Friday, 15 July 2016

Post 87: Summer Reading

As grad students, the work doesn't stop for us during the summer when classes have ended. Labs keep running, some TA for summer classes, but there's always another journal article or book to read, more data to analyze, or another paper to mark.

It's for this reason that I advocate for some lighter summer reading, not only because I've been reading broadly to keep myself sane, but because it's good to give yourself a bit of a mental break here and there (arguably, this kind of lighter reading should happen during the year, too, but I think the pressure from September - April can be more intensely felt).

The first Himalayan blackberries (Rubus armeniacus) are already ripe!!! 
Some of this summer's reading so far has brought me to a more serious, well-considered post like Vox's "The 7 biggest problems facing science, according to 270 scientists," which delivers findings from a survey undertaken with graduate students, researchers, and scientists across the globe. The seven major problems with science that the survey identifies are:

1. Issues to do with funding
2. Poorly designed studies being the norm
3. Not enough studies are being replicated, because scientists aren't incentivized to do so
4. Peer review doesn't work they way it's supposed to
5. Scientific knowledge is stuck behind paywalls and is generally inaccessible
6. Academic science isn't well communicated
7. Early career scientists have a rough go of it

It's an article with substantive depth and broad in its coverage, which I also find quite relevant for the current conversation in Canada where the federal government is currently reviewing funding for science. Evidence for Democracy has been inviting comments, and I was composing my thoughts to contribute earlier this morning, when I came across the article. (By the way, they're still accepting comments, so follow the link above to get to their main page for the link.)

Very cute Starwars themed balloons for a birthday party in the neighbourhood.
Following up on some of the links in the Vox article, I came across these two really fun Twitter tags that I thought some readers might enjoy, and want to participate in:

The first is #sixwordpeerreview which, as the tag describes, has scientists making comments about being reviewers or receiving reviews in six words. Some of my favs:

"I would have written it differently." (Adam Swallow: @perspectives45)
"Didn't cite me. Revise and resubmit." (Noah J. Toly: @noahtoly)
"No paragraph explaining paper structure. Reject." (Isabelle Augenstein: @IAugenstein)

And that also led me to find a few other fun Twitter hashtags like #PrincessBrideScience and #PeerReviewHaiku, though it looks like that one hasn't been used in quite some time. But, super fun to read through. :)

The most amazing balloon unicorn during the Victoria Pride Parade (July 10th), giving out hugs!
I also learned about eLife, a relatively new open-access journal that takes a collaborating peer-review editing process, whereby editors and reviewers work together to generate feedback from a full-review of an article, so authors know exactly what they are responding to. Their process of a quick turn-around assessment from a cover letter and pdf of the article BEFORE it goes to full review is a good idea, and I like the collaborative aspects of their reviewing. This seems quite different from the usual peer-review process that can have reviewers making contradictory comments for an author to respond to, is generally more time consuming, and can hold up the print for an article. (Acknowledgement of heresay: I have yet to publish an academic journal article, but this is what I've heard can stump authors.) Their short introductory video about their process was pretty great, and now I'm wondering if there is any social science journal doing the equivalent. Anything out there? Let me know in the comments below!

Alongside this fun reading, I've also immensely been enjoying a second read through of Italian writer Elena Ferrante's contemporary feminist book series, the Neopolitan Novels, which have amazed me as much the second time going through them as when I read them the first time. They are timely, relevant, detailing the ups and downs of a turbulent friendship between two girls from Naples, Lila and Lenu, the former marrying young, having a baby young, and diving head on into the working class relationships of their neighbourhood, and the latter pursuing education as a path to leading her out of that small neighbourhood, with its gossip and petty politics. After finishing her bachelor's degree, Lenu becomes a writer.

This short detailing of superficial plot doesn't tell you anything about the depth, clarity of insight, and experiences of these two women, and of Lenu's telling of the story, which is masterfully done. I highly recommend these novels, with their violence, the force of their honesty, and the two different stories of women growing older in Italy.

Some kind of rose down in the James Bay area. Gorgeous!
Do you have any recommendations for fellow students? Books you think have been wonderful, remarkable, eye-opening? You're welcome to leave a comment below. :)

Happy summer reading!

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