What are you doing for the summer? Like most academics, I get asked this question every day in summer, usually by people who are convinced that college gates are locked the day students finish their exams.
Actually, that’s partly true. Some lecturers in the Institutes of Technology take off on June 20th and reappear on September 1st; as is their right, given the heavy teaching load during termtime. However, for those of us who try to keep up the research, the summer months are the time to get something done.
A few years ago, I used to spend my summers at my alma mater Trinity College, doing experimental work in the physics department. These days, I find myself doing more and more writing for the public about science, from particle physics to cosmology. Truth is, I always liked writing more than toiling in the lab..
This summer, I am reading up on climate science. I taught an introductory course in climate change last semester and found it utterly fascinating. It is a hugely challenging, multidiscpinary area of science that is firmly rooted in basic physics. Also, for anyone with an interest in the Public Understanding of Science, climate change certainly the hot topic; in no other field of science is there such a gap between what scientists believe (I should say what the vast majority of scientists in the field believe) and what the public believes – more on this later.
It’s great to finally have the time to sit down and read all the material, from the latest reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to recent research by groups at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies or the Hadley Centre for Climate Research. However, I am not reading up on the material just for fun – I’m frantically preparing for a year at the Science, Technology and Society Program of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Yes, I have been invited to spend next year at Harvard – don’t ask how I managed this! My particular research topic will concern the science of climate change and the root causes of climate scepticism, so I’d better know my stuff.
Of course I won’t spend the entire summer on preparation for Harvard. I do a few hours work at home most mornings, walk into the village for lunch, and then spend the afternoons at WIT printing out papers and studying etc. Most days after work, I’ll have a long cycle and a swim, or an occasional game of tennis, so it’s not a hard life!
In August, I’ll spend 10 mad days at my favourite music festival, the Festival Interceltique de Lorient. After that, I intend hole up somewhere where I can surf in the mornings, work in the afternoons and play tunes in the evenings – probably Doolin. And then it’s Harvard in September yipee!
Great session In Lorient last year