A Wee Announcement

You’ve no doubt noticed that things have been very quiet on the blog this year, and my activity even on other blogs like Research the Headlines has also been a bit less than usual.

There’s a very good reason, which I’ve been keeping under wraps for a while.  All of my writing time is being taken up by an exciting new project. In November 2017 I will be delivering the first draft of a textbook to Cambridge University Press, as part of its Astrobiology series.

The book will focus on Fermi’s Paradox, and how the different parts of academia integrate into the search for intelligent life. It’s been really great fun writing this book so far, and a tremendous challenge too. I’m about halfway through, and I’ll be going full tilt into 2017 to get the first draft ready to go in time.

I’ll do my best to keep telling you about my latest publications, but if I’m quiet, it’s because I’m working on something pretty huge. Hopefully this time next year I’ll be able to tweet a picture of the finished manuscript.

Until my next post – Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!


Young Academy of Scotland Launches “Research the Headlines”

Just a quick note to both of my readers that I now blog in more than one place…


I’m an elected member of The Royal Society of Edinburgh‘s Young Academy of Scotland, a unique collection of scientists, artists, researchers, business leaders and civil servants, working to foster creativity, forge new connections and ultimately influence policy in Scotland.  As part of their working group on Media Relations, I am helping to run a new blog addressing how research is portrayed in the media.  Sometimes, a story appears in the news that doesn’t quite reflect what the researchers did or said, or a story grows legs and becomes horribly distorted as it’s passed around social networks.  As an organisation full of Scotland’s best and brightest in a variety of disciplines, the RSE YAS is ideally placed to educate and inform the public about the truth behind the presses.

If you want to know more, come visit us at researchtheheadlines.org, or follow @ResTheHeadlines (you can find us on facebook and Google+ as well).  Our team of bloggers will be updating the site several times a week with stories that catch our eye, but we want to hear from you too! If you have a news story that you want to know more about (did scientists really implant a false memory in a mouse brain?) or you just want to engage with Scotland’s creme de la creme, then post a comment or message us!

Can Academia Be Simulated?

After last week’s great Astronomy Journal Club conversation, a thought has been rattling around my brain. We discussed the current career situation in astronomy, which is evolving in a direction most are unhappy about / unnerved by. There were calls for the system to be consciously redesigned to produce a steady state, where the total number of PhD students entering academia is somehow balanced by professors retiring.

My thought is this: to design such a steady state, which will depend strongly on demographic changes and economic turbulence, surely simulations of the system are needed.

I’m thinking about developing an agent-based simulation of the academic career progression (if Ken is reading, it won’t be during office hours!), but I’m interested in canvassing opinion. Is this a good idea? What variables would need to be tracked – gender, age, relationship status?

Feel free to tweet me or leave a comment – I look forward to hearing your suggestions!