Friday, November 26, 2004

No sign of nookie

As a pale imitation of that character in the "Fast show", this week I have mostly been writing grants. Actually getting one finished off, and trying to start the new one. I have been told by an American friend that all this grant writing is rather boring, and there is not enough nookie on my blog. That's my life my friend!

I also helped a colleague interview new post-docs for his lab. A good one is hard to find these days. Round here, we get a lot of time-wasters and shirkers turning up for interviews. And we usually end up employing them. This time he had two good candidates, one from within the department. A bit difficult because we gave the job to the other guy on the basis of a fantastic interview performance.

As I suspected, the recent arrival of my chatterbox colleague in the office has made it difficult to work. He is a big fan of the "unload everything on my mind" style of conversation. This is OK until you realise that he does this to everyone who comes into the office, so I end up hearing the story 4-5 times.

My old friend the Technology transfer officer came back. We now have to present my grand idea to some "suits". As she talked, it seemed that the odds had lengthened and her pessimism was infectious. Still its worth a try, even if I do have to face a gruesome "pop idol" type interview afterwards.

Another weekend of writing then next week I will be free like a bird (relatively).

Friday, November 19, 2004

keep 'em peeled

It has been raining so much in the last few weeks that the pigeon quano on my window has ceased to be a problem. I would like to believe that they have flown to sunnier climes. However it is more likely that they crept into the roofspace of the building for the winter. The first maintenance man to go in there, is in for a shock.

A ripple of excitement in the building. This morning 3 shifty looking young men breezed into the building and made their way to the first floor. Finding the door was locked they came back down again, whereupon they were challenged. They claimed that they were here about a "cleaning" contract, and legged it. Security were called but had still not shown up when the front doors were locked at 5pm. My conclusion, it is getting near christmas, and lots of people have laptops down on their present list!

Another building users meeting. I think the "users" are immune now to the list of bureaucratic balls-ups and mismanagement emanating from the university. Today it was announced that the architect's photographer had requested permission to take pictures of the building interiors. Unfortunately he was not interested in taking any pictures of the numerous problem areas that resulted from poor design. The building manager booted him out and told him he was only allowed to take pictures of the outside. Another topic that came up was the building X-mas party. Always a controversial area, with "cheer up you miserable sod, its only once a year" and the "bloody hell, more pissed up students wandering round the department and chundering in the corridors" types. The latter are usually outvoted. According to university regulations, building parties with alcohol were not allowed. So we can either have "dry" party, with lots of people toting brown paper bags. Or we could provide a "reception" with limited refreshments (bottle wine/head) after an exceptionally short seminar. Either way it will be a good test of the carpets.

It's all quiet on the western front prior to next week's big move. My colleague and I rearranged the furniture in our office to allow space for a third desk. This reversed our previous postion when we had made sure that we took up the maximum amount of space, specifically to stop a third person coming into the office. This was in response to our crafty HOD who personally moved in a third desk when we weren't looking. He knew that we knew and we knew that he knew. Stalemate, until the recent crisis. Our new colleague is a good friend but is a man of many words. It was suggested that we put up partitions like they do in "real offices" so that we could try and get some work done. I decided that working from home would be far more effective.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

You wouldn't like me when I'm angry

Took two days of "work-related" leave to bash another grant into shape. As usual, I completely underestimated how long it would take, and only finished it yesterday evening. Or maybe I sped up as I approached the dead-line!

Now I am back at work and listening to the latest revolting developments on the invasion that is happening next week. MC's anger was maintained after he was thwarted earlier in the week. He wrote to the HOD stating his unhappiness about the blunt email received from my colleague (codenamed Diamund). In fact he requested a personal apology from Diamund. The HOD suggested to Diamund that this would be a good idea, so he trotted over to see him in his office. Unfortunately, MC was not in the mood to let bygones be bygones, and let rip into Diamund about knowing his place in the departmental heirachy ie well below MC. Then he told him that if he sent another email like "this" again he would thump him. He also said that as deputy HOD he had more power than he actually exercised, and could make things difficult for Diamund if he wanted. Call me old-fashioned, but this sounds like intimidation and bullying to me. It confirms that MC is not fit to be deputy HOD, and is consistent with his previous behaviour. Diamund reported this conversation to the HOD (and friends like me), but has not taken any further action. At the moment there is a "Cold War" atmosphere about the place. Hoping no-one pushes the button next week.

Monday, November 15, 2004

You can't touch this

A famous victory but a strangely hollow feeling afterwards. I wonder if it is a case of winning the first battle in a long siege. We had a meeting of senior staff today to try and sort out how we are going cram people from two locations into one. Essentially there is a conflict between MC, who has his own selfish agenda to nick as much space as possible, and the people (like me) who already occupy the space, who want to minimize space allocated to him, so that he won't take up permanent residence. Petty? Yes! Immature? Yes! What do you expect? Scientific training tends to select those that are socially inept. The HOD decided not to decide, preferring to let us squabble while he took cold medication.

The first strike from MC last week, when he moved some equipment into our lab space without any consulation. This was followed by a rather blunt email from a colleague over the weekend, who asked him what changes he was planning to OUR lab space and stressing that relocation of people had to be agreed rather than dictated.

