That’s just weird!

Matthew Reisz wanders down some of the odder byways of the university scene

August 3, 2016
Glass pigs are far from the oddest items produced by a university glssblower

Academics do the strangest things. 

I have long been fascinated, for example, by those who combine teaching with research (and sometimes careers) as performers of a fairly extreme kind. This can take the form, for example, of heroic feats of buttock-clenching or delivering an inaugural lecture dressed as an elf. Also unusual was the philosopher who brought up a wolf and drew on the experience extensively in his writings. And our ongoing Outer Limits series features academics willing to put themselves through hell and run remarkable risks into order to find out more about remote ecosystems, tribal warfare, body-building, dog-fighting and decomposition.

But although these set a reasonably high bar, it would be hard to say which are the weirdest tasks being carried out by academics as part of their day job. We have therefore created a hashtag – #WeirdJobs – and would love to hear from readers on Twitter or Facebook ( So if you, or another academic you know about, have chosen or been required to do something really weird, please get in touch and tell us about it.

In the meantime, a feature in this week’s issue – “You do what…?” – includes testimonies from five different academics about the “esoteric tasks and topics” they have been involved in. There are poignant encounters with polar bears and spooky incidents involving mummified fingers and making artificial wounds as authentic as possible. And what about the challenges of a life devoted to labels or creating a suitable glassblower’s tribute to David (“two brains”) Willetts? Anyone who thinks academic work tends to be dull and sedate will be in for some big surprises. And we look forward to hearing some equally striking tales from elsewhere in the academy.

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