, whether big or small, when they come around. Equally I aim to worry a little less about how much impact my research has, or how much funding I attract (or not) and concentrate on enjoying my PhD and remembering that whilst not earth-shattering, my research is still necessary. All research is proper research.

 

 

 

 

“Dr. Kearney or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Impostor Syndrome”

by Eve Kearney

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I was at a family gathering recently, when as I was stuffing my face with free, home cooked food, an aunt approached me and said the words that all research students dread: “How’s being back at school going?” Apart from making it sound like I’m back wearing a uniform and taking my Junior Cert again, that question makes me stifle a sigh of despair.  I only started my PhD in English in September, and am still struggling to define what my actual research project will be on, so condensing it to a party-friendly sound bite is definitely not on my radar at the moment, nor is answering the follow up question that always comes: “And what are you going to do with that?”  In short, Aunt Jen, I don’t know how my research is going, and I sure don’t know what I’m going to do in four years with another diploma in my hand and a few more letters after my name.

The past few months have shown me that despite what I was preparing myself for, a PhD is hard.  Sure, it’s not as hard as being a real doctor and saving lives, or starting a family, or moving to a brand new country like so many of my friends are doing right now, but compared to a BA, or even a Masters, it is hard.  Gone are the days of going to class and having your ideas validated, or being graded, or even being able to discuss ideas with your friends – if I want to discuss contemporary masculinities, my fellow PhD friends will want to talk about the Victorian bestseller, or medieval syntax discrepancies.  My supervisor has been nothing but helpful and supportive, but every time I re-read an email draft, making sure it hits the right tone of humour and intelligence, I internally cringe as I hit send, fearing that I’m being too needy or bothering her with my questions – after all, I am a strong, independent, researcher who don’t need no hand-holding…right?

My whole academic career, I knew I wanted to do a PhD – I knew that coming up with original ideas and contributing to my field was for me, and even after I took a year out after my Masters, moving to Canada and starting a new life, the decision to come back to Dublin to work with some incredible people was never difficult. I have been encouraged by countless members of the department that my research ideas are good, and heck, I got As through all of my undergrad, but yet, to this day I’m still not convinced that my thesis is worth dedicating four years of my life to.  Impostor Syndrome is a very real part of academia, and a study as early as 1978 showed that it’s more likely to affect high-achieving females than any other group[1].  Even writing that last sentence made me pause: am I a high-achieving female?  Impostor Syndrome tells me that I’m not, and it tells me that I’ve only gotten this far through luck, or charm, or by fooling everyone around me. Likewise, comparing myself to everyone in the department is a trap that I often fall in to.  It seems that every day, someone is getting a grant, or having a paper published, or jetting off to an exciting conference, while I sit at my desk and try to put together an abstract so that I can keep up.  It’s a real struggle to remember that I am good at what I do, that my research matters, is original, will be a benefit to those who read it in the future.  It feels boastful to say that, but it’s the truth, and I shouldn’t be doing a PhD if I didn’t actually believe it.  I’m only in the third month of my research – papers and conferences will come, and hopefully the feeling of success will come with them.

Wait.  If a PhD is so hard and terrible, why am I even sticking with it? Why do I get out of bed every morning and put in the 9 – 5 on campus?  Because if something is hard, it’s worth doing.  And because I really do love every moment of it. Before I started in September, I pictured the next four years of my life as drinking martinis in the staff bar and using fancy words in conversations with other research students.  While it’s turned out that I’m not actually allowed in the staff bar, and I mispronounce most of the words other people around me are using, it’s turned out better than I imagined.  That feeling you get when everything you’ve been thinking about for weeks just clicks, and suddenly you’re typing a couple of thousand words of inspired greatness is unparalleled, even if it turns out that you end up deleting most of it the next day!  The community I’ve found in UCD and beyond of similarly terrified individuals has been a constant support to me – sure, we’re all quietly competing for publication and funding, but if I’m ever freaking out about something, there’s a list of people I can talk to or grab a pint with, and I know I’m on a lot of lists, too.  The challenge of self-discipline and self-motivation is something I’m finding most difficult, but again, when something goes right and everything makes sense, all the wailing and gnashing of teeth suddenly seems worth it.  And the most important thing I’ve learned so far is that drinking on a weeknight or during the afternoon isn’t irresponsible – it’s “networking”!

I was actually “networking” with one of my friends a couple of weeks ago, an amazing researcher in Trinity working on parasites, and we were lamenting about how none of our research was going how we were hoping.  For me, that’s not being motivated enough, for my friend, it’s none of her experiments going as planned – I definitely have it easy compared to a science PhD!  There was a pause in the conversation, and as I looked around, the thought hit me.  “You know what?” I announced. “To everyone else, the fact that we’re doing a PhD is pretty impressive.  Maybe we just need to be impressed with ourselves?”  We laughed and had another pint, but that idea has stuck with me since.  To answer your question, school is going great, Aunt Jen.  And when I’m finished in four years, I don’t know what I’ll do.  But I know I’ll be impressed with myself.

Maybe.

[1] http://www.paulineroseclance.com/pdf/ip_high_achieving_women.pdf

Space weather – predicting the future

by Aoife McCloskey

Early Weather Prediction

Weather is a topic that humans have been fascinated by for centuries and, dating back to the earliest civilisations ’till the present day, we have been trying to predict it. In the beginning, using the appearance of clouds or observing recurring astronomical events, humans were able to better predict seasonal changes and weather patterns. This was, of course, motivated by reasons of practicality such as agriculture or knowing when the best conditions to travel were, but additionally it stemmed from the innate human desire to develop a better understanding of the world around us.

Weather prediction has come a long way from it’s primordial beginning, and with the exponential growth of technological capabilities in the past century we are now able to model conditions in the Earth’s atmosphere with unprecedented precision. However, until the late 1800’s, we had been blissfully unaware that weather is not confined solely to our planet, but also exists in space.

Weather in Space

Weather, in this context, refers to the changing conditions in the Solar System and can affect not only our planet, but other solar system planets too. But what is the source of this weather in space? The answer is the biggest object in our solar system, the Sun. Our humble, middle-aged star is the reason we are here at all in the first place and has been our reliable source of energy for the past 4.6 billion years.

However, the Sun is not as stable or dependable as we perceive it to be. The Sun is in fact a very dynamic object, made up of extremely high temperature gases (also known as plasma). Just like the Earth, the Sun also generates its own magnetic field, albeit on a much larger scale than our planet. This combination of strong magnetic fields, and the fact that the Sun is not a solid body, leads to the build up of energy and, consequently, energy release. This energy release is what is known as a solar flare, simply put it is an explosion in the atmosphere of the Sun that produces extremely high-energy radiation and spits out particles that can travel at near-light speeds into the surrounding interplanetary space.

