Monday, December 18, 2006

Graduates 'regret degree choice'

A third of graduates believe they studied the wrong course at university.
Most of these said, with hindsight, they would have taken a more scientific or technical course, a business-based or a professional qualification. Such as Biological Sciences at Leicester? Quick, before it's too late! :-)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Effective Use of IT: Guidance on Practice in the Biosciences

Introduced by Lorraine Stefani, this Guide is the second in the Teaching Bioscience Enhancing Learning Series published by the Centre for Bioscience.
The book follows the series format of theory augmented with bioscience case studies. In the first three chapters Lorraine explores the use of technology in teaching and learning, curriculum design and assessment. The second section of the book features bioscience case studies which cover a wide range of topics and subject areas such as: using online databases and predictive modelling to answer questions about global population and food requirements; Really Simple Syndication (RSS) – using the Internet in innovative ways to enable students to access, evaluate and use information; and computer-based assessment to set the pace of learning.

Gift Idea

Looking for a holiday gift for the microbiologist in your life? Giant microbe toys might be the answer. Always assuming the recipient doesn't get the wrong idea!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

GENIE - Genetics Education Networking for Innovation and Excellence

What would you do if someone gave you £4.65 million (that's over US$9 million) to spend on genetics education? Well, you'd have a party of course! This party was to celebrate the official opening of the GENIE Centre of Excellence for teaching and learning at the University of Leicester. GENIE stands for Genetics Education Networking for Innovation and Excellence. There were the usual refreshments, and a few few short speeches. But mostly, we got to play with giant DNA, and have a good look at all the education and outreach materials GENIE has already produced.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Average GP pay rises to £106,000

GPs earned an average £106,000 during the first year of their new contract. The British Medical Association said doctors had "well and truly earned" their rise. But then, they would, wouldn't they? GPs who worked in dispensing practices, which have a pharmacy attached, earned an average of £128,000 after expenses - a rise of 31%. Where's my 31% pay rise for teaching them?!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What is the role of a University?

Robert Scoble asks what is the role of a University?
Improve our society?
Get its students into jobs after they graduate?
Make a profit?

Or what?

Assessed Online Discussion Groups in Biology Education

Sophisticated software such as Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) are rapidly being deployed by universities. Despite widespread use of such systems, experience shows that there is frequently poor pedagogic development, leading primarily to use of VLEs as electronic document repositories rather than as online learning systems in which the available suite of tools are used to their full potential. Online assessment is the major potential efficiency gain of such systems, but most staff do not scratch the surface of the full capabilities of the software. Based on our experience, we describe practical guidelines for a model of online assessment which promotes deep versus superficial learning, encourages higher level learning competencies and inclusivity.
Read more

Monday, November 27, 2006

In Praise of Yeast

Ten Simple Rules for Selecting a Postdoctoral Position

Thanks to Chris for pointing me at this interesting article from PLoS Comp Biol: Ten Simple Rules for Selecting a Postdoctoral Position.

Multimedia tools and their accessibility

A case study.
With the increasing use of online learning resources in Higher Education comes a need to evaluate these resources in terms not just of accessibility but also usability. Many resources may include accessibility features but it is how the students employ these and if they are useful that will be essential to its successful use to increase student understanding.
At the University of Leicester we have three tools for producing multimedia online resources: Macromedia Breeze, Impatica and Macromedia Flash. Macromedia Breeze provides a set of tools for online communication and is a networked solution which can produce stand alone or networked resources. Impatica is a stand alone product. Both tools are primarily used to enhance PowerPoint slide presentations by adding notes, visual navigation controls and audio. A third tool, widely used for presentation of rich media online, is Macromedia Flash.
Our internally funded project aimed to evaluate and compare these three products in terms of their SENDA compliance for student users who may be required to view the resulting files as part of their undergraduate courses. A pilot study was set up to create teaching materials using each of these tools. Two groups of undergraduate students tested these materials to compare the three products. All from the Faculty of Medicine and Biological Sciences, one group of students all had registered accessibility issues, such as dyslexia and/or learning difficulties and the second group provided a matched control with no registered accessibility issues. Our aim was to concentrate on the usability of these products from the student perspective.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Silver socks don't smell

