Sunday, 21 December 2014

Reconstructing a conference, REF and other fragments

This week has seen me not going to the Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference at Manchester. This was an interesting experience, since luckily a colleague seem to have been constantly tweeting and now afterwards blogging about the experience. I have reconstructed my own conference from Facebook postings, scrolling through the tweets with #TAG2014 hashtag on Wednesday, getting comments via e-mail from colleagues who were there and help me with peer reviewing and now reading the blogs. As with my comments in my other, more personal blog, this does not replace the physical experience of actually being there (as Skype does not replace hugs at the bed time). Nevertheless, all this belated virtual attendance means that I managed to work on organising peer reviews for a book, dealing with peer reviewing abstract for a conference session, working in the libraries at Cambridge and looking for digital data instead of being 'tired and emotional' after the TAG party and travelling on trains just before Christmas. On the minus side, I could not hear much of the MesoNeo session, since people dealing with Medieval or Roman archaeology seldom follow such things.

NOT this year

The other matter to follow through Twitter and different online media is the REF results that were announced on Thursday. I did forget about the thing until the end of the day, but managed to scroll through #REF2014. All Universities tried to find something positive to announce, even if the results may have been a disappointment. Oxford came out of the exercise as the leading university and Cambridge has to give place to UCL. In archaeology, the analysis of the results is made more difficult by the fact that archaeology is place together with geography and environmental sciences and only the separate figures are given to a selection of different universities on the results page. These mainly include the so-called leading universities, such as Oxford, Cambridge, UCL and Durham, but there is also Chester with its own archaeology figures. Comparing different figures the REF pages give, one can gather that archaeology at Oxford has amazing impact figures, but Cambridge, Oxford, Reading, Sheffield, Leicester and Durham among others have very high numbers of 4* and 3* papers and UCL leads in Environment with Cambridge and Oxford slightly farther behind. As an itinerant postdoc, I do not have to worry about making part of such comparisons, but it is interesting to know what one has to take into account if one worked at a university. The truth is that in the age of diminishing research funds, the future will bring the concentration of research funding to Oxford, Cambridge and UCL. It will be revealing to see if the amazing departments at the universitites that do not hit the highest figures, continue to get funding for their archaeology...

Then, I out my inner grumpy middle-aged person again. Could all conference organisers, please, start to plan the deadlines with a calendar in hand? Organising a full automated online abstract review from start to finish during the two mid-weeks in December? When there is a conference season in UK and Italy and the people in the Nordic countries start concentrate on organising family functions at the start of the annual leave? We made it but only by ignoring a missing peer review and not having time to fathom the finesses of the rules or the interface...

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