The Sun: Friend or Foe?

Sounds dangerous, right? Well yes, if you were an astronaut floating around in space, beyond the protection of the Earth, you would find yourself in a very undesirable position if a solar flare were to happen at the same time. For us here on Earth, the story is a bit different when it comes to being hit with the by-products of a solar flare. As I said earlier, our planet Earth produces its very own magnetic field, similar to that of a bar magnet. For those who chose to study science at secondary school, I’m sure you may recall the lead shavings and magnet experiment. Well, that’s pretty much what our magnetic field looks like, and luckily for us it acts as a protective shield against the high-energy particles that come hurtling our way on a regular basis from the Sun. One of the most well-known phenomena caused by the Sun is actually the Aurora Borealis, i.e., the northern lights (or southern lights depending on the hemisphere of the world you live).

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Picture of the Aurora Borealis, taken during Aoife’s trip to Iceland in January 2016.

This phenomenon has been happening for millennia, yet until recent centuries we didn’t really understand why. What we know now is that the aurorae are caused by high-energy particles from the Sun colliding with our magnetic field, spiralling along the field lines and making contact with our atmosphere at both the north and south magnetic poles. While the aurorae are actually a favourable effect of space weather, as they are astonishingly beautiful to watch and photograph, there are unfortunately some negative effects too. These effects here on Earth range from satellite damage (GPS in particular), to radio communication blackout, to the more extreme case of electrical grid failure. Other effects are illustrated in the image below:

My PhD – Space Weather Forecasting

So, how do we predict when there is an event on the Sun that could have negative impacts here on Earth? Science, of course! In particular, in the area of Solar Physics there has been increasing focus on understanding the physical processes that lead to space weather phenomena and trying to find the best methods to predict when something such as a solar flare might occur.

It is well known that one should not directly view the Sun with the naked eye, therefore traditionally the image of the Sun was projected onto pieces of paper. Using this method, one of the first features observed on the Sun were large, dark spots that are now known as sunspots. These fascinated astronomers for quite some time and there is an extensive record of sunspots kept since the early 1800’s. These sunspots were initially traced by hand, on a daily basis, until photographic plates were invented and this practice became redundant. After many decades of recording these spots there appeared to be a pattern emerging, corresponding to a roughly 11-year cycle, where the number of spots would increase to a maximum and gradually decrease again. It was shown that this 11-year cycle was correlated with the level of solar activity, in other words the number of solar flares and how much energy they release can also be seen to follow this pattern.

carrington_sspots

Sunspot drawing by Richard Carrington, 01 September 1859

Leading on from this, it is clear that there exists a relationship between sunspots and solar flares, so logically they are the place to start when trying to forecast. My PhD project focuses on sunspots and how they evolve to produce flares. For a long time, sunspots have been classified according to their appearance. One of the most famous classification schemes was developed by Patrick McIntosh and has been used widely by the community to group sunspots by their size, symmetry and compactness (how closely packed are the spots) [1]. Generally, the biggest, baddest and ugliest groups of sunspots produce the most energetic, and potentially hazardous, flares. Our most recent work has been studying data from past solar cycles (1988-2010) and looking at how the evolution of these sunspot groups relates to the flares they produce [2]. I found that those that increase in size produce more flares than those that decrease in size. This has been something that has been postulated before in the past, and additionally it helps to answer an open question in the community as to whether sunspots produce more flares when they increase in size (grow) or when they decrease in size (decay). Using these results, I am now implementing a new way to predict the likelihood of a sunspot group to produce flares and additionally the magnitude of those flares.

 

Space weather is a topic that is now, more than ever, of great importance to our technology-dependent society. That is not to say that there will definitely be any catastrophic event in the near-future, but it is certainly a potential hazard that needs to be addressed on a global scale. In recent years there has been some significant investment in space weather prediction, with countries such as the UK and the U.S. both establishing dedicated space weather forecasting services. Here in Ireland, our research group at Trinity College has been working on improving the understanding of and prediction of space weather for the past ten years. I hope, in the near future, space weather forecasting will reach the same level of importance as the daily weather forecast, but for now – watch this space.

  1. McIntosh, Patrick S (1990), ‘The Classification of Sunspots’,  Solar Physics, p.251-267.
  2. McCloskey, Aoife (2016), ‘Flaring Rates and the Evolution of Sunspot Group McIntosh Classifications’, Solar Physics, p.1711-1738.

Maths: the same in every country?

by Rose Cook, PhD candidate at the Institute of Education, University College London.

Think women aren’t good at maths? Depends on where you’re a woman. 

cadie-meangirls-math-country-same

(We never miss a chance to quote Mean Girls here at Women Are Boring)

Do you know the difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit? Can you interpret information from line graphs in news articles? Calculate how many wind turbines would be needed to produce a certain amount of energy (given the relevant information)?

These may seem like basic tasks, but if you are a woman living in the UK, Germany or Norway, the chances are you would struggle with them more than a comparable man. If you live in Poland, however, you might even outperform a male counterpart.

Why this variation in skills, and why does it appear in some countries and not others?

For some, these findings, from the 2011 international survey of adult skills, run by the OECD,  will confirm their existing beliefs. In spite of women being more academically successful than men, the perception that ‘women can’t do maths’ is widely held. A recent experiment [1] showed that both genders believe this to be true: both male and female subjects were more likely to select men to perform a mathematical task that, objectively, both genders fulfil equally well. In her successful book ‘The Female Brain’, Louann Brinzedine argued that women are ‘hard wired’ for communication and emotional connection, while men’s brains are oriented towards achievement, solitary work and analytical pursuits.

Another camp of social scientists argue that such narratives misrepresent the facts.  Janet Shibley Hyde and colleagues insist that, at least in the United States, men and women’s cognitive abilities are characterised by similarity rather than difference. Reviewing findings across many studies of gender differences on standardised mathematics tests, these authors found that ‘even for difficult items requiring substantial depth of knowledge, gender differences were still quite small’[2].

The fact that gender differences show up on an international survey of numeracy skills is a puzzling addition to an already contentious picture. Of course, not all maths tests are created equal. The difference may in some way reflect the way the survey conceptualises skills. Distinct from mathematical ability, applied numeracy skills are described as:

‘the ability to use, apply, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas’.[3]

Crucially, individuals who are ‘numerate’ should be able to apply these abilities to situations in everyday life. Perhaps these ‘everyday’ maths skills are more biased by gender than the measures used in other studies?

Numeracy: the ‘new literacy

I argue that we should take these gender differences seriously. More and more, jobs now require numeracy skills, both to perform basic tasks and to support ICT skills. Outside work, numeracy skills are increasingly required to make sense of the world around us. They help us to grasp concepts such as interest rates and inflation, which help us to deal with money. Moreover, according to the British Academy,

‘the ability to understand and interpret data is an essential feature of life in the 21st century: vital for the economy, for our society and for us as individuals. The ubiquity of statistics makes it vital that citizens, scientists and policy makers are fluent with numbers’.

