Using a ‘Big Brother’ Approach to Help Combat TB in Badgers and Cattle

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Badgers are a very common mammal in Ireland, but few of us have actually seen one of these iconic creatures in the wild. That’s because they are nocturnal, mostly coming out of their setts only at night to forage, patrol their territories and meet the opposite sex.

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They have found themselves at the centre of unwanted attention in the UK over the past few years as a result of controversial culls, which have been designed to reduce the threat of their spreading tuberculosis (TB, caused by Mycobacterium bovis) to cattle. In addition to criticism from animal welfare groups, the culls have received mixed support from the scientific community. Here at Trinity College we are using tracking technology to find out how best to implement a far happier solution.

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We have teamed up with researchers from the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM) and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to use the latest technology to track badgers in Wicklow. We’ve put collars carrying satellite tracking devices on more than 60 badgers, which automatically pinpoints their location at least four times during the night. The study has been running for four years now, building up one of the largest data sets of badger movements ever collected.

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But what is all this surveillance for? Why are we so keen to know where badgers go and who they meet?

Badgers carry TB, which they can transmit to other badgers and other wild or domestic animals including cattle. That’s a problem for the farmers who have to kill any cattle which get TB to protect the rest of us. But it’s not clear how exactly the disease transmission between badgers and cattle takes place – whether the badgers have to be very close to the cattle, or inside a building, or whether the cattle can catch it from badger bedding, faeces, or urine left in the pasture. This is one of the questions the badger tracking may help to answer.

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We get detailed information on how often badgers enter farmyards, and have evidence that they actively avoid a field when cattle are grazing in it. In addition, we now know how far badgers move each night, where they go – and how that changes with the seasons – so we can work out how quickly the disease can spread.

Finally, this should help us to work out the best way to get a vaccine against TB into all the badgers in each social group. Badgers in Ireland have a dominant male and female living together with their cubs from the previous year, and just about now, cubs are born. We want to deliver the vaccine to the badgers in food, rather than having to inject it, which is obviously much easier for us and nicer for the badgers. However if you just put out a pile of baits then the dominant male will probably eat the lot, and the rest of the group will go unvaccinated. So knowing who goes where, and at what times of year, will also help us design a baiting system, which will give every badger a reasonable chance at getting some vaccine.

In essence, our badger surveillance is all in a good cause, and we hope it may help in the battle against TB both in cattle and in badgers.

The research project will feature on RTE’s Living The Wildlife with Colin Stafford-Johnson this Tuesday 31st of March at 7pm (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4ZIIQ-Z-BY).  Be sure to tune in to find out more about our work.

Author: Dr Nicola Marples

Research Team: Nicola Marples (TCD), Margaret Goode (DAFM), Teresa MacWhite (DAFM), Peter Maher (DAFM), Enda Mullen (NPWS), David Kelly (TCD), Aoibheann Gaughran (TCD).

Photo credits: Aoibheann Gaughran & Peter Maher

Evolution is – surprise! – Darwinian!

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I sometime come across papers that I missed during their publication time and that shed a new light on my current research (or strengthen the already present light). Today it was Cartmill’s 2012 Evolutionary Anthropology – not open access, apologies…

Cartmill raises an interesting question from an evolutionary point of view: “How long ago did the first [insert your favorite taxa here] live?”. This question is crucial for any macroevolutionary study (or/and for the sake of getting a chance to be published in Nature). If one is studying the “rise of the age of mammals” (just for example of course) the question of the exact timing is crucial to see whether placental mammals evolved after or before the extinction of avian dinosaurs.

Because Cartmill published in Evolutionary Anthropology let’s replace [insert your favorite taxa here] with humans. He proposes to answer to the question “How long ago did the first humans live?” by looking at the different ways people have addressed it through time. It all starts back with Simpson’s quantum evolution stating that clades share “adaptive shifts” or “adaptive trends”. For example, for humans, that will be bipedalism and an increase in brain size: “Everybody can sort humans out instantly from other sorts of things: […] they share a unique reliance on technology, a capacity for culture, and a gift for gab.”

This is an unfortunate classical view of evolution based on morphological data leading to a series of morphological discontinuities – the adaptive shifts (“human origins, primate origins, mammal origins, amniote origins, and so on” – I already discussed this gradualistic view about tetrapod origins). Cartmill uses a pertinent quote from Simpson to comment this trend: “Is this not, in fact, simply a recrudescence of the old naïve conception of a scala naturae[?]”. However, this raises a cladistic problem. Assuming we have the data on the oldest human. What defines his or her humanness? “Humanness [whatever that means] is not a coherent package. We have known since the 1960s that our terrestrial bipedality evolved more than two million years before the onset of what was long held to be the fundamental human characteristic, that is the great development of the brain.’’

