Category Archives: Top 5’s

Sharing research. Top 100 papers with ‘volcano’ or ‘volcanic: an analysis

We all have a responsibility to share and communicate our research. Altmetrics is a new way to track some of the ways we do this as a research community. Last summer (July 2015) they gave me free access to their database to take a look. How does interest in volcanology research permeate both the traditional and new media spheres? Does that translate at all into academic interest? Here’s what I found (yes, its taken me a while!)

If you can’t see the graphics well, the summary infographic can be accessed via this link.
I downloaded the ‘Top 100’ papers with the highest Altimetric score (this turned into 94 when I chucked out news and accidental doubles recently). First up, I tried to put them into broad categories. This was surprisingly easy, but obviously very subjective. A few papers fell into two of these categories.


This is where they were mainly published. Predictable?


This is how the Altmetric Score  and Mendeley Readers compared to citations using my subdivisions. For citations I used Google Scholar and did this slowly last week (May 2016). Yes, these are all on logarithmic scales! Academics clearly like papers about volcanoes and climate more than the wider readership. The opposite is perhaps true of Supervolcanoes. The papers outside of my main classifications are generally less well read and cited.


Here are some more of the contributors to the Altmetrics scores.


Finally, these are the news outlet counts and Tweets versus citations. For some ‘types’ of paper perhaps there is some sign that Tweet activity picks up the papers the academics subsequently cite well (maybe, perhaps…) but news outlets much less so. Again, news outlets have a skewed interest in supervolcanoes and human/volcano stories.



What do I conclude from this? Not too much.. its only very recent papers (Altmetrics has been going since 2011 only) and a small subset (the top 100 are perhaps looking at trends with only a small component of the dataset). Its interesting nonetheless!

For me the most striking point was the relatively restricted range of topics that sparked broader interest. Perhaps, volcanologists need to work harder to communicate a broader spectrum of research in an engaging way. Conversely news media need to listen and report a little bit more imaginatively too.

What do you make of the data? I’ve put the final spreadsheet on Figshare here , along with the infographic I generated from my analysis. Feel free to play some more.

Thanks to Altmetrics for access to their database.


On the remarkable similarity between ‘the Avengers’ and interdisciplinary research

Last week it was my good fortune to sneak out and watch ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ when the kids weren’t looking. It has UEA in it (its the Avengers new training base). As the closing credits were rolling I said to myself ‘that’s not all that’s similar between the Earth’s mightiest heroes and my real true everyday life‘. The same is true for you too if you have learned to negotiate the rollercoaster of interdisciplinary(*) research.

Here’s how:

So you can tackle most research problems by a unique combination of using unusual metals, archery, the results of a poorly executed biochemistry experiment, magnetics, a large mallet and karate. There, shared the formula, now go use it.

(1) The Avengers have a wide range of complementary skillsets. Duh, yes. Not that insightful but the interesting part of that is this;

(2) they always solve problems best when one of them listens in to something someone else is working on and offers a solution the other one hadn’t though of. Its quite interesting starting out with a problem, knowing the technique and strategy you need to solve it and then cracking on. But its much more fun to find out there is an even better way to work on it. That’s one of the joys of working across disciplines for me. And then there’s;

(3) it’s as much about appreciating the gaps in knowledge as it is about knowing your own field. In Age of Ultron the extra-ordinarily naughty Stark causes a lot of the problems by bashing on without consulting his colleagues which, of course illustrates the need for;

(4) Communication, communication communication. If I was an Avenger obviously I would get to use one of those really cool earpieces and make transglobal communication instantly inside people’s heads. Yippee. How scary is that? Instead. Email, SKYPE,face-to-face and the telephone and lots of it. My absolute favourite being conference calls. If I had my time again with the grants I have now, I’d budget LOTS more meetings (face-to-face ones, and some writing retreats. Really. The Avengers I know are all on way too many missions at any one time).

(5) The realisation that as you get older you quite often have to be the one who stays back at Base but kind of knows where everyone is as they battle the baddies (formerly known as ‘the research problem’). This is only acceptable to me if it means I get to be Nick Fury. Any project worth its salt needs a Nick Fury (and no mistake) or it just turns into ‘parallel play’ rather than collaboration. There is nothing wrong with parallel play per se but it can lead to the words that killed a thousand research proposals *whisper* incremental advance (nothing wrong with that either..!)