The importance of numeracy has been recognised recently in the UK with the establishment of an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Maths and Numeracy, the National Numeracy charity, and initiatives such as Citizen Maths.

International variation

Particularly curious is the large variation across countries in the size of the gender difference. Figure 1, below, shows that, among adults aged between 16 and 65, the male advantage in applied numeracy skills is particularly large in Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, while it is virtually non-existent in Poland and Slovakia. The graph shows raw differences in average skill scores; although gaps reduce somewhat when controlling for age, family and immigration background and education, they remain.

Figure 1: Mean numeracy skills by gender, International Survey of Adult Skills, 2012

numeracy-graphic

Source: Author’s calculations using data from the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC). Survey and replicate weights are applied. Numeracy scores range from zero to 500. For more information on the survey, please see: http://www.oecd.org/skills/piaac/publications.htm

Any genetic component is unlikely to vary internationally [4], suggesting a substantial role for cultural, institutional or economic factors that vary across countries.

My PhD study

Given that the survey tests adults who have many experiences behind them, isolating the causes of gender differences and cross-country variation is far from simple. We are socialised into gendered preferences, motivations and skills from our earliest years [5]. We go on to make gendered choices in our educational lives, our careers and our leisure activities. All of these life domains contribute to the skills we end up with in adulthood. To some, a choice-based explanation is unproblematic; determining one’s own destiny is a core value in many contemporary societies. However, this side-steps the question of where preferences come from. Skill differences in adulthood may well reflect individuals’ choices; however, the choices themselves are likely to be influenced by a complex mixture of cultural, educational, economic and institutional factors; which vary in their salience across countries.

In my PhD study, I focus on education and labour market explanations. A key task for my research is disentangling why gender differences in numeracy skills are relatively large in countries typically considered ‘gender egalitarian’. For example, Scandinavian countries consistently top the rankings of  the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, and are held up as bastions of gender equality. Yet Norway, Sweden and Denmark show among the largest gender differences in adults’ applied numeracy skills. Poland, Slovakia and Spain are not known for being particularly progressive on gender equality, yet they show among the smallest differences.

School and skills

One possibility is that gender differences arise from what girls and boys are exposed to while they are at school. Despite a similar basic structure, education systems across the world differ in the extent to which subjects are optional or compulsory. For example, in the UK, mathematics was not compulsory in upper secondary education until recently; whereas in other countries this has long been the case. Where numerate subjects are not compulsory, they may be less valued, and this could have created more scope for gender to affect subject and career choices. There is also wide variation in the types of mathematics learning boys and girls are exposed to across countries, as well as between schools and classes within countries.

Work and skills

Another possibility is that differences in skills are related to the types of jobs that women and men pursue once they leave education. In the majority of countries in the study, occupational segregation is still widespread in spite of female’s superior performance in education, and is partly to blame for the continuing gender pay gap.  Gender occupational segregation is particularly rife in Scandinavian countries, although this has been improving in recent years [6]. Countries with strong gender segregation in jobs promote gender norms about what careers are appropriate and accessible for men and women. This is likely to drive the early choices that contribute to skills in adulthood. In contrast, in some countries gender segregation of jobs is less pronounced, which may set more egalitarian norms for skill development. Moreover, given the link between more demanding, highly skilled jobs and skill development in adulthood, concentration into lower paid, more routine jobs could affect the extent to which women are able to gain skills at work. In some countries’ labour markets, women may perceive weaker incentives to develop mathematical skills than their male counterparts, preferring more typically ‘feminine’ ones, such as communication and literacy skills.

In my view, skills gaps are among the hurdles we need to overcome in order to attain full economic equality between men and women. Using international comparisons, my research aims to locate gender differences in applied numeracy skills within a broader, institutional context.  This is important both to correct the assumption that differences are ‘fundamental’ or ‘natural’, and to design effectively-targeted policies to equalise skills. I use a variety of quantitative techniques in my research which isolate factors associated with gender differences at both the individual and country levels. This should broaden the discussion beyond the common focus on encouraging girls to make gender ‘atypical’ choices in education, which neglects both males and the broader social context in which skill differences develop. Moreover, while there is a large amount of research on gender and education, skills inequalities among adults are less often addressed. Yet they affect adults’ lives in profound ways [7]. I hope to show some of the ways in which skill differences among adults are not fixed by early experiences and biology, but malleable according to social context.

Sources:

[1] Reuben, E., Sapienza, P. and Zingales, L. (2014). ‘How stereotypes impair women’s careers in science.’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111 (12), 4403-4408.

[2] Hyde, Janet S., et al. (2008) Gender similarities characterize math performance. Science 321 (5888) pp. 494-495 (p.495)

[3] OECD (2013) PIAAC Numeracy: A conceptual framework (p. 20) Paris: OECD.[4] http://www.statlit.org/pdf/1999-Steen-ASCD-Education-Leadership.pdf

[4] Penner, A.M. (2008) Gender differences in extreme mathematical achievement: An international perspective on biological, social, and societal factors. American Journal of Sociology 114 (supplement) S138–S170.

[5] Maccoby, E. E., and D’Andrade, R. G. (1966) The development of sex differences. Stanford University Press.

[6] Bettio F and Verashchagina A (2009) Gender Segregation in the Labour Market: Root Causes, Implications and Policy Responses in the EU. Brussels: European Commission.

[7] Carpentieri, J. C., Lister, J., Frumkin, L., & Carpentieri, J. (2010). Adult numeracy: a review of research. London: NRDC.

What now for UK academia? Twelve academics on Brexit

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Photo: Dave Kellam
by Catherine Connolly, co-founder of Women Are Boring

We put a call out on our Twitter and Facebook accounts on Friday afternoon asking for contributions to this special feature on what the EU has meant to women working in academia in the UK, and their thoughts on the referendum result. We received a huge response. But first, some background – I was in London last week, and woke at 6am the morning after the UK’s EU membership referendum to hear Nigel Farage’s voice coming from my friend’s radio, hailing a ‘historic day’ for the UK. My immediate reaction was one of shock – going to bed the night before, it had seemed to all of us in the house that “Remain” was going to take it, albeit by a slim margin. Following the disbelief came the sadness and worry for the friends I have living all over the UK – what would happen now? Four women live in the house I was staying in, located in south London – two of whom are Scottish, one English and one Welsh. All are devastated by the referendum result.