Cartmill’s point is that, morphologically, there is no adaptive shift or trend that can define any group. Morphological evolution acts more like a succession of slow and discrete incremental changes rather than the Simpsonian quantum model: “there is only a long, geologically slow cascade of accumulating small apomorphies” and adaptive trends or shifts within clades “are fantasies, born ultimately of our wish to see ourselves as more decisively set off from other animals than we actually are.”

Will I have to rethink my current project looking at mammals morphological evolution? Well by using molecular data as well as morphological data we can accurately trace back the small incremental changes (the DNA mutations) as well as the actual changes in morphology through time. My PhD is not just a series of failures after all!

Author

Thomas Guillerme: guillert[at]tcd.ie, @TGuillerme

Photo credit

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_chain_of_being#/media/File:Human_pidegree.jpg

Is the medium a monster?

Jurassic_Park_poster“Dinosaurs have become boring. They’re a cliché. They’re overexposed” – Stephen Jay Gould

Dinosaurs have always been inextricably linked to popular culture. Despite going extinct 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period they pervade our society. Dinosaur exhibits are the main attractions of natural history museums and outside of this setting, they can be found in films, documentaries, books, toy shops etc. A new discovery of one of these animals frequently adorns our newspapers. Even the word dinosaur has entered our everyday language as a metaphor to describe something as hopelessly outdated. Because of this pervasiveness there seems to be an implicit assumption among science communicators that dinosaurs “sugar-coat the pill of knowledge” but I’ve often wondered about the exact role these animals play in helping scientists communicate their subject. Perhaps they’re viewed by the public as little more than monsters, no more educational than dragons or the abominable snowman.

The well known science populariser and palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote an article about the nature of ‘Dinomania’ for the New York Review of Books around the time of the release of the film version of Jurassic Park. His article is wide ranging, exploring how dinosaurs have become so popular and asking if the excitement surrounding them at that time was just a fad; the result of cynical commercialisation. The most pertinent point he raises is the effect that such commercialisation has had on science communication efforts, “ In the past decade, nearly every major or minor natural history museum has succumbed (not always unwisely) to two great commercial temptations: to sell many scientifically worthless, and often frivolous, or even degrading, dinosaur products in their gift shops; and to mount, at high and separate admissions charges, special exhibits of colorful robotic dinosaurs that move and growl but (so far as I have ever been able to judge) teach nothing of scientific value about these animals.” He concedes that such animatronics would be useful if they were integrated with other educational exhibits but bemoans the fact that they are often separated from the rest of the exhibit entirely.

A further point he raises is that of the antagonistic relationship that has resulted from ‘dinomania’. He explains how, “Dinomania dramatizes a conflict between institutions with disparate purposes—museums and theme parks. Museums exist to display authentic objects of nature and culture—yes, they must teach; and yes, they may certainly include all manner of computer graphics and other virtual displays to aid in this worthy effort; but they must remain wed to authenticity”.

But if we look at the history of dinosaurs they ‘escaped’ into the public sphere almost as soon as they were discovered. They were never contained solely within the purview of science and scientists. The Victorian anatomist Richard Owen who gave dinosaurs their name collaborated with the artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins in creating the first models of these animals. The Great Exhibition of London at Crystal Palace in 1854 displayed these sculptures to the public who were astounded. Pictures, posters and replicas of the sculptures were made available to the public. Certainly, commercialisation was no recent addition.

And 22 years after the release of Jurassic Park dinosaurs are still as prominent as ever, so it seems ‘dinomania’ was no flash in the pan. My own view is that these animals are an excellent means of showing the wonder of science and nature to people, often acting as a gateway to science especially among children.  Yes they may be cynically marketed and there are many inaccurate representations of dinosaurs but undoubtedly even these have evolved. The Tyrannosaurus of Jurassic Park is a much more accurate representation of the animal than the version who fought King Kong 60 years earlier. It appears that dinosaurs are well-placed to both educate and entertain with neither component mutually exclusive. The final words go to palaeontologist Bob Bakker:

“Interest in dinosaurs is not a fad. Dinosaurs are nature’s special effects, extraordinary monsters that were created not by a Hollywood computer-animation shop but by the natural forces of evolution.”

