Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Today I am on strike, day 5

Yesterday, the picket line defeated me.

Too many days in the cold and the snow caught up with me yesterday afternoon and by evening my throat was sore, my limbs ached, and my temperature had plummeted (some people get fevers when they get sick. I get anti-fevers). I was in bed by 8:30, and asleep before 10, and when my alarm went off I knew there was no way my aching legs would be able to get G. out to school so I nominated my husband to take her instead, and fell back asleep.

I didn't wake up again until noon, half-way through today's picketing -- not that I'd been planning to go out today anyway after I started feeling poorly yesterday, but that certainly reinforced the correctness of my decision!

It's going to be another early night tonight, and I'll be stockpiling tea and painkillers come the morning because nothing -- NOTHING -- is going to prevent me from going back to work.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Today I am on strike, Day 4


Yesterday and today, my daughter joined me on the picket line.

The first four pickets have all been scheduled in the morning, a time that makes it nearly impossible for university staff with young children to join. I am lucky that G's school is a 10 minute walk away from where the pickets closest to my office are, so I was able to bring her with me and then pause half-way through to run her up to school.

She thought it was grand fun, despite (or perhaps because of!) the thickly falling snow. The first morning she was our champion leafletter; no one would refuse a 6yo who stepped forward saying "Good morning" politely and holding out a flier. But she saw that other people had signs, and she wanted a sign of her own. So yesterday after school, we painted signs together.

It is (not only) my future I am striking for, it is (also) hers. It is the future of all the students I hope to teach. I want to be in that lecture hall for the next thirty years, teaching generation after generation of people intro logic. I want all my future students to have the opportunity to learn from the best researchers in the world, to have their university career supported by the best academic staff in the world. UK university staff are already among some of the worst paid amongst the western world. Our generous pension scheme is one reason why, despite the pay, we are still able to attract world-class people. Take that away, and who will want to come here? Who will want to work in a UK university for a pittance and no promise of security after retirement -- a retirement that is forced upon them at a certain age, without choice. Who would want that? I don't. And I couldn't fault anyone else who looked at what future UK universities can offer and say "I can do better elsewhere."

It's for all my future students, for all future students even not mine, for my daughter (whether she continues to cling her to desire to go to mummy's university and take mummy's classes or not), that I am (still) on strike.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Today I am on strike, day 3

It's really hard, being on strike.

I'm not talking about the earlier-than-usual mornings, or how cold my toes get on the picket line, no matter how many layers I put on, or the snow that fell upon us intermittently this morning.

I'm talking about the hidden side of being on strike, the emotional toll that acting in contravention to one's own image of their self-identity takes.

I first knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was 13 or so. It took another half a decade or so to settle in on the topic and the age-category, but by the time I was midway through my undergrad, I knew I wanted to teach logic at university level.

At that time, I thought one had to have a PhD in order to teach at a university, so I decided to get a PhD.

Along the way, I found out that, hey, this research stuff -- not only am I pretty good at it, I also rather enjoy it! I found it a bit ironic that my first three positions after completing my PhD were research-only positions, where I had no requirement (although I did have the opportunity, at the master's level) to teach. Coming to Durham in 2014 was my first opportunity to teach undergrads, the ones I'd set off to equip myself to teach 12 years earlier. Last year was my first opportunity to finally teach the course I love the most -- introduction to logic to first year students. For someone who loves words as much as I do, I find it immensely difficult to articulate the passion I have for teaching intro logic. It is what I want to do every year for the rest of my life.

If asked to give one word that describes me, the word I usually give is "logician". But what the last few days have taught me is that another word closely linked to my perception of who I am is "academic". It is not just being a logician, whether via teaching or through research, but all the trappings that come with being an academic, that have, in the last two decades, become inextricably knit into my soul.

And now, that's been taken away. For more than 30 years now, since I was 5, I have either been a student or an academic. There has never been any break. Never have I not been in a position to pursue what is most intrinsic to myself.

Until now.