I would not know any of these women had I not gone abroad to Paris on Erasmus during my third year of undergraduate study. One of the Scots was the first person I met when I moved to Paris, and today she is one of my best and closest friends. My Erasmus year set me on my career path and opened up so many opportunities for me, from studying for my MA in London, to living and working in Brussels, and then returning to work in London again in the year before I began my PhD in Dublin. Without the EU, much of this would not have been possible, and so many of the friends I have I would never have met. I am lucky to be from Ireland and to be researching in Ireland – my Irish passport means I don’t have to worry about my freedom of movement or any of the other many benefits which EU membership affords me. But my friends, and many academics around the UK, no longer feel so lucky.

EU funding is vital to the UK’s higher education institutions, as are EU and international citizens. EU and international citizens, whether as students, researchers or lecturers, along with EU funding, have made the UK’s higher education sector one of the most lively and exciting environments to work in, and study at, in the world.

What follows are the words of twelve female academics in different fields, from the UK and elsewhere in the EU, working in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. They demonstrate the massive importance and influence that the EU has on academic research, and elucidate the doubt and worry that many now feel, both in and outside academia.

Professor Fiona de Londras, Chair in Global Legal Studies, University of Birmingham.

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“Trying to understand security and counter-terrorism on a national level alone has value, but misses so much of what happens to shape the national story as a result of transnational dynamics and institutions such as the EU.”

All of my university education was in Ireland. In fact, all of it was in UCC where I studied law for seven very happy years. And so, it was a (not unwelcome) shock to the system when I moved first to a chair in Durham and then to my current post at Professor of Global Legal Studies in the University of Birmingham to discover, be challenged by, and ultimately relish in the intellectually diverse and internationally-oriented world of UK higher education. While international and European law had been important in my education and work in Ireland, the richness that Europeanism brought to the student body, my academic community, and the vision and ambition in legal research of the institutions in which I have worked in the UK was energising, challenging and enthralling. That is the first way in which the EU has impacted my career in the UK. It has been a force for diversification of the people, ideas, institutions and challenges with which I try to pursue the key question in which I am interested: what happens to power, law and politico-legal institutions when crises put them under pressure?

For much of my career I have explored this question in the very particular context or counter-terrorism and security, including leading a major cross-national, inter-disciplinary and empirical project entitled SECILE (Securing Europe through Counter-Terrorism: Impact, legitimacy, and effectiveness). With generous funding from the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme I led a consortium of researchers, NGOs and SMEs in the UK, Ireland, Norway and Latvia in a project that both mapped and analysed EU counter-terrorism and, through interviews with major stakeholders in the EU’s institutions and the member states, tried to understand their real world impact on everyday operations and the experience of living in the European Union. This could not have been achieved without EU membership: that created the opportunity to secure the funding, the relationships that underpinned and made possible our consortium, and the access to high level officials in Europe that helped us both access information and gain traction for our findings.

Trying to understand security and counter-terrorism on a national level alone has value, but misses so much of what happens to shape the national story as a result of transnational dynamics and institutions such as the EU. If Brexit brings us out of these funding structures our ability to ask ‘big questions’ in ‘big contexts’ will be sharply constrained. And what, then, will incentivise the very best researchers who have other possibilities through EU or other citizenship, to remain with the UK’s universities? Will national funding structures, already so stretched, step in to compensate? Will the UK retain sufficient influence in Europe to secure access to these key actors and institutions? Will our colleagues from other EU countries, whose impact on law schools all over this country has been such a key part in diversifying our enquiries and deepening our intellectual ambitions, move on? Will possibilities for staff and student exchange shrink, impoverishing our everyday intellectual environment? And if so, what will be the motivation for people who, like me, have Irish citizenship to stay?

For now many, like me, will be committed to staying and to contributing to the task of thinking our way out of the corner Brexit has placed higher education and legal research in, but one suspects we will also remain deeply aware of the Irish passport that leaves open possibilities for mobility that we may, reluctantly, find ourselves exercising in coming years.

Dr. Diletta De Cristofaro, Teaching Fellow in British Studies, Harlaxton College.

Diletta

“Waking up to the Leave result on 24th June felt like a punch in my stomach.”

A few months ago, I was walking on Brighton beach with a fellow EU academic migrant. Reflecting on our academic lives, he observed that mine was a “very European trajectory”. I replied that indeed it was, and I was proud of it.

I feel strongly about my European identity. As part of the Italian diaspora, my family has been scattered in North America, South America, and Australia for generations. My own parents were living and working in the US when my mother got pregnant with me. However, they decided to move back to Italy because they wanted me to be born there – and, thus, in Europe.

Like many others, my academic “European trajectory” began with an Erasmus. I studied for one year of my master’s in Paris, and, thanks to the EU Erasmus Programme, the credits I gained at Paris IV Sorbonne were recognised by my Italian home Institution, Università degli Studi di Milano. Today, 26th June 2016, the homepage of the largest student-led online resource on the programme reads:

Erasmus

EU mobility programmes, to and from the UK, would be a huge post-Brexit lost opportunity for future academics. The idea for my PhD project – temporality in contemporary post-apocalyptic fiction – was born in Paris, when I discovered Michel Houellebecq’s La possibilité d’une île in a second-hand bookshop near my university. The project was then developed in another European country, the UK, where it was funded by the University of Nottingham’s European Union Research Excellence Scholarship. My research also benefited from a period, funded by Erasmus Mundus, spent at the Centre for the Humanities at Utrecht University. In short, my scholarship was nurtured by the EU and by the education systems of four of its countries.

Waking up to the Leave result on 24th June felt like a punch in my stomach. My visceral reaction was that I would go back to Europe – but even typing this sentence feels odd: the UK is still, technically, part of the EU and is certainly part of Europe geographically and historically. Yet it is undoubtable that the country is moving in a direction I am uncomfortable with, a sentiment shared by that 48% which voted Remain, including friends and colleagues. I have a life in the UK and a three-year teaching fellowship starting on 1st August, but uncertainty looms large: what rights will I have in this country? Can my new institution renege the contract if/when the UK leaves the EU? What happens with my UK-based job applications in the supposed two-year period needed to negotiate Brexit: will they be immediately discarded, as my right to work in this country remains unclear? This is all very imponderable, disempowering, and scary – especially as an Early Career Researcher.

When I was offered my new job at Harlaxton College, I was struck by the irony of a European teaching a module on British identity to US students coming to the UK. Post-referendum, this is a much stronger feeling. And so, in the face of uncertainty, I am working to incorporate in the syllabus Rupert Thomson’s Divided Kingdom, a dystopian novel in which the UK has been divided into four Quarters, each one based upon different humors and personality types. How appropriate.

Diljeet Bhachu, doctoral student, Reid School of Music, University of Edinburgh.

Diljeet photo (c Vivek Vishwanathan)

“I have to ask, will there be anything left to research? If we lose diversity in our music and music education, will I want to be researching it?’

