That’s a (research) wrap

Nathaniel Harris’s PhD research is on therapeutic drugs for cancer – which is something to sing, or in his case, rap about. Have a look at his very energetic abstract here. (And thanks to music journalist Paul Cashmere for the lead). This is spectacular stuff – clever, creative comprehensible (which many entrants in explain your research in a minute competitions aren’t). Sure he’s a better scientist than singer, but how many rappers have a clue about cancer? 

Deals discretely done

While there are high-profile industrial stand-offs (morning UWS, what’s happening at Swinburne people) it seems deals are being done on enterprise agreements around the country. I hear a settlement is near at the University of Western Australia with staff to receive 3 per cent pa through to Spring 2016. A pay agreement for UTS professional staff is also imminent, according to well-connected observers. The question is will academics accept the same 11.95 per cent through to mid ’16.

Low cost campaign

It’s budget season, which means it’s time for another Universities Australia campaign for more money. This year’s effort is “Let’s keep it clever Australia,” which as far as I can tell consists of a Twitter feed, “KeepitcleverAUS”, an YouTube video and a Facebook based petition (funnily enough there is nothing on the UA website). The video features cartoon people and animals facing grizzly ends, presumably because they did not invest in the research and education which is essential to avoid, drowning, being lost in space and falling victim to continental drift. “No one likes being left behind but that is what will happen to Australia if we don’t support university education and research. We all live in a country that benefits from the new industries, ideas and breakthroughs born in our universities.” The narrator (who sounds suspiciously like former ABC announcer Adam Spencer) urges us to sign the petition “to ensure a clever competitive Australia.”   It is reminiscent of the Melbourne rail safety “dumb ways to die campaign ,” just without the clever concept, catchy tune, funny lyrics and easily grasped message. Well, no one can accuse UA of spending members’ money on slick advertising.

When ferrets attack

Yes, I know it’s only Tuesday but “Phone app to help in hunting down ferret threat” will be hard to beat for headline of the week. It’s on a Bruce Mounster yarn in the (Hobart) Mercury about work by the Invasive Animals CRC to help people who think they have found ferrets, which are very bad indeed for Tasmanian native species.

Engineering konks out

Vocational education attrition is terrible but on the basis of research by the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency engineering is among the least bad. Some 61 per cent of individual engineering apprentices starting in 2008 completed, compared to 56 per cent for individual trade apprentices in general. So why do so many engineering apprentices give it away? Same reason as for other trades, aptitude, experience, the nature of the work, and workplace and support networks. “Non-completion was seen as having a significant cost in government and employer resources, and in the time spent by the apprentice training for a qualification they will not gain. Further, non-completions could be contributing to skills shortages,” AWPA notes. Not an agency given to overstatement.

Hard to tell them apart

At Monash University Dr Carolyn Sutherland has received a vice chancellor’s commendation for doctoral excellence for her thesis, “Complexity and simplicity in Australian enterprise agreements: a content analysis of agreements in the higher education and fast food sectors”

Visiting fellow

The Copyright Agency is funding a $10,000 fellowship for a researcher to work in the specialist collections of a university library (some 12 are participating). It ‘s a joint program by the Council of Australian University Librarians and the Australian Society of Authors. Applications close on May 10 with information here.

Degrees of debt

Universities hoping the professional masters is the next big market should hope they can talk the feds into expanding the degrees they pay for beyond nursing and teaching. Because new numbers from the US demonstrate occupational masters are not always good investments. According to Jason Delisle, Owen Phillips and Ross van der Linde from the New America Foundation its course postgraduate rather than UG degrees that runs up the debt. Law and medicine, costing $140,000 and $160,000 respectively lead the field. But others surprise – like typical masters in education costing $50,000 and Mas for $58,000. Want a low cost post grad qualification? MBAs are a snip at just $42,000. And these substantial debts are on top of borrowings to fund undergraduate study. While a graduate or professional degree boosts a student’s earnings prospects and the economy at large, it is not the foundation for economic opportunity and middle-class earnings that a two- or four-year degree now provides,” the authors argue. Could it happen here – hard to see how it will not with masters becoming the pre requisite for professional accreditation in all sorts of disciplines

Dilemma at Duke

There is a blue between Nature Publishing Group and academics at Duke over the publisher’s request that academics agree not to lodge manuscripts published in an NPG journal on the university’s research depository for six months after they appear. The Duke policy allows staff to meet such a request so what’s the problem? Duke’s Kevin Smith says the publisher is throwing its weight around to remind academics that it can. “NPG thinks it has the right to tell faculties what policies are good for them and which are not, and to punish those who disagree,” he writes. To which NPG’s Grace Baynes responds the published needs a waiver because Duke’s open access policy means the university “has the rights not only to archive the manuscript in Dukespace, but also to distribute and publish to the world at large the final version of a subscription article freely, in any medium, immediately on publication.” It’s the essence of the open access debate – Nature needs exclusivity on research it publishes, at least for a while. Duke wants as many people as want to read the work of staff. What is in it for NPG is obvious – question is do staff need the status of publishing in Nature enough to justify restricting access to their research.