Thursday afternoon after the rally in Newcastle, a few of us went for food, and then after that went to the Lit & Phil, which is an amazing place I'd never been to before. As I sat dwarfed by shelves of books in a beautiful old building, hearing the not-quite-silent hush of a busy library, knowing I had a few empty hours before me, I briefly forgot why those hours were empty and thought "I wish I had my laptop with, I could be so productive in these next few hours." And then I remembered why my laptop had been left at home, and that those hours were empty because I wasn't in my office holding office hours.

I want to be in my office working. I want to be standing in front of my students. I want to be grading their homeworks and writing new ones, and corresponding with present and future dissertation students. I want to be in my office, helping current students through the material or catching up with previous students who come to me with problems in other courses, because they know I'm always willing to talk and offer my advice. I want to be curled up in my happy rocking chair with my duvet reading and writing. I want to be collaborating with colleagues planning future events, future joint papers, future co-teaching. To be actively working against these desires is exhausting.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Today I am on strike, day 2

Today I did not get up, take my daughter out to school, arrive in my office and sit down to prepare my afternoon seminar. Instead, my alarm went off half an hour earlier than usual, and I -- having learned my lesson from yesterday -- put on the layers. An extra pair of tights. An extra pair of socks. Another long-sleeved shirt. Both pairs of gloves went into my bag, and the fleece-lined wool coat got dug out of storage. (And then I took the wool socks off as I couldn't find the shoes big enough to fit three pairs of socks.) It was 0C when I stepped out the door.

Today I did not give an MA seminar on Philosophical Argumentation, in which I intended to focus on the question "What makes a good philosophical question?" In our taught MA programme, the courses meet every other week and the entire programme only lasts a year. Missing one seminar is a huge percentage of the contact hours these students get. Instead, I joined my colleagues -- an even larger group than yesterday -- on the picket line. Today, I saw many of my students, both present and past. Two of them stopped with words of support. It's amazing how much that matters, to know that they know that I am not doing this as an attack on them.

Today I did not give my advanced logic seminar, building up towards the culmination of the term, proving Gödel's incompleteness theorem for Peano arithmetic. Instead, I reminded my students what I had told them last week -- knowing full well the likelihood I would be on strike this week was high -- that the material scheduled for today parallels very closely what we covered last week (last week we defined formulas that allow us to pick out all numbers which are codes of terms; this week, we were to define formulas allowing us to pick out all numbers which are codes of formulas), and encouraged them to meet anyway, perhaps at the pub down the street, to talk through the material. They're smart and hardworking students. I know they can master the material on their own. I know it will also be a lot harder without me, and that they will lose the benefit of all the knowledge I bring that is not in the textbook.

Being on strike is exhausting. There is so much I wish I could be doing instead. I am glad that tomorrow the weekend starts, and I have two days' reprieve.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Today I am on strike

Today I am on strike.

I will not unlock my office door shortly before 9am, dump my bag and coat on a chair, pull out my laptop and plug it in, sit down at my desk. I will not check my email and respond to messages from students, from colleagues, from admin staff.

I will not make a cup of tea, and settle down with a piece of scratch paper to jot down notes for my afternoon lecture, beginning with the skeleton outline I'll put up on my board at the start, and outline that begins with "Questions?" and ends with "Questions?".

I will not upload the answer key to the homework assignment that at that moment will be being discussed by the final discussion group of the week. I will not update my textbook, expanding on the sections that I'll be lecturing on and adding examples and explanatory text in all the places where students have said "I'd really find it useful if you said more here."

I will not have scampi, chips, and salad and a pot of tea at the Dun Cow, my Thursday lunch ritual, the one day I don't have chilli and garlic bread. While eating lunch, I won't be going over my notes one last night to make sure I've got everything I need in my head.

I will not stand in front of ~80 students and answer any last questions they might have about translating in and out of predicate logic. I will not teach them how to calculate free and bound occurrences of variables, I will not teach them how to perform substitution, or when substitution is allowed. I made sure next week's homework assignment was written early enough to be uploaded yesterday. They'll have to work through the textbook definitions on their own.