At the meeting he was asked directly about his plans. After the usual diversionary waffle he outlined how he was going to create two new laboratories on our floor by moving our equipment out. Of course he left it to us to find space for the evicted equipment elsewhere on the floor. Fortunately he was outmanoevured. His main reasoning for this considerate move was that it would be less disruptive to us! His people would not have to share lab space so would not interrupt our work! However he was dumbfounded when all the senior staff on the floor volunteered to give up space to share with his group. It would involve splitting his group between different benches, but it was pointed out that it would promote interaction between junior staff and facilitate a collegiate atmosphere. He could not argue with this, but accused of us (in a roundabout way) of being stupid by risking disruption to our own research.His concern had me welling up.

He tried an alternative argument that we should make sure that rooms containing equipment were used for lab work, otherwise they would be seen as vacant space. This would be taken away from us by our enemies outside the department. You have to admire his paranoid creativity, but we were more worried about the enemy within the department! This argument also failed because we pointed out that we were underutilising lab space anyway, and it was better to fill up existing labs than to create new ones. The HOD who was complaining about having a bad cold, and had been silent throughout this session of Jackanory, finally decided in our favour. Silent cheers all round. MC was not a happy bunny and kept on mumbling about how irrational we were being. It was quite obvious as we left the room that he was not going to accept this unconditionally. He has a rather fearsome female technician who is known to explode (and reassemble) with rage. Bruce Banner has nothing on this lady. I suspect he is exposing her to gamma rays and feeding her raw meat even as we speak.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The tanks are circling

After a relatively calm week, the storm clouds have started appearing on the horizon.Yesterday it was announced that there was date for MC and his group to start moving into our building. In fact a removal firm had been booked. This was a bit of surprise, but then I don't suppose that warnings are generally given just before an invasion. Two of us (yes one of them was the scaredy cat who writes this blog) confronted the HOD and asked why we weren't consulted, since relocating 12 people into space that is already occupied is not a trivial matter. My fuming colleage pointed out that we regularly got bombarded with departmental emails about safety procedures, seminars, appraisals, lost trolleys, and car parking. Yet the plans for a major reorganisation of lab space was not deemed important enough to be communicated. Looking at my colleages reddening face, HOD replied that he had been away and knew no more than we did. Furthermore he thought we might have sorted it out with MC himself. Rather strange when MC said that no final decision would be reached until HOD came back. As an act of appeasement,he agreed to arrange another meeting,but I suspect it will not resolve anything. His leadership continues to be uninspiring.

Today we discovered that two large pieces of equipment had appeared in a laboratory on our floor. Behold, tis truly a miracle! One of the pieces of equipment that was already in situ has been unceremoniously dumped in the corridor outside. Those little pixies must be strong. Apparently this equipment relocation was done without the knowledge of the HOD. The first shots have been fired!

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

PhD, pie and chips

Yesterday was spent at a well-known British university doing my duty as an external examiner for a PhD. It illustrated perfectly the rather uneasy relationship that can exist between PhD students and supervisors. After my communication with the internal examiner, who clearly knew nothing about the field, I realised that it was my responsibility to really scrutinise the science. So I had a tough weekend of reading. The project had clearly not gone well and positive results were thin on the ground. The internal examiner suggested to me that some of the problems were down to inadequate supervision. Despite my fears the viva went well. The student gave an excellent performance, defending his work well and convincing us that he tried his best despite a lot of technical difficulties. We had no hesitation in passing him, but he had a long list of corrections for this thesis. Afterwards the supervisor took us all out for a substantial lunch, where I had a posh pie and chips. I had a private chat with the supervisor. I told her the student did very well in the viva. She told me that the student was lazy and was probably not cut out for research! The question m'lud is who is the more credible witness?

Thursday, November 04, 2004

I should be happy

Today I found out that my lab has been fixed. The airflow problem that has forced closure for 4 months was fixed in under an hour this AM. I should be happy but I am rather bitter that we have been suffering for 4 months it it was this easy. I am afraid to say that I have lost a bit of confidence in my HOD. This rapid repair was forced by the imminent move of MC into our building. What really leaves bile in the mouth, is smirking face of MC- the face that says "I fixed your lab for you so you should be grateful". Coincidentally I also lost a £10 bet that it wouldn't be done. Fools and their money.

Completed the first scan of the PhD thesis I will be examining next week. It's quite clear that the student had a struggle. Most of the results are negative, but the writing is not bad and he has discussed what few positive results he had in an intelligent way. Although I had no major problems with it, I thought I had better contact the other examiner because I am not an expert in this field. He replied that he knew even less than me and was struggling to cope with the jargon! Now I realise why we have been chosen. It's all part of "playing the game".

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

One of those days

As Chris Eubank (after Spiderman) once said "with great power comes great responsibility". I don't know about the power bit but I certainly have responsibilities. Most of today was spent persuading people to help me. First phone calls to the technology transfer office to make sure grant#2 had been dispatched. This was particularly important because I rewrote the grant over the weekend, finishing late Sunday afternoon. Fortunately it was this improved version that got sent off. Second phone calls to get costings and forms for grant#3. Third, meeting with my research assistants. Planning experiments with one, and persuading her to print me a nice graph. Then looking at data generated by the other. Fourth organising some blood samples for experiments tomorrow. Fifth, I am the host for a seminar speaker on Wednesday, so I sent out a seminar notice and organised some people to talk to him after the seminar. There is nothing more depressing as a speaker, than travelling a long way to give a seminar, then leaving straight after. It's like be a plumber. Come in get the job done, then bugger off. In between these small bits of administration, I started filling out the forms for grant #3 and got temporarily depressed. I solved this by going home early. Tonight I must start reading that PhD thesis!

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