Last night I went to the launch of Traffic, vol. 9. This is the interdisciplinary postgraduate journal at Melbourne, and I had been asked to be one of the judges of their essay prize. The journal's theme this year is Serendipity, and the prize went to Daniel Whyte, for "The Flipside of Serendipity: Human Genetics Rediscovers Race", but all the short-listed essays were excellent.
The volume was launched by Dr Andi Horvath, who gave as her example of serendipitous research the inventer of velcro, who was out hiking in a season and place where those little burrs were getting stuck to his socks. He took them home and examined them under the microscope and realised they had little loops that hooked on to his socks. Thus velcro — velvet crochet, apparently — was born. Andi asked us to find the velcro closest to us, on shoes, wallets, clothes, and "launch" the journal with a velcro orchestra making the "hooray" after she said "hip hip." Very cute indeed.
Judging the prize was difficult, because the essays ranged across so many fields; but all were encouraged to write for an audience beyond their specialisation, and so I learned heaps about genetics, race, biochemistry, publishing, and politics. My very dear student Philip had won this prize a few years ago for his essay on the Summoner and Pardoner, so I was very pleased to take on this job.
Andi also offered an additional challenge to all the contributors, to go one step further and produce a version of their essay for some other venue beyond the context of the university, for the tennis club newsletter, was her suggestion. Not easy to do, but increasingly important for academic research to be able to explain itself in broader contexts.
I have just come off air myself, I'm pleased to say, giving an interview to South East Radio about my essay on pink ribbon day. I'm sure I gabbed and garbled, but I did at least try to give an account of my work in the introduction.
And now, on to write a job reference, find some references for a first-year subject reader for next year, and finish writing up two papers for publication by next Wednesday. I've just spent a messy two hours scooping up three inches of water from the cellar and carrying the buckets up the stairs. There is a pump, but since our water tanks are in, but not properly connected yet, it means there is this temporary problem. I don't even like being in the cellar, let along carrying buckets of water up the ladder.