Since the beginning of the 2017-18 academic year, I’ve been writing the occasional column for Observant, the independent newspaper of Maastricht University. It’s fun, reaching out to a different kind of audience – academic, but not necessarily research focused. Sticking to 400 words, and not including copious references and nuanced explanation is a challenge. My first column appeared in the first week of teaching so I focused on academic new year resolutions, for staff and students. The second was my (necessarily) short contribution to the ongoing discussions about sexual harassment (or – the more apt Dutch phrase – ‘unwanted intimacies’) in universities. The third was about the role of humour in an international classroom, and the fourth celebrated books, prompted by a student complaint about being expected to read very long books.
I was invited to continue for the 2018-19 academic year, and now the columns are only 350 words. The first column is about the limits of autonomous robots, prompted by observing an autonomous lawnmower while on holiday. I then turned to what (male) academics wear, and most recently how to navigate Dutch handshaking culture. The last column appeared in April, and addresses the important issue of inter-species collaboration.
I’ve now finished my columns for 2019-20. In September, I addressed the attempts by university administrators to predict the unpredictable, namely student numbers. In November, I complained about the ‘male by default’ design of microphones and what that means for what women wear. In February, I reflected on the recent call by a British management training institute to ban talk of football in workplaces. In April, I explained why words matter, prompted by a recent invitation to join an advisory committee about AI, to represent the ‘non-technical sciences’.