Scopus vs Google Scholar in Computer Science

In response to a Facebook thread about my recent LSE Impact Blog, “Evaluating research assessment: Metrics-based analysis exposes implicit bias in REF2014 results“, Joe Marshall commented,

“Citation databases are a pain, because you can’t standardise across fields. For computer science, Google scholar is the most comprehensive, although you could argue that it overestimates because it uses theses etc as sources. Scopus, web of knowledge etc. all miss out some key publications which is annoying”

 

My answer was getting a little too complicated for a Facebook reply; hence a short blog post.

While for any individual paper, you get a lot of variation between Scopus and Google Scholar, from my experience with the data, I would say they are not badly correlated if you look at big enough units.  There are a few exceptions, notably bio-tech papers which tend to get more highly placed under Scopus than GS.

Crucial for REF is how this works at the level of whole institution data.  I took a quick peek at the REF institution data, comparing top quartile counts for Scopus and Google Scholar. That is, the proportion of papers submitted from each institution that were in top 25% of papers when ranked by citation counts.  Top quartile is chosen as it should be a reasonably predictor of 4* (about 22% of papers).

The first of these graphs shows Scopus (x-axis) vs Google Scolar (y-axis) for whole institutions.  The red line is at 45 degree, representing an exact match.  Note that, many institutions are relatively small, so we would expect a level of spread.

inst-scopus-vs-google-top-quartile-with-line

While far from perfect, there is clustering around the line and crucially for all types of institution.  The major outlier (green triangle to the right) is Plymouth which does have a large number of biomed papers. In short, while one citation metric might be better than the other, they do give roughly similar outcomes.

This is very different from what happens in you compare either with actual REF 4* results:

inst-scopus-top-quartile-vs-REF-4star-with-line   inst-google-top-quartile-vs-REF-4star-with-line

In both cases not only is there far less agreement, but also there are systematic effects.  In particular, the post-1992 institutions largely sit below the red line; that is they are scored far less highly by REF panel than by either Scopus or Google Scholar.  This is a slightly different metric, but precisely the result I previously found looking at institutional bias in REF.

Note that all of these graphs look far tighter if you measure GPA rather than 4* results, but of course it is 4* that is largely what is funded.

hope and despair

I have spent a good part of the day drafting my personal response to Lord Stern’s review of the Research Excellence Framework; trying to add some positive suggestions to an otherwise gloomy view of the REF process.

My LSE impact blog “Evaluating research assessment: Metrics-based analysis exposes implicit bias in REF2014 results” also came out today, good to see and important to get the message out, but hardly positive; my final words were:

“despite the best efforts of all involved, the REF output assessment process is not fit for purpose”,

and this on a process that consumed a good part of a year of my life … depressing.

However, then on Facebook I saw the announcement:

Professor Tom Rodden announced as EPSRC's Deputy CEO

Yay, a sensible voice near the heart of UK research … a glimmer of light flicker’s on the horizon.

 

 

Big themes

We were talking about the big themes, and what bigger theme than Christmas.  John talks of the Word, that pre-exists all, the Logos, the ruliness we seek in random events, the laws of the universe examined in CERN and comet-hugging satellite, the conversation between God and creation, the Word that was singly, irrevocably and powerfully spoken, the Word that says all and is all, the Word that is “Love”.

It was a Word declared through 10 billion years of the dark star-thread universe, a Word sung by incomprehensible angels, a Word of cosmic significance; but it was no abstract Word, no Word of plain intellectual study, but a Word made Flesh.

Wriggling, scrawny, damp-wrinkled flesh, still flecked with the drying blood of Mary torn in childbirth, prefiguring another bloody day, like and unlike every other baby, letting out one unignorable, earth-shaking cry.

why Ukraine upsets me – the death of democracy

As is probably evident from occasional Tweets or Facebook comments, I can get hot under the collar about the events in Ukraine.  This is for several reasons, but for now the first and most important reason.

It should shock us all.

For the first time since the Second World War, we have seen the violent overthrow of a democratically elected government in Europe.

Let that sink in.

It does not matter whether you are pro-European or pro-Russian, left wing or right wing. In February we saw the overthrow of democracy in Europe.

That is shocking.

We have seen conflict in Europe before.  The breakup of the Iron Curtain was largely peacefully, with just the the odd tank fire on the Russian Parliament, but that can be passed by as the final effects of totalitarian government.  In Yugoslavia we saw a democratic state implode after the secession of part of its people, the violent reaction of central government and eventual ethnic cleansing.