As a very early-career researcher  − mid-PhD − the impact of the UK leaving the EU on my future plans and job prospects hasn’t quite sunk in yet.  I can’t say I’d done much planning, because on Wednesday I felt like the world was my oyster, I could look for post-PhD jobs anywhere, there were options both in and out of the academy. Now? I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll be able to find work abroad. I don’t know if there will be jobs outside of academia.

While I haven’t looked at the details, I imagine it’ll likely be more difficult to get research funding, travel for fieldwork and conferences, and it’s quite possible that the diversity of staff and students at UK HEIs will also suffer. I don’t yet know exactly what Brexit means for university funding both through core and research grant funding, and income from tuition fees. What I do know is that there will be inevitable change in the demographics of our student bodies, if not from changes in access to opportunity, but from the indirect effects of removing the UKs status as a place where non-UK students are welcome. While Universities and other HEIs have been quick to release statements showing support for all students, particularly those from EU countries, and pledging no change to terms of study in the near future, can we guarantee that the cities and towns in which these students will live will be as supportive?  Never mind the economic impact of living in a country where the currency has faced its biggest drop in value for 30 years.

With the growing visibility of the far-right, xenophobic, racist views in UK society, my concern now turns towards my research interests.  As a #proudchildofanimmigrant (of two immigrants, actually), I question how research that attempts to embrace all cultures, and cater to the increasingly diverse classrooms created by immigration over the past century or so, fits in a country where many, albeit not all, Leave voters are clinging onto an idea of British Nationalism that reads as White British Nationalism. Where is the space in this new reality of an “independent” Britain for post-colonial critique – following a campaign that laughed in the face of many British citizens who are here as the very result of Britain’s colonial past. Why is my curriculum white?  Is this a question “independent” Britain still wants to ask? Only time will tell, maybe I’m over-reacting, but is it really unrealistic to consider that some of this might be a possibility?

This may represent the views of a few, but their fires have been fuelled by this “victory” and I’m not sure they can be extinguished.

As I’ve said, it’s early days – who knows what will happen.  But while I’ve been writing this, a few bits of information have come to light. Education research gets 43.13% of its funding from the EU. This is a sector that already bore the brunt of cuts.  Add to that my position as a researcher of music education. I have to ask, will there be anything left to research? If we lose diversity in our music and music education, will I want to be researching it? We can’t pretend music and music education are separate things. Without the ability to tour easily, are we going to see a decline in the music profession in the UK?

Dr. Jessica Meyer, University Academic Fellow in Legacies of War, University of Leeds.

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“24th June 2016 was a very bad day for me indeed.”

February 2015 was a good month for me. On the 3rd I was offered a permanent job at the university where I had been working on a temporary contract for the previous four years.  Two weeks later I received a European Research Council Starting Grant, worth €1.07 million, to undertake a project examining the medical and social care provided to disabled British ex-servicemen of the First World War.  Within a fortnight, I had not only achieved a measure of professional and personal security, but I had also been given the opportunity to pursue a project that I had conceived as a PhD student ten years earlier, a project which I never thought would ever be funded.

This project involves creating a database of information held in 22,8289 personal pension files created by the Ministry of Pensions and now held at the National Archive.  The goal is to make analysis of this archive easier and the archive itself more searchable. In creating the database, my team and I (there are four of us altogether) are also identifying files which contain material suitable for further close reading, including letters from pensioners and their friends and family, medical reports and official documentation. We are particularly interested in the stories that these files have to tell about the roles that families, particularly women, played in providing care to these men, and how these women’s work shaped cultural understandings of medical caregiving as a gendered practice. Eventually, I hope to expand the project to include comparative discussions of the care provided to ex-servicemen in other European nations in the aftermath of the Great War.

This is a huge project, and one which no British grant making body would fund. Neither the AHRC nor the ESRC allow for postgraduate funding to be built into grants, and the remits of even their large individual grants are relatively narrow.  The Leverhulme Trust, which funds projects with a similar sort of boundary-pushing ambition as the ERC, does not have a scheme that enables team building on the scale necessary to complete this project.  If I were not funded by the ERC, this project would not happen.

So 24th June 2016 was a very bad day for me indeed.  The Vice Chancellor of my university put out a reassuring statement to the effect that ‘We also believe that the University’s study abroad programmes and our involvement in Horizon 2020 [which includes the ERC] … will remain unchanged during this period of transition.’ But belief is not certainty, particularly not in a period where nothing feels certain, and the period of transition may not cover the entirety of the period of my grant. The money has been committed, I am told, and so I email my team members to reassure them that their post-docs and PhD studies will go ahead as planned. I hope I am right.

And even if the funding remains, what about the terms?  ERC grant-holders are expected to spend 6 months of every 12 in an EU member state.  Will I have to relocate to Ireland for 6 months of every year after 2018?  I have a young family.  What are the implications for that hard-won personal security that seemed so sure 15 months ago? Everything that I have worked for in my academic career feels directly threatened by the referendum result.

For the moment I carry on, trying to believe that the work I am doing, which I believe passionately in, will be funded for the term and at the terms agreed.  But I don’t know, and that insecurity will shape my research for the foreseeable future.

Dr. Kate Wicks, postdoctoral researcher, University of Manchester.

Kate photo

“Through Erasmus and therefore because of the EU, I learnt my very first lessons about what it means to be a scientist.”

I work on inflammation. To put it simply, that’s one process by which the body restores the status quo when it detects that something’s amiss, whether that’s a cut to the hand or a cold virus in the nose. An army of white blood cells is mobilised to deal with the problem, and when it’s resolved, it stands down again. Except sometimes it doesn’t, and the inflammation becomes chronic. That’s what I’m interested in: uncontrolled inflammation, how it starts, and what happens when it doesn’t end.

Back in 2004, though, I was a second-year undergraduate, and I didn’t have research interests yet.Not really. I was studying Genetics with German (‘Did you pick it for the alliteration,’ people asked), which allowed me to combine studying the finer points of gene regulation with German language, literature and history, and I was about to go off on my year abroad through the Erasmus scheme. A rite of passage for modern languages students, for me, it would involve a year working in a German lab. The application form asked what kind of lab I wanted to be placed in. ‘Genetics. Please not plants,’ I wrote. I ended up at the University of Heidelberg, working on the genetics of diabetes-related kidney disease, and that was my future career settled. Ten and more years later, I’m still researching the complications of diabetes, albeit from a different angle.

