An academic’s letter to Santa

Philip Moriarty shares his Christmas wish list after taking on recommendations from the elf review panel 

December 24, 2018
Santa checking list with reindeer

Dear Santa,

I know I’m well past the deadline to submit this annual report and request, but if you’d seen the sackful of papers I’ve just finished grading, you’d understand. I’ve been a very good boy over the past 12 months, securing a substantial rise in my Student Evaluation of Excelling in Excellent Performance in Teaching Excellence scores and establishing a new programme of research on a topic of particular interest to your team: Sleighed: under what loads can reindeer achieve speeds of 100 mph or more? 

Our sponsor is eagerly awaiting snowfall so we can test the latest developments in our state-of-the-art sleigh technology. The impact component of this case is particularly exciting, and we’re looking forward to rolling out the results in the New Year.         

I very much hope that I make it past the elf review panel this time. As you may recall, elf #3 strongly recommended me for the naughty list last time around. (Yes, the feedback on that particular piece of student coursework was perhaps less restrained than it could have been. But, in my defence, 39 comma splices in a single paragraph would push anyone over the edge.)

I have also followed the sage advice of your elves and have substantially reduced the number of presents requested on my list this year. While I don’t agree with the elf panel’s suggestion that I was vigorously over-egging the pudding last year, I’ll admit that I was perhaps a little bit too full of Christmas spirit at the time I was writing the letter. (You’ll be pleased to note that the five-star doggy hotel holiday for Maxwell, my Maltese, is not on the list this year.)

I have only four items on my wish list this year, Santa. Fingers crossed that at least one of these is going to appear below the tree this year. (And no fobbing me off with a subscription to Times Higher Education again.)

1. 4* Paper Detector

I’ve yet to get a definitive answer from anyone, at any level, in any institution, at any time on what definitively defines a 4* paper in the research excellence framework. No, it’s not the impact factor of the journal in which it’s published, they’ll say. Nor is it the name of the journal, or its perceived prestige. Nor is it the number of citations. Apparently, it’s all about research quality – the panel members actually read the papers and they know quality when they see it. I need a 4* Paper Detector this year, Santa, so I can see what they see.  

2. Corporate-Speak De-bollockifierTM

Please, Santa – I really, really, really need the De-bollockifier this year so that I can translate the torrents of nonsense that arrive in my inbox every day into honest-to-goodness English. “Engaging our stakeholders in innovative synergies, going forward, by expressing our USP in an environment where excellence is paramount…” Arrrggghh! Make it stop! 

3. League Table Legends board game (with all-new Metrics Massager)

This is both a fun and educational present, Santa. I’ll be able to learn all about the bells, whistles, tricks and japes that make university league tables such an exciting part of the higher education landscape. Players can choose a university and manage it to maximise its league table ranking. No need to bother with all that old school 20th century stuff like trusting staff and providing an environment in which they can flourish. No, just rely on massaging the metrics until they bleed. It’s worth hours of entertainment!

4. “When I Were A Lad…” box set

(Forty-eight two-hour DVDs, narrated by Jordan B. Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, in his own inimitable style.) I’ve got to be honest, Santa, this one’s not for me. It’s for my somewhat more jaded and knackered colleagues who – despite all evidence to the contrary – point to those halcyon days of yore when men were real men; women were real women; and students would rise at dawn to do triple integrals, vector calculus and eigenvalue problems before breakfast, all while debating the merits of a Keynesian approach to fiscal policy as they composed their latest symphony.

Your friend,


Philip Moriarty is a professor of physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Nottingham

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Reader's comments (1)

Perfect! I hope you - we all get these presents! (I'm trying to ignore the depressing truths of it all ----).