This is Nick Fury. He is so senior he has a REALLY BIG earpiece thing AND a walkie-talke and uses them simultaneously. He knows the power of really good communication alright.
This is Nick Fury. He is so senior he has a REALLY BIG earpiece thing AND a walkie-talke and uses them simultaneously. He knows the power of really good communication alright. Sadly his eye got poked out by a team member who got about cross about all those emails.

Finally a sad un-fact

(6) UEA isn’t actually the new training base for the Avengers. Not yet, anyway.

(*) OK, Yes. I do recognise in this context, strictly, I am talking about multi-disciplinary research (where a group of researchers with different skills come together to solve one problem) as opposed to interdisciplinary research (where a variety of different techniques are used to solve one problem) or even transdisciplinary research (where you basically even involve your granny by getting her to knit you a nice new bobble hat for the fieldwork). But, its all about the _doing_ not the defining, in the end.

Academic Clickbait: devastatingly incisive analysis of most shared papers.

It’s been a semester and it’s time for some good cheer. Everyone lean back in your seats and reflect on the Year.

The Altimetrics people published their list of Top 100 articles for 2014. They did some analysis by subject area. Nice, but for me,that’s not quite enough. Its all about the type of interest not the scientific subject. Here, for the first time is my state-of-the-art Venn diagram analysis of their Top 50 (OK, it was meant to be 100, then I got bored).

This is followed by my Top Tips for Impact-tastic research areas for your New Year! You’ll probably need to click on the image to see my errr… ‘summary’ of the paper topic.



OK – so if you are feeling a bit sad about the lack of attention for your existing subject area here are some ideas:

(i) hipster food intolerances

(ii) hominid remains in a social media age

(iii) scientists who waste their evenings constructing spurious Venn diagrams

(iv) climate change in black holes

(v) biology stuff. I simply don’t understand that. Everyone in my Twitter Feed is, like, crazy for volcanoes.

Volcanic Crises and Social Media: Top 5

Volcanoes. Lots of them have been erupting recently.

Volcanologists are a sociable bunch and many of them are present in the ‘social ether’. Believe it or not our parent organisation has a protocol for Professional Interaction during Volcanic Crises. It’s contested; and it was written in 1999. It’s about time we as a ‘social community’ acted collaboratively and sought to create a New Protocol for a new media.

I ‘do research’ on risk communication processes and I’ve worked on active systems.  I would not pretend to have a definitive overview, but, here are my top 5 tips. This is done with reference to that initial, carefully created, protocol and inspired by observing some pretty cool teamwork on Twitter in the face of a volcanic crisis.

(i) Act to help not hinder the monitoring organisation. In the midst of a volcanic crisis, life will be tense and abundantly reliant on good teamwork.

Bad teamwork from the Twitterati can include: unhelpful observations of timeliness of statements or information; strongly dissenting critiques of a monitoring organisation’s actions; interpretations in the absence of complete knowledge;speculation on what might happen next or possible impacts (Twitcasting).

Good teamwork could include: a strong trail to the definitive information where available (see iii); recognition of the ‘real’ experts; judgement free info-tweeting.

(ii) It’s not a race. Don’t let the excitement of being the first person to find a photo/image/interpretation get the better of you. With crisis info. treat it like research and only pass on verified or verifiable information. That amazing thing you think you’re the first to spot might be : last year’s eruption; a speck of dirt on a webcam lens; some fog; some nonsense article written by someone who has spent the last 25 years in a locked bunker. That’s all going to end in the clicking of the dustbin sign and feeling embarassed, in the meantime you could have caused real confusion.

(iii) If it’s not your expertise RT not re-interpret. This relates to (i) and (ii). My assumption here is RT’d Tweets don’t annoy your colleagues (they’ll see them once) and this helps to lay the trail back to a definitive source (observatory scientist or eruption expert).  This is helpful communication. If you do know the situation well and want to offer an interpretation just pause for a second to question whether you are in full possession of the facts. Plus, do ask, would you like someone to take your data and do that with it, latte in hand in a cosy office, while you’re out fixing the bust solar panels in the ash? Social media are not the vehicle for the first announcement of your intent to ‘help out’ with data analysis or risk management.

(iv) Respect the affected population. Other people are on Twitter. Yes, it’s true. Mass media like to portray the personal in amongst the terrible. Have a good think about quite how your exhuberant excitement might seem to the person whose house has just been trashed  — if they saw your Tweet.