Through Erasmus and therefore because of the EU, I learnt my very first lessons about what it means to be a scientist. By that, I mean the lab and analysis skills that I use every day – how to plan, perform, analyse, evaluate and write up an experiment – but also about the importance of the international community to which I belong. The lab I worked in was funded by the EU; we had collaborators in the Czech Republic; I trained a student from Slovakia; my boss was Dutch. My friends in another lab spanned a multitude of nationalities. In the UK, being a British scientist who spoke fluent German was a novelty; in Germany, every scientist had a good command of at least one extra language, usually more.  I suddenly realised how inward looking the UK could be, and that if I wanted to be a successful scientist, I mustn’t be like that. I needed to connect with people, with as many people as possible from as many places as possible, and discuss ideas and plans and visions. That was how to grow.

I am upset about the referendum result for many reasons, but a big one is the thought that future generations of UK-born scientists won’t have the chances that I had. I had the freedom then to go off and study abroad; I have the freedom now to go and work in a lab anywhere in the EU. I worry about what that means for the development of young scientists. I worry too about the future of science in the UK: how attractive will our universities be to the very best, when our immigration policies grow ever more restrictive? And I worry for my country, which has just seen victory for a campaign based on the idea that shrinking our horizons is a positive thing. It isn’t.

In a month or so, my research is taking me to Heidelberg again, this time for a conference. I am sadder than I can say that this might be the last time I go as an EU citizen.

Dr. Arianna Andreangeli, lecturer in Competition Law, University of Edinburgh.

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“After the vote just a couple of days ago, I feel that all of a sudden the country where I chose to build my career and my family has edged away from the Europe I love and was born in.”

The result of the Brexit referendum caught a lot of people by complete surprise.  It left many of us in tears, in deep uncertainty and has led us to question our life choices.  This surely happened to me. I am Italian by birth, live in Scotland now, having moved there in 2011: my husband is Scottish but we actually met in England. I am a proud graduate from University College Dublin, in Ireland, where I read for a Masters’ degree in European Law, and of the University of Birmingham, where I gained my PhD in Law, and my first lecturing post was in the University of Liverpool, in the beating, anarchic heart of the North West of England (sorry, Manchester, but the Scousers win it hands down with me). It is not an exaggeration to say that the “EU made me”, personally, professionally and in some of the aspects of my deepest being. I am a strongly minded European: my birth in Italy has given me the passion for the Classics, the Opera and the boundless love of my wonderful family, yet Ireland and the United Kingdom formed me as an academic.

My area of expertise is also deeply imbued by the European project: I am a competition lawyer. I research market dynamics and how the law ensures that they remain genuine, unhindered by outside pressures, such as monopoly positions that may be abused or concerted behaviour aimed at reaping higher, unjustified profits to the detriment of citizens. Yet, I am not, in the best European tradition, a free-marketer: I think that markets should be protected and cherished to the extent that, and because, they secure best outcomes, in terms of quality and of prices, for individuals and for the societies that they touch with their functioning. Ultimately, they must work to nurture individual freedom, not the pockets of the few: they must function in harmony with the environment, not to destroy it; they must uphold the needs of the communities they affect, not secure lower levels of protection for them.

The health emergency of alcohol abuse in Scotland prompted me to embark on my most recent piece of work: the controversy on whether the Scottish Parliament can enact rules setting minimum prices for the retail sale of alcoholic beverages with a view to pricing out of the market the cheapest, strongest and thus most dangerous drinks seemed to me perhaps the best example of evidence-based policy. Backed by a number of independent studies, this legislation was poised to make a true contribution to addressing alcohol misuse, especially among the poorest and most disadvantaged.  Yet, the snag, which was picked up by none other than the Scotch Whisky Association, who have eventually taken the Scottish Ministers to court in Scotland and also in Luxembourg, was that setting floor prices can actually interfere with the flow of trade among Member States… by making imported goods instantly not as attractive as they could otherwise be in their country of origin, where lower prices than the statutory minimum can be applied.

This instantly made me wonder whether competition on grounds of prices is after all so important: at the end of the day, do the EU treaties not say that achieving goals of high levels of, among others, public health protection is central to the European project? This is what I have been trying to find out, and on Friday, namely the fateful day after the referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU, I finished the second draft of this paper. Yet, is it still going to be relevant? Surely, competition law is very much part of domestic law in the UK, and these issues will always remain alive.  They say that the UK economy is an open and market-minded one: yet, it was only thanks to the impact of the European project that mechanisms for the enforcement of the competition rules and the avoidance of the creation of harmful position of market powers eventually were legislated for; the UK Competition Act is also fundamentally influenced by the EU Treaties.

I sit here in Edinburgh, a city with a strong European heart: Mary Stuart lived literally ten minutes away from my front room, and she was French.  Yet, after the vote just a couple of days ago, I feel that all of a sudden the country where I chose to build my career and my family has edged away from the Europe I love and was born in, just that tiny bit more for me to feel comfortable and serene personally, as well as confident in my academic outlook, on the way in which I look at and study markets and try to contribute to public debate with my scholarship.  I had so many plans as to how to bring this agenda forward: the impact of the new EU rules on tobacco trade on competition within the internal market, as well as on the freedom to express “commercial ideas” was up next, yet I am now unsure whether it is now a viable project.  All of a sudden, being on a tiny island does not make it fun for me anymore.

Lucy Greenhill, researcher, Scottish Association for Marine Sciences.

Lucy Greenhill

“Oceans do not respect national boundaries.”

As a researcher into how governance of our oceans can adapt to enable society to respond to the complex challenges of sustainable development, I can only see ‘Brexit’ as a huge backwards step. Simply put, addressing big challenges requires co-operation, openness, long-term thinking and integration, particularly when dealing with issues that are transboundary. These progressive features were supported by the EU, and will be extremely compromised outside of it.

Sustainable development is, by its nature, a complicated concept, and is interpreted differently by individuals according to their values, culture and what they represent in society. How do we protect the environment, but still enable economic development and gathering of resources to support communities? Should we conserve ecosystems for their intrinsic value, or is it acceptable to treat nature as a service-provider for humanity? What if our market-based economy is incompatible with maintaining a healthy natural environment? These questions are not easy to grapple with, but what I have learnt is that we need to talk about it to get anywhere. In my research I am exploring how we start to address these issues on a smaller scale, and related to our use of the seas.

I focus specifically on an increasingly utilised governance tool called marine spatial planning (MSP), which provides a ‘real world’ situation, where we (as a society made up of the state, NGOs, scientists, communities and others) can look at ‘sustainable development’ in the context of activities that relate to our own situation – our jobs, our view from the house, the fish we eat. Briefly, MSP provides a process of planning ahead for various marine activities and ecosystem protection in a particular region of sea, in an integrated way. This has the benefit of moving away from fragmented management of different industries and interests and explore the most ‘sustainable’ combination of development in an area and involving civil society in the process. Using social science, I am looking at the methods that we can use to explore future possible scenarios through MSP, identify how we manage potential conflicts for space or resources and debate how ecological and social limits are respected. At least that’s the idea…

Conceptually, MSP makes sense, but it faces key challenges, made harder following a vote by the UK to leave the EU. Oceans do not respect national boundaries. Our human activities (shipping, tourism, etc.) and habitats and species operate across boundaries hence the committed drive to increasingly co-operate and integrate between countries of the EU. This includes sharing data and information, aligning our processes, sharing experience and knowledge, collaboratively funding the science essential to improving practice, developing joint ‘visions’ to drive national policy and motivate industries and stakeholders, and many, many more. It saddens me greatly that the UK may now not be a leading participant in such co-operation and which compromises our ability to progress in answering these fundamental questions which define our future. But I am determined to fight for ensuring support for science, to improving the voice of scientists in the political arena and maintaining co-operation with European institutions and organisations on these issues.

