Posts Tagged ‘navel-gazing’

Administering a rebuke

December 14, 2013

In which Dr Aust has a small whinge.

As I’ve been struck by one of the annoying Winter viruses, and every bit of me is aching, I have been exempted today from fatherly duties taking Aust Jr to play football (soccer for any US readers). I shall take the opportunity to post a small grumble that I penned in a cathartic hour or so yesterday evening.  It relates to the ever-rising tide of online tick-boxing that laps around the feet of all professions these days. Would be interested to hear if any other readers (readers?) have similar stories.

One of the things that has added tremendously to the general irritations of working as a University academic this last decade has been the decision that vast amounts of administrative form-filling should now be done online.

This is routinely justified as ‘more efficient’ or ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘more transparent’, though a cynic might say it mainly serves to shift the burden of record-keeping off administrators and onto academics. Not that that then leads to a decrease in the number of administrators required, you understand. You seemingly now need twice as many of them to nag all the academics, by repeated and increasingly insistent email, to fill in the latest ‘e-form’.

Anyway, being a miserable old ***!*, I tend to the view that it is not my job to fill in e-forms that I don’t know how to fill in, and would thus have to spend ten or twenty minutes, first of all finding – “It’s on the Intranet”, you are told –  and second, working out how to fill in.

It seems to me I should just be able to tell the administrator the information by email.

They want it on the form? They can fill it in.

The other point here is that the administration folk use said e-form system, which after all is THEIR system, designed by them, about fifty times a day – so they can do it in a trice. Getting me to do it – which is some cases I might have to do once a year or even less- is an utter waste of (a lot more) time. [Of course – have you spotted? – now it is my time, and not admin’s. So they come out ahead. Funny, that.] This is because, even if I used the system before, there is no way I will remember how a year or more later. So I have to take the same amount of wasted time as I did LAST time re-learning it.

Comments on these lines end to be met by references to ‘the regulatory environment’  or responses to the effect that ‘the system and forms are self-explanatory’.


Coincidentally, I heard a BBC Radio 4 programme the other day featuring a bloke whose job is to read, on a computer screen, the ill-formed and mostly illegible addresses on those envelopes that the Post Office’s character recognition software can’t decipher. He can do thousands of these an hour, according to the programme. This, it was made clear, is because it is what he does all day and he is consequently the Ninja-Style 96th Dan Grandmaster of said task.

I wonder if the Post Office have ever considered getting random other people in their organisation, like, say, the folk that maintains their computer network, or the van drivers, and telling them that it would be much more efficient if they did the character recognition job instead, but only for an hour once a year each?

Answers, as they say,  on a postcard.

Anyway: yesterday’s example of eAggro:

A few weeks back, I agreed to be Internal PhD Examiner for a PhD Thesis. We have arranged a date for the viva in January.

A few days ago I got an email from the student’s supervisor.

‘Can you put the viva details into eWatch [our online in-house version of the NSA for watching over the progress of graduate students]?  We’re getting flak from the admin people.’

I wrote back, not unreasonably, I thought, as follows:

‘Haven’t a clue how to use eWatch. Do admin have an actual, y’know, email address?’

Lo and behold, I next received an email from an Important University Person bearing their title ‘Institute Postgraduate Research Director’, or something like that.

“I have attached the Guidance Notes for Examiners. It has the links and detailed guidance on the exams process.

You should have received this with the request to act as Internal Examiner.”

I looked. On the 3rd page of the ‘Guidance Notes’, I finally found the right bit. It said I could log in to eWatch with my University username and password. Well, that seemed straightforward, at least. And there was a clickable URL. Brilliant.

I clicked. Hopefully, if somewhat warily.

The following screen appeared:


Access Denied

Return to previous page

You do not have permission to access this page.

Page security is managed through GWE role membership. If you think that you should be able to access the requested page then please use the contacts information for the relevant GWE service to request that they add you to the appropriate role.


I hardly need add that nowhere was the abbreviation GWE explained. If you can work out what it means, I dare say you are probably an administrator.

