TIR’s year in review

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A look back at TIR‘s first year of operations.

TIR‘s very first post (The Experience Trap) was on 31st January 2016, and focused on the inequality in funding opportunities faced by postdocs from different academic systems. Other posts in the FUNDING category (5 to date) considered the tension between mainstream and niche research (Blockbuster Science versus Arthouse Science), whether money should go to people or to projects (Fund the Research-er?), warned against overhyping outcomes (Justify Yourself), and argued that postdoc fellowship schemes have not kept up with the times (As Time Goes By).

The LIFE AT THE BENCH category (10 posts to date) focused on issues of day-to-day relevance to working scientists, beginning by tackling the widespread misconception that hours worked and productivity are the same thing (The Old Lie). Facts, figures, and rhetoric asked what the real purpose of scientific figures is, while Ticket to Ride set out the advantages of going abroad at some point during your career. Doubtful Confidence looked at what’s probably the most important (psychological) equilibrium in research, Friendly Fire examined the nature of adversarial interactions, and Spinning the Wheel emphasised the importance of luck.

The MENTORING category (5 posts to date) looked at various aspects of supervision. Bringing up Baby compared reptile and mammal parenting strategies, and drew a parallel with raising students. Manumission noted the often poisonous effect of training in a bad lab, Growing Pains considered the changing relationship between supervisor and student over the course of a PhD, Follow My Leader compared different styles of leadership, and Carrot or Stick asked how best to encourage people.

Some of TIR‘s most popular posts have been in the GENDER EQUALITY, FAMILY LIFE section (5 posts to date). To Have and to Hold argued that more men should take extended parental leave, and All That (s)he Wants asked if there’s ever a “right” time to have a baby. The Real Dr. Octopus eulogised parents’ multitasking skills, while Sharing the Load (two instalments) collected real-life testimonies of scientific parents’ coping strategies. A big thanks once again to everyone who contributed.

Examining the means by which scientific information is communicated, the PUBLISHING section (7 posts) has contained some of TIR’s sternest language. Wholly Trinity bemoaned the hold three journals exert over the biomedical community, while Sitting Pretty highlighted the disproportionate influence that journal editors can sometimes wield. Meanwhile, The Art of Refereeing compared the decision-making processes in science and rugby, Cloak and Dagger asked what the role of a reviewer is, and Of General Interest contrasted the function of general interest and specialist journals. The Patron Saint of Science Writing was a tip of the hat to the prose style of the great Ernest Hemingway.

On the subject of writing, the HOW TO… category, while the newest of all (only 3 posts), has been a big success. Both the top and second-placed postings in terms of traffic are found here, and continue to attract visitors. Catechism provided a guide for how to ask questions in seminars, Text Sculpting gave some tips on how to improve your scientific English, and Read All About It! offered advice on how to write a scientific report or paper. Much more to come in this section in 2017.

Finally, THE WORLD OF SCIENCE (12 posts) was home to some of TIR’s most whimsical output. How’s Your Legacy? asked whether teaching, not research, leaves the greatest imprint. Mining the Blue Sky argued that science is highly unusual in that it makes a raw material (knowledge) rather than a product. Hire Education asked whether universities are providing a service or a product. Other posts looked at the wide range of skills scientists need to have (Jacks of all Trades), compared biochemistry to cooking (Cooking and Gleaning), noted the similarities of Roman bloodlines and scientific pedigrees (Thicker than Blood), and suggested that science still operates a guild system (G(u)ilded Cages). Finally, Science’s Ten Commandments proposed a list of attributes that define both professional and citizen scientists.

One of TIR‘s most significant developments came in July, when scientist and illustrator Oliver Hoeller began contributing original artwork to the postings. Not long after, Oliver came on board as TIR‘s official “artist in residence“, and his independent interpretations of the themes of each posting have led to a quantum leap in overall quality.

So that’s that! TIR will, all things being well, continue to post at a weekly frequency through 2017 and beyond, and rest assured there’s no shortage of material lined up.

Finally, a big thanks to YOU, the readers, for taking an interest in the material. Don’t forget to sign up for updates using the box at the bottom-right of the screen, and keep on recommending TIR to your friends and colleagues. Here’s to a productive year ahead!

Brooke Morriswood, 30th December 2016.

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