(v) Do nothing that encourages reckless behaviour. Yes, it’s very exciting and that’s a cool picture. But did they do a very stupid thing to get it?  If they get hurt will other people have to risk their lives to save them? If you were evacuated but could see images of people precisely where you were told not to live would you feel cross? Personally I even steer clear of the ‘Look at the unbelievably stupid thing this person has done to get that picture’ style Tweets but the choice if yours! You may wish to call this out!

Clearly, this is not exhaustive. I’m not sure that it properly acknowledges the role that Twitter Q&A between experts can play in understanding a crisis – and how that plays into open discussion. Science is, after all, a journey and not a destination. However, this is about the height of a crisis – and we at least have to be aware that with social media we’re going on that journey in a crowded room.

The brilliant thing here is that there is absolutely no limit on the extent to which you can provide additional information or share your background knowledge and how this relates to the current activity. Things open up much more when you resort to blogs and think carefully: a  fantastic example of that is of course EruptionsBlog. We can and should do this as much as we all can!

Creative science education is the a brilliant foundation for excellent science communication (e.g. Fischhoff, 2013).

So, have I missed anything? Am I wide of the mark? Interested to hear your thoughts!

PS in for a penny in for a pound. I’ve mapped out my thought processes about talking to the media about volcanological topics. Doesn’t happen often but I do think quite carefully about when I do it.

My mind map of thought processes. The 'Am I better than a googlesearch' was a sage piece of advice From Iain Stewart (Plymouth University) who knows a lot more about effective science education than me!
My mind map of my thought processes in dealing with a media query. The ‘Am I better than a googlesearch’ was a sage piece of advice From Iain Stewart (Plymouth University) who knows a lot more about effective science education than me!


Predicting a political eruption? 5 cool things from the Scottish Independence debate

Just in case you are needing a wee break from the endless dancing stream of lava-shaped fabulousness from Iceland in your Twitter feed here’s a wee #indyref moment.

Quite a lot of the interdisciplinary research I do in volcanology looks at the role that community-based or collective action has to play in encouraging societies to reduce their volcanic risk.

So, it has been interesting to watch the groundswell of opinion coming from the ‘grassroots’ on behalf of the ‘Yes’ campaign leading up to the Scottish Referendum on independence.  Quite probably one of the most exciting pieces of optimistic, humorous subversion I can remember in UK politics. I don’t think you even need to want to vote ‘yes’ to appreciate the healthy upswing in interest in all things political around the Referendum.

Until now, its gone largely un-noticed by the mainstream media but suddenly the impact has become collective and the energy is beginning to spill into the polls, and the whole of the UK is noticing.

This is the best article I’ve read about waking up to this from Paul Mason (Channel 4’s Economics Editor)

So, regardless of the arguments around how to vote here are my Top 5 things from the quiet seismic revolution rumbling along in my #indyref Twitter feed.

(1) Billy Bragg weighs into the independence debate, sings a song at Yestival and makes some really good points about seeing the U.K. positively and changing politics in the whole country for the better.  Billy Bragg’s Twitterfeed says ‘A progressive is someone who wants to see society re-organised so that everyone has access to the means by which to reach their full potential.‘ Yes please to that, Billy, however we manage it.



(2) The pace has accelerated in the last week or two. The most highly charged explosion was around ‘the Patronising  BT Lady’ advert.  Even those in the Better Together Campaign seemed a bit upset. This buzzfeed headline captures it nicely….. biggest collective outcry I’ve seen since the  ‘Science, its a girl thing’ shenanigans. Take a look.

Patronising Better Together Lady: Buzzfeed

(3) The @NationalCollective Twitter Feed. Its funny, informative, never super-extra cruel to the ‘no’ campaign and sometimes a wee bit silly…. worth a follow over the next few weeks, even if you want to vote ‘no’.

(4) The Common Weal (@Common_Weal) This was triggered by the Jimmy Reid Foundation, which was set up in memory of the famous orator and trade unionist(*). It’s a collective posting and sharing of visions for the setting up of a new independent country.  An optimistic thinking space.

(5) …. and finally SKYNEWS’ new campaign to get you to watch the referendum result with them is pretty good. Especially David Cameron doing Taylor Swift…




(*)Jimmy Reid is partly famous for his ‘rat race’ speech which he gave when accepting his Rectorship of Glasgow University. This bit is my best quote antidote to those moments when academia feels a little bit like a treadmill.

To the students I address this appeal. Reject these attitudes. Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts and before you know where you are, you’re a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack.’

