Janet Beer on leadership diversity: don’t hold out for a hero

Published today (12th March 2015), John Morgan examines why Janet Beer (Liverpool’s new Vice-Chancellor) believes there should be more women and ethnic minorities at the top.  To see the full article in the Times Higher follow this link –


‘Janet Beer, who took over as vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool last month, has a persuasive theory about why there are so few female university leaders in the UK. There is, she argues, a misconceived ideal of “heroic leadership” that holds that leaders must be “more Zeus than Athena”.

Athena v Zeus: Janet Beer says a “heroic leadership” ideal fails women

Athena v Zeus: Janet Beer says a “heroic leadership” ideal fails women











“The work to do…is about unconscious bias,” she said. “We need more thought about what leaders look like in the sector; less concentration on some kind of heroic model of leadership, something more about consensus-building and collaborative and partnership working at all levels.”

What do you think?

Clever girls, stupid boys?

On 5th March 2015 Sean Coughlan (BBC Education Correspondent) explored education and gender stereotypes in his article – ‘Clever girls, stupid boys?’


‘Clever girls, stupid boys. That’s become something of a modern educational orthodoxy, as girls across the developed world are more likely to get top exam grades and university places.  The gap is so great that the UK’s university admissions authority has warned that being male could soon be seen as a new form of social disadvantage.’

clever girls

Fieldwork in cold places: dress for success (or at least for survival) – Part 1

I have undertaken fieldwork in some pretty cold places over the years (e.g. Canada, Greenland, Norway, Finland, Siberia) and I have learnt a lot in the process. If you are planning fieldwork and you think it might be cold, the following commentary may be of some use to you. That said, I have no doubt that those of you out there with experience will disagree with some (or all?) of what I will say. Clothing choices, after all, can be very personal. Páramo-girls* and Buffalo-boys** will be particularly irate about the comments I make in Part 2 of this blog, I suspect.


Firstly, when does it feel the coldest? I have felt coldest in temperatures between -5°C and +5°C. This may sound daft. Surely it is colder when the mercury drops below -5°C? Well, yes, it is colder, but it does not necessarily ‘feel’ colder. It is very complicated (you need to take into account the temperature, humidity and dew point), but essentially a damp-cold feels colder than a dry-cold. In very cold conditions a dry-cold is more likely, so it is colder, but does not feel colder. I remember conducting a topographic survey with a colleague in northern Finland many years ago, I was wearing five layers of clothing and I was still cold. I had to do shuttle runs after each survey leg just to warm up a bit. The air temperature was about +1°C. Below -25°C is serious frostbite territory and even if you don’t feel cold you can easily acquire cold injuries (frostnip and/or frostbite), but this is extreme and most people will not experience such cold.

Basic Rules
There is so no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing choices. So follow these rules:

1. Do not wear garments made from cotton when conducting fieldwork in cold climates. Especially do not wear them next to the skin. When cotton gets wet it loses all insulation value and, critically, it holds that moisture and chills the wearer. This is why many mountaineers and backpackers call it ‘killer-cotton’ and why jeans have long been banned on geography fieldclasses.

2. Dress in ‘layers’. The layer principle has been around for a long time and the general idea is that three thin layers are better than one thick one because air is trapped not only within the layers but between the layers (still air is the best insulator). Also three layers are more versatile than one (which is either ‘on’ or ‘off’), so you are more likely to achieve the right thermal balance between body/workload and environment.


3. Avoid sweating at all costs, as this is the key to remaining comfortable in the cold. The problem here is that most people wear too many clothes when outdoors in the cold, especially when working (carrying loads, digging snow pits, coring etc). You should wear the minimum. If you are warm enough when stationary, then you will be much too hot when moving/working. Constantly adjust your microclimate by ventilating/removing a layer or zipping up/adding a layer, as appropriate.

Fieldwork in the mountains of northern Norway. Cool and damp. Plenty of layers needed!

Fieldwork in the mountains of northern Norway. Cool and damp. Plenty of layers needed!

