Sussex, a month in…

Well, although it seems like no time at all it appears I’ve now been in Brighton and working at the University of Sussex for a whole month! Here’s a picture of the street I live in in the Kemptown area of Brighton, taken this afternoon. That’s the English Channel at the end of the road, in case you don’t know where Brighton is; it’s definitely not in the Midlands.


I’m currently on campus again, although I made a major miscalculation in that Brighton and Hove Albion are playing at home again today. Since the Amex Stadium is just over the road from the University, that means I’ll either have to go back before the final whistle blows or wait until the crowds have dispersed before returning to base.

It has been unbelievably hectic. Although I knew it was going to be hard work taking over as Head of School halfway through the academic year, several unforeseen things have come up that have made me even busier than I’d anticipated. Some of these were pleasant surprises and some weren’t, but that’s all I’m going to say for now!

Since I arrived a large part of my time has been spent on matters relating to new staff appointments, arising from a mixture of replacements and new investment across the whole School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences. That has included new staff in Applied Mathematics, Theoretical Particle Physics, Experimental Particle Physics, Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics and of course Astronomy. There are more to come over the next few weeks, including a new group in the area of Probability and Statistics. It’s pleasant work, of course, especially when it goes well (which it definitely is) but I have to admit that the schedule of presentations and interviews is rather exhausting.

Apart from that the other principle preoccupation has been strategic planning for the next five years. On Thursday morning I had a crunch meeting with members of the University’s management team to discuss the plans for MPS, which were actually drafted before I took up my post but have since been modified quite a bit. I was more nervous before that meeting than I’ve been for many years, primarily because I did not know what to expect. It turned out to be quite pleasant, actually, and I left the meeting not only relieved but relaxed.

In the afternoon it was back to interviewing, but this time for postgraduate students. That’s also a pleasant duty, because it involves giving excellent young scientists their first step on the ladder towards a research career. I’m sure it’s not so pleasant for the candidates though. Nerves sometimes get the better of the students in these interviews, but experienced interviewers can calibrate for that. And if you’re nervous, it means that you care…

Anyone reading this who is nervous about doing a PhD interview (or has experienced nerves in one they’ve already had) might reflect on my experience when I was called to interview for a PhD place in Astronomy at the University of Manchester way back in 1985. I was very nervous before that, and arrived very early for my grilling. I was told to wait in a sort of ante-room as the previous interview had only just started. I started to read a textbook I had brought with me. About five minutes later, the door of the interview room opened and the interviewers, Franz Kahn and John Dyson, carried out the unconscious body of the previous candidate. It turned out that, after a couple of friendly preliminary questions, the two Professors had handed the candidate a piece of chalk and told him to go to the blackboard  to work something out, at which point said candidate had fainted. When it was my turn to be handed the chalk I toyed with the idea of staging a mock swoon, but resisted the temptation.

The question, in case you’re interested, was to estimate the angle through which light  is deflected by the Sun’s gravity. I hadn’t done any general relativity in my undergraduate degree, so just did it by dimensional analysis. That seemed to go down well and they offered me a place … which I turned down in favour of Sussex.

3 Responses to “Sussex, a month in…”

  1. Was this in the astronomy department at Manchester before most of Manchester astronomy was united under the Jodrell umbrella?

    • telescoper Says:

      Yes, it was for the Theoretical Astronomy group then situated in the Schuster Laboratory (top floor, if memory serves..)

  2. […] I mentioned last week, one of the main items on the agenda at the moment is recruitment of new PhD students. As usual, […]

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