You Don’t Have to be Wonderwoman to be an academic; but standing a bit like her sometimes helps…..

(Subtitle: Top 5 Things I’ve learned from 15 years as a Lecturer)

It’s been an interesting year on Twitter. As a comparative newbie one of the things that keeps me coming back is the function it serves as a global common room for mentoring, support and empathy across a variety of topics.

A rippling thread that erupts across my timeline again and again is the lot of female academics: not enough of them; glass ceiling at senior levels; presentation of impossible role models; more likely to suffer from Imposter syndrome (and have it reinforced by the thoughtless actions of others).

Tschuh! It’s enough to make you pack your pretty pink biros into your Barbie pencil case and seek employment elsewhere! Most depressing of all is the occasional whisperings I hear from early career academics that you can’t be successful unless you are prepared to sacrifice a family or ‘normal’ life on the side. Errrrrr……. no you don’t; pop your pyres in the dustbin of history…. please.

So, as a ‘normal’ (*) academic here is my contribution to the debate. It’s important to say here these are things I still wrestle with!

(1) Even if you don’t feel confident; train yourself to be confident and the world will come with you.

Not wonderwoman but 'hit girl' from the movie 'Kick Ass'. Showing off the wonder woman pose. Adopt this pose in secret just before entering a challenging situation. I like hit girl better because she is wearing a kilt instead of pants and looks like she could inspect any outcrop of even very glassy rocks at the moment's notice.
Not wonderwoman but ‘hit girl’ from the movie ‘Kick Ass’. Showing off the wonder woman pose. Adopt this pose in secret just before entering a challenging situation. I like hit girl better because she is wearing a kilt instead of pants and looks like she could inspect any outcrop of even very glassy rocks at a moment’s notice.
Dr Karen Kelsky's research proposal flowchart. Written using 'the hero narrative'
Dr Karen Kelsky’s research proposal flowchart. Written using ‘the hero narrative’

This TED Video featuring Amy Cuddy was recommended to me by a colleague. Click the words and Watch It. Its marvellous. As you wander up the career ladder of life you will find less and less women in the meeting rooms you walk into and sometimes those rooms can be ripe with alpha male bluster. That’s surprisingly tough; but even blokes find certain situations challenging. Amy Cuddy’s research demonstrates that just presenting positive body language can improve the way your mind reacts to and handles these situations; even inducing the long term benefit of self belief (KAPOW! ZOWEE! Imposter Syndrome).

The same is true for grant and paper writing. Lack of confidence in writing seems to result in muddy logic in sentences and unecessary verbosity (it does for me anyway). If you really don’t think you are brilliant, try to write as if you are channeling an academic you really admire. Related to that is some of the best advice I’ve seen for grant writing: ‘The Hero Narrative’ by Dr Karen Kelsky (

(2) Grant writing: yes, it is actually a bit personal. But, you need to get over it.

Writing grant proposals  takes a LOT of time. For a really good description of that take a look at Volcano01010’s blog (click these words!).

With the best will in the world this leaks into personal time; time you could have spent reading the Sunday Papers; conquering all the Munros or icing your daughter’s birthday cake to perfection etc etc. So, it’s extremely annoying when they get rejected. And they will get rejected. Plus, it is a bit like your peers saying your wonderful idea is ‘not quite good enough’.  So, pretending the process of grant writing is entirely impersonal seems a little bit nonsensical. BUT, even if that grant was going to fund your salary for the next few years,  you do need to dust yourself off, get back up, take the extremely good advice you will hopefully get in your feedback, and try again. And Again.

Do allow yourself a few moments of ill-contained and irrational fury though. Its cathartic given all that wasted time. This is coming from someone who has had a research proposal described as ‘fluffy’ by one reviewer (that took more than a few minutes to get over).

(3) Saying ‘no’ is a double-headed beast

There is saying 'no' to things you don't want to do but ought to but then there is saying 'no' to things you quite fancy doing because of existing commitments!
There is saying ‘no’ to things you don’t want to do but ought to; but then there is ALSO saying ‘no’ to things you quite fancy doing BUT ought not to do because of existing commitments!

