Marching on the capital

– a personal take on the French #SciencesEnMarche movement

Amélie and the garden gnome

Amélie and the garden gnome

Before I moved to Lyon, my view of France was based primarily on popular media. Looking back at my expectations, I can now report a disappointing lack of obsession with garden gnomes, whereas the myth of exorbitant amounts of dog poo on French streets has proven true. I can’t comment on the quantity and quality of late night porn on national television (supposedly a lot and explicit) since I don’t own a TV. As for endless strikes and protests, after a lackluster year with no major demonstrations, finally something big is happening! Researchers in France are – as someone said on twitter – “doing what the French do best: protesting”. In a movement called Sciences En Marche, scientists from all over the country are cycling, hiking and kayaking towards Paris, protesting against the government’s neglect of science. Reports of the demonstration and the demands have been reported elsewhere (amongst others a detailed write-up in the LabTimes, and also in Science and Nature). So today, having seen Sciences En Marche in action, as the “protests” arrived in Lyon, I’ll share my personal view of things.

SciencesEnMarche in Lyon. The flag of the movement is attached to a Velov bike, an iconic symbol of the city, as Lyon was one of the first towns to adopt a bikesharing system.

Sciences En Marche in Lyon. The flag of the movement is attached to a Vélo’v bike, an iconic symbol of the city, as local scientists join the demonstrators on their way to the city center.

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Is your PhD worth the same as mine? And does it matter?

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Isle of Wight steam train. Apparently steam trains lead to the introduction of standard time. Picture by Puritani35 through a Creative Commons license.

I have been told that when steam trains were developed in England in the 19th century, one key consequence was that it lead to the introduction of a nation-wide standard time, which in turn allowed for better synchronized production pipelines between businesses in different parts of the country. I don’t know if this is true, but there are certainly plenty of examples in science, innovation and engineering, where having standards and conventions is important and has enabled better research and development. You need only to think of the kilogram, or binominal nomenclature or having standardized file formats in flow cytometry, or the MIAME requirements for microarray data. Considering how standards improve the quality of science in so many ways, I was very surprised when I discovered for that PhD degrees, which one might consider an essential cornerstone of the scientific career path, there is no standard requirement at all. Continue reading