We have seen democratic governments overthrown elsewhere: in Chile in the 1970s, in Egypt more recently.  However, the first was during the Cold War days, when anything was acceptable to defend against communism (the CIA even made contingency plans to  overthrow the Harold Wilson Labour government!), and in the latter case the Muslim Brotherhood government were arguably working to remove aspects of democracy.

But Ukraine was different.  It is clearly a complex situation, and it is easy to be critical from a distance.  The politics there is factional, rather like Northern Ireland, and clearly driven very strongly by the super-rich, not so unlike the US.  So, whether the pre-February Government in Ukraine was a good or bad one is a matter of debate, but its election was not.  The 2010 poll was operated by the previous pro-European administration, so there was no element of Gerrymandering, and, as far as any poll in the area could be, it was regarded as fair.

That is, there was no challenge to the fundamental democratic legitimacy of the pre-Feb 2014 government.

Yet, we watched and encouraged its violent downfall.

It is almost hard to recall now.  Certainly the BBC tends to remind us of the events in Crimea and the rise of pro-Russin separatists as the start of the conflict, but of course these were the response not the start.

The start was the Maidan protests; the daily images of police lines with fire bombs raining down, the arming of the protestors, the eventual bloody clashes with large numbers of protesters and also many police left dead on the streets, and the ensuing decision of the president to give up power rather than bring the army onto the streets of Kiev.

I imagine this was Britain.  Thatcher in 1990 and the Poll Tax riots; Blair in 2003 and the anti-Iraq War protests; Cameron in 2012 and the ‘Occupy’ movement.  In all cases, my sympathy was with the demonstrators, in all cases I wished the government had listened more to them, just as I’m fairly sure most of the Ukrainians I know would have supported the original causes of Maidan.  However, neither I nor anyone in the UK, whether they sided with the Poll Tax, Anti-War or Occupy protesters or with the government, would have wished for this to end with the overthrow of the government and the remaining parliament making decisions with the masked ex-protestors standing with automatic weapons at the doors of Westminster.

This is what happened in Ukraine.

And we in the West supported it, indeed encourage it.  US senator John McCain visited the demonstrators early, while they were still a peaceful ‘occupy’-like movement.  However,  EU representatives were there after the far-right elements had armed.

The press dressed this as people power against autocratic government.

It never was, simply a democratic government that made a decision that a large minority of its people (often violently) disagreed with, and most fundamentally was not one that we in the west agreed with.

And for the majority of people in Ukraine, for those who voted a government they trusted, we taught them that democracy does not pay, that democracy is a sham, that democracy is only good if the government you elect does the ‘right’ things as judged by the western media.

We have witnessed the death of democracy.

And applauded it.

 

just running (and the odd walk)

I now feel  little more prepared for Sunday’s 35 mile Tiree ultramarathon, which is following the coats of the island as closely as possible.  Sort of a bit like my walk around Wales, but on a smaller scale!


Tiree Ultamarathon Route

I’m planning to do a mix of run and walk.  The target is to get round in 10 hours.  This would be a doodle if it were all road and beaches as I can average 4 miles an hour fast walk, but the rough ground sections will be slow, so I need to run when I can to make up.

Today I ran and walked the section of the route that goes round the east end of the island, 11.5 miles on Sunday’s route, then 2 miles back across the island to home, and then, to cap off threw in a little 7.5 mile run down to Hynish and back.  In all 21 miles in five and a quarter hours, so the running and slow walking averaging out at 4 miles an hour, on track. I’m bound to slow a little as the day wears on, and the weather is set to be less good on Sunday, but it’s good to know I’m in the right ballpark.

My only problem is eating enough while moving.  I did manage to eat a Mars bar, but find it hard to eat when I’ve just been running, so had to wait for the long walk sections — I guess why the professional runners all use those gel packs.  I think I’ll get some more Kendal Mint Cake as that is far easier to simply suck/crunch and swallow, and no load on the stomach — straight sugar!

Of course, now it is evening I have to try and catchup with all the work I should have been doing in those five and quarter hours :-/

I’m not really doing it ‘for’ anything , but if you feel inspired the JustGiving pages on AlanWalksWales are still open for donations.

