Thursday, 28 February 2013


Am currently reviewing Jerry Toner's new book on Roman Disasters for BBC History Magazine. Wont reveal too much of the review content here - should be out in the Magazine in a couple of months - but reading it made me think of the series of Darwin Lectures I co-organised a couple of years ago with Dr Layla Skinns and Tony Cox on the subject of Risk. The Darwin Lecture series is a great inter-disciplinary institution in Cambridge, where a single theme, is, over eight lectures, approached from a variety of disciplines. In Risk in 2010, we had statistics, criminology, astronomy, governance, climate change and classics! Mary Beard took to the stage to think about Risk in the Roman world and about how the language of risk, and of betting, pervaded Roman culture.

The series resulted in a book of essays, which you can find here:

And you can still watch Mary's lecture here:

Look out for when I get hauled up on stage as an unsuspecting candidate in a consultation of the oracles of Astrampsychus! More on them here:

My blog at the time on the experience can be found here:

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Saying it with a few words....

Last week, this article flashed up on twitter:

Its well worth a read - a Professor in the States is putting forward the idea that all PhD candidates, alongside submitting their dissertations (in the UK normally 60-80,000 words but in the US can be much longer), should have to submit a very short (30, 60, 90 seconds) video laying out what their thesis is about.

The idea is to help students explain their own research quickly and succinctly. To me, it sounds like a great idea. Being able to explain what you are working on, your ideas, your arguments, neatly and clearly is a skill we all need in whatever work we do. In a world like academia where we spend long periods of time working on big projects, its perhaps even more important. But it's not just about helping people to explain what they are working on to others. As any one who has had to do this will know, having to explain something to someone else (especially in a concise form) means you have to understand it completely yourself. The very act of working out how to summarise a big project, I have always found, enables you to understand it better than you did before. Making PhD students think about these summaries throughout the course of their PhD, I would argue, could actually help them in their research and in producing a better final product.

On a lighter note, it would also help with the continuing problem when people ask academics what they are working on, and 10 minutes later as their eyes glaze over, rather wish they hadn't..... 'Would you like the 30, 60 or 90 second version' might now be the reply!