Author: Adam Kane, kanead[at]tcd.ie, @P1zPalu

Photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jurassic_Park_%28film%29#/media/File:Jurassic_Park_poster.jpg

A Day in the Life of a PhD Student

nine_to_fiveWe thought it might be interesting to share what the daily life of a PhD student actually looks like. So here are three perspectives on the average day.

Adam

A typical day for me begins between 8 and 9. I start out by checking my emails for correspondence and any interesting new papers that have been published. You typically have content alerts set up to send directly to your email account. As the blog administrator, I often upload new posts to our site in the morning.

I’ll usually be in the middle of composing a paper given that this is the main part of a PhD student’s work. This has three aspects to it, reading, writing and coding. I don’t adhere to a rigid timetable day by day, instead I’ll just pick one of the three that I’m interested in doing at the time.

I take a break at 11 and 1 where I talk to my friends about work as well as shooting the breeze. I work until 5 or 6 most days and if I begin to flag in the afternoon with doing research I’ll try my hand at writing a blog post. I share my office with four other people so the idea of the lonely academic is definitely not applicable in my case.

Thomas

Fortunately my day does not only consist of writing papers and analysing data! In fact I spend also a good amount of time doing rather chilled out stuff (such as drinking coffee, reading/writing sciency blogs, checking conferences or trendy papers on twitter or reading/writing emails). I also spend some nice hours chatting with my colleagues, whether it is at lunch break or in the office and whether it is about the last Hobbit movie or the simplest algorithm to match names in a phylogeny.

The “purely productive” aspects that can lead to a publications are actually constantly fed by the “less productive” ones (such as chatting around or reading stuff) and I’m always glad that these are not mutually exclusive parts of my day to day PhD life.

Deirdre

My typical day is very similar to those of Adam and Thomas above but, as my PhD is very empirically based I also have bursts of field, outdoor and lab based experiment days so, to be different, here is what a day in the field (doing freshwater work) for me is like:

Typically I get up sinfully early, pile on as many layers as I can and head out in the (hopefully preloaded) van for a long drive to the field site with my field buddy of the day.

We’d spend anything from 2- 4 hours at the different sites collecting algae and invertebrate samples from our cages, usually pausing for a slightly soggy cheese sandwich in the middle or to chat to curious a passer-by. On clear weather days this can be lovely and you see all sorts of beautiful country and wildlife but the rain makes everything take twice as long- especially when you need to see below the water surface. Not all bad though, on one of these rainy cold days our bedraggled selves were invited in for tea and scones to one of the lakeside houses. Then it’s a long drive back, trying to do some water filtering and sample sorting on the winding country roads. Usually, depending how late we get back, then there is the unloading of the van and lugging all of the samples to the cold room for storage.  Fieldwork is great fun though; it lets you see the country and bump into all kinds of creatures and characters.

Authors: Adam Kane, Thomas Guillerme, Deirdre McClean

Photo credit: http://www.blogmarketingacademy.com/which-is-more-secure-the-9-5-job-or-self-employment/

War of the Words – The Conflict between Science and Journalism, Part 2

Extra-Extra-Read-All-About-ItIn a previous post I outlined some potential areas of conflict between scientists and the journalists who are reporting on research. Here I want to continue my look at this relationship. First off let’s start by looking at some surprising results from the social science literature which show that more often than not scientific findings are accurately reported.

One study by Peters et al. (2008) reported, “interactions between scientists and journalists are more frequent and smooth than previously thought.” Another study, this time of science coverage in the Italian press, found that “There is almost invariable agreement between the author of the article and the sources” (Bucchi and Mazzolini 2003). The authors of the latter paper go on to state that, “This predominantly positive tone of science coverage, documented also by other studies of the daily press, is again in contrast with many critical stereotypes and contributions.”

There is a paradox apparent in all of this. How is it that the majority of scientists are happy with the journalistic interpretation of their studies and yet journalists are portrayed as constantly reporting the science inaccurately? Celeste Condit (2004) reports that “It was all too natural for critics [of the media] to notice and reprint examples of egregious reporting, portraying these as typical of the rapidly burgeoning area of genetics reporting.”

We should be aware that the general claim from scientists that journalists simplify scientific data could be levelled at scientists themselves. The final Nature paper tells a story without mention of any bumps on the road. Peter Medawar recognised as much when he asked “is the scientific paper a fraud?” Of course every scientific paper cuts out the difficulties encountered and smooths the rough edges.