Noble Biomaterials embeds silver in clothing worn by soldiers, elite athletes and weekend warriors alike, capitalizing on the precious metal's increasing popularity as a way to keep clothes smelling fresh, even after multiple wears without a wash.
Silver kills odor-causing bacteria, preventing odors. However, environmentalists have expressed concerns that silver entering the environment could kill helpful bacteria and aquatic organisms or even harm humans. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that it will require manufacturers to provide scientific evidence that use of very finely divided silver, an application of so-called nanotechnology, won't harm waterways or public health.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Health drive hits pie-eating contest

Competitors in the world pie-eating championship used to gobble up as many meat and potato pies as they could in three minutes. But the new champion will be the pie eater who can put away a single pie in the shortest time - and there is even a vegetarian option. Organisers say they are recognising the government's drive to cut obesity.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Why do we have bad breath in the morning?

The flow of saliva slows down during sleep. As a result, mouths don't get the same level of oxygen as they do while we're active. This allows anaerobic bacteria, which don't need oxygen, to thrive. The waste products from these bacteria often contain sulphur - and those compounds of sulphur are what we smell.
Onions are also culprits for this type of bad breath because they contain sulphur. Mucus in your nose can thicken while you sleep, and your tongue falls to the back of your throat - both of which provide welcome environments for anaerobic bacteria.
Treatments for bad breath abound, however the two most common solutions are to brush your tongue to remove excess plaque, and to use an antimicrobial mouthwash.

Friday, November 17, 2006

University of Leicester New Biomedical Research Centre Opens

The University's of Leicester's new £22.5 million centre for world-class biomedical research will be formally opened today.
The £22.5 million five-storey Henry Wellcome Building houses part of one of the leading Schools of Biological Sciences in the UK, in the top ten for Research Council income per academic FTE and with a first-rate publication record and an outstanding research reputation. The Building was completed early in 2005, and has provided researchers and postgraduate students in the School of Biological Sciences and the School of Psychology with 9,500 m2 of extra space with state-of-the-art facilities.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Chocolate Covered Vaccinia Virus

Chris Upton at BioInfoBlog drew my attention to a new website, Nice visualizations and 3D models of vaccinia virus, although not mac or linux-friendly (boo).
I wonder how they knew it was brown? :-)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Adopt A Microbe

Adopt A Microbe is a cute microbiology blog by Emma Lurie of Perth, Australia.

Kudos Emma - love the pants on that N. gonorrhoeae.

Flamingos Find Refuge at Kenyan Lake

Lesser flamingos are surprising scientists by flocking to one of Kenya's smallest lakes for the first time, by the thousands.
My colleague David Harper of the University of Leicester, reports that Lake Oloidien recently turned saline for the first time, making it good feeding habitat for the near-threatened birds. "Word is spreading that there is food at Oloidien. Last time I looked there were nearly a quarter of a million flamingos there. Oloidien water, though far too saline for humans or cattle to drink, is not too saline for flamingos. What we have is a remarkable and rare spectacle of groups of lesser flamingos feeding, drinking, and bathing in the same place."

Friday, November 10, 2006


Bloglines just keeps getting better. The latest feature to be introduced in this great free service are Playlists - "What song playlists are to your mp3 library, Bloglines Playlists are to your blogs & feeds".
And in case you want to subscribe to SOTI via Bloglines, just click here.

Doctor Google

A team of Australian doctors Googled the symptoms of 26 cases published in the New England Journal of Medicine. According to the British Medical Journal, in 15 cases, the web search came up with the right diagnosis (read the paper here).
Do you fancy those odds?

100 Million Websites

The latest Web survey found 101,435,253 websites in November 2006. Note the use of a logarithmic scale on this graph.
Hmm, three phases of growth:
  • 1991-1997: Explosive
  • 1998-2001: Rapid
  • 2002-2006: Maturing
Remind you of anything?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Extra Cash for Science Teaching

Universities in England are to get an extra £75m over three years to boost science departments struggling with declining student numbers.
The extra £25m a year will support courses in chemistry, physics and aspects of engineering. It is hoped the funding - estimated to be worth about £1,000 per student - may stop some departments from closing. Over the last decade 20 physics departments have closed and academics fear a further 10 are under threat.

