The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy

Book Review

A Riley & Whiting Collaboration

Julia Riley’s Review:

Picture1First, I would like to say as an expat Canadian researcher, I am happy to say that two Canadian professors wrote this book! Woot!

This book proposes a means to tackle the effect corporatization of higher education has on universities. Their ‘Slow’ Professor Manifesto has three aims: “to alleviate work stress, preserve humanistic education, and resist the corporate university”. The book focuses on how individual academics can change their own behaviour to allow personal relief from career stressors, and also promote systemic change. As a current PhD student, although they did attempt to gear the book for postgrads, the content was still a little out of my grasp. I do wonder what current professors thoughts on this book would be, or what my thoughts will be once I am in an academic leadership role. That being said there were some clear steps in the book where I, as a postgrad, could take action to improve my own current academic experience. For example, stopping comparing myself to other researchers as it only has a negative effect on my personal productivity, self-esteem, and confidence to approach other researchers for collaborations. Also, during conferences, departmental seminars and meetings, try to avoid multi-tasking and stay off of my phone or laptop. This would allow me to be more present in these scenarios, and likely will help me be an active member of the academic community.

I also found the writing style a bit odd, and not what I am used to as a scientist. But, I quickly got used to it. I sped through this book; it is appropriately short and concise. I feel like even the busiest academic could easily pick up and digest this book quickly. I personally finished reading it during two return train rides from work to home!

Overall, their ‘Slow’ Professor Manifesto really spoke to me. The issues they presented are ones I have noticed in today’s current academic systems. Many of the actions they suggested are things I hope to be able to do as an academic myself. Furthermore, the picture they paint of an academic system that takes time to promote undergraduate involvement in learning, and a vibrant and diverse academic community is one I hope to be part of once I am a professor myself!

Martin Whiting’s Review:

I will be very brief because Julia has done a wonderful job capturing the essence of this book and explaining the authors’ main thesis.

I’ll start by saying that most biologists that become academics do so because of a curiosity that is aroused early in life. I have been privileged to conduct field work in far-flung and exotic places working with fascinating creatures—it’s highly rewarding to answer interesting questions about the animals we work on. At the same time, I’m frequently overwhelmed by the amount of paper work that continuously crosses my desk. As such, I was very curious about what advice the authors of “The slow professor” had to offer! I wasn’t overly surprised by what I read, but there were some gems, and it prompted me to think about and reassess my own approach to the business of academia, in a culture of high expectation and little time.

We are expected to get grants, do research, publish papers, graduate postgrad students, sit on committees, teach undergraduates and fill out hundreds of forms in order to be compliant. Most of these things are intellectually rewarding and satisfying (except filling out forms) but they are being undermined by corporatization. We have to multi-task like never before. The authors stress the need to focus more on the process and less about the numbers (e.g. of papers). It’s also okay to miss an admin deadline (I loved reading that!). In fact, it can be good thing because it means you are focusing on the important stuff. Academia can be a treadmill and it’s easy to get fixated on unimportant e-mails and working on your to-do list. The authors stress life balance and a way of research that focuses more on the process and the quality of work. It might result in fewer outputs but chances are that the outputs themselves will have higher impact and make for more satisfying science (in our discipline). In this way we push back against a system of corporatization in favour of our craft and personal well-being! Well, that’s the plan..

Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber. 2016. The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy. University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division. 128 pp. Cloth ISBN 9781442645561 Published Mar 2016, ebook (EPUB format) ISBN 9781442663107 Published Apr 2016.

Why do winners keep winning?

by Fonti Kar

Animals often find themselves in direct competition with other individuals for resources and mates. Because fighting is costly, many species honestly signal their fighting ability to avoid injury (non-escalated fights). For example, in flat lizards (Platysaurus broadleyi), males can resolve dominance status by displaying their UV-reflective throats to their opponent. . . . → Read More: Why do winners keep winning?

Awesome new mini-documentary on Julia Riley’s PhD and social lizards!

Lizard Lab associate and honorary member Dr. James O’Hanlon has produced a fantastic mini-documentary about Julia Riley’s PhD work on tree skinks (Egernia striolata) and family living.

The documentary offers some great views of our Albury study site and the amazing lizards! It asks the question why are animals social, and talks about what . . . → Read More: Awesome new mini-documentary on Julia Riley’s PhD and social lizards!

Lizard Lab word cloud

Lizard Lab word cloud based on titles and key words from about 35 recent papers. Martin made this instead of working on an important research grant. It somehow seemed much more fun at the time. It does nicely sum up the research in the lab . . . → Read More: Lizard Lab word cloud

Territoriality in a snake

While there are snakes that have been shown to be territorial in an ecological context, such as Taiwanese kukrisnakes which defend sea turtle nests (citation below), territoriality in a sexual selection context has never been demonstrated in a snake. Until now. Jonno Webb has been studying broadheaded and small-eyed snakes in Morton National Park, . . . → Read More: Territoriality in a snake

New African flat lizard named for David Attenborough

David Attenborough has had, and continues to have, a remarkable career making documentaries about the natural world. To this end, he has inspired generations of biologists. We were very pleased when he turned his attention to amphibians and reptiles for the making of the series Life in Cold Blood. And we were particularly happy . . . → Read More: New African flat lizard named for David Attenborough

Jacky Dragons have labile displays and don’t discriminate among populations

Marco Barquero’s hard work has paid off! For his PhD, Marco travelled far and wide in his quest to study signalling in Jacky Dragons. Chapter 1 has just been published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. Marco studied three populations for which we had genetic data (thanks to Mitzy Pepper and Scott Keogh at . . . → Read More: Jacky Dragons have labile displays and don’t discriminate among populations

Do you study colour? Hot (and warm) off the press!

Interested in colour signals and wondering about the best approaches to researching colour and what you should be reporting? Two recent papers from members of the lab and fellow researchers at Macquarie and elsewhere should help! In the first paper, Kemp et al. provide a framework for studying animal colour. This is not a . . . → Read More: Do you study colour? Hot (and warm) off the press!

Quoll school is in session..

Scientists (including Lizard Lab associate Jonno Webb) have been trying to ameliorate the impact of toxic cane toads on the threatened northern quoll. They have been doing this using taste aversion learning, where quolls are fed nausea-inducing cane toad sausages from which they develop a negative association and thereafter avoid. There is evidence that . . . → Read More: Quoll school is in session..

Welcome Dr. Feng Xu!

The Lizard Lab welcomes our friend and colleague Dr. Feng Xu, visiting from Xinjiang, China, for a year! Feng is visiting from the Key Laboratory of Biogeography and Bioresource in Arid Land (KLBB), Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). His research has three main areas: 1) conservation biology of . . . → Read More: Welcome Dr. Feng Xu!