I sneaked into the department this morning to pick up some things from the office and leave some other things that I’ve finished with. I went quite early, to avoid the Saturday crowds there and back.
One of the things I found in my pigeonhole was a packet of student questionnaires about the third-year module Nuclear and Particle Physics for which I was responsible. It seems like a decade since I finished teaching it and marked the exams, but it can only be a couple of months. I was dreading reading the responses this time because I know I struggled a bit with this module, partly because it’s the first time I taught the Nuclear Physics part and partly for other reasons I won’t go into.
In fact the students were very kind and gave me quite good reviews; the only score that let me down really was that they thought the material was rather difficult. I’m not really surprised by that, because I think it is. However, as I’ve said before, I don’t think it’s a physics lecturer’s job to pretend that the subject is easy; it is a lecturer’s job to try to convince students that they can do things that are difficult. I don’t mean making things difficult just for the sake of it, but trying to get the message across that a brain is made for thinking with and figuring difficult things out can be intensely rewarding.
The main criticism that students wrote in the space provided for their own comments was that they didn’t like the fact that I used powerpoint for some lectures. Actually, I don’t like using powerpoint for lectures either, but unfortunately I had no choice on some occasions. First I had a rather large class (85 students) and one of the rooms I had to use had a very small whiteboard; I was worried about its visibility from the back and the need to keep cleaning it every five minutes. Also in that room the projector screen covers the same area as the whiteboard, so it’s a pain to keep changing between powerpoint and whiteboard. Anyway, it’s a fair criticism. I’ll try to work out a better way of doing it next year.
To be perfectly honest I don’t like whiteboards much either. Call me old-fashioned, but chalkboards are much better. Received wisdom, however, is that we have to have whiteboards, with all the ludicrous cost and environmental unfriendliness of the accompanying dry-wipe marker pens. But I digress.
Anyway, next Wednesday afternoon will see our graduation ceremony. Graduation day always reminds me of something somebody told me years ago when I attended my first one, at Queen Mary (and Westfield College, as it was then). The essence of the comment was that what you have to remember as a lecturer is that when the students do well it’s their achievement; but when they don’t it’s your fault. Life’s like that, it’s never as symmetrical as particle physics.
Many of the students who took Nuclear and Particle Physics will be graduating on Wednesday. I’m distraught that I won’t be able to go myself; this will be the first ceremony I’ve missed since I moved here five years ago. If any of the graduating Physics class from Cardiff University happens to read this, I really hope you have a great day on Wednesday. I wish I could be there to shake your hand and wish you a very fond goodbye, but sadly that’s just not possible on this occasion.Follow @telescoper