Edinburgh days

I’ve just spent most of the last week in Edinburgh.  This was mainly for a one day update meeting for the projects in the Digital R&D Fund for Arts and Culture in Scotland, who funded the An Iodhlann mobile app Frasan.  However, such are the logistics of Island life that I spent four days on the road, but, in the process, saw friends and family and came back with a three-foot long box.

edinburgh-scaled-2013-10-10-16.07.44

The previous meeting had been between the March Tiree Tech Wave and Miriam’s wedding, so I ended up taking a plane on the day, taxi across from Glasgow to Edinburgh1 and arriving for the last two hours of the afternoon.  This time I was a little more leisurely!  I didn’t want to do another guerrilla attendance, but weather was looking uncertain for Wednesday, and so I ended up flying over on Tuesday and back on Friday, all booked on Monday as I’d missed the critical emails earlier.

However, I did make the most of the journey.

On Tuesday I stopped off at Haymarket and went to Maplin for an LED sign.  I’d tried to get a reconditioned unit by mail order, but it had got lost in the post, by which time they had run out of online stocks, but did have them in store.  The sign is for experimenting with digital signage at Tiree Tech Wave.  We have pico projectors for hi-res stuff, but this means we can also play with simpler, daytime-visible signage.

I also got a chance to meet with Owen and Natasha, my nephew and … whatever you call the person married to a nephew … niece-in-law?  They both work for Scottish Government, and kept very busy not least with the additional load in the run-up to the independence referendum next year.  Chatting to them I realise that the Scottish Government already does so much, and whatever the results of the referendum certainly the role of Scottish and Welsh Governments will grow in coming years.

After the debacle of the electoral reform referendum, which was fought on a “do you really want more Clegg?” basis, I am just hoping that the debate over Scottish independence is more reasoned, but, sadly, so far disinformation and prevarication are more common than plain speaking.  I am appalled at the constant stream of news headlines, that warn of some economic post-independence catastrophe, only to find, buried on the past lines “according to …” some anti-independence spokesperson or think-tank.

edinburgh-scaled-2013-10-10-16.20.56My recent favourite was the Times article prophesying the collapse of company pension funds.  The full story hinged around the use of Scottish Limited Partnerships, SLPs, a special legal instrument, and would only cause problems for south-of-the-border companies and then only if a post-independence Westminster, in a fit of pique, chose to damage its own industry.

On Wednesday I had dinner with Sandra Cairncross and Tom McEwan and later Tom and I met David Benyon at the World’s End.  So an evening of discussing higher education, the transformation of research into the digital economy and the state of the Scottish brewing and distilling industry (the last using empirical methods).

The Nesta meeting was a joy as always.  Good to meet old faces from Nesta, the other arts and culture projects and CReATes the research team.  It was especially good to meet Lorna Edwards who has taken over from Gillian Easson as Programme Manager for Nesta in Scotland (three weeks into the job and learning fast!) and also to meet Louisa from CReATes who is going to be at the next Tiree Tech Wave.  It was a wonderfully open environment discussing problems as well as successes as the ultimate aim of Nesta is the learning of how collaborations work between arts/culture and technology partners.

edinburgh-scaled-2013-10-10-16.19.03And finally, defining images of Edinburgh, a city that seems hell bent on becoming a pastiche of itself, and yet failing utterly to bury the grey-sooted round-towered tenements and volcanic remains that rise above the river-like flow of clan-less tartan and plastic claymores.

A shop window: “sporrans half price”.

A bagpipe busker playing “The Wheels on the Bus”.

A grimy-windowed, grim-painted workshop where bagpipes are still fashioned by skill, sweat and oily wood shavings.

A living city where tomorrow’s government, age-old traditions and tourist frippery coexist.

  1. Why are there no direct shuttles between Scotland’s principle airports and cities?  You have to take bus then train, and so I’ve often had to take taxis when pressed for time.  It is even hard getting from Prestwick Airport to Glasgow Airport.  Two circular shuttle routes could take in Glasgow, Prestwick and Edinburgh airports, turning them into a single transit hub, like the way Gatwick and Heathrow are treated as one for many purposes. [back]

Unnatural Winter

Through cloud haze
A snow field
Green and mud-red become
A grey-white sheep-fleece palette of crop and earth
Rectilinear pieces puzzle-fit between ice-flow river-paths.

Below a town.

Bare, ringed toes tread wind-ground rock-ice dust
Lime green and dull gold sari
Sways sharp colour
In monochrome streets.

A charcoal cow etched immobile in the road
Tent-hung fatless flesh no insulation
Hoar-frost fingers clutch
Once blood-traced retina
Behind chill impassive eyes.