Dr. Lauren Redhead, composer and Senior Lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University.

Lauren Redhead Photo 1 Richard Lee-Hair

“Free movement and the right to work has been an essential part of enabling the collaborative relationships that form my work.”

I am a practice-researcher: my research includes performing and composing both as its methodology and its outputs. This type of research is different from written research because it can’t necessarily be enacted without its public-facing and collaborative dimensions (this is not to say that these aren’t important to other researchers, but that they are more often central to practice research). My personal research directions involve the performance of sound in space, iterative processes of composition, and the enactment of extended open notation by partly improvising musicians. As my career has progressed this research has taken place on a global, and particularly European stage. I have recently returned from a tour of performances in Germany and Scotland, working with musicians from the UK, Germany, America, and Iceland. My most recent commission has come from an international contemporary music festival in Belgium; the piece will be performed alongside music by other composers from the UK, Belgium and Portugal by a pianist, Ian Pace, who has made his career on the international stage, performing music from most continents.

This serves to illustrate that research in the arts, by its nature, crosses borders. The collaborations that I have made have been central to the development and dissemination of my ideas. Music cannot be realised without musicians and practice research can’t exist without its practice. But these collaborations are not arbitrary either: the musical tradition that I work in (often called New Music (Neue Musik, derived from a definition made by Theodor Adorno) is, essentially, a Central European tradition, albeit one that draws musicians from America, Australia and Asia. The contemporary musical traditions in the UK, outside of key institutions like the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, have not historically supported this music as other EU countries have done.

Free movement and the right to work has been an essential part of enabling the collaborative relationships that form my work: the ability for me to travel to Europe, to have the right to work and play there, and to be able to invite European musicians to work and perform in the UK means that this work can take place without administrative hurdles that would obscure the research aims. I am worried about the future possibilities for my collaborators in the UK, and for the future potential for me to continue to develop my work in Europe. The potential for the arts to flourish without our European partners is narrow, and this will also impact the development of the arts and therefore the development of research in the arts. As a postgraduate student of composition I was advised by my supervisors to look to Europe as my workplace, and this is advice I’ve continued to give my postgraduate students. I now wonder what the future for their work, as well as mine, will be.

Dr. Rita Singer, Research Assistant for the AHRC-funded project ‘European Travellers to Wales, 1750-2010’.

“Without the opportunities given to me by the EU, my life would look very different today.”

Rita photo cropped

Just a little of under three years ago, I moved to the UK as a freshly recruited researcher working on a major project between three Welsh universities investigating 260 years of travel from mainland Europe to Wales. Since then, this all-female team of researchers have unearthed an unanticipated amount of accounts from 17 countries, written in 15 languages. Needless to say, if I coloured in a map according to the countries of origin for each of these travellers, I’d look at something that would not be much different from the EU. We are still in the middle of evaluating our sources, but one thing is clear: the reasons why people come to Wales were as diverse two hundred years ago as they are today. There are holiday makers scrambling across rocky mountain terrain in all sorts of weather; there are refugees escaping political persecution and wars; there are lovers who establish their family lives in this country; there are engineers who marvel at the great bridges and industry of Wales; there are the artists who have painted and sketched every inch of this country; and – this is where I find myself coming into the picture – there are the scholars investigating Welsh literature, history and language. Two-hundred and sixty years of all these different paths of life connecting the mainland with these islands and as of Friday morning, it seems like this proud tradition is coming undone.

My own history as a German in this country is not exclusively tied to this research project but took off in a roundabout manner in Berlin during a night-time press conference in November 1989. That night, a high-ranking East German politician ‘miss-spoke’ in front of dozens of cameras when an Italian reporter pressed him on the status of the East German border. Less than a year later, the GDR was wiped off the face of the European map as it reunited with West Germany and thus joined the European Community.

Fast-forward sixteen-years to my time as an MA student at Leipzig University where I was enrolled in British Studies as my first major and German as a Second Language as my second subject. When I was given the opportunity in 2005 to apply for the ERASMUS programme, I jumped on the opportunity for one of two precious placements available at Bangor University. Never in my wildest dreams had I anticipated studying abroad, let alone studying in the UK with its tuition fees way beyond my financial means. If it hadn’t been for the EU, studying English Literature and teaching German to undergrad students at Bangor University would have forever remained a pipe dream. It probably would have also meant that I would not have been introduced to the rich and beautiful literature coming from Wales which formed the basis for my later PhD research.

Without the opportunities given to me by the EU, my life would look very different today. The freedom of movement guaranteed by the EU allowed me to return to the UK during my time as PhD student when I dug my way through the Bangor University Archive and Special Collection, the National Library of Wales and the British Library on multiple occasions. The freedom of movement also meant that I could travel to conferences across Europe while being spared the exasperating experience of applying for visitors’ visas, like my German colleagues who travelled to Russia for their research.

Without the EU, I would most likely not have felt encouraged to pursue work as an academic and I would have missed out on this great international network of intellectual exchange and the building of cultural bridges. Learning Welsh would have been much more difficult, too, as schools providing classes for adult learners are heavily dependent on EU funding. So is the National Library of Wales, one of the main collaborators for the current project, or the museums in Wales with whom I teamed up over the course of the previous two years to create a free travelling exhibition. With the Brexit on all of our doorsteps, it seems these institutions, who already struggle for survival owing to chronic underfunding during these years of austerity, will fade into the inevitable cultural twilight.

I am not a politician and can therefore make no predictions about my future in this country. All I know is that as of Friday, all bets are off and I am looking at setting up a ‘Plan B’ down the road which does not rule out a return to Germany, hoping that I may be able to continue with my research on the culture and history of Wales.

Rena Maguire, Doctoral Scholar, Queen’s University Belfast.

Rena Maguire

“It didn’t take a great deal to convince me, like many involved in higher education, that remaining within the EU was the most beneficial option.”

