The Week Ahead

I’m aware that tomorrow (Monday 29th August) is a Bank Holiday across the Irish Sea, but here on the Emerald Isle we had our August Bank Holiday at the start of the month so tomorrow I’ll be working. Among the important events to take place next week is the final Examination Board of 2021/2 on Wednesday morning at which we see all the results of all the students not just those from our Department. After that final check the marks will be released to students on Friday 2nd September and they’ll be able to discuss their situation with staff on Consultation Day which is Tuesday of next week (6th September).

The term of my appointment as Head of the Department of Theoretical Physics ends on Wednesday August 31st. I did try to step down a year ago. Here is what I wrote then:

Over the last few days, in an exhausted and demoralized state, I have been looking back over the best part of two years I have been Head of the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University – most of which has coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic. Frankly, I have found the burden of administration on top of the heavy teaching load required of me to be unmanageable. Because we are a very small Department teaching a full degree course, all of us have to teach many more modules than is reasonable for for staff who are expected to do research as well. I had to teach five modules* last academic year; that would have been bad enough even without having to do everything online and without the additional and frequently onerous duties associated with the Head of Department. There is no prospect of that burden decreasing for the foreseeable future.

For reasons which now escape me I agreed to carry on for one more year until the end of the three-year term to which I was appointed. I regret that “the burden”, far from decreasing, has continued to increase, to the extent that last year we had to cope with staff shortages too.

As it happens I will be spending Thursday and Friday at the Irish National Astronomy Meeting which this year is at the historic Dunsink Observatory (just outside Dublin and not far from Maynooth). I was last there on a trip to Dublin many years ago so I am looking forward to seeing it again as well as listening to the talks. The programme seems very broad and varied, so it should be interesting. The last one of these I attended in person was in Armagh in 2019, before Covid intervened and meetings became virtual. I’m not giving a talk this time, so hopefully it will be a fairly relaxed occasion.

Knowing that I was due to step down as HoD on 31st August I booked a week’s annual leave the following week (5th-9th September inclusive). I have had very little opportunity to take holidays over the past three years, so I am looking forward to a little bit of peace and quiet before the academic term starts. Before that, however, I have two research papers which are almost finished and which I’d really like to submit by Wednesday (and another which will have to wait until I return from leave). I’ve had little time to do research over the last three years either.

This year’s Leaving Certificate results are due out on Friday 2nd September and first-round CAO offers go out on Thursday 8th August. There will then be a scramble to allocate places, but I shall be blissfully out of the way for at least part of that. I will of course be back for the start of teaching (for returning students on 19th September and for new students on 26th September). As I have mentioned before that there is a serious student accommodation crisis in Ireland which will probably disrupt the studies of many students. I have yet to hear of any steps that my institution is taking to mitigate the looming disaster. It’s going to be a very challenging Semester, even without being Head of Department.

Oh, and on Monday I will be attending a virtual briefing about the plans from my Union (IFUT) to ballot its members for industrial action, of which more anon….

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