(written on a flight from Bangelore to Delhi, 29th Sept 2013)

HCI 2013

Yesterday I got back from HCI 2013, the British Human–Computer Interaction conference in Brunel: lovely people, stimulating papers, and ceilidh dancing to boot.

My first ever paper in computing1Abstract models of interactive systems” was in the first British HCI conference, although I didn’t go to the conference and it was presented by my co-author, Colin Runciman.  Since then I have published and presented many of my favourite papers at HCI, including much of my early work on time in the user interface2.  So the conference has many memories for me.

For various reasons I’d not attended much over a number of years. I don’t really know why, some years I’ve been external examining, some years not had money in the right pot at the right time, sometimes simply travelled too much in the year already. Happily for the last three years I have managed it, and, whenever I go, I come away feeling positive, encouraged, wanting to spend longer lingering.

I can’t help comparing this with CHI, which, in HCI, is the place to be.  It similarly has many lovely people, albeit lost in a crowd of 2-3000, including many I would be unlikely to see any other time, and there is some wonderful stuff at CHI, I recall this year a demo by Japanese students wiring up forks to give tiny electrical stimuli as you eat that mimics the effects of saltiness and so helps you reduce salt intake in food, but, despite all this, I still always end up, at some stage of CHI, sitting in my room, feeling depressed, and thinking “I want to be home”.

I have a short attention span and the child’s love of novelty, and so the breadth of British HCI contributions is always so enjoyable … I actually go into paper sessions, and I am stimulated by them.  CHI’s relative narrowness (in the past) of the concept of HCI as a field was one of the reasons I never published there in my early years; at that stage I was working mostly in formal methods in HCI and this simply fell outside the CHI imagination.  To be fair this has changed dramatically, and now CHI has a very broad remit, I think of some of Bill Gaver’s papers over the years on the artistic/design side of HCI, hardly conventional; however, I still cannot imagine David England’s paper on Category Theory at this year’s HCI being accepted even in Alt-CHI.

It is always a little insidious to name high spots, but David’s paper was certainly one, although I am probably a little biased here as I am one of the few people to have actually used Category Theory in HCI3.  I should also mention Janet Read’s description of stroppy teenagers and Juha Leino who made a study of the pedagogical use of five star vs binary recommendation systems fascinating.

I was at HCI primarily with a Talis hat on and so both the HCI education session at the conference (including Leino’s paper) and the HCI educator’s workshop, were particularly important. At HCI educators I was particularly struck by Helen Sharp’s contribution telling us about the cultural differences between both students and educators on the same OU course taught in Botswana and UK.  Also I lead a short discussion on MOOCs partly reporting on my own experiences in delivering HCIcourse.com and partly using that as a means to stimulate discussion of the role of MOOCs vis-a-vis (so to speak) conventional face-to-face teaching.

If you are interested in teaching using materials from HCIcourse.com, or would like to share our own learning materials, do get in touch.  If you want to study the course yourself it is still available at HCIcourse.com and will soon relaunch at interaction-design.org.

Next year’s HCI conference will be in Southport, hosted by the ChiCi group at UCLAN. Submit a paper, run a workshop, or simply come and join HCI at the seaside!

  1. I had previously published in agricultural engineering research when I worked at the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering.[back]
  2. Time papers at HCI: HCI’87 — “The myth of the infinitely fast machine“; HCI’92 — “Pace and interaction“; HCI’94 — “Que sera sera – The problem of the future perfect in open and cooperative systems“.[back]
  3. I worked with Roberta Mancini and Stefano Levialdi in Rome in the late 1990s on undo systems, and Roberta used Category Theory in her thesis to prove uniqueness properties of certain classes of undo systems.  If I recall right, the Category theory itself was only in the thesis, but the machinery leading into it was described in “The cube – extending systems for undo“.[back]

the economics of misery

It is agreed, by academics and politicians, if the poor are always to be with us, it had better be grinding poverty.

Last week I spotted an interestingly titled “A strong faith ‘can weaken the economy‘” in The Times (22/8/2013, p. 25).  This was reporting on a recent academic article1 in “Social Psychological and Personality Science” (it is ‘science’ so must be true.).  The first sentence of The Times report reads:

“Too much religion can harm a society’s economy by undermining the drive for financial success, according to study.”

(N.B. see coda below for what the academic article actually says.)

I at first thought this must be some sort of study looking at different countries’ rates of growth vs religiosity or something like that, maybe a counter to the ‘protestant work ethic’.  However, it was instead a study of happiness. basically religious people are happier in general, but most critically poor religious people were, in some cases, most happy of all.

