Tuesday, 20 November 2007


Australians enjoy good food, and the availability of produce and the variety of restaurants in Australia is testament to this. But what I am noticing more frequently is that Australian chefs are also receiving recognition on the international stage. Out of the World's 50 Best Restaurants, two are located in Sydney. In my local bookstore in Rotterdam, there are recipe books by Donna Hay and Bill Granger - translated into Dutch! Donna Hay's magazine (English version) is also now available at some Dutch newsagents. Even the delicious. magazine, established in Australia, is now published in the UK and the Netherlands, with both issues including recipes from Australian chefs. As the Dutch are not known for their cuisine, it is so exciting to think that Australians may be helping to bring about a gastronomic revolution here in the Netherlands. And with kangaroo meat being stocked in the local supermarket, it almost feels like I am dining in Melbourne again...

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Citation Etiquette

In my English class in high school, I was always told that you should never copy blocks of text from a source and use it verbatim in your own essay/article. If it was not possible to write it in another way, then the copied sentence/paragraph should be enclosed in quotation marks and the source cited appropriately. Such methodology is particularly relevant when writing scientific articles for publication in peer reviewed journals. Failure to do so is not only plagiarising, but also infringes on copyright and general scientific etiquette. Today, I noticed that someone had cited one of my publications in their article and I was curious to know what aspect of my work they had referred to. When I found a copy of the article, I immediately checked the reference list to see where in the text they had referred to my article - to my surprise I was the first reference cited in the paper! When I began reading the introduction of this article, it was clear that they hadn't referred to my research, but rather had copied word-for-word the first paragraph and a half of the introduction from my article! Upon seeing this, I wasn't sure if I should be insulted or flattered by what they had done. Although both articles are about fuel cells, the papers are otherwise unrelated. In that regard, it seems irrelevant to have referred to my article. I guess there is some consolation in the fact that they did cite my article, thereby acknowledging the source of the information. And given that there is so much emphasis on the number of publications and citations, perhaps I should be happy with any form of citation, no matter the context. Although I don't agree with what they did, I am not going to take it any further. However, a colleague did suggest that I contact this group and inform them that this was not my best article and that next time they should copy another one... :)

Friday, 2 November 2007

WISER - Measuring Excellence

What is excellence? How does one assess excellence? What criteria should be used? And who should do the assessing? The measurement of excellence is frequently discussed in relation to academia and academics, whether it be in appointing a professor, awarding a grant, or evaluating the productivity of an academic. But can one really measure ‘excellence’? At the WISER Festival, this very topic was debated. Prof. Ana Proykova, a professor of physics at the University of Sofia, discussed both the quantitative and qualitative elements of excellence. The number of publications, citations, patents, grants, students and collaborators are an objective way of quantifying excellence. The quality of the work is judged by the reviewers of the work and reflected by the international reputation of the journal in which the work is published. However, Prof. Flavia Zucco, head of research at the Institute of Neurobiology and Molecular Medicine at the National Research Council in Rome, argued that scientific excellence rewards assertiveness and single mindedness, while other skills such as flexibility, creativity, diplomacy and competence are deemed less important. She referred to Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, the physics Nobel Prize laureate, who noted that women bring specific skills to research that men often lack, including the ability to create teams in research, giving students the freedom they need and keeping egos in check. Prof. Zucco remarked that the differences between men and women should be valued in the academic arena. Ms. Marieke van den Brink, a PhD student at the Institute of Gender Studies at Radboud University Nijmegen, is addressing such issues in her research. In a recent publication, she posed the question ‘Does excellence have a gender?’ in relation to the appointment of professors at universities in the Netherlands. More than 60% of the professors recruited in the Netherlands between 1999 and 2003 were appointed by a closed application process (non-advertised positions). Although Ms. van den Brink had hypothesized that such procedures may disadvantage women, the findings did not confirm this. Thus, the so-called ‘old boys’ network appears to be equally advantageous for women in the Netherlands. However, her results did show that female applicants have a greater chance of being appointed to a position when there are more women on the selection committee. This may reflect the differences in the measurement of ‘excellence’ as perceived by men and women, as women may pay more attention to gender-specific behaviour. Should gender differences be considered when assessing excellence? Probably, but integrating gender awareness into the measurement of excellence is a whole new debate.