I will not race back to my office after lecture to dedicate the next hour to my own research. I won't skype with a colleague or work towards any of the upcoming deadlines I have.

I will not hold office hours. I will not meet with my first-year students to discuss their questions about the material I just taught them, or with my third-year students with questions about upcoming material. I will not meet with my undergraduate supervisees to discuss their final year dissertations, due at the beginning of next term. I will not spend any downtime reading the drafts they've sent me and writing up comments on them. I will not meet with my PhD supervisees, some just starting out, some nearing the end. I won't read any of their work either.

I will not spend the final 15 minutes of my work day checking email one last time. Maybe it's new graduate applications that I won't be reviewing and making decisions on. Maybe it's an email from a student who can't make office hours but wants to set up a time to meet. Maybe it's an invitation to give a talk at another university, or to write a paper for a special venue.

I will not pack up my laptop, drain the rest of my tea -- now cold -- collect the things that have been strewn over the office, put my hat and coat back on, step outside my office and lock the door again.

Writing all of this out makes me feel horrible. It makes me feel like a horrible person, and I hope that I'm not. I don't strike because I want to. I don't strike because I approve of the consequences. I don't strike because I'm fine with sacrificing my students and their future for my future and that of my future students. I'm not fine with it, I'm not fine with it at all.

But I'm even less fine with the alternative. So, today, I am on strike.

Friday, February 9, 2018

New paper published

My paper with Tarek R. Besold, "Normative and descriptive rationality: from nature to artifice and back", is now available online from the Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence


Rationality plays a key role in both the study of human reasoning and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Certain notions of rationality have been adopted in AI as guides for the development of intelligent machines and these notions have been given a normative function. The notions of rationality in AI are often taken to be closely related to conceptions of rationality in human contexts. In this paper, we argue that the normative role of rationality differs in the human and artificial contexts. While rationality in human-focused fields of study is normative, prescribing how humans ought to reason, the normative conception in AI is built on a notion of human rationality which is descriptive, not normative, in the human context, as AI aims at building agents which reason as humans do. In order to make this point, we review prominent notions of rationality used in psychology, cognitive science, and (the history of) philosophy, as well as in AI, and discuss some factors that contributed to rationality being assigned the differing normative statuses in the differing fields of study. We argue that while ‘rationality’ is a normative notion in both AI and in human reasoning, the normativity of the AI conception of ‘rationality’ is grounded in a descriptive account of human rationality.

Keywords: Artificial intelligence, cognitive systems, philosophy, human reasoning, rationality, normativity

Thursday, February 1, 2018

January Writing Wrap-Up

January was nowhere near as prolific as some months, but I still managed to average 740 words a day, for a total of 22956, and I still managed to write 5 out of every 7 days. Looking at the graph is quite interesting: You can tell exactly when term started, and my writing output went from fiction and blogs (mostly reviews for to admin and nonfiction. Also: Good luck trying to get any writing done on Fridays! For awhile, the nonfiction nearly edged out everything else in terms of productivity, but admin this month has involved a lot of letters of recommendation and answer keys to homeworks and exams, so eventually it crept ahead:

One of my goals over Christmas break was to finish up a number of short stories and submit them, and I'm very pleased to report that I did. Between January 5 and January 25 I sent off 5 short stories. I have a couple others cooking along for some deadlines this month and next.

A paper that I co-authored with a colleague last year was accepted at the end of December, and we received proofs for it last week. A paper that we wrote during October and November received a revise and resubmit last week as well, and we're currently working on a third paper towards a Feb. 15 deadline. In addition to those, I've got a number of papers I've promised to write for conferences, edited volumes, and special journal issues, so plenty to keep me busy over the next few months! I hope February is slightly more productive than January; I hope to both have less admin to work on, and less outside stress so that I'm not too tired to write fiction in the evenings.