This seems to be the answer to the question of conflict; a select few examples of sloppy journalism are used to criticise science journalism as a whole. It appears to be the case that many of the criticisms of science journalists are unwarranted.

But is this relationship something we should want? I would argue that it may not be entirely beneficial. Of course it is important that scientific work isn’t misrepresented and that there are many findings of science that ought to be celebrated but a critical article on some body of research may often be justified. As Phillip Ball says, “Making scientists happy is not the aim of science journalism…” Murcott (2009) believes science journalists’ dependence on sources makes them different to other journalists. “You could say that this is not exactly a description of a journalist — more that of a priest, taking information from a source of authority and communicating it to the congregation.” I would agree with this point and his conclusions that “The ‘priesthood’ model of science journalism needs to be toppled.”

Of course there are problems if this model is to change because as he points out “The time pressures on journalists today do not bode well for calls for more depth, context and criticism” (Murcott 2009). Colin Macilwain (2010) echoes these views and says “Scientists and the media are trapped in a cosy relationship that benefits neither. They should challenge each other more.” Naturally, researchers do not want “to be held to account by the press.” Macilwain advocates more dedicated journalistic coverage that criticises science in a way that other journalistic beats do. “Reporters and editors could then engage with sets of findings and associated issues of real societal importance in the news pages, asking the hard questions about money, influence and human frailty that much of today’s science journalism sadly ignores”.

One trend that is likely to increase conflict is the decline in the number of specialised science reporters. PZ Myers, a scientist and active blogger says “the problem with science journalism…is that too often newspapers think you don’t need a science journalist to write it. Any ol’ hack will do.” (Myers 2010). I would contend that as newspapers assign non-specialist reporters to their science beat the number of instances of bias, misrepresentation, inaccuracies etc. will rise.

It should be noted that scientists have a role to play in this too. If specialised science reporters disappear scientists will have to recognise this and be sympathetic if and when they deal with a journalist who is relatively ignorant of the science. In this way there will be less room for inaccuracy and misrepresentation. I would agree with the conclusions of a piece in the journal Nature that scientists by working with journalists can “ensure that journalism programmes include some grounding in what science is, and how the process of experiment, review and publication actually works” (Nature 2009).

The current relationship that science journalists have with their sources means that, although there is room for conflict, it is far from inevitable. Indeed, it seems that Colin Macilwain’s concept of a “cosy relationship” is a more accurate representation. In conclusion I would suggest that there are two forms of conflict that can occur between science journalists and their sources. There is the ‘watchdog approach’ whereby journalists are skeptical of their sources, investigate their motives and question their research. This, I would argue, is something that society should have even if it generates some friction between journalist and source. The second area of conflict is that which occurs when journalists misrepresent, misquote and inaccurately report the science. This, of course, is not something anyone wants.

Author: Adam Kane, kanead[at]tcd.ie

Photo credit: http://gloucesterconcordes.ca/welcome/extra-extra-read-all-about-it/

References

Anderson, A Peterson, A David, M. (2005). Communication or spin? Source-media relations in science journalism. In, Allan, S Journalism, critical issues. England, Open University Press. p. 188-198.

Ball, P. (2008). When reporters attack. Nature. 321, p.204-205.

Bubela, T Caulfield, T. (2004). Do the print media “hype” genetic research? A comparison of newspaper stories and peer-reviewed research papers. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 170 (9), p. 1399-1407.

Bucchi, M. Mazzolini, R. G. (2003). Big science, little news, science coverage in the Italian daily press, 1946–1997. Public Understanding of Science. 12. p. 7-24.

Condit, C. (2004). Science reporting to the public, Does the message get twisted? Canadian Medical Association Journal. 170 (9), p. 1415-1416.

Conrad, P. (1999). Uses of expertise, sources, quotes, and voice in the reporting of genetics in the news. Public Understanding of Science. 8, 285-302.

Dickson, D. (2005). The case for a ‘deficit model’ of science communication. Available, http,//www.scidev.net/en/editorials/the-case-for-a-deficit-model-of-science-communic.html.

Goldacre, B. (2005). Don’t dumb me down. Available, http,//www.guardian.co.uk/science/2005/sep/08/badscience.research.

Hansen, A. (1994). Journalistic practices and science reporting in the British press. Public Understanding of Science. 3, 111-134.