Critically for the non-relgious, richer people are a lot happier than poorer people. Yep, surprise, surprise; despite all those worries about which new SUV to buy, or watching the uncertain future of their stock portfolio, rich people’s woes do not compare with wondering where you are going to find the next meal for your children.

From this The Times report’s conclusion follows, that religion is clearly bad for the economy, because poor people have less incentive to become richer.  I guess this is neo-lberal equivalent of Marx’s “religion is the opium of the masses”.  Well, something that Thatcher and Trotsky could have agreed on.

Strangely, given the rich are happy, surely it would be better if they were less happy and therefore more incentivised to be even richer and thus work harder to grow the economy.  Maybe a better headline would be “Happy rich people ‘can weaken the economy'”?  I wonder why the The Times didn’t report that.

On a similar theme, in yesterday’s Times, on the front page, another episode in the long running feckless poor saga, with a headline “Benefits fuel workshy culture, says pensions czar” (27/8/2013, p.1), reporting on a statement from Lord Hutton, who was once part of the Blair government and now a cross-party peer and the coalition’s pension advisor.

Yes, it is official, poverty is not enough, the only route to economic regeneration and growth is grinding poverty and misery to boot.

Coda — what the academic article actually says

I found a copy of the full article on Southampton’s eprints server.  The actual words in the conclusion, from which The Times makes its summary are:

“Consequently, as long as religiosity fosters anti-wealth norms, it may undermine financial strivings and success both at the individual- and culture-level. This may be a mixed blessing: religiosity may curb ever-needed economic growth but may also thwart individuals and cultures from making risky financial decisions.”

Ignoring the implicit assumption that growth is ‘ever-needed’, it is interesting that The Times headline did not read “A strong faith could have prevented financial crisis“.

Furthermore, the phrase in quotes in the headline ‘can weaken the economy‘ does not actually occur anywhere in the pre-print of the paper.

Two other things were interesting to note.

First, despite the paper’s title and abstract that mentions “religiously diverse cultures“, in fact the study is of 11 European countries (not including the UK)), only one of which (Turkey) is not predominantly Christian.  Interestingly Turkey is one of the countries (with Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands) that showed the opposite trend to the norm.  Given this, maybe The Times headline should have been “Muslim faith can ‘strengthen the economy’“.

Second, it was interesting to note the superficial knowledge of actual religious teaching evidenced in the article.  Following the general European-Christian theme, all the quotes in the paper are Judeo-Christian, and quite rightly the paper numerous cites texts that comfort the poor and warn of the danger of riches (e.g. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”, Mark 10:25).

While this Biblical ‘Bias to the Poor’ (as the late David Shepherd put it), is accurate, the article also cites Moses’ destruction of the Golden Calf in Exodus, which the paper deems to be a parable about gold.  Of course, the point of the story is not about the fact that it is gold but that they are worshiping an idol not the true God, this would have been a problem were it made of gold, clay or Brighton Rock.  Indeed later, the Ark of the Covenant, where the tablets of the law brought down by Moses are stored, incorporates gold and other precious materials (Exodus 25).

Interestingly, given The Times doctored a quote from the article, the article doctors a quote from God, inserting the word ‘golden’ into his command to Moses to go down from the mountain (Exodus 32:7-10).  To be fair, being good academics, the word ‘golden’ is in square brackets, academic speak for “I know it doesn’t really says this, but I’m inventing words to make my point anyway, and hoping you read it without noticing”.

You see, we academics are honest about our deceit. … now I’m sure there is something in the Ten Commandments about that …

  1. J. E. Gebauer, A. D. Nehrlich, C. Sedikides and W. Neberich. The Psychological Benefits of Income are Contingent on Individual-Level and Culture-Level Religiosity. Social Psychological and Personality Science. September 2013, vol. 4 no. 5, pp.569-578.(published online before print December 20, 2012), doi:10.1177/1948550612469819.  abstract at SagePub, full text at Southampton eprints.[back]

the myth of the ‘supermom’ supervisor

On Facebook I’ve seen a number of shares to an article in the Times Higher entitled “10 truths a PhD supervisor will never tell you“.  The author is writing from an Australian perspective, and is now a senior academic in a university there, so has seen, at least the system there, from both sides.  The article includes useful advice.  Some seems obvious, such as “A supervisor who is active in the area of your doctorate can help to turbocharge your work“; of course this may not be so obvious to a young PhD student … but then how many read THES?