First UK E-Degrees

Five students are thought to be the first in the UK to graduate with an online foundation degree. The business and management part-time course is taught entirely online over three years by Bournemouth University and Leeds Metropolitan University.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

State of the Blogosphere, 2006

If you read blogs, you'll be interested in Technorati's State of the Blogosphere, 2006. In summary:
57 million blogs, of which 55% are active (updated at least once in the last 3 months), doubling in number every 236 days. 100,000 new weblogs were created each day in October 2006. There are 1.3 million postings per day.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Why Creationism is Wrong and Evolution is Right

One of the world's leading evolutionary biologists, Professor Steve Jones, is to give a lecture at the University of Leicester entitled: Why Creationism is Wrong and Evolution is Right. University of Leicester, November 7, 7.30pm in Lecture Theatre 3, Ken Edwards Building.
Professor Jones, University College, London, is one of the world's leading evolutionary biologists, a noted broadcaster (Reith Lectures 1991) and successful author, winning the Aventis Prize for Science Books (then known as the Rhone-Poulenc Prize) in 1994 for 'The Language of the Genes'. In 1997 he was awarded the Royal Society's Michael Faraday Prize - the UK's foremost award for communicating science to the public.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Why does engineering/math/science education in the US suck?

Kathy Sierra has an interesting post on Creating Passionate Users:
"If you studied math, science, or engineering at a four-year college in the US, much of what you learned is useless, forgotten, or obsolete. All that money, all that time, all that wasted talent. If all we lost were a few years, no big deal. But the really scary part is that we never learned what matters most to true experts in math, science, and engineering. We never really learned how to DO math, science, and engineering."

I'm not sure I agree with all her conclusions, but what do you think?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Students give Leicester the thumbs up

The University of Leicester has been ranked joint first for teaching quality and student satisfaction for the second successive year among mainstream English universities.
The National Student Survey, which is the cornerstone of the UK 's independent quality assurance framework and is designed to inform prospective students about what and where to study, published its latest results in August 2006. Overall the University of Leicester was ranked joint first amongst mainstream English universities and joint third amongst UK universities teaching full-time students (after St Andrews University in Scotland and the private University of Buckingham).

Thursday, November 02, 2006

University of Leicester’s £27.9 million library

New libraryThe University of Leicester has revealed new images of its £27.9 million library which has been named after its principal benefactor David Wilson. David Wilson, who has donated £2m to the flagship project, part of the University's £300m development plan, was described as 'a great inspiration for future generations' by the Vice-Chancellor Professor Bob Burgess.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Wikipedia, the home of the C+ term paper ...

DNA database controversy

The UK's DNA database may have grown so far beyond what it was intended to do it risks undermining civil rights.
Professor Alec Jeffreys of the University of Leicester School of Biological Sciences says hundreds of thousands of innocent people's DNA was now held - with a disproportionate number from young black men. The UK holds 3.6m DNA samples - the world's biggest DNA database.

Apple number two computer supplier to UK education market

According to analysts at Gartner, Apple has 14.7 per cent of the total PC market for education - including laptops and desktop computers, but excluding the server market.
In first place is Research Machines with 34.9 per cent of the market. Dell has slipped to third place with 14.1 per cent. In fourth place is HP with 7.7 per cent of the market.
And it gets better for Apple. The company's last quarter put it in the No. 1 position in the UK, with nearly 12 percent of the market. MacBooks in particular are hot, though that's not really news if you've walked into a coffee shop in London in the last six months.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Red Bull gives you .. ?