Ipsos MORI. (2009). Doctors Remain Most Trusted Profession. Available, http,//www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/poll.aspx?oItemId=2478.

Macilwain, C. (2010). Calling science to account. Nature. 463, p. 875.

Medawar, P. (1964). ‘Is the scientific paper a fraud?’ Available, http,//contanatura-hemeroteca.weblog.com.pt/arquivo/medawar_paper_fraud.pdf.

Murcott, T. (2009). Science journalism, Toppling the priesthood. Nature. 459 (7250), p. 1054-1055.

Myers, P.Z. (2010). The problem with science journalism…. Available, http,//scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/03/the_problem_with_science_journ.php.

Nature. (2009). Cheerleader or watchdog? Nature. 459 (7250), p. 1033.

Nelkin, D. (1996) Medicine and the media, An uneasy relationship, the tensions between medicine and the media. The Lancet. 347 (9015). p. 1-10.

Peters, H.,P. Brossard, D. de Cheveigné, S. Dunwoody, S. Kallfass ,M. Miller, S. Tsuchida, S. (2008). Interactions with the Mass Media. Science. 321 (5886), p.204-205.

Do you speak Yamnaya?

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_editedI bet you do!

One nice non-biological thing you can do with phylogenetics (unlike beers) is study the evolution of languages. If you aren’t familiar with evolutionary linguistics, it’s basically the same principles that we use to study the descent with modification of organisms but applied to words. Even though words do not evolve in a biological way, we can still apply similar phylogenetic principles by just adjusting the evolutionary models.

OK but let’s go back to my assumption (that you do speak Yamnaya). Since you are reading this blog post that I’m trying to write in English, you do speak English which is part of the linguistic family (or clade) called the Indo-European that consists of the vast majority of the European and Indian languages spoken by a good 3 billion people (as the name originally suggests- check this excellent visual phylogenetic summary). Even though it is not straightforward to see the similarities between Icelandic and Indi, evolutionary linguistics suggest that both languages have diverged from the same language based on words and grammar similarities. This language, generically called proto-Indo-European is estimated to have originated either around 9000 years ago in the Middle-East and spread across India and Europe along with agriculture (the ‘Anatolian hypothesis’). Or, a second theory postulates its origin around 5000 years ago on the northern shores of the Black Sea and its subsequent spread along with horse riding and wheeled transport (the ‘steppe hypothesis’).

Until last month, both hypotheses were lacking data to explain some crucial temporal problems: the proto-Indo-European language contains words related to wheeled vehicles which were not invented 9000 years ago therefore potentially falsifying the ‘Anatolian hypothesis’. However, DNA studies did support it with a common ancestral population to Indo-European speakers dated around 9000 years ago. Also on the DNA side, no clear evidence for population dispersion was available for supporting a later origin and faster spread of the proto-Indo-European (the ‘steppe hypothesis’).

But that was only until this month: a recent paper by Haak along with his 39 co-authors preprinted in BioRxiv provides evidence for a common ancestral population that originated in the Ukraine and spread at into northern and western Europe. This population links in space and time with the Yamnaya culture around 4000-5000 years ago suggesting that Yamnaya was close to the proto-Indo-European culture. Even though if the ‘Anatolian hypothesis’ cannot be excluded, this new paper strongly suggests that at least the European branch of the Indo-European language originated from the Yamnaya culture (see Extended Data Figure 5 p.32 and its legend p.27 of the preprint pdf for a nice visual summary).

Therefore it is likely enough that Yamnaya was the origin of most European languages and that it spread rapidly through northern and western Europe probably due to technical advancements in transport. I find evolutionary linguistic always amazing when you can state that you wrote/read a blog post in a derived Yamnaya language: English.

Author: Thomas Guillerme, guillert[at]tcd.ie

Photo credit: wikimedia commons

An obituary to Leonard Nimoy

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Being a Trekkie for as long as I can remember, Friday’s news of the passing of Leonard Nimoy certainly saddened me. Even though I have moved on and haven’t really followed Star Trek since the original airing of Deep Space Nine back in the late nineties, it had a profound impact on my life, including my decision to go into science.

Nimoy’s most famous role, Mr. Spock, probably was the most iconic of the original, if not all, Enterprise crew. His impact on modern science can be seen as profound, since you’ll have a hard time, especially in physics and astrophysics, finding any scientist who isn’t a fan of the show. And the claim that Star Trek, especially Mr. Spock’s logical and analytical mind, his ability to ignore emotion when trying to understand and solve a problem, has had a major impact in scientists’ career choices, I dare say, is not a rare one. It is no surprise that even a space shuttle was named after the famous starship.