However, I was sometimes lost as to whether the author was carping at her own PhD supervision many years ago, or writing satirically as the set of requirements for a PhD supervisor sounded a bit like the mythical supermom juggling nappies, school run in the SUV and voluntary work in the Opera House all in the gaps in her busy schedule as chief executive of a multi-national.

To be honest, as a PhD supervisor, I have sometimes felt like a flailing (and often failing) supermom, but the supermom is an invention of exploitative magazines, ignorant media and the odd misogynist, and the super-supervisor is no more soundly based.

Some of the comments on the THES website do pick up these contradictions, for example (truth 3) never being absent on the weekly meeting slot (the school run), but also (truth 4) powerful enough to protect the student from bureaucracy (the chief executive).

Most of the Facebook shares have been positive and the article reads well if read as hyperbole, however I can’t help feeling that it should be mixed with a little more realism … and maybe someday I should write “10 truths they never tell you about being a PhD supervisor”.

In the UK our PhD system (and indeed whole university system) dates from the time when less than 1 in 20 school-leavers went to University and of those less than 1 in 20 went on to do any sort of post-graduate degree or PhD. While the latter figure has not grown so much, the former is now near 40%.  I guess, in the dim past, with a super-elite of less than 0.25% doing a PhD, a ‘sink or swim’ approach may not have worked so badly; a bit like saying “Hey Usain, run”.

The mix of students has changed, but the attitudes and models have not kept pace, for example, many universities still count PhD supervision as ‘research’ time rather than teaching, a perk rather than a job. In the UK system we still, in practice if not in word, regard the PhD process as independent research rather than as training for independent research.  This puts unrealistic pressure on the student and makes the supervisory task one of all responsibility and little control (pretty much the clinical definition of stress).

To be honest some academics do take the old school approach, seeking research ‘cannon fodder’ rather than students, but for the prospective PhD student this is rarely an issue as they won’t accept you anyway unless you are already an academic Usain Bolt.  However, the vast majority of supervisors put in substantial time and personal energy in what is often, institutionally, a thankless task.

The fees for PhDs also reflect the old model, whether they are paid by the UK government, some sort of external sponsor or in rare occasions the student themselves.  I once calculated that the average PhD fees (higher for overseas student than EU ones) paid for a maximum of 2 hours per month for normal supervisory activities, this to include every email answered, university form filled in and paper/chapter read as well as face-to-face contact.  This is in contrast to a stated minimum contact time of 2 hours per month and in practice at least twice that, not to mention the above average periods.

Maybe we could have supermom supervision, but it would cost an awful lot more.

I have had some wonderful PhD students, but by definition you know them at one of their most vulnerable, but also most self-absorbed times of their lives.  When they are not actually having babies while doing the PhD (I’ve lost count of my PhD ‘grandchildren’), the thesis is like a baby, and every student is going through the emotional and physical trauma that entails!  The job of PhD supervisor is more often about motivating, cajoling, and wiping tears than sharing pearls of academic wisdom.  But, happily, the only homicidal student I have supervised (not PhD!) only threatened other academics and not me.

In my own experience, I bought my first mobile phone so that I could walk back and forth on the beach on a rare family holiday helping a student through an early paper submission, and I have received a complete thesis draft on Christmas Eve knowing I needed to read it by Boxing Day … indeed I cannot recall when I last had a Christmas period without either a PhD thesis to read for a student or one to examine externally.

I was fortunate in that my busiest time as a PhD suorvisor was when my daughters were already starting to grow up (although maybe they did not think so at the time), as they were born just before and while doing my own PhD (yes Colin you too were a PhD grandfather).  A colleague, who had had his first child while he was already a long-standing academic, once told me how he had cut back his working hours. “I don’t come in until 8:30 and I leave by 4:30”, he said – oh my goodness an eight hour day. But then he spoilt it, “and I don’t start work again until after the baby is asleep at 7, and do less at weekends”.

So, if you are a prospective or current PhD student, do read the THES article.  However do also remember that to the extent that your supervisor satisfies any of the ‘supermom’ criteria, it is not that they are ‘doing their job’, but because, out of their own time and effort, they are doing it for you. And, please, don’t forget that they have a life as well.

And if you are a PhD supervisor and read the THES article with despair in your heart, believing you have failed your students, your university and yourself, remember, the ‘supermom’ supervisor is a myth.  At times being a supervisor may be demoralising, depressing and debilitating, but also there are rewards (albeit unlikely to be institutional ones) when you see your students mature.  And, please, don’t forget who your real children are.