500 new energy drinks were launched worldwide this year alone, Red Bull being the number one heavyweight champion of them all.
Thirty-one percent of U.S. teenagers say they drink energy drinks, according to Simmons Research. That represents 7.6 million teens, a jump of almost 3 million in three years.
Nutritionists warn that the drinks, laden with caffeine and sugar, can hook kids on an unhealthy jolt-and-crash cycle. The caffeine comes from multiple sources, making it hard to tell how much the drinks contain. Some have B vitamins, which when taken in megadoses can cause rapid heartbeat, and numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.
But the biggest worry is how some teens use the drinks. Some report downing several cans in a row to get a buzz, and a new study found a surprising number of poison-center calls from young people getting sick from too much caffeine.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Science degree numbers falling

The falling number of traditional science graduates has been masked by a growth in topics such as sports science, says the Royal Society, who also suggested increases in the number of maths and biology degrees were "apparent rather than real".
The Royal Society made the claims after asking government agency the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) to re-analyse its own figures using different methods. The re-analysis was commissioned as part of a Royal Society report examining the future supply and demand for science, technology and maths graduates. The new figures suggest that the popularity of subjects such a sports science, forensic science and psychology is masking a drop in those taking first degrees in biology. While there had been an increase in graduates taking subjects categorised by Hesa as the "biological sciences", in 2004/5 biology students accounted for just 17% of this group - down from 31% in 1994/5.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Pelican swallows pigeon

Families and tourists in a London park were left shocked when a pelican picked up and swallowed a pigeon. An RSPB spokesman said: "It is almost unheard of for a pelican to eat a bird. Their diet should be strictly fish." Pelicans were introduced into St James's park during King Charles II's reign as a gift from the Russian ambassador.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Safe Drinking

A campaign has been launched to encourage students to drink sensibly. The University of Leicester Students' Union is distributing thousands of cards detailing safe drinking limits and contact numbers for welfare services. The campaign is also supported by city cab firm Highfields Taxis, whose drivers are distributing the cards. Julia Coats, vice-president of welfare at the students' union, said: "We are here to help anyone who needs it, which is why a responsible drinking campaign is important."

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Ancient history?

At the tender age of 77, Hank Reece has fulfilled a lifelong dream and become a university fresher, mixing with students almost 60 years his junior. While many men his age are ready to put their feet up, Hank decided it was time to expand his mind and embarked on a three-year degree course in archaeology and ancient history at the University of Leicester. The grandfather-of-three said: "I didn't think at my age I could go to university but I went to the open day and the tutors were so enthusiastic, there was no looking back."
Hank said: "When I walked in for my first lecture, I thought, 'What the hell am I doing here?' and some students asked me for information, thinking I was the lecturer. I am impressed with the students. With what you hear, I thought they were going to be bad-tempered or rowdy, but actually, they're really polite and friendly."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Most Popular Degrees

The most popular degree courses in the UK are:
  1. Law
  2. Design Studies
  3. Psychology
  4. Management Studies
  5. Business Studies
  6. Computer Science
  7. English
  8. Medicine
  9. Sports Science
  10. Social Work

Sad, isn't it?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Darwin online

The complete works of Charles Darwin are being published online. The project run by Cambridge University has digitised some 50,000 pages of text and 40,000 images of original publications - all of it searchable.
View them here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Microbiology for the masses

A microbiologist has won critical acclaim - and prestigious sponsorship - for his on-line podcast. Dr Alan Cann, of the University of Leicester, created a website to cover breaking news in the field in a form which could be easily understood. Latest figures show the podcast has been downloaded by more than 3,000 people a month and the number is growing. It has been praised in Science magazine's NetWatch. The site, called MicrobiologyBytes, has now received a grant from the Society for General Microbiology for the public understanding of science. Dr Cann said: "The aim of MicrogiologyBytes is to bring people the latest news from the forefront of biomedical research in a form that everyone can understand. Obviously, I hope that this will also attract more students to the University of Leicester, but I don't expect that someone who listens to my podcasts in, say, Mexico, will turn up on the doorstop wanting to study for a degree. "It's all about the conversation we should have with the public."

£2m boost for new library

A new university library has received a donation of £2 million from one of Leicestershire's most prominent businessmen. The library, which will be twice the size of the university's existing building, will provide study spaces for 1,500 students and 38km of book shelf space. The building will be named the David Wilson Library and is to be open in time for the university to celebrate its jubilee next academic year.