Anyway, I decided to ‘role’ with the punches and leave it until after the weekend. Or later. ‘Role’ on the Christmas break, say I.


Hello world! – Dr Aust goes live

September 22, 2007

Fascinating – have found even blank posts auto-generated by WordPress can attract grumpy comments. Extraordinary.

Anyway, to forestall the accusations that I am a member of the Scientific Global Illuminati Conspiracy hiding behind the cloak of anonymity, some information:

Who is Dr Aust?

A grumpy approaching-middle-aged man (hopelessly watching hairline recede while combing it forward, other hair growing in odd places, spreading waistline etc etc) with a Ph.D. and a job as a biomedical science lecturer at a UK University. I run a small research lab measuring things on cells in dishes that you can only see down a big microscope. Like most scientists in research-intensive Universities, I have published a vaguely respectable number of serious and pretty unreadable papers, absolutely none of which have been in Nature or any of those really fancy journals (I wish). I teach and have taught all sorts of things, from how cells in your kidney or heart do what they do, through pharmacology of various drugs, to very general how-the-body-works stuff (including, once, the entire immune system in one 50 min lecture!) all to science and medical students…not to mention a rag-tag of other student groups (dentists, pharmacists, nurses etc).

In my 20s I used to say this was the fill-in job until I really worked out what I wanted to do, but after over two decades in science I’m clearly a lifer. At least I get a free computer and internet connection.

Dr Aust is married to (logically enough) Mrs Dr Aust, a real gen-u-wine medical doctor. Mrs Dr A (MRCP) spent a decade plus in the NHS trenches, working in general medicine (“Internal medicine” as the Americans would say) and anaesthetics, and ending up as what is technically called a medical registrar (one level below consultant).  She is now working in a less “intense” medical specialty but is still more than able to correct anything really dumb I might be tempted to write about medicine or doctors.

We have one daughter, the rather wonderful Jr Aust, who orders us about mercilessly. Mrs Dr Aust says Jr Aust inherited her never shutting up from Dr Aust.

Summer 08 Update: we are now also the proud if stunned parents of a baby boy, henceforth “Baby Aust”.  Being only a few weeks old, he only eats (a lot), sleeps (a lot, which is good), cries (not as much as his sister did, another plus), and… that other stuff (a lot).

Spring 09 Update: Baby Aust is now mobile and dangerous.! See the Diary entry for Feb 25th.

Why a blog?

The usual. Spent so much time posting on my favourite blogs that I thought I’d try my hand myself. Plus my friends and colleagues kept telling me to (not because they thought I had anything to say – more to stop me boring them with my monologues at the Friday lunchtime lab meeting at the local bar).

What’s it about?

Anything at all, really. Though probably 99% science and how it intersects with the news. And especially scientific nonsense in all forms.

Why “scientific nonsense”?

Because there’s so much about, and it makes us science types variously cross, depressed, or just nervous about what crazy claptrap people believe… almost always about things for which there are perfectly sensible explanations.

More seriously, one reason some doctors and scientists (like me) get rather obsessed with this “rubbish about science” stuff is that it rather defeats the point of doing biomedical research if the public don’t believe any of the results. Or don’t grasp, or believe in, the “scientific method”.


Disturbingly, they all seem to be dead. Scientific one: Richard Feynman. It doesn’t do to take yourself too seriously.

And finally… a disclaimer:

As you will noticed if you have read the above, I am NOT a medically-trained doctor, or physician or MD if you prefer. I am a PhD-trained scientist. I know lots of medics, I teach them, I work with them, I publish papers with them on and off, and I’m married to one – but I am NOT one myself. Hope that’s clear enough.

Which leads me to:


None of the content on this blog is intended either as, or as a substitute for, medical advice . If you need medical advice, see your own doctor.

Any information should not be used for diagnosis or treatment.

The author is not a medical doctor, nor has he had any medical training.

(With apologies to Coracle, from whom I borrowed the original version of this statement)