Don's Diary

November 27, 1998


A lovely day and I got some of the beech hedge cut, but most of the day had to be spent reading "key publications' submitted by Dutch universities for their research assessment exercise (I am on the biology committee).


Compile a first-year exam paper from questions that colleagues have sent at the last moment, in time for today's lunch-time meeting. Make two new slides for next week's lecture in Amsterdam on a mathematical model of repetitive muscle action. A paper arrives from Nature for refereeing. I was planning a restful evening, but at 5pm a 97-page fax arrives from the Royal Society wanting quick decisions about papers submitted to Proceedings of the Royal Society B (of which I have recently become editor). I am allowed to accept only 340 papers a year and receive many more good and interesting papers than that, so hard decisions have to be made.


First-year lecture on how fish swim and feed, featuring slides of an angelfish eating Dairylea cheese spread. Discussions with two final-year students about their projects. Then to Leeds City Museum to measure their Giant Elk for a paper on sex and violence among extinct mammals.


7.20am train to London for my (almost weekly) visit in my capacity as secretary of the Zoological Society of London. We run London Zoo, Whipsnade Wild Animal Park and the Institute of Zoology, and do conservation work worldwide. Today we have the finance and general purposes committee, largely about money, but we also spend some time on strategic planning, discussing our aspirations for the next five to ten years. Over coffee, I talk over some problems with the director general and the director of personnel. Message from Dublin: can I accompany the robot dinosaur to an exhibition next week? (This is a sheep-sized robot for museum display, built by a consortium of which I am a member. It walks around, deciding for itself where to go next.) Later, there is a meeting of the London Zoo board about sloth bears, rhinos, gorillas, maintenance of buildings and visitor numbers. Sleep at the zoo (no, not in a cage).


Meeting to discuss the text for London Zoo's Web of Life bio-diversity exhibition, due to open next spring in the millennium conservation centre we are building. Then back to Leeds and a pigeon-hole stuffed with mail, including a request to write a short article on the control of muscles and another Nature manuscript for review.


Another lecture to the first-year class, again about fishes. Final-year students panicking; it is deadline day for handing in project proposals. Wrote comments on the two Nature papers and on a thesis submitted for a prize. A manuscript arrives for review from the Journal of Experimental Biology. Another fax from the Royal Society; 106 pages this time. I must deal with that over the weekend.

R. McNeill Alexander. Professor of zoology, University of Leeds.

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