Had there been a more stable and competent government, I may have voted for an arrangement similar to that of Norway and the EU. I initially kept an open mind on Brexit, and did my research on what the key issues would be for my career, family and quality of life. It didn’t take a great deal to convince me, like many involved in higher education, that remaining within the EU was the most beneficial option. Archaeologists are the international wanderers of academia, with constant global collaboration on shared projects. It’s a facet of the profession I’ve loved – learning and being accepted on a world-wide basis. If anything, all the travel and research has reinforced just how much we all have in common across Europe.

The EU has reciprocated that constant interaction of archaeologists by offering funding to heritage and research sectors. The Times Higher Education supplement of June 24th 2016 placed that funding contribution to UK archaeology as around 28%. Leaving the EU means that effectively we have almost a third less available finance to stimulate new projects, consolidate old ones and create employment. It’s obvious that the Brexit vote will have an extremely negative influence on the education sector of the UK, although with statements from people like Michael Gove, there’s a strong feeling of anti-intellectualism or academic specialisation within those who voted to leave the EU. I can only presume they don’t realise that new research stimulates employment across all sectors, not just academia. Universities have already accepted too many cut-backs and perhaps I am being pessimistic, but cannot see a Far-Right Brexit-led government being far-sighted enough to replace the 28% funding we shall lose from Europe.

I worked in the media before entering academia and if I’m capable of any talent in this, it’s translating the past into something relevant and vibrant for the present, making academic issues accessible to all. People love heritage and archaeology because it is fascinating. But it’s also so important to show how much we have in common. The entire heritage sector feels exceptionally apprehensive at the moment, that we will have no fiscal value under such a Far-Right government. I am lucky in that I am Irish/Northern Irish; my passport is Irish and as such I remain a member of the European Union. I can still work with colleagues in Europe, though I fear I may never be employed in the UK. That 28% will take a terrible toll in jobs, and I suspect my own future waits for me on the Continent – I’ll be one of the new breed of Wild Geese which this political event will generate. I am overwhelmingly sad and angry for UK colleagues who do not have this option. However, I know that universities in the UK will do all they can (especially my alma mater of QUB), so am hopeful – academics are an altruistic lot, and resourceful too. I reckon we just need to keep hoping and teaching to overcome all the vitriol.

Dr. Viviane Gravey, Senior Research Associate, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia.

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“Overnight, the UK is suddenly not such a great place to build a research career anymore.”

As a political scientist working on EU policies and politics, the European Union is not only a potential funder for both my research and that of my colleagues but also the object of my study. As a French citizen living and working in the UK, the European Union not only shapes my professional life but also my private life: rights to work, access the health service, protection against discrimination, right to vote in local and European election. A Brexit puts all of these in question. It will also cast a long shadow on my teaching EU politics in the UK: how will my students, some of whom won’t have been old enough to vote on Thursday, engage with the EU in the coming years and months?

In the last few months I have been involved in efforts by social scientists across the UK to provide facts to voters, trying to raise the profile of environmental issues in this campaign – I am one of these “experts” Michael Gove argued the public is tired of hearing from.  We studied different Brexit scenarios.  We will now have the dubious privilege of seeing whether the environmental protections and rights which we identified as at risk in case of a vote to Leave, will indeed be weakened or removed.  Great for our research, potentially not so great for the environment in the UK…

That someone like me – studying the European Union – is to be affected by Thursday’s vote is really a no-brainer. And while the impacts on my private life and rights will be negative (if I stay in the UK I will be disenfranchised, lose some protections), the vote could open interesting avenues for further research for public policy scholars, as the UK will have to renegotiate so many international agreements and revise so many of its own laws.

I am far less sanguine for my colleagues working in other fields, both hard and social scientists, both from the UK or long-term residents in this country. On Friday, two senior colleagues shared what would normally have been very good news: they had both secured EU Horizon 2020 funding for their research. These grants would effectively pay their wages for part of the year for the next three years. But then, what next? Would these grants be the last EU funding for which they’d be eligible?

The full force of a Brexit impact on research in the UK won’t be felt for many months or even years. For permanent staff, this could mean losing out on cutting edge research funding. For early career researchers on short-term contracts, for PhD students trying to get their first post-docs, this means an even smaller pool of jobs to compete for in the UK. Overnight, the UK is suddenly not such a great place to build a research career anymore, and as we discussed the referendum over coffee, many started openly contemplating continuing their work abroad, be it to the rest of Europe, the US or Commonwealth countries.

Dr. Roberta Guerrina, Reader in Politics, University of Surrey.

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“The outcome is likely to have long-term implications for women across Europe.”

One of the big silences in the recent EU referendum has been the impact of a possible Brexit on British women and European women residing in the UK. Now that the verdict is out, many of us have been left wondering what Brexit actually means for us. Gender equality was never one of the key issues in the Referendum. Now that the UK is facing a new political and economic environment made up of economic and constitutional challenges, it is unlikely to surface at the top of the political agenda. Yet, the outcome is likely to have long-term implications for women across Europe.

 I completed my PhD on the UK and Italian implementation of the 1992 Pregnant Worker Directive many years ago. My understanding of the relationship between national politics and European institutions seems more relevant now than ever. I spent the next twenty years looking at the development of the European equality agenda, and like many others I focused on the shortcomings and unfulfilled promises. This year’s Referendum campaign, however, forced me to look at the EU’s role as a gender actor in a completely different light.

Looking at the relationship between UK equality policies and the EU draws attention to the role and influence of the transnational feminist movement and the importance of finding a platform for women’s rights advocacy beyond the state.  The UK’s withdrawal clearly poses additional obstacles to women’s right organisations seeking to expand the equality agenda at the national level.

The recent economic crisis of 2008 had a detrimental impact on women’s position in the labour market. Austerity policies have weakened women’s position in the public sphere and the official labour market. Key services aimed at women’s activation have been depleted by various rounds of austerity measures.  The crisis allowed policy makers to side-line gender equality in the pursuit of higher political and economic goals.

 The result of the Referendum brings into question the longevity of key equality policies, e.g. maternity rights, introduced to fulfil the requirements of European legislation.  Focus on cutting red tape during the campaign did not address one key issue: equal rights, maternity rights and equal opportunity policies are often seen as red tape by those seeking to liberalise the market.  The UK has a well established body of equality legislation, but in a post-Brexit environment it not clear which institutional structures and mechanisms will be put in place to ensure basic standards are maintained.

 The EU’s role as a gender actor has not lived up to feminists’ expectations. Equality is one of its fundamental values, but there is a growing gulf between rhetoric and reality. The kind of equality agenda produced has been largely driven by economic imperatives. However, it has produced a body of legislation that normalised the idea of gender equality in the labour market. It has provided a platform for feminist organisations to lobby beyond the Member States. It has given space to Femocrats (feminist bureaucrats) to promoting far reaching legislation in the area of pregnancy protection.  The question now for women is: can UK actors/policy agencies fill the void left by European institutions?