It’s that time of year again, well, with a few more days added on for good measure, that I celebrate getting that bit older.

a flower well lit on a black background
a flower well lit on a black background
For me, the new adventures include taking a moment to enjoy the little things around us.

This year has been a rollercoaster through the mist, with the underpinning oppression of the global pandemic on all our lives. The world has slowed down, and many things of last year remain unaccomplished.

In the last year, I can look back with smiles and joy at some moments, sadness at others, and frustration at more. I’m also in a massive state of flux with my move to Vancouver and all that entails.

Reading back my…

Today is my last day.

Not my last last, of course, but my last day at Imperial College London. Which in some ways does risk making it my last day.

This prompts some personal reflection.

We look back at choices we made with different eyes to those that were making the choices.

As an academic, we wed a huge amount of our identity to our professional life. To who we are and the status that is afforded to us. Initially this is supported through credentialism, but eventually if you’re lucky and things go the right way, you gain status simply by doing what you are afforded to do in the environment in which you occupy.

This makes…

Here is a letter that I have recently written to co-signatories of a letter to address, and contest, the introduction of MSc and MRes application fees at Imperial College London. In the letter, I share that the College is still very keen on getting prospective students to pay £80 to apply to the college.

The status of widening participation at Imperial College London has stalled. (photo from Wiki Commons)


Dear co signatories of the open letter re: removal of the MSc/MRes/MPH application fees,

At the moment the status of removing the post graduate taught (PGT) applications fees is not good.

I would like to thank you for your support, and also to let…

Bullying and harassment is hugely problematic in any place of work or learning. It causes actual and immediate harm, it creates trauma, and it sustains a culture where a limited few are allowed to survive, let alone thrive.

Bullying and harassment are not ok. Why do we continue to make excuses and let people get away with it? (photo from unsplash)

We know that bullying and harassment happens in University settings. This can occur in a number of ways. All of which are troubling. When examples come to light, which is rare, these examples are often not dealt with well.

The extent of the bullying and harassment in higher education is so problematic that there is even a blog dedicated to shedding light…

Photo at near sunset. Tree siloutetted. People as shadows standing near.
Photo at near sunset. Tree siloutetted. People as shadows standing near.
Another year around the sun complete.

Expressing my feelings towards 2020 is tough.

Let me give it a go.

It’s been a year.

Time has stood still.

Time has marched forward.

I’ve been lucky, broadly. Also, I remain privileged.

Things have been done.

People have done things.

People have learnt things.

New adventures await, hopefully.

The world has burned, and continues to burn.

Bad people keep on getting good things.

Mediocre people stand by and do nothing.

Sycophants continue to carry favour.

The pernicious march continues.

Will 2021 be better? Perhaps.

Let us hope.

There are good people. There are good things.

Some people are awesome.

There is hope on the horizon.

A cluster of discussions recently have highlighted how quantitative assessment in academia risks systematically creating toxic hyper competitive environments, undermining our credibility in making decisions, and fundamentally undervaluing individuals.

Do we ever ‘measure up’? (Photo from unsplash)

Let us take a couple of ideas to explore this theme — cheating & academic misconduct; and academic metrics.

Cheating & Academic Misconduct

There are recent cases of students being accused of cheating in online tests. For those of us setting assessments in these chaotic times within the global pandemic, the pivot to open-book examinations often centres on students who cheat in exams.

Please do not misunderstand me — cheating is wrong. …

A few conversations recently have highlighted that I enjoy social media with a sense of privilege, and perhaps it’s worthwhile to spend a short moment to look at the darker side of social media. This should be considered in context, I am an active user of social media, and I have the huge fortune of being (reasonably) successful at in deriving personal value both online and offline from its use.

There are many benefits of social media, but unfortunately we cannot lose sight of the risks. (Photo from unsplash)

Before I put folks off, I’d like to highlight that I truly believe social media in academia provides value. …

Imperial College London has recently introduce an £80 application fee its MSc and MRes programmes, to little fan fair. Together with >1161 other members of the Imperial College community I have asked them to remove the fee. Why?

Does the introduction of an admissions fee question everything people have been talking about in terms of addressing long standing inequality in our system? (Photo from unsplash)

The (weak) case for a fee

The ‘legitimate’ case for an application fee would be to make people think twice and think seriously about where they want to apply to study.

If any of you have tried to fill in, or read, a post graduate application form, there is plenty of information required, together with references and certificates even before the application is fully processed. The idea that…

In higher education, there is a curious and important fascination with evidence based policies. I’d like to explore how this value might have limited worth.

The footprints tell us someone walked here. They do not tell us who was not allowed to. (Photo from unsplash)

As a scientist and engineer, I am keen that we use evidence to inform our decisions. However, we must consider what “the evidence can tell us” and what we inevitably, and necessarily, miss. This is especially important when we consider equity, and equality, diversity & inclusion related policies and approaches.

The more I explore “following the science” I realise that this is an exclusive narrative that lets us choose what we deem is acceptable and…

Photo of a man running on grass overlooking Vancouver
Photo of a man running on grass overlooking Vancouver
We live the journey, not the destination.

So I’m moving to Canada, more specifically I’ll be working at the University of British Columbia (UBC) on the Vancouver Campus, which sits on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam) People. As I’m currently a very recently promoted Reader in Metallurgy and Microscopy, at Imperial College in London, a few folks have asked “why move?”.

Firstly, while we may pretend that the “grass is greener”, I am under a limited impression that the grass at UBC, and in the Canadian Higher Education system is perfectly green. …

Dr Ben Britton

Atomic sorcerer, based at UBC (Canada). Plays with metals. Discusses academic life. Swooshes down ski slopes. Pegs it round parks. (Views my own)

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