Even I don’t know where I am Saturday, Oct 28 2006 

The last two weeks have been a blur. Reasons why I’ve been unable to blog (or work effectively) include:

  • Losing a weekend to drinking too many margaritas with friends, sleeping it off, then going back for more the next day.
  • Driving 2000km in three days, all to sit an admissions test for something I’ve decided  don’t want to do any more.
  • Having a rather unpleasant virus make its way through my family so that, after spending a few days nursing kids back to health, I ended up flat on my back as well.

Anyway, I’ve managed to get out of bed and stay out of it for a few hours now. Hopefully I’m getting back on track.

Round and round and round we go Friday, Oct 13 2006 

Queen of West Procrastination is at the opposite end of the same gut-wrenching process I just completed. Mind you, I’m already circling around for another pass – I am approaching the end of “early career researcher” eligibility and so I have the extra pressure of not wanting to miss the opportunity to be considered in that group. Not that I am sure there is any advantage in it – it’s a subset of the applicant pool competing for a subset of the funding pool, so it all depends on the relative size of those two things.

The question I keep returning to is how many papers I could manage to write in the time it will take to organise an application. My teaching and administrative loads are pretty much fixed, so an taking on a funding application means diverting time away from another research activity, family time, recreation, or sleep. And I like all of those things.

Episode II: Revenge of the Spam Thursday, Oct 12 2006 

After yesterday’s post, it seems the Gods of Spam are intent on hurting me. I am being bombarded with messages that are getting past the filter this morning. Add to that the fact that the messages I tried to release from quarantine have not arrived and I’m on my way to Bizarro World.

“I think I can, I think I can” Thursday, Oct 12 2006 

As a companion to the name I have chosen for this blog, I am going to refer to the institution I inhabit as “The Little University That Could” – TLU for short. The name comes not because it is especially small in terms of student numbers, but because of its place in relation to the Australian University hierarchy.

In Australia, there are reasonably distinct classes of universities – in fact, in recent years there have been some suggestions that these classes should be made explicit by assigning universities to specific roles (e.g., teaching-only) or groupings. The story starts with the “sandstones”, universities that were formed around the beginning of the 20th century. This group consists of not more than one or two in each capital city. There are then institutions that have been around for a reasonable period (four or more decades as a university), often being converted from a technology institute. Again, most of these are based in the heart of the capital cities.

Then there are the “young” universities. These are institutions that were established in recent decades, usually with the aim of improving access to university education. Many of these have been formed by converting one or more Colleges of Advanced Education, teachers’ colleges, or other tertiary education services into a university. Generally, they are located in the outer suburbs of the capital cities or in regional centres.

TLU falls into this latter group. It is a university that is based outside the capital cities in one of the Eastern states of Australia. As a young university that has grown out of non-university heritage, it tends not to attract large amounts of research funding or the cream of the student crop. In my view it also struggles to find a meaningful identity – it wants to be a university but does not quite know how to manage it. Part of this probably stems from the fact that at least some of those who are in senior positions have been here since before it was a university and may not have experience of how other universities operate. Part of it is a result of a history, geography, and economics. But it all means that things never seem to run quite smoothly.

What this place does well is serve its geographical region. Students who might never have gone to university before, because it would have involved moving from a small town to the middle of a major city, are now getting a chance to earn a degree. We serve our community quite well.

So, that is a brief introduction to where I work. I expect I will be saying a lot more about it on this blog as times marches on.

Spam soup Wednesday, Oct 11 2006 

I just had to go trawling through my quarantined messages because the spam filter on our Exchange server became a bit overzealous. Reading 33 uninterrupted pages of spam subject headings feels a little like wading through a sewer. Ick.

Poop Wednesday, Oct 11 2006 

The major national (non-medical) research grants for next year were announced today. I missed out (along with around 80% of applicants).

Battlestar Galactica Tuesday, Oct 10 2006 

I have only seen the first series of the new Battlestar Galactica on DVD, but the sheer intelligence and relevance of the stories it tells has struck me like no other show. It seems I’m not the only one – people are talking about the value of BSG as social commentary at Crooked Timber, seedlings, and even Entertainment Weekly. The analysis of the conflict between Colonials and Cylons as it relates to the United States, Iraq, terrorism and World War II is a testament to the contribution good television can make to the level of debate in our society, and is a refreshing break from the overload of reality TV and the expanding rotation of “another week, another crime” police procedurals (remember when John Munch was a character?). Ron Moore has created a setting that starts with a fairly basic and well-trodden premise (machines turn on their creators and war between the “races” ensues) but is using it as a platform to examine a sophisticated set of issues. Anyone who likes science fiction probably already watches it, but the fact is that anyone with a brain should get into this show.

States are accountable to who? Tuesday, Oct 10 2006 

Julie Bishop seems to think the States and Territories need to satisfy the Commonwealth that they are spending their education budget wisely:

In the last funding round the Australian Government provided $33 billion to States and Territories to run their schools, and I believe that the Australian taxpayers would expect us to make the States and Territories accountable for that investment.

We already have accountability – state government elections.

Where are the boundaries? Tuesday, Oct 10 2006 

In setting up this blog, one of the issues I have been grappling with is what I can comfortably talk about and what I can’t. For various reasons (some of them stemming from things I mentioned in the previous entry), I want to keep distance between this blog and my professional life. I want to be able to talk about issues here that I would have to navigate much more carefully in the real life.

This is not exactly a unique situation among academic bloggers – most of the blogs I read are pseudonymous, with the blogger using nicknames to identify colleagues, relatives, friends, institutions and locations. However, most of these blogs also tend to be American. Now my understanding of the United States is that it has an abundance of people and cities, and there are more than a few providers of higher education. In these circumstances, a blogger can indicate their geographical region, type of educational institution, discipline area, while remaining one of hundreds of people within all of those specific conditions.

On the other hand, my situation is a little different. Australia has around 40 universities. Given some basic information about the geographical and social conditions a person lives in, the set of universities they might work at could generally be reduced to no more than five. For instance, there are only a few cities with more than a million people (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide), each with a different physical climate and each with only a few universities. The smaller cities with universities (Canberra, Newcastle, Hobart, etc.) are spread around the country, each with their own unique geographical circumstances. Then there are the regional universities, of which there tend to be only a few in each state, and which are again likely to differ in terms of geography and climate.

So, the minute I provide information about the type of university I work at, my specialisation, talk about the weather a few times, and mention any trips I take and give details of how (and how long) I had to travel to get there, I’ll be fairly easily identifiable to anyone who happens to care. Now I could rely on the possible that few people will, but I’d prefer to feel comfortable that I can speak freely here without risk of it coming back to bite me. So, I plan to take some precautions regarding who I am and where I come from:

  • I don’t intend to indicate my area of specialisation and will (hopefully) not directly reveal my discipline of origin. I certainly will not be talking about topics in my area of research and professional interest on this blog.
  • I will give a general indication of my geographical location, but in a way that shouldn’t be sufficient to identify the specific institution I work for.
  • Pseudonyms will abound.

I’ll start giving some autobiographical details in entries to come.

Why the blog? Tuesday, Oct 10 2006 

  • Because I want to have a place to talk about whatever’s happening in and around my life – work, family, recreation, news, etc.
  • Because it allows me to make disclosures, seek advice, put my opinions out into the public domain, while keeping boundaries (of my choosing) around my personal and professional space.
  • Because it gives me an identity that I can use to participate in online discussions and communities – an “online me” that overlaps with but can be distinct from “real world me”.
  • Because all the cool kids are, apparently, doing it.
  • Because I feel like it.

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