THE Scholarly Web - 30 January 2014

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

January 30, 2014

Academics don’t half spout shit (as in stuff, not rubbish. Well, most of the time anyway). Not the view of Times Higher Education, you understand, but an opinion regularly expressed on the aptly named Twitter account Shit Academics Say (@AcademicsSay). Follow it on the microblogging social network and you will be treated to a series of quotes that might sound familiar to anyone working within the academy.

“I am away from the office and checking email intermittently. If your email is not urgent, I’ll probably still reply. I have a problem,” reads one of the account’s most popular tweets, which was retweeted by other Twitter users more than 360 times.

“I will not work on the weekend. Except for maybe some reading, emails, meeting prep, and a bit of writing. But I wouldn’t call that work,” says another. While a third popular example states: “I now return to work, safe in the knowledge that my family still does not know what I do for [a] living.”

There are tales of long days battling with papers (“Three hours. Two sentences. Sounds about right”); the need for constant clarification when speaking to those from outside the world of academia (“I’m not that kind of doctor”); and of the wisdom bestowed on postgraduates by their supervisors (“You’re not supposed to have a life – you’re a grad student”).

There are even examples of what academics might sound like if they rapped. “I like big grants, I cannot lie. Scholars cannot deny: A peer walks in with a smirk and a gait puts that paper in your face you get jealous,” says one of the tweets – presumably designed to be read along to the backing track from Sir Mix-a-Lot’s 1992 hit Baby Got Back.

Another tweet, featuring the hashtag #AcademicWishlist, reads: “1. More time. 2. More time. 3. More time. 4. More pens.”

@AcademicsSay also got involved with a separate Twitter conversation carrying the hashtag #SixWordPeerReview. It was started by Lucianne Walkowicz (@shaka_lulu), Henry Norris Russell fellow in the department of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University, who wanted to see what six-word phrases people could come up with that might constitute “peer review”.

To get the ball rolling she gave her own example. “It’s a long and idiosyncratic paper,” she tweeted, while @AcademicsSay chipped in with “You tried your best. I’m sorry.”

“Why didn’t I think of this?” was University of Brighton senior lecturer John Canning’s first idea of a pithy peer review, suggesting that the imaginary paper he was reviewing was really rather good. His second six-word review, however, was less complimentary: “Rubbish, nonsense, preposterous, wrong, stupid. Reject.”

“Paperr visbly writeen in haste. Rweject,” was the verdict of Alexandre Afonso (@alexandreafonso), King’s College London politics lecturer, while a biological sciences researcher calling herself NatC (@SciTriGrrl) tweeted: “Your data contradict my theory. Reject.”

The negative theme continued with a user called Odyssey (@Odysseyblog), a molecular biophysicist in a biochemistry department, who tweeted: “Manuscript reads like James Joyce. Reject”, while Alex Parker (@Alex_Parker), an astronomer and planetary scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, summed up what no doubt goes through many reviewers’ heads while reviewing a particularly strong paper: “Cite me cite me cite me.”

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