4. Following on from 3. above, you should add a layer when you stop moving/working and before you get cold. If you were wearing too much in the first place (you did not follow rule 3!), you will have been sweating and when you do cool down you will feel really cold.

5. Always keep key insulation items dry. This might mean not deploying certain clothing types if you are wet or the weather is wet. Putting on a jacket filled with goose down at a time when it is going to get soaking wet is a very bad idea. Down jackets are useless when they are wet, the down clumps together and all the dead air space is lost meaning they won’t keep you warm. They are best kept for sub-zero conditions or when you are stationary and under cover (e.g. in the mess tent at the end of a long day).

6. Always pack an emergency warm item (e.g. an extra mid-layer). I always carry a pullover made of a reasonably windproof material lined with synthetic insulation as an emergency spare in the bottom of my rucksack (in a waterproof stuff sac). This can be put on if you get really cold due to a change in weather or an enforced period of inactivity and can be used in wet or dry conditions.

7. Eat and drink regularly. The body can generate a lot of heat if it has the fuel to do so. Similarly, if you get dehydrated your temperature regulation system will falter.

That’s it for now. Next time I will deal with the ‘layers’ of a good cold weather clothing system and talk about fabrics and the like.



*Páramo offer waterproofs (and many other garments) that use a completely different technology from membrane-based Gore-Tex and the like. Many serious outdoor professionals use them because they are hard-wearing and the designs include ventilation options as standard (e.g. ‘pit’ zips). Don’t knock’em, unless you’ve tried’em.
**Buffalo Systems produce garments that have a fibre-pile (what we used pre-fleece) inner and a pertex outer, so they are both windproof and breathable. They are great garments (and have a strong following), although appear to promote an ‘anti-layer’ approach to keeping warm.


SteveGurney_wA bit about today’s blogger: Steve Gurney


  • Chair of SAGES Health & Safety Committee
  • Undergraduate Teaching: Geomorphology; Geographical Techniques; Physical Geography Field Class, Geomorphological
  • Hazards; Glacial & Periglacial Geomorphology.




Areas of Interest:

  • Periglacial and permafrost geomorphology and sedimentology
  • Glacial geomorphology and sedimentology
  • Nival geomorphology and hydrology
  • Quaternary mid-latitude permafrost and periglacial environments
  • The history of mountain glaciers since the Little Ice Age
  • Karst geomorphology and hydrology

The Okstindan Research Project has a Research Station (‘Okstindhytta’) located in the mountainous Okstindan area of northern Norway. The Project has been running for over 30 years and the station has provided a base for teaching and research for the whole of this period. Steve is currently the administrator of the station. Read more about Okstindan.

Dr Gurney also holds the position of ‘Docent in cold climate geomorphology’ at the University of Turku, Finland.

What impact has Lean In had on women?

In an article posted today on the BBC News website, Gianna Palmer explores the impact of the book ‘Lean In’ – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-31727796

‘On Thursday, Leanin.org, Sandberg’s non-profit organisation, launched its latest public awareness campaign, Lean In Together, or #LeanInTogether as it’s being known, in partnership with basketball organisations the NBA and WNBA. The campaign is focused on men’s roles in reaching gender equality.

Going global

‘Lean In was published two years ago this month. Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, describes it as “sort of a feminist manifesto”. The original book has sold over 2.25 million copies worldwide. A newer edition, Lean In For Graduates, came out last April.

“The catchphrase of ‘lean in’ – that has gone global,” says Astrid Henry, a professor of gender studies at Grinnell College, Iowa. She describes Sandberg as an enormously successful modern spokesperson for feminism: “Her influence and her visibility at this moment can’t be overestimated.”

Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In has sold more than two million copies worldwide

Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In has sold more than two million copies worldwide










Have you read ‘Lean In?’  What do you think?

Clever girls lack confidence in science and maths

Today BBC Education Correspondent Sean Coughlan reports – ‘Girls still lack confidence in pursuing high-paid careers in science and technology, even when their school results are as good or better than boys.’


‘Mr Schleicher, the OECD’s education director, argues that it is not “about men and women doing similar work for different pay, but about men and women pursuing different careers”.