While most technological references fall into the field of physics and other future technology, the show has always took a stance for both humanity and the environment. Values, that even in Mr. Spock’s logical mind were important to uphold.

While Mr. Spock is only a fictional character, Leonard Nimoy made him what he was, giving him life and on the other side letting Spock influence his own personality. Therefore I think it is fair to say that the impact Mr Spock and Star Trek had on modern science is not in a small part Nimoy’s personal achievement. He certainly influenced my life and my decision to become a scientist, and for that I am very grateful.

Leonard Nimoy died on February 27th in Los Angeles, California at the age of 83.

Author

Jesko Zimmermann, zimmerjr[at]tcd.ie

Photo credit

http://wiki.call-cc.org/eggref/4/spock

What do professors do?

(c) Cuneo Estate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Whenever I go home I repeatedly deal with the age old question non-academics ask academics: what do you actually do? I always find this a tricky question no matter who asks. Some people have tried to make it easier by asking me to describe a typical day or week, but this doesn’t really help as it changes a lot from week to week! In 2014 I attended five conferences and two workshops, did two weeks of fieldwork in (cold and wet!) Madagascar, and gave four seminars at different universities. I also worked on at least ten completely different research projects with different groups of people. Most weeks I’d work on one of those at least a little. But other than the research, I don’t really have an “average” week. Most weeks I’ll attend NERD club, and a meeting (or five) and I usually interact with my PhD students to some degree. But the exact details depend on the time of year (exam season/term term/outside term time), and where I am with projects, grant deadlines etc. So instead of specifically telling you what *I* do, I’ve compiled a list of the kinds of activities professors/lecturers are involved in.

Professor/lecturer jobs are often split into three areas: research, teaching and admin. However, I prefer to think of it in the same terms as on our promotion forms: research, teaching, service to your institution and service to the community. Admin sadly forms part of all of these things, like a layer of really horrible jam sticking together the cake of academia. All of these things also seem to involve a lot of emailing. If you defined my job by what I spend most time on, I’m probably a professional emailer…

Research includes fieldwork, lab work, analyses, coding/programming, planning future projects, managing finances, supervising PhD students and postdocs, writing press releases, reading papers/books, writing papers/books, writing blog posts about research, grant writing (this is the worst!), attending conferences, networking, writing reports, attending journal clubs etc.

Teaching includes giving lectures and tutorials, supervising labs, preparing lectures and labs, getting materials for labs, setting and grading essays, supervising projects and desk studies, giving careers advice, writing reference letters, putting teaching materials online, arranging timetables and room bookings (and dealing with the inevitable mix-ups that occur), providing extra reading, marking exams, invigilating, checking attendance, advising students who are experiencing difficulties, being a personal tutor etc.

Service to your institution includes sitting on committees, acting as Director or Dean of some administrative entity, promoting the institution via social media and/or traditional media, helping at Open Days, organising seminar series, providing graduate student training, internal examining theses, interacting with alumni, organising journal club, being a representative at meetings (e.g. Athena SWAN, departmental, Faculty etc… ad infinitum).

Service to the broader scientific community includes teaching on workshops, creating online tutorials, reviewing papers, being a journal editor, sitting on society committees, organising conferences/symposia/workshops, giving seminars at other institutions, organising outreach events, writing advice based blog posts, grant reviewing, organising cross-institution journal clubs etc.

There are probably many more, but this is what we came up with in half an hour!

As you can see it’s a pretty diverse job! Strangely we are mostly trained as PhD students and postdocs to do research, some service to the broader community and a little bit of teaching. This is worth bearing in mind when deciding whether a career as a professor/lecturer is right for you, as research is definitely only part of the job (at some times of year it’s very difficult to do any research at all!). However, many of the additional duties are really interesting and fun, and things like teaching and supervising students are really rewarding.

These are quite general things we do as professors/lecturers. But hopefully this is helpful if you’ve ever wondered why we’re always moaning about being busy! One final point – in general, professors/lecturers *do not* get the summer off work. My ex’s mother was convinced that I had the best job in the world because I only had to work from late Sept to June. If only that were true!

Author

Natalie Cooper
nhcooper123

Photo credit

Cuneo estate / Bridgeman Images
The Royal Institution