Time management is my Achilles Heel and I am still working on it. There are lots of really helpful guides out there about how to say ‘no’ in all sorts of situations. The starting assumption often seems to be that you are trying to say ‘no’ to jobs you don’t really want to do anyway (aaaaadmin…). That’s the relatively easy bit, just get your Wonderwoman pose on and get on with it. The really tricky stuff is saying ‘no’ to things you actually quite like the sound of. It all comes back to confidence; learning that another equally exciting opportunity will come along when you have more time; believing that the person who asked will come back and ask again….it all takes a lot of effort to get right and if you are in a bad place with (1) its even harder.

If you get it wrong your work life balance goes up the river, and its often your family and those involved in existing work who suffer which is not good. Saying ‘no’ has been and continues to be the cause of the largest amount of stress in my working life. Definitely worth taking the time to get right; even harder once you take the plunge and work part-time so;

(4) Working part-time is really hard, but it can be done and its rewarding.

Having kids as an academic is a bit like jumping of a cliff into a great big pool of water; you’ve just got to hold your nose, close your eyes and jump when you want to. The water is great. There is no ‘good time’ but there is no ‘bad time’ either. I was the first Faculty Member in my department to take Maternity Leave; in 2002 (yup). After leave 2 I worked part-time for 8 years, all sorts of % trying to get it right. I wouldn’t change it ever but at one point I almost had to ‘step off’ from work as a whole because stress was bubbling up. For me working half-days really didn’t work; especially ones with a 5pm lecture after an afternoon being mum. Switching Mum-academic-mum-academic-mum-academic in a single day was way too brutal.  I needed whole days; and don’t get me started on the ‘to travel or not to travel’ dilemma around conferences vs fieldwork! Again the courage in saying ‘no’ to these things all leads back to (1).

Rapid switching between hats can leave you dizzy and stressed out!
Rapid switching between hats can leave you dizzy and stressed out!

The single most imporant thing that made it work for our family was the belief that someone working part-time was a joint responsibility (having a partner who is also an academic brings a lot of flexibility to reinforce that). However, it is really important to know that there is no one solution that fits all (part-time working is not compulsory) which brings me onto point (5).

(5) Mentors and praise. Little splashes of inspiration that can help you change track.

I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from the advice and mentoring from a really strong senior female academic at a really critical stage (see 4 above). Properly rescued from myself. She was generous with advice, action and the sharing of horror stories, which helped a lot. Anyone can get in a muddle. I’m lucky enough that one of my PhD supervisors still takes an interest in my c.v. and career and that interest and encouragement means a lot. I’m also lucky enough to have some brilliant peers who share experiences and advice freely, that helps a lot too. If you don’t have this kind of support, get out there and find some supporters quick, its not weak its collegial. In turn, take time to help out others where you can.

If you are not in the medal-winning category praise and reinforcement can be quite tricky to find. At home, we mark the publication of every paper and the winning of every grant with a bit of a celebration. I share a joke with a friend about keeping little nuggets of praise in the bottom desk drawer to get out and stare at when times are tough. Actually, we’re not joking that much, save them, and get them out when you need to…. (cool paper or grant reviews; references; nice emails). Quite probably, these will work even better if you adopt the Superwoman pose while reading them……

(*)I’m not super-extra marvellous; e.g. I’ve never had a paper in Nature or invented anything really spectacular (unless you count Volcanoes Top Trumps) BUT I do have active research grants and a fantastic (but small) group of talented researchers and research students. I love research, teaching and outreach (but struggle a bit with admin). See. Normal (for an academic). Decide for yourself whether you want to listen to the ramblings of someone who occasionally walks on the wild side of stress management!

Chipmunks, candy volcanoes and mad scientists: Top 5 Volcano ‘Kid’ movies

Another one for the ‘general silliness’ category. My Top 5 of how volcanoes are portrayed in Movies largely made for kids.

Norfolk Firework Volcano

You’ve got to love a trier! Undeterred by Keith’s masterful account of  volcanoes on Film and TV; Tom and BJ’s insightful views on volcanoes in literature AND in the name of UEA50 mash-ups here is my account of Volcanoes in Kid’s Movies.

When you have kids, you get to watch a lot of really bad movies (and some good ones). Sometimes the load is lightened along the way by a little unexpected volcano action. In fact my kids have even been known to entice me into watching a particularly bad version of  ‘Tinker Tweetie Cute Dog Saves the Day’ by pretending there is a volcano in it.  The sad bit is that it works (c.f. No. 1 on this list)

Like Keith’s ‘grown-up’ movies the volcano is usually a plot device. They also have a strong association with bonkers scientists (gotter love a cliche) but never geologists. Volcanoes in…

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