In particular, he says women are still “severely under-represented” in jobs related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which can be among the highest earning careers. He says that “gender differences in self-confidence” could be the key difference. Even though girls might achieve better academic results, there is still a reluctance to apply for jobs.

There were also findings that parents were more likely to push boys towards careers in science and technology. “We may have lost sight of important social and emotional dimensions of learning that may be far more predictive for the future life choices of children,” said Mr Schleicher.’

A lack of self-confidence is a factor in whether women apply for jobs in science and technology, says study

A lack of self-confidence is a factor in whether women apply for jobs in science and technology, says study

How to beat writer’s block

Roberta Gilchrist highlighted an article by Matthew Reisz in the Times Higher published on the 22nd January 2015 –  ‘Learning to accept ‘good enough’ as a benchmark can help academics escape a writing rut.’


Peer pressure: look beyond scholarly insecurities to focus on a specific goal

Peer pressure: look beyond scholarly insecurities to focus on a specific goal











‘PhD students often procrastinate because they feel they have “not yet had a breakthrough in their thinking, have not yet crossed the conceptual threshold”. Others get bogged down by the impostor syndrome, “the feeling that you do not yet have anything important enough to say” or that the real experts “will immediately attack what you do say as rubbish”

‘Finally, at those ghastly moments when the gears seem to seize up completely, don’t just sit there staring at the screen. Instead, recommends Professor Wisker, “stop writing, go for a walk, do anything other than write, and let your mind flow around the issues when it wants to. The breakthrough in thinking, understanding and expression often comes when your mind is freer. Then catch it, build on it and write.”

Do you procrastinate?  Are you able to say ‘this is good enough.’  Can you take a ‘helicopter view’ of your work?


Gender split on fellowship scheme ‘unacceptable’

In an article published on the 2nd March 2015 in the Times Higher, Holly Else examines why ‘the Royal Society has not been able to find any reason why so few women were successful in securing awards from one of its fellowship schemes in 2014.’  In 2014 only 2 of its 43 University Research Fellowships went to women.

The full article can be seen here – http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/gender-split-on-fellowship-scheme-unacceptable/2018831.article


Flexibility, not toughness, can change lab culture

In an article published on the 25th February 2015 in Research Fortnight and Research Profession, Craig Nicholson explores the question “How tough must women be to change lab culture?”   The unanimous answer to this question at an event held on the 2nd February was – ‘Women who work in laboratories should not try to live up to a perceived ideal of toughness in order to change the culture, according to a panel at an event called Made of Steel.’

The full article can be seen here:



‘Another issue discussed was the portrayal of female scientists and engineers in the media, and whether more glamorous role models were needed to persuade more girls to study STEM subjects. “Do we need a female Brian Cox?” asked the science and technology journalist Susan Watts, the chairwoman of the panel.’

What do you think?  Do we need a ‘female Brian Cox?’

Proportion of female professors up, but still below a quarter

Hilary Geoghegan highlighted this article by Jack Grove in the Times Higher published on the 28th February 2105 – Proportion of female professors up, but still below a quarter. http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/proportion-of-female-professors-up-but-still-below-a-quarter/2018824.article

‘Some 22 per cent of professors – 4,415 out of 19,750 in total – were female in 2013-14 compared with just 15 per cent in 2003-04, according to a report by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.’


International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day 2015 Theme: MAKE IT HAPPEN






‘All around the world, International Women’s Day represents an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality.

Make It Happen is the 2015 theme for our internationalwomensday.com global hub, encouraging effective action for advancing and recognising women.

Each year International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8. The first International Women’s Day was held in 1911. Thousands of events occur to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women. Organisations, governments, charities, educational institutions, women’s groups, corporations and the media celebrate the day.

Various organisations identify their own International Women’s Day theme, specific to their local context and interests. Many charities, NGOs and Governments also adopt a relevant theme or campaign to mark the day. For example, organisations like the UN, Oxfam, Women for Women, Care International, Plan, World Association of Girl Guides & Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) and more – run exciting and powerful campaigns that raise awareness and encourage donations for good causes. The UN